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Tension Rising in the Koreas; Murder of District Attorney; Gun Law Overhaul in Connecticut; FGCU Basketball Coach Hired at USC; Michael Jackson Wrongful Death Suit

Aired April 2, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, North Korea ramping up its nuclear program as the U.S. Navy moves in with a missile defense ship.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A stunning revelation in the murder of Colorado's prison chief. How a paperwork mistake allowed his alleged killer to walk free.

BERMAN: Taking no chances in Kaufman, Texas. Armed guards at the courthouse where prosecutors are trying to figure out who would want them dead.

ROMANS: From Dunk City to the City of Angels, the coach who steered Florida Gulf Coast to a stunning upset lands a new gig!

BERMAN: And a fat paycheck.

ROMANS: Oh, I hope so. Good morning, welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans this Tuesday morning.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Zoraida is off this week. As Christine said, it is Tuesday, April 2nd, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we're going to start with some major news overnight -- an aggressive move in the nuclear standoff with North Korea. While you were sleeping, North Korea announcing plans to restart a nuclear power plant that had been idle for six years. The Yongbyon nuclear complex is said to contain the uranium enrichment facility and a nuclear reactor. It was mothballed in 2007 as part of an agreement with the United States and four other countries.

Meantime, Pyongyang is also stepping up its rhetoric in a propaganda video playing on state TV. Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The message is clear, North Korean soldiers firing on a paper target with the words "USA" on the helmet. A live fire drill that aired on state TV vowed to show its enemies, the United States and South Korea, that it was ready to fight, showing off the military skill with weaponry.

And the nation's top athletes running through typical drills with ease. The hermit kingdom releasing this video just days after it declared it was in a state of war. This is not the first time North Korea has aired this sort of military readiness video. In March of last year, it pledged a, quote, "sacred war" against South Korea. State video showed soldiers unleashing dogs in the snow, attacking an effigy of then-South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. A train is shown running over a cutout of the president.

State TV also showed the military using rocket launchers to blow up an effigy of the then-president who they called the leader of the, quote, "puppet nation of traitors."

But what's unusual about this latest video is the rare show of firing on a U.S. target, even if it is just paper. The Pentagon says it remains unconcerned about what North Korea says. The U.S. cares what it does.

GEORGE LITTLE, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We haven't seen any kind of troop movements on the North Korean side that would indicate imminent military action. So we think that things may be dialing down just a bit on the Korean peninsula. At least we hope so.

LAH: South Korea responded to North Korea's days of threats with a warning of its own. South Korea's president announced any provocation by North Korea against her country would result in a strong response in initial combat, essentially lowering the military barriers to respond immediately to a North Korean attack.

(on camera): The big concern here on the peninsula is miscalculation, that in this heated environment, there could be a mistake, either from the North or the South, and then this region could trip into conflict.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Seoul.


ROMANS: A stunning admission this morning. The suspect in last month's murder of Colorado's corrections chief should not have been a free man. Court officials now say even Evan Ebel was released from jail back in January four years early due to a clerical mistake. Ebel was supposed to serve more time for punching a prison guard, but court papers failed to specify the assault, that it was consecutive, in other words, after the one he was serving.


THOM LEDOUX, FREMONT COUNTY, COLORADO D.A.: I am confident that they will fix the problem going forward and that it won't happen again, and I think it's probably worth the effort to go back and make sure that we don't have any other cases out there where this problem has occurred before.


ROMANS: Ebel is linked to the murder of Colorado prison chief Tom Clements and a pizza delivery driver last month. He was killed in a shoot-out with police in Texas two weeks ago.

BERMAN: We're also following new developments this morning in the murder of Texas district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife. The search warrant shows they were shot multiple times in their home just a couple months after an assistant D.A. in Kaufman County was also killed. Investigators have no clear motive or suspect in either case.

CNN's George Howell is live in Kaufman, Texas. Good morning, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning. So, new information here in Kaufman. We know that this county now has an interim district attorney. Brandi Fernandez will hold that role for a period of 21 days until Governor Rick Perry appoints a new D.A. for this county. Still no new leads for investigators, and for the people of Kaufman, the unanswered questions are taking a toll.


HOWELL (voice-over): Just off the town square in Kaufman, Texas --

LISA HAUK, ESPECIALLY FOR YOU TEA ROOM & GIFTS: (INAUDIBLE) in the front room most of the time and don't have light, because it's a private area, so they would have like him and his wife and some friends or whatever.

HOWELL: Lisa Hauk and Debbie Ray say the McLellands were regulars at the Especially Tea Room. In fact, they saw Mike and Cynthia here days ago, just days before the county's district attorney and his wife were shot dead in their own home.

(on camera): When you heard about what happened --


HAUK: Yes.

RAY: Heartbroken.

HAUK: Just shocking, very shocking. Not really soaking it in, I don't think, so.

RAY: This is a small town. It hits very close to home. People are on edge a little and afraid for the rest of the city employees.

HAUK: Yes.

HOWELL (voice-over): It's the second prosecutor to be killed in two months in Kaufman. First, assistant D.A. Mark Hasse, gunned down on January 31st, then his boss, D.A. Mike McLelland and his wife found dead Saturday, shot multiple times. There are many questions, but answers are in short supply. Even public officials are taking precautions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm certainly aware. Fear? I don't know that that's the right word, but awareness. All of us are cautious now. HOWELL: Police say they have no suspects, the motive is unclear, and authorities have not officially said whether the killings of the two prosecutors are connected, but that's what most people here seem to think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One and one makes two. You can't keep from connecting these. And so, of course, our concern is what is going to happen next.


HOWELL: So, Kaufman County is the sort of small-knit community where neighbors know one another. People knew the McLellands, and now we're seeing changes. For instance, the changes here at the county courthouse, we're seeing extra security here. We're seeing public officials and law enforcement even having security themselves. The sort of changes we're seeing here until investigators track down the killers in these cases.

BERMAN: George, you say you're seeing the differences in security. How about the differences in mood? Is there a specter hanging over this community?

HOWELL: Right. There is. And here's the thing, especially when it comes to law enforcement: I talked to a person who represents a police union here for the state of Texas, who represents this particular county and this police department here. And he said that, you know, for law enforcement, this is the loss of family members, to lose prosecutors, it's like a family loss.

So, there is a mourning period, but there's also a heightened awareness and very acutely aware of the danger of their job. So, we're seeing law enforcement officers and even public officials, John, you know, acting a little differently than they would usually, extra security for many people until investigators get to the bottom of it.

BERMAN: You know, I think that's understandable. George Howell in Kaufman, Texas. Thanks this morning.

ROMANS: A major overhaul in Connecticut's gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook School massacre. A bipartisan task force of lawmakers has agreed on new legislation. It adds more than 100 types of guns to the state's list of banned assault weapons and limits ammunition magazines to 10 rounds and requires background checks for all weapon sales and sets safety standards for school buildings. It's expected to pass easily when the legislature votes as early as tomorrow.

BERMAN: So, the NRA is going to offer its own strategy today to prevent gun violence in schools. The National School Shield Program details training recommendations for armed school guards and guidelines for local officials on how to modify ordinances in order to allow the armed guards in schools.

ROMANS: There's a new law in the tiny Georgia town of Nelson. Every household now required, required to have a firearm and ammunition. The city council passed this resolution last night. Supporters say Nelson has only one police officer and that gun ownership helps keep this little town safe.

So, what happens if you don't comply, you don't want to own a gun in Nelson, Georgia? Well, there's no penalty. The law is largely symbolic, and people who don't want guns in their homes don't have to buy one.

BERMAN: New this morning, the first of 35 Atlanta public school officials accused in a widespread cheating scandal has turned herself in. Demeka Goods (ph) surrendered at the Fulton County Jail early this morning. She was the school improvement specialist at the Kennedy Middle School. All teachers involved in the probe must turn themselves in today to face racketeering and other charges.

ROMANS: All right. Big news this morning about the head coach of Florida Gulf Coast University. He's cashing in on his team's Cinderella run in the NCAA basketball tournament, headed for a new job. Andy Enfield has been hired as the new men's basketball coach at USC.

In a release, the school says, "Andy's success this season at Florida Gulf Coast was not a splash in the pan. He has a consistent and proven record of success for more than 15 years in the college and NBA." Said to be a six-year deal well over $1 million a year.

Florida Gulf Coast was the first 15th seed to ever advance to the tournament's sweet 16 and the school going on in the statement to say, John, that he's been successful in every area of his life and they'd like to see him.

BERMAN: The guy founded a start-up that's now worth $100 million. You know, he's married to a "Maxim" model. He's the leading free throw percentage shooter in college basketball history. The guy has been pretty successful. His salary, by the way, going from $175,000 now to over $1 million a year -- in case you're wondering why he's taking the job at USC.

Ten minutes after the hour right now.

And the commander-in-chief playing comforter in chief at the White House Easter egg roll. It seems yesterday's race did not go too well for 5-year-old Donovan Frasier (ph) of Scranton, Pennsylvania. So, when the president saw the little guy crying, he walked over, gave him a big hug and told him to shake it off.

So, it worked. Donovan stopped crying and his relieved dad has a fantastic story to tell.

ROMANS: So, here's the thing about the Easter hunt. You know, it's a lot of little kids on this massive, capitalist hunt for eggs, you know? And sometimes the little guys, they get a little sensitive when they can't get -- they're not as fast as the bigger ones.

BERMAN: My boys are into full contact Easter egg hunting. There are always injuries.

ROMANS: I know. BERMAN: So a serious thing.

ROMANS: All right. A trial investigating the death of Michael Jackson begins in just hours. Why his mother is convinced someone other than Dr. Conrad Murray is to blame for his death.


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Is someone other than Dr. Conrad Murray to blame for Michael Jackson's death? The late singer's mother thinks so. In just a few hours in Los Angeles, jury selection begins in the wrongful death suit brought against AEG Live. That's the concert promoter that worked with Jackson on his ill-fated comeback tour.

The suit accuses the company of being negligent in hiring Murray to treat the King of Pop.

CNN's Miguel Marquez now with a preview.


MICHAEL JACKSON, KING OF POP: This is it, and see you in July.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "This is it" meant to herald Michael Jackson's comeback.

Like so many things in Jackson's life and death, it's become a supersized trial. Reports the Jackson family seeking from concert promoter AEG as much as $40 billion for the wrongful death of the 50- year-old King of Pop. Reports the Jackson camp denied.

KEVIN BOYLE, JACKSON FAMILY ATTORNEY: If the jury feels the family deserves $40 billion, that's what they're going to get. But I can tell you, no demand has been made by the Jackson family for $40 billion from AEG. That is just not true.

MARQUEZ: At the center of the trial, who hired Dr. Conrad Murray, found guilty in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter for injecting the insomniac pop star with a lethal dose of the anesthetic Propofol.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: What do you think as his mother caused his death?

KATHERINE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S MOTHER: I don't know. All I know is they used Propofol and they shouldn't have used it.

MARQUEZ: The plaintiffs, Jackson's mother Katherine and his three kids, blame AEG. Its lawyer says there was never a signed contract and, Murray, who was never paid anything, served only at the pleasure of Michael Jackson.

MARVIN PUTNAM, AEG ATTORNEY: If you look at the draft explicitly is that he was chosen by Michael Jackson to be there at Michael Jackson's behalf. Michael Jackson was the only person who could get rid of him at will.

MARQUEZ: Possibly testifying, Jackson's 16-year-old son, Prince Michael, and 14-year-old daughter Paris. Also on the list but not expected to testify, the artist Prince, who had his own history with AEG.

Musician Quincy Jones could take the stand to testify how much Jackson could have earned if he had lived.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Hollywood.


ROMANS: And a big CNN exclusive tonight. A live jailhouse interview with Conrad Murray. Randi Kaye sits down with Michael Jackson's former doctor from prison. That's tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at 8:30 Eastern.

BERMAN: That will be fascinating.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. I'm staying up.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

Seventeen minutes after the hour right now. Let's bring you up-to- date.

North Korea announcing plans to restart a nuclear power plant that's been closed for six years. The Yongbyon nuclear complex is said to contain both a uranium enrichment facility and a nuclear reactor. It was mothballed in 2007 as a part of an agreement with the United States and four other countries.

ROMANS: A third suspect in the brutal kidnapping, gang rape and robbery of an American woman in Rio de Janeiro now reportedly in custody. Investigators say the woman, along with a male companion, were held captive for six hours Saturday. During that time, they say the man was handcuffed and beaten and the woman was gang-raped repeatedly in a minibus. Both were dumped 30 miles away.

The incident raising concerns about security in Rio ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

BERMAN: Huge security issue.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BERMAN: The alleged Walmart crasher now crashing in jail without bond in San Jose. Police say 33-year-old Haamid Zaid was strung out on drugs when he plowed his Oldsmobile into the store Sunday morning. He then jumped out and started beating people until a bunch of customers tackled him. Four people were hurt, one of them seriously.

ROMANS: Ten people were injured when a car crashed into a crowded Las Vegas restaurant at lunchtime. Witnesses say the man behind the wheel came barreling into the Egg and I Restaurant a few blocks off the strip yesterday. People held the driver for police when he tried to run away. Two of the victims are in serious condition this morning. No word yet on what caused the man to crash into a restaurant.

BERMAN: Every parent I know talking about this story. The number of U.S. kids diagnosed with attention hyperactivity disorder up more than 50 percent over the last decade. This spike has some experts asking if some doctors are too quick to diagnose ADHD and then prescribe medication for it.

The CDC says nearly 6.5 million kids from ages 4 through 17 have been reported with the disorder, most of them now on drugs to control it.

ROMANS: And some are questioning whether parents and doctors are putting kids on these drugs to enhance their performance in school in some cases.

BERMAN: There are serious questions about this.

ROMANS: All right, today is world autism awareness day. People across the globe are talking about the disorder and how it affects patients and their families. About 1 out of every 100 people in this country is diagnosed with autism.

BERMAN: Now, let's get to "THE POINT". That is a name of a new show airing this week at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. It's about getting to "THE POINT" of the stories making headlines that day. One of the hot topics on last night's debut show, the devastating leg injury suffered by Louisville guard Kevin Ware.

Jason Taylor sure understands what the young man's about to go through because he watched a former NFL quarterback suffer a similar fate.


JASON TAYLOR, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Joe Theismann went through a very horrible situation, and thankfully, medicine has changed nowadays to where Kevin Ware has a better chance of coming back than Joe did at the time, but Joe had a very hard time talking about it, and when I had been around him, he didn't want to speak about it. But, you know, he's -- I'm sure he's dealt with it and moved on, but it's very, very hard to see that. We have to understand when you take the field, whether it's the basketball court, the football field, whatever sport it is, you're taking a risk.


BERMAN: Catch "THE POINT" tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

ROMANS: Coming up, we hear it all the time, we say it all the time -- my taxes are too high. But does the U.S. even stack up globally? I've got tax numbers for you. Tax numbers on a Tuesday morning.


ROMANS: Whoo-hoo!


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Minding your business this morning. After a slow start to the second quarter, all of like one day old, stocks are looking up today.

ROMANS: Yes, Dow futures are up about 30 points right now. Automakers are going to release their monthly sales figures today and expectations are high. How high? says March is likely the strongest monthly car and truck sales in almost five years.


ROMANS: Right.

ROMANS: American Greetings is going private. The stock surged 12 percent yesterday. The Weiss family, which started the company more than 100 years ago, the Weiss family buying American greetings at a deal valued at $880 million. Like newspapers and the post office, the greeting card industry has struggled as more people go digital. The founding family thinking it can do better private instead of public.

Another $500 million being returned to victims of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. That brings the total return to about $5.5 billion. It sounds like a lot, but investigators say investors lost nearly $18 billion in Madoff's scam. So, most of the money still unaccounted for or hasn't been returned. Bernie Madoff, the mastermind behind that biggest Ponzi scheme in history, he's serving a 150-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2009.

All right, everyone complains about their taxes. Think your taxes are too high? Try going to Denmark. The top income tax rate there is 60 percent, the highest in the world. This is according to the OECD. Denmark, followed by Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands, all the way down at number 20 out of 34 countries ranked is the United States.


ROMANS: They come in with a top tax rate of 44 percent. That's in California.

Not only that, but we tax fewer people than other countries. Our top tax of 44 percent kicks in only on incomes over $400,000, compared to Denmark, where the 60 percent rate applies to people making about $55,000.

BERMAN: LEGO and Hans Christian Anderson, it's expensive.

ROMANS: Hey, I'm not making a judgment call. I'm just telling you in honor of tax time. We're going to show you all those (INAUDIBLE), so there you go.

BERMAN: All right. Twenty-five minutes after the hour.

New rules in New Jersey, thanks to the woman known as the tanning mom. ROMANS: Uh-oh.

BERMAN: You'll want to stick around for this. Stay with us.