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Tensions Rising in the Koreas; Ebel Released Four Years Early; No Motive, No Suspects; Gun Law Overhaul In Connecticut; NRA Offers Up Gun Strategy; Teacher Cheating Scandal; Michael Jackson Wrongful Death Suit; Stockton, California Bankruptcy Moves Forward

Aired April 2, 2013 - 06:00   ET


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

CHRISTINE ROMANS: A stunning revelation this morning 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 might 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 big-bucks gig.

BERMAN: Big bucks.

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Zoraida is off this week. It is Tuesday, April 2nd, 6:00 a.m. in the East. And we're going to begin with the escalating tensions between North and South Korea and the United States. The communist north now taking aim at the U.S. -- new propaganda video playing on state TV in North Korea shows soldiers shooting at paper targets of U.S. soldiers.

Also this morning, Pyongyang announcing it plans to restart a nuclear power complex in Yongbyon that has been idle for six years. Barbara Starr joins us now live from the Pentagon with the latest on these overnight developments. Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, right, more military moves to protect against the North Korean provocation. But the real question, what is North Korea really up to?


STARR (voice-over): The U.S. Navy is moving a warship closer to the North Korean coastline. It's also sending this ocean-going radar. The worry, North Korea may be planning more ballistic missile test launches.

U.S. officials say this missile might be fired in the coming weeks, with a 2,500 mile range. It threatens South Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia. If fired and headed for land, the Navy ship would then try to shoot it down.

The ship along with two F-22 fighter jets and B-2 bombers are Washington's latest moves on the chess board to challenge a North Korean provocation. The U.S. strategy --

GEORGE LITTLE, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: It's about showing the South Koreans and our friends in the region that we are ready to protect them in the face of any threats.

STARR: There are new images of Kim Jong-Un looking ready for war, but is that his goal?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would reiterate that we haven't seen action to back up the rhetoric in the sense that we haven't seen significant changes, as I said, in the north in terms of mobilizations or repositioning of forces.

STARR: But analysts say that's small comfort.

VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: This new leadership that's very unpredictable that will fire off a missile then at the same time sit down with Dennis Rodman and say that he wants Obama to call him.

STARR: Victor Cha says North Korea's recent successful missile and nuclear tests play, perhaps, into the regime's ultimate goal, to not give up its weapons crown jewels.

CHA: You can't put it past them the idea that they are also trying to establish a new equilibrium at which they are accepted as a nuclear weapons state.


STARR: Now, it looks like that underground nuclear test was perhaps more successful, more advanced, than originally thought, John. Analysts say there were almost no emissions from that underground test.

A strong suggestion that North Korea was able to bury it deep underground, and possibly shield it, doing everything they could, once again, to keep the United States from figuring out what they were up to.

BERMAN: And Barbara, there was big news overnight. A lot of people waking up to this development that the North Koreans are restarting the Yongbyon Nuclear Complex, explain the significance of this move.

STARR: Well, you know, that was shut down back around 2007, after some disarmament talks. Now starting it again, that puts North Korea back in a position of being able to potentially create enough plutonium material to make one bomb a year perhaps.

That's the concern. Underlying all of this is the view that if North Korea really is focusing on its nuclear program, on its long-range ballistic missile program, these are the things that have the Pentagon greatly concerned -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Barbara Starr in the Pentagon. Thanks.

ROMANS: Stunning new developments in the death of Colorado's Prison Chief Tom Clements. Court officials say the man accused of killing him, Evan Ebel, was released from prison four years early because of a clerical mistake.

Ebel was supposed to serve additional time for punching a prison guard, but the court order failed to specify that the assault sentence should be consecutive and not concurrent. In other words in addition to the time he was already serving.


THOM LEDOUX, FREMONT COUNTY, COLORADO, D.A.: I feel confident they will fix the problem going forward and that won't happen again. 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 also suspected of murdering a pizza delivery driver. He died two weeks ago in a shoot-out with Texas police.

BERMAN: Still no suspects, no clear motive in the fatal shootings of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife. They were gunned down in their home two months after one of McLelland's assistant D.A.'s was also killed. Security has been tight in Kaufman County. It is still very much a community on edge.

CNN's George Howell is live for us there this morning. Good morning, George. Tell us the latest.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning. Look, this is the sort of close-knit community where neighbors know one another. People knew the McLellands, and they want answers in this case. But with no new leads coming from investigators the unanswered questions are taking a toll.


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

LISA HAUK, KITCHEN MANAGER, "ESPECIALLY FOR YOU TEA ROOM AND GIFTS": In the front room, most of the time, and it's a little private area, so they would like him and his wife and some friends, and whatever.

HOWELL: Lisa Hauk and Debbie Ray say the McLelland's were regulars at the "Especially For You Tea Room." In fact, they saw Mike and Cynthia here just a few 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: Just shocking, very shocking. Not really soaking it in, I don't think.

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.

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 and 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 FEMALE: 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 what we're seeing here now, you know, more security here at the courthouse, visible security. And this county, John, has a new interim district attorney. Randy Fernandez will fill that spot for a period of 21 days, until the governor here in Texas, Rick Perry, appoints a new district attorney for this county -- John.

BERMAN: That has to be a difficult job to fill. George Howell this morning in Kaufman County, Texas. Thanks for being with us.

ROMANS: New this morning a major overhaul of Connecticut's gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook's 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 weapons.

It limits ammunition magazines to ten rounds and requires a background check for all weapons sales. Also sets safety standards for school buildings. It's expected to pass easily when the legislature votes on this as early as tomorrow.

BERMAN: The National Rifle Association will offer hit own strategy to prevent gun violence in schools today. The National School Shield Program details training recommendations for armed school guards and for guidelines for local officials on how to modify ordinances in order to allow the armed guards into their schools.

Every household is now required to have a firearm and ammunition in the tiny Georgia town of Nelson. The city council passed that resolution last night. Supporters saying Nelson only has one police officer, and widespread gun ownership, they claim, will help keep the town safe.

So what happens if you don't comply, go out and get a gun? Nothing, the law really just symbolic, if people don't want a gun, don't have to buy one.

ROMANS: All right, new this morning, teachers wanted in a widespread cheating scandal in Atlanta starting to turn themselves in. Tammeka Goodson surrendered at the Fulton County Jail early this morning. She was the school improvement specialist at Kennedy Middle School. A total of 35 teachers and administrators named in the probe must turn themselves in today to face racketeering and other charges.

BERMAN: From gulf coast to west coast. The USC has hired Andy Enfield as its new men's basketball coach. Enfield led the Florida Gulf Coast University on its amazing Cinderella run in this year's NCAA tournament.

USC released a statement saying Andy's success this season of Florida Gulf Coast was not a flash in the pan. He has a consistent and proven record of success for more than 15 years in college and in the NBA.

Not to mention the start-up he founded, worth more than $100 million. Florida Gulf Coast was the first number 15 seed to ever advance in the tournament round of 16.

ROMANS: From commander in chief to comforter in chief. It seems yesterday's White House Easter egg roll. It didn't go so well for 5- year-old Donovan Frazier of Scranton, Pennsylvania. When President Obama saw the little guy crying he walked over, gave him a big hug and told him to shake it off.

That approach, it may not work in the Middle East, but it did the trick on the White House lawn. Donovan stopped crying, and his father now has quite a story -- you know, it's the Easter -- the Easter holidays -- or I'm sorry the candy holidays, any holidays that require candy, 5-year-olds cry.

BERMAN: The president may have needed consoling himself yesterday. He was playing some basketball with kids out on the lawn. He shot 2 for 22. He missed 20 shots yesterday, which is almost mathematically impossible, but it actually happened.

ROMANS: How much candy did he have ahead of time?

BERMAN: He probably needed a hug himself. All right, 10 minutes after the hour. Let the media frenzy begin. Civil trial over Michael Jackson's death gets under way just hours from now. Find out who could be on the witness list, some big names coming up.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. The civil trial over the death of Michael Jackson begins today in Los Angeles with jury selection. Jackson's mother Katherine is suing concert promoter AEG for $40 billion, $40 billion. She claims the company contributed to her son's death through negligence by hiring Dr. Conrad Murray to treat Jackson. Murray is now in prison for his role in Jackson's death. CNN's Miguel Marquez has a preview of this trial.


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

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "This Is It's" 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, HOST, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN LIVE": 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.


BERMAN: At 8:00 Eastern on "STARTING POINT," we're going to talk with Anne Bremner. She's the criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor who covered Conrad Murray's trial extensively. And tonight, a big CNN exclusive, a live jailhouse interview with Conrad Murray. Randi Kaye sits down with Michael Jackson's former physician from prison. That's tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at 8:30. You will want to watch that.

ROMANS: Yes. OK, 16 minutes after the hour. Let's get you up-to- date now.

North Korea says it plans to restart a nuclear power plant that's been closed for six years. The Yongbyon nuclear complex said to contain both a uranium enrichment facility and a nuclear reactor. It was mothballed in 2007 as part of an agreement with the U.S. and four other countries. As a precaution, the U.S. has moved the USS McCain and Navy destroyer closer to the Korean coast this morning. It's capable of shooting down medium or long-range missiles the North may fire.

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

Now, the whole world is watching this, because of the 2014-2016, 2014 is the World Cup, 2016 is the Summer Olympics. Security could be a major, major concern in Brazil.

ROMANS: San Jose police think a man who crashed his car into a Walmart Sunday was strung out on drugs. Thirty-three-year-old Haamid Zaid is now in jail without bond. Investigators say he plowed his Oldsmobile into the store, then jumped out, started beating people until customers subdued him. Four people were hurt. None of them -- one of them hurt seriously.

BERMAN: The number of kids diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder up over 50 percent over the past decade. That spike has some experts asking if doctors are too quick to diagnose ADHD and subscribe medication for it, just a startling rise. The CDC says 11 percent of school age kids have been reported with a disorder. Most are on drugs to control it.

ROMANS: A new show airing all week on CNN gets right to "THE POINT". One of the hot topics on last night's debut show, the devastating leg injury suffered by Louisville guard Kevin Ware.

Jason Taylor understands what Ware is going through, after watching the 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 that time. Joe had a very hard time talking about it. The time I've been around him he didn't want to speak about it. I'm sure he's dealt with it and moved on from it.

But it's very, very hard to see. 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.


ROMANS: You can catch "THE POINT" tonight at 10:00 p.m., right here on CNN.

BERMAN: So you think you have it bad when it comes to taxes? Proof that it could be a lot worse, especially if you like LEGOs, coming up next.


BERMAN: Ooh, sunrise over the Hudson River. The beautiful George Washington Bridge right here in New York City. And you are lucky to be in New York City right now if you're looking for a job, rather than Europe.

Minding your business this morning, unemployment in Europe hitting a record high in February.

ROMANS: Yes, brand-new data this morning show unemployment in the 17- nation eurozone 12 percent. Let me compare that with the United States 7.7 percent. We're going to get a big number in this country on Friday.

But you know, look, when you see eurozone unemployment at 12 percent, it's a reminder that debt crisis recession still hitting the European economy even as the U.S. has been recovering.

On Wall Street, stock futures pointed to a higher open. We're expecting auto sales to come in very strong today. Another sign, again, of that recovering U.S. economy compared with what is a deepening problem in Europe.

OK, but it's all local, right? Stockton, California, is this country's biggest city to go bankrupt. A federal judge is ruling that the city can move forward with Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Stockton closely watched because it's halted its bond payments and cut city services. But it's still paying into the state pension plan.

California law states the Pennsylvania plan must be funded. But Stockton creditors say, hey, that's not fair. How this all turns out could set a precedent for other cash-strapped California cities.

All right. You think you pay too much in taxes? Do you?

BERMAN: I'm not going to answer this. I pay just the right amount.

ROMANS: Try going to Denmark.

OK. We took a look at all of the top income tax rates. Sixty percent in Denmark. That's the highest in the world. That's according to the OECD.

Denmark is followed by Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. All the way down at 20 out of 34 countries ranked is the U.S. The U.S. came in with the top tax rate of 44 percent, where are they paying that? In California.

Not only that, we tax fewer people than they do in other countries. Our top tax rate at incomes over $400,000, compare that to Denmark where the 60 percent rate applies to people making about $55,000.

BERMAN: We're just bashing Denmark today.

ROMANS: I'm not bashing Denmark.

BERMAN: Denmark-bashing.

ROMANS: Interesting comparison.

BERMAN: Those poor Danes. Something rotten in Denmark, as we like to say.

What is the one thing you need to know about your money?

ROMANS: Americans are getting better at paying their credit cards, John. New numbers show delinquencies on bank-issued credit cards fell to less than 2.5 percent.

What does that mean? It means it's the lowest since 1994. Late payments had a record high during the recession but they're getting better. People are getting better at managing their finances, and banks are being much more careful about giving out loans, credit card delinquencies falling.

BERMAN: That's some great news.

ROMANS: I know, I'm very happy about that.

BERMAN: All right. Twenty-four minutes after the hour. Accused killer Jodi Arias could walk free in a matter of hours. Why the case could end in a mistrial, coming up.

ROMANS: Plus, the new rules in New Jersey, thanks to the woman known as the tanning mom.