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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Threats from North Korea; Rutgers Coach Fired; Interview with Louis Taylor and Jerry Hammond; Man Freed From Prison After Four Decades

Aired April 4, 2013 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And then you have Pyongyang promising attacks against the United States with a, quote, "smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear force". And the Pentagon announcing it is moving a ballistic missile defense system to its U.S. bases in Guam two years ahead of schedule. That move coming after South Korea reported the north has moved its missile to the eastern part of the country in preparation for an imminent launch.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is getting tense. And we're all over the latest developments in the story. Dan Lothian is live from Washington.

But we're going to begin with Jim Clancy in Seoul, South Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: More threats coming out of North Korea this day really repetitions of what we have heard in the past, but South Korea's defense ministry says that it has confirmed North Korea has moved an intermediate range missile to its eastern coast.

Now, that's an area where the U.S. already has two destroyers as well as a radar platform. The U.S. and South Korea both are anticipating some kind of a missile test to come from the North.

All of this comes just a day after the U.S. is moving sophisticated anti-missile defense system to its island bases in Guam.

Meantime, at Kaesong, North Korea continues to block South Koreans from getting into the site. And again, on Thursday, it warned that it could pull all 53,000 of the North Korean workers out of the facility, thus, shutting it down.

The North is particularly angry at media in South Korea who have criticized Kaesong remaining open because it earns cash for Kim Jung Un, and they say that lack of respect for their leader could be a reason, a motivation for them just to shut Kaesong down, in their words, mercilessly.

So, more threats back and forth, but the U.S. and South Korea appear not to be taking the fear factor too seriously at this point. Instead, they are working to be prepared.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWION: This morning, you also have this article on "The Wall Street Journal", reporting that the Obama administration has decided now to lower the volume, ratcheted it down here in this whole missile crisis with North Korea.

White House correspondent Dan Lothian is live for this morning.

And so, you have this report also though revealing that the Obama administration has a game plan, a so-called playbook, showing our military force.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And this independently confirmed by CNN this playbook, if you will, essentially spells out that if North Korea does one thing, the U.S. will react in another way. The sense is that perhaps they have pushed Kim Jung Un a little too far. And so, they are dialing things back, trying -- as they try to lower the temperature in the region.

You know, over the last several weeks, the U.S. really has been sort of ramping up its presence in the region. Twice last month, sending B-52s to do missions over South Korea, then following that up by sending stealth bombers to the region earlier this week, Navy ships were -- went in there. And just yesterday, we learned a missile defense system will be sent to Guam much earlier than expected.

And so, there is this plan, and there has been this plan to show the sort of sense of force, to flex the muscles here in the U.S., but at the same time, some concern that they have pushed a little too far.

There is a lot of worry, though, because the uncertainty of this new leader in North Korea. He is thought to be unpredictable, perhaps more dangerous than his father.

And so, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel saying that they're not taking anything for granted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Some of the actions they have taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: So the warning from the White House is that North Korea needs to dial back the rhetoric, to stop the kind of provocative actions we've seen over the last few weeks. If not, that they will be further isolated from the international community, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Dan Lothian at the White House -- appreciate it, Dan.

BERMAN: I want to bring in former General James "Spider" Marks. He's a CNN military analyst who spent years as a senior intelligence officer in Korea. General, thanks for joining us.

You know, you heard in Dan's report right there, that the United States says it is moving these new anti-missile defense systems to Guam. I wonder if you can explain how that fits into the overall U.S. strategy now dealing with North Korea, and if you can lay out that strategy for us.

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Sure, absolutely. The primary concern that the United States has right now, is that North Korea is getting much more strident, albeit, we've seen these levels of stridency before. But this is a ratcheting up of that. And there's a new leader in place. So, we're trying to figure out what his intentions are.

And, clearly, the threat is a combination of capabilities plus intentions. We can read their capabilities. We've never been very good at penetrating into that regime to figure out what their intentions are. So, specifically, to the deployment of the THAAD system, which is a high altitude area defense system deployed to Guam, is that if the missile development in North Korea has progressed and we've gotten it wrong. And if, in fact, he can marry up some capability on the tip of that missile that makes it that much more dangerous, we don't think he has the ability to have a nuclear capable missile system, albeit we have to be very cautious.

Therefore, we're going and those missiles will probably reach U.S. territories in the Pacific and allies to include Japan and certainly Guam. So we have to be able to protect against it.

This is a very prudent measure on the part of the United States to posture itself much more -- not aggressively, but in a much more probably fulsome way in order to handle all types of contingencies that might be coming out of the North.

BALDWIN: Now, General, let me just back up for a minute, because we don't -- the U.S. doesn't have actual assets on the ground in North Korea, presumably satellite. But how do we know what North Korea is up to?

MARKS: Very difficult. We have great technical, you're exactly correct, Brooke. We have great technical collection against North Korea. The only way we can penetrate North Korea is we do that by way of interrogations that take place routinely from refugees that leave North Korea, routinely coming through China and other means of getting out of the kingdom up north.

So, we are able to get insight. We also have periodic visits. You spoke to Governor Richardson this morning, which is wonderful.

We also have digs that have taken place where the north has allowed U.S. military folks to go to very specific areas to look for those that might have been killed in the Korean conflict. We're still doing that type of excavation work. But that's exceptionally limited.

So, we have very few insights in terms of human intelligence coming out of the North.

BERMAN: We've been talking about capabilities, real capabilities here of North Korea. A little bit earlier, we saw from Kim Jung Un, a sort of wish list of American targets. He put it up. it included Los Angeles, Washington, Austin, Texas, a lot of major cities in the continental United States.

Is that in any way realistic?

MARKS: That's bluster. That's a total and complete bluster. I mean, that's the short answer. Again, that's being petulant. It's being strident. We pay attention to it because he's an international figure, but there's nothing to that.

BERMAN: All right. General Spider Marks, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

MARKS: Sure, thank you.

BALDWIN: And here we go, another incident involving the Carnival cruise ship Triumph. Christine Romans has that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I know. Good morning.

Rescue workers now looking for a shipyard worker in the Alabama River after another incident involving the Carnival cruise ship Triumph, a strong wind sweeping it from its moorings in Mobile where it's docked, getting repairs from the in famous engine fire back in February. Sixty-four-year-old John Johnson's family has been told his chances of survival are remote.

A witness saw it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRANDON VICKERS, WITNESS: We were outside, steady raining, nothing serious. And then all of a sudden, by the time we made it to the maritime museum, somebody said, oh my God, look at the Carnival cruise ship. And I turned to look, I've seen three (INAUDIBLE) go flying by, and that I saw it. So I turned and looked this way and you could see the Carnival cruise ship starting to come out of the BAE system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The cruise ship is now secured.

New developments in the investigation of the murder of Colorado state prison chief Tom Clements. There's a manhunt underway for two members of the white supremacist gang the 211 crew. Forty-seven-year-old James Lohr and 31-year-old Thomas Goulee considered armed and dangerous. An El Paso County sheriff spokesman says they're not considered suspects, wouldn't say whether the pair new Evan Ebel, the man suspected of killing Clements and a pizza deliveryman. Republican South Carolina congressional nominee Mark Sanford speaking to CNN about his Tuesday night win. After finishing his second term as the state's governor in 2011 under the cloud of an extramarital affair, he told CNN's Jake Tapper, politicians try too hard to protect an image of perfection.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SANFORD (R-SC), U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: None of us are perfect. And I think that the sooner we roadways it in ourselves we begin to have conversations with other people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Sanford's then-mistress is now he's fiancee. He'll face Elizabeth Colbert-Busch in next month's special election.

Rutgers's basketball coach Mike Rice is now out, and his bosses could be next. The school's athletic director is under fire for not getting rid of Rice after he saw the coach's abusive behavior on tape last fall. A video of Rice and physically and verbally abusing players just surfaced as part of an ESPN investigation. Rice has now apologized.

Earlier on STARTING POINT, we talked to a former Rutgers player who thinks this coach is misunderstood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TYREE GRAHAM, FMR. RUTGERS PLAYER: I do respect a lot of other things, like his passion for the love of basketball. He wanted to make us better. Because not only was he passionate about, you know, just basketball, he was passionate about us in the classroom also.

All these videos and you know, the press (INAUDIBLE) I watching of him kicking people, hitting people with basketballs, some of that was in a laughing matter. And I wish that some of the video showed that and not just, you know, him saying the gay slurs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Graham, though, made it clear, he does not respect the coach's use of gay slurs.

A big announcement from Facebook today. The company isn't giving details, but it's expected to unveil a phone this afternoon. Rumor is, the phone will be made by HTC and powered by the Android operating system. The big goal is advertising, its Facebook's primary revenue source.

The company has struggled to figure out how to make money off its mobile users, especially overseas. Facebook shows are down more than 30 percent since its IPO last year.

BERMAN: What do you get with the Facebook phone over a phone that has a Facebook app? BALDWIN: Lots of friends.

ROMANS: Haven't they been criticized a lot for their Facebook app, though? If you have a whole phone, I don't -- we'll see. We'll see. There's a lot of talk about the Facebook phone for sometime and the Apple TV, by the way, for sometime. We'll see if we're going to finally get the details on both of those things this week.

BERMAN: All right. Christine, thanks very much.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT: he was just released from prison after 40 years when the evidence that sent him to jail, it was questioned. Next, Louis Taylor talks about what it's like to finally be free.

BALDWIN: And can girls compete with the boys? Baylor's Brittney Griner reacting to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's talk of drafting her.

Eleven minutes past the hour. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: A man who spent nearly 42 years in prison is now getting a new start, released just this week after this judge has now decided the original evidence in the case may not have been enough for a conviction.

His name is Louis Taylor. He was 16 years old when he was accused of starting a 1970 hotel fire, this was in Arizona, that killed 29 people.

BERMAN: He was convicted of arson by an all-white jury. He spent nearly 30 years serving 28 consecutive life sentences, until attorneys with the Arizona Justice Project decided to reopen the case, and then, you know, just two days ago, they finally reached their goal with a superior court judge giving Louis a plea agreement, in which he could plead no contest of the charges in exchange for his freedom.

Here he is. Louis Taylor with us now from phoenix along with his attorney, Arizona Justice Project, chairman, Larry Hammond. You know, Louis, thanks for joining us this morning. I have to say decades in prison, now, two days of freedom. How do you feel?

LOUIS TAYLOR, FREED FROM PRISON AFTER 41 YEARS IN AZ HOTEL FIRE CASE. I feel great, man. You know, to feel mother Earth underneath my feet. Free mother Earth. It's amazing that, you know, that I persevered, you know, and -- you know, maintained my innocence all these years, and finally, you know, I -- I was freed two days ago. It's amazing.

BERMAN: As farther of this deal for Freedom, you did agree to plead no contest rather than have anyone acknowledge your innocence. In fact, the Associated Press quotes the county attorney saying this is not exoneration. Louis Taylor was found guilty at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. What your though about that statement? Do you still feel vindicated? Do you even care, now that you're free?

TAYLOR: Well, the thing is, the Pima County attorney, Barbara LaWall, she didn't want to cure the injustice. And, when the Innocence Project and the Justice Project looked at this case meticulous in 2001, they discovered, you know, a few years back, that the jury had been tampered and they had suppressed -- a report that could have exonerated me 39 years ago.

It was found in the prosecutor's office. So, he didn't want to hear about injustice. And I wasn't allowed then to take another minute, another week, another decade, you know, because I had already been in prison wrongfully for 41 years, and she didn't want to cure the injustice. So, you know, I wanted my freedom, because I was innocent.

BALDWIN: Larry, let me pick up with Louis' point here about, you know, wanting to be free. But legally speaking, I mean, the big caveat is with the no contest plea, this means he can't sue the county. Do you feel like this was the reason why he was even offered this deal in the first place?

LARRY HAMMOND, CHAIRMAN, ARIZONA JUSTICE PROJECT: You know, I don't really speculate very much about why the county attorney did this. It may be because they wanted to minimize the risk of being sued. What has bothered us is that the county attorney and lawyers who worked in that office didn't take the time, apparently, to sit down and look at the evidence.

There were seven fire experts, including their own fire department, who concluded after a very exhaustive evaluation that there was no evidence of arson here, yet, the county still insisted that if Louis wanted out today, he would have to agree to this no contest, and as Louis has said, his freedom was the most important thing.

BERMAN: Larry, as part of the Justice Project, what made you take a look at this case and say we have to go in there and fix this. What jumped out at you?

HAMMOND: Well, when we first worked on the case and our project began in 1998 and in 1999, I met Louis for the first time, it was clear to us at the very beginning that this was one of those cases that a project like ours has to look at, and what jumped out at us was that the testimony at trial was based almost exclusively on what a fire investigator said he could determine about how the fire started.

But, yet, other people who looked at the same evidence, said, well, there's no evidence of arson there. So, we -- we knew from the outset that it had to be looked at.

BALDWIN: And Louis, final question, I mean, what, you've been free for 48 hours or so. I read you went to a Diamondbacks game. So, if you did, how was it? And also, looking ahead here, what's next for you?

TAYLOR: Well, you know, all I can do is just go forward, you know? People talk about lawsuits and stuff. The things they should have done was sort of cure the injustice, because I maintained my innocence for 41 years, and it's amazing. You know, the chief took me to the Diamondbacks. Of course, I got the hat on.

(LAUGHTER)

TAYLOR: And it was amazing. I was overwhelmed. You know, it's amazing, man, you know, to feel mother Earth under my feet. Free mother earth. And, you know, all I can do is go forward, you know? I educated myself in prison, you know? I finished college, you know? I worked as a medical technician in prison.

I was minimum three times and never ran off, because people were always running off and saying, come on, Louis, you got a natural life. You're never going to get out of here. I say, I'm innocent, man.

BALDWIN: Yes.

TAYLOR: The innocent don't run away. I'm going to wait for justice. And, unfortunately, the county attorney, Barbara LaWall, did not want to cure the injustice. So, I wasn't going to give my another minute. They already took 42 years of my life.

BALDWIN: Well, you're out. Welcome to the free world, sir, and perhaps, you can hopefully find work in the medical profession, somehow. Thank you so much, Louis and Larry, this morning.

BERMAN: You know, Diamondbacks --

TAYLOR: Thank you for having us.

BALDWIN: You got it.

HAMMOND: Thank you for having us.

BERMAN: An amazing story --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Forty-two years.

BERMAN: I was going to say, the Diamondbacks didn't even exist when he went to prison 40 years ago. It didn't exist for about another 25 years after that.

BALDWIN: I hope he had a cold beer.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, could she hold her own in the NBA? Next, Brittney Griner responds to talk she could try out for the Dallas Mavericks. That's what's trending. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back. Minding Your Business.

Dow futures up about 50 points right now. In just a few minutes, we're expecting to hear that weekly jobless claims fell in the latest week, except for a blitz because of hurricane Sandy. New claims have been below 400,000 since 2011. That's a threshold, analysts say, signifies hiring.

How much would you pay for a baseball card? How about $1.6 million? That's how high the bidding has reached for the Honus Wagner 1909 baseball card. It could hit $2.5 million. There are only 50 of them in existence. This one is in very good condition. It's in short supply because Wagner made the American tobacco company recall this card, because he didn't want kids to buy cigarettes. Bidding ends tomorrow. Not very many of them, that's for sure.

BERMAN: A very legendary card. Now, Christine Romans, this is a story that was most interesting to you of all the stories we've talked about all day.

BALDWIN: Jon Bon fan?

BERMAN: Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, they've been together a long time. But Sambora will not be on stage during the final leg of the group's "Because We Can" tour. Apparently, they can't. A statement on Bon Jovi's website cited personal issues but gave no other details on Sambora's absence.

The band says all shows will go on as scheduled. The 53-year-old guitarist, he has struggled in the past with substance abuse.

ROMANS: But now, there is some speculation, though, it could be some sort of creative differences between Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. They've been friends for a very, very long time. He did miss -- are you surprised how much I know about this?

BALDWIN: Have you ever seen them live?

ROMANS: First show I ever saw, I think it was with Poison --

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: The interplay between the two of them is very good. But I think in the 2011 tour, there were some shows where Richie Sambora did not perform. So, we'll see.

BERMAN: For more on Jon Bon Jovi, visit CNN.com.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Thanks so much.

BALDWIN: Is it going to be the year of the women in the NBA? Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, has now talked about drafting 6'8" Brittney Griner. She's all-American with the Baylor Lady Bears. Greiner seems open to Cuban's offer. She has taken to Tweeter, tweeting this, "So, when do I show up for tryouts?" Ball is now in Mark Cuban's court.

BERMAN: She's good for her. She's great, and I'd like to see her do it.

BALDWIN: 6'8. Ooh! BERMAN: She can dunk. She's fantastic.

BALDWIN: Good for her.

BERMAN: One of the best players I've ever seen.

BALDWIN: Good for her.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, some shocking prison footage to tell you about. Inmates with guns, shooting up drugs, all caught on the camera of a smuggled cell phone. This morning, the search for an answer to how this possibly could have been allowed to happen?

BALDWIN: Also ahead, disgraced cyclist, Lance Armstrong, heading back into competitive sports, but he will not be riding a bike. Details when STARTING POINT comes back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BALDWIN: Good morning. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Christine Romans has the look at today's top stories. Hello.

ROMANS: Good morning to both of you again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Today marks the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination at a motel in Memphis. Faith and community leaders plan to honor the civil rights icon by holding a gun violence prevention rally in Atlanta. They're calling it "Protecting The Dream."