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Boston Bombing Suspect: Brothers Acted Alone; SWAT Team Tactics Against Tsarnaev; Bomb Experts Study Pressure Cooker Bombs; Israeli Intelligence Says Syria Used Sarin Gas; Midwest Flooding; Rock Revival

Aired April 23, 2013 - 08:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone, live from Boston this morning, just a block away from the marathon finish line. New developments unfolding right now in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is communicating with investigators from his hospital bed.

A government source tells CNN's Jake Tapper that Tsarnaev claims his older brother, Tamerlan, was the driving force behind last week's terror plot. He insists they acted alone and that no foreign terrorist groups were involved. And he says as for what motivated the bombings, Tsarnaev claims that he and his brother did it in defense of Islam.

Want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst right now. Jeffrey is in New York this morning. And Jeffrey, based on Jake's reporting there, a lot of information conveyed from Dzhokhar to investigators. How will that affect the prosecution?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is not shaping up as a whodunit. There is -- it looks like this will be an overwhelming case, and the paradox of what he said yesterday, or what he said to investigators, is that it probably lessens his leverage to work out any sort of plea deal, because he doesn't have anyone to give up. If it was just him and his brother, there is no broader conspiracy. He can't promise, "If you give me a deal that lets me avoid the death penalty, I will uncover this conspiracy for you." Apparently there is nothing more there, if this is true, and his leverage then goes down.

BERMAN: Jeffrey, one of the things we do not know is if -- or how much of this information was conveyed before or after he was told his Miranda rights. How does that affect the situation?

TOOBIN: It probably doesn't have that much legal effect. Given the magnitude of evidence, the government probably wouldn't introduce those statements in court. Now, it is probably a close legal question about whether those statements could be admitted in court, but there appears to be so much other evidence against him that the government could simply avoid the problem altogether, prove the case through other means, and the Miranda issue would simply go away as a possible impediment to his conviction.

BERMAN: Jeffrey, how much does it matter that he seems to be saying that his brother was the mastermind behind these plots? Is he trying to deflect the focus on him, maybe deflect some of the blame? And could that possibly help him in a prosecution?

TOOBIN: Well, it might help him in the penalty phase. Certainly it doesn't excuse his participation. Apparently it was voluntary, he was a knowing participant, he wasn't brainwashed. This wasn't some sort of insanity type situation. But when it comes to a jury imposing the death penalty, you never know exactly what's going to influence them, and the fact that he is so young by legal standards -- he's just 19 -- the brother perhaps was the dominant figure in all of this, it might persuade a jury to spare his life. But it certainly is not a legal defense to the charge.

BERMAN: What about the fact that sock Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apparently left the Boston area, went back to his college at Dartmouth, the campus of University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, about 60 miles from here? He was working out, he may have gone to a party. How might that factor into things? It certainly shows, you know, he wasn't cowering in remorse at the time.

TOOBIN: It certainly is nothing good for him, because if his defense is "I was overwhelmed by my brother, I had no free will, I was simply doing his bidding," he certainly doesn't look like someone who was consumed by remorse or dominated by his brother. He seems to have been going about his business.

The -- again, so much of this is just bizarre. I mean, that kind of behavior, how they thought they would get away with this is -- remains mysterious. But it certainly doesn't help him in the eyes of a jury to be seen leading a normal day-to-day life after committing such a horrible act.

BERMAN: So Jeffrey, what's next here? I mean, one thing we did not see yet is any state charges. We saw no murder charge for the officer, you know, for the killing of Officer Sean Collier. Will those come up or is this is going to stick to a federal case for now?

TOOBIN: Well, that's going to be the product of some negotiation. But the usual way these things are resolved is that the federal case goes first. And what happens now, now that the -- there has been an arraignment on the complaint, the case will go to a grand jury. And in the next 30 days, there will probably be an initial indictment. At that point, the case will be assigned to a federal district judge, the grand jury investigation will continue, but, you know, things will probably slow down at that point as the investigation proceeds. I think, realistically, it probably will be a year until this case goes to trial if it actually goes to trial.

BERMAN: If it actually goes to trial. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much for being with us this morning. Really appreciate it, Jeff.

TOOBIN: OK, John. BERMAN: We have some new developments to tell you about this morning about the tactics that the SWAT team used to arrest Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the highly trained team slowly approached the boat. They did not know if Tsarnaev would try to kill himself or kill them possibly with a suicide bomb. They described to Anderson Cooper how they finally subdued him.


OFFICER JEFF CAMPBELL, MBTA TRANSIT POLICE SWAT: We got close enough that at the one point where both of his hands were up because of the rocking back and forth, both of his hands were up, we could see no weapons in them, no ignition devices. We broke away from the shield protective cover and just rushed him. We put hands on him, grabbed him and pulled him off the boat, down onto the ground.


BERMAN: The reason the SWAT team immediately pulled off his shirt apparently was to check if he was wearing some kind of explosives, maybe even possibly a suicide vest.

With less than $100 and access to the Internet, you can actually build a pressure cooker bomb. But learning how to do it is not the point of our next story. CNN commissioned bomb experts at a testing facility in New Mexico to build and detonate a pressure cooker bomb. The idea is to learn more about what they do and possibly how to prevent them from doing so much harm.

Our David Mattingly explains.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At this remote desert testing ground, experts from New Mexico Tech replicate and explode bombs used by terrorists. On this day, there is a sense of urgency.

(on camera): After Boston, what are you worried about? Could this be the future of domestic terrorists?

VAN ROMERO, NEW MEXICO TECH V.P.: Well, you're always worried about copycats. You know, are more and more people going to be using this?

MATTINGLY (voice-over): This is a pressure cooker bomb similar to the bombs in Boston and we're about to set it off.

ROMERO: All right, going to do the countdown? .

MATTINGLY: In the wrong hands, we know how deadly this bomb can be, and we're not taking any chances.

(on camera): For safety reasons, we've had to retreat to this mountaintop here. We are now over a quarter of a mile away from where we left that pressure cooker.

(voice-over): But that's still not far enough to avoid flying shrapnel, so we're watching from inside a bunker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, four, three, two, one.


MATTINGLY (on camera): Wow. That white smoke looks just like what we saw in Boston.

(voice-over): I could feel it, all the way up here.

ROMERO: Oh yes, that shockwave will travel all the way.

MATTINGLY: But down below is the real shock.

ROMERO: At this point, we're looking for fragments.

MATTINGLY: One bomb turned into thousands of weapons scattered more than 100 yards. This was part of the pressure cooker, now mangled and razor sharp. No wonder so many people got hurt. Instead of nails, we filled the pot with nuts from a hardware store. Shot out like bullets, they pierced plywood. Some even melted from the heat.

(on camera): Look at the back of it? How fast were these things moving when they went out of there?

ROMERO: They can travel 1,000, 2,000 feet a second.

MATTINGLY: A second -- that's faster than sound.

ROMERO: Right, they'll move faster than the speed of sound. These things will actually get in front of the shockwave and hit you before the shock or the pressure wave does.

MATTINGLY: You're hit before you hear it?

ROMERO: That's right.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Here's what the blast looks like using a high-speed camera -- an intense ball of fire less than 20 feet across. But watch the white rings on the desert floor; that's the shock wave. Engineers studying this blast say there's a lesson in here for first responders.

(on camera): Let's say I'm a first responder. What do I need to be aware of when I come up on scene like this?

ROMERO: Well, there's a lot of shrapnel around. It's very hot, it's very sharp. You could easily cut yourself. There could be unexploded ordnance, parts of the bomb that are still left over that didn't explode when it was supposed to explode. That could go off at any time.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But for potential bystanders, out of this demonstration, there are only words of caution. By the time you hear the boom, you could already be hit. Awareness of your surroundings could be the only defense. David Mattingly, CNN, Socorro, New Mexico.


BERMAN: Look at that explosion. Our thanks to David Mattingly for that.

Here is what we can expect here in Boston today: Boylston Street, which is just behind me, is reopening to residents and business owners. We've already seen some people start to trickle in escorted by police officers. Again, just the residents and people who work there will be allowed back today.

This evening, members of Congress will be briefed by the FBI over their handling of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. And this afternoon, in closed House and Senate intelligence meetings, investigators will look into how the Tsarnaev brothers obtained guns and also if they had any help.

Also today, a private funeral for slain MIT Officer Sean Collier; that is scheduled for today. A public memorial set for tomorrow. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden are scheduled to attend.

Christine Romans, back in New York with some of the day's other stories that we're following right now. Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning again, John.

New this morning, more allegations surfacing that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, likely saran nerve gas on rebels.

Sara Sidner following developments this morning for us from Jerusalem. Sara, what's the latest?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, there was a statement made this morning by Israeli Brigadier General Itai Brun, the commander of the research division of the Intelligence Directorate. Now, according to his professional assessment and his assessment of those that are inside of that directorate, he said that the regime did use chemical deadly weapons against armed rebels on a number of occasions in the past few months.

And then he directly talked about a March 19th attack where he said that the victims showed signs of deadly chemical weapons, and that the type of chemicals he said was likely used was sarin gas, as well as neutralizing and nonlethal chemical weapons.

Now, what he does not indicate is whether Israel has brand new intelligence or is basing their assessment on videos and information that have come out of that area from the past from other sources. He did make the comments this morning, speaking in Hebrew at a conference that was put on INSS (sic), that's Israel's Institute for National Studies, a think tank linked to Tel Aviv University that is chock full of former members of Israeli intelligence and military.

ROMANS: All right, Sara Sidner. Thank you so much, Sara. A Chicago-area teen arrested on terrorism charges expected in court today. Federal authorities say 18-year-old Abdella Ahmad Tounisi planned to join a terror group linked to al Qaeda. He was arrested Friday at O'Hare airport with a one-way plane ticket to Turkey. The suspect's father says his son is a good kid.


AHMAD TOUNISI, FATHER: Everything is possible, but I know my kid. I raised my kid. Yes, we weren't always seeing eye to eye. He wants me a little more religious, a little more, you know, on the religious side, which is understandable. I'm telling you, I wish -- I wish, I honestly, truly, from the bottom of my heart, wish that I'm as good of a person as he is.


ROMANS: The teen charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. He's being held without bond.

Some possible new leads in a missing person case that appears to be going cold. A New Orleans school teacher, Terrrilyn Monette, was last seen on March 2. Police are now using sonar to search Lake Pontchartrain for clues. Images revealed cars that haven't been underwater very long. Monette disappeared after serving her Teacher of the Year nomination. Traffic cameras showed her in her car that night driving alone.

He's back on Twitter, disgraced former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner launching a new account nearly two years after tweeting a sexually suggestive image that led to his political downfall. Weiner's trying to make a comeback; he's said to be considering a run for New York City Mayor this year. Right now his new Twitter account, @anthonyweiner, has just over 7,000 followers.

Singer Neil Diamond says the City of Boston's response to the marathon tragedy has inspired him to write a song about it. Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" already an anthem for Red Sox nation. The singer made a surprise appearance at Fenway Park last Saturday and led fans in a rousing sweet sing-along. It was the Red Sox's first game since the Boston Marathon bombings. No word on when we can expect the new Neil Diamond tune, but he says he's putting it on the fast track.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, floodwaters rising in the Midwest, swallowing communities whole. Next, we're going to take you to a town trying to save its homes.

You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: More rain in the forecast means record flooding across the Midwest will continue today. The Grand River is now more than two feet above its flood stage in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Missouri is in a state of emergency and governors have declared disaster areas in Iowa and in Illinois. CNN's Jim Spellman live for us this morning in Spring Bay, Illinois where residents there are getting ready for more flooding from the rain-swollen Illinois River. This is not over for them, is it, Jim?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. The Illinois River, its banks, usually all the way through these woods back here. But you can see how far it's come up about two blocks into town -- maybe 65, 70 homes here are flooded. We haven't heard widespread reports of this kind of flooding. But for this low-lying riverside towns, it's definitely a disaster. Take a look.


SPELLMAN (voice-over): Last-minute preps in Spring Bay, Illinois, as floodwaters inundates this riverside community.

(on camera): Where is your home?

STARLYNN WINCHELL, FLOOD VICTIM: My home is the gray and white mobile home with the black shutters on it.

SPELLMAN: You can't get to your home by foot now?


SPELLMAN: Have you ever seen this much water come up here?




SPELLMAN (voice-over): Starlynn Winchell's home, along with about 40 others in this trailer community, began to flood Sunday and the water has continued to rise.

WINCHELL: Yesterday, I cried all day.

SPELLMAN (on camera): And today?

WINCHELL: Today, I'm not crying yet, but the more I see that water come up, the more I'll cry. SPELLMAN (voice-over): The Red Cross is on site assessing the area as the fire chief prepares for the worst.

(on camera): This is evacuation order?

CHIEF DENNIS PERRY, SPRING BAY FIRE DEPT: This is the evacuation notice.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): Mandatory evacuations for residents in low- lying areas. His biggest fear: people ignoring the order and getting trapped in hard to reach parts of the community.

PERRY: Some of these places I simply can't get to, and that's going to be a real big disadvantage for us. SPELLMAN: Jared Teegarden just moved to Spring Bay a few months ago.

JARED TEEGARDEN, HOMEOWNER: Welcome to the neighborhood.

SPELLMAN: As the river began to flood, he built this homemade levee from four dump trucks full of sand. So far, it's working.

TEEGARDEN: We're probably four feet of water if not. So, we're doing all right. Better than most.

SPELLMAN: His neighbor, Brad Lohman, among those not doing as well.

BRAD LOHMAN, BAR OWNER: It's kind of emotional to kind of see this situation. You know, it's bad deal.

SPELLMAN: He's worked at this bar, Beamer's (ph) Village Inn, since he was a teenager, eventually buying it. He says repairs would total more than $50,000.

Will he reopen?

LOHMAN: No, I don't think so. It's going to be a total loss. I really do.


SPELLMAN: This water rises so fast, but it takes so long to go back into the river. About a week and a half before it recedes enough for them to really start cleaning up all the mess this is going to leave behind -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right Jim Spellman for us in Illinois. Thanks, Jim.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, still creative after all these years. A rock legend's long struggle with mental illness in this week's "Human Factor". You're watching STARTING POINT.


BERMAN: Welcome back to Boston everyone.

CNN has learned that Boston marathon terror suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev claimed that he and his brother hatched their plot in defense of Islam. A government official tells our Jake Tapper to Tsarnaev is communicating with investigators, even though he can hardly speak. He claims it was his older brother, Tamerlan, who was the driving force behind last Monday's Boston Marathon bombing attack. He insists there were no foreign groups involved.

We'll continue our reporting into the latest on the Boston bombings in just a few minutes. But first, Christine Romans is back in New York with some of the day's other top stories we're following -- Christine.

ROMANS: Good morning again, John, thanks.

OK, he was a pioneer of psychedelic rock, but mental illness kept Rocky Erickson off the stage for years. While the condition robbed him much of his past, for Rocky, it's still about the music.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has his story in this week's "Human Factor".


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Rocky Erickson is a legend for fans of early psychedelic music. He's been making music since he was a child.

ROCK ERICKSON, MUSICIAN: It was something I could always look forward to, you know, if I would -- if I would get out of school early, then I can go home and play my guitar.

GUPTA: "The 13th Floor Elevators", "You're going to Miss Me", hit the charts in the 1960s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have Rocky, 17, you know, making music, going on "American Bandstand".

GUPTA: His son Jegar recalls the day that his dad's world changed.

JEGAR ERICKSON, ROCKY ERICKSON'S SON: The cops focused on him. He got arrested for picking up a person, there was a joint found on him.

GUPTA: To avoid prison, Rocky pleaded insanity and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and treated with Thorazine, electroshock therapy and experimental medications.

J. ERICKSON: He described it a little to me and I didn't expect it. He said "Sometimes I hear something and (inaudible). I tell it to shut up."

GUPTA: What's kept him alive he says is his music.

R. ERICKSON: Find the things that you have that you love are important and make sure that you know you have them with you.

GUPTA: Every day is still a battle. But Rocky says his mental health is improving.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


ROMANS: All right, STARTING POINT, back in a moment.


ROMANS: And that's it for STARTING POINT this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

CNN's continuing live team coverage of the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings continues right now with Wolf Blitzer in Boston.