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Female DNA Found on Boston Bomb; Tamerlan Tsarnaev Linked to Plotnikov?; NBA Player Jason Collins Says He's Gay

Aired April 30, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The FBI focused on the widow of one of the Boston marathon terror suspects, after this startling revelation: female DNA found on a bomb fragment.

Plus, the Russian connection traced to a Canadian man. Did the death of this boxer-turned-jihadist push Tamerlan Tsarnaev to terror?

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And, John, the revelation heard around the world. Jason Collins revealed he's gay, rocking the NBA and triggering a huge response from sports fans everywhere. There's a lot of dialogue going about that this morning.

Good morning to you. Welcome back to EARLY START. Nice to have you with us this morning.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman, live in Boston today.

It is Tuesday, April 30th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin this morning with a dramatic new development in the Boston marathon bombing investigation. Female DNA has been found on one of the explosive devices. And now, federal investigators are closely monitoring Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow. You see her leaving her parents' home in Rhode Island. They're trying to figure out what Katherine Russell did in the days before and just after the attack.

Also, "The Boston Herald" reports this morning that the state medical examiner has determined Tamerlan's cause of death. They have determined his cause of death, but hey are not releasing the details because Russell has not claimed her husband's body yet.

As for surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, another lawyer has been added to his defense team. Death penalty expert Judy Clarke, whose past clients include Susan Smith, convicted of drowning her two children. She also represented the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and Jared Loughner, who killed six people and wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the 2011 Tucson rampage. All these clients avoided the death penalty, getting life sentences, instead.

Federal investigators are now focusing their efforts on the female DNA that was discovered on bomb fragments at the Boston marathon finish line. Yesterday, they searched Katherine Russell's home in Rhode Island. This could be a big development.

And Pamela Brown is live in Devens, Massachusetts, where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in custody with more on the investigation. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John. When FBI agents left the home of Katherine Russell yesterday, they carried out bags of evidence. They want to know what role, if any, she may have played in helping to carry out the attacks.


BROWN (voice-over): FBI agents searched this home belonging to the family of Katherine Russell, the widow of Boston bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who she married three years ago.

Agents carried out two black equipment cases and clear plastic bags, marked DNA samples. Sources say the FBI took these samples to see if they match up with female DNA discovered on the pressure devices used in the Boston marathon bombings.

Russell, who has denied any involvement in the attack, has been staying in this North Kingstown, Rhode Island, home ever since her husband's death during a police shoot-out. Nearby in this West Warwick, Rhode Island, apartment, the FBI has interviewed Mikhail Allakhverdov, the mysterious man known as "Misha", identified by the suspects' relatives as a key influence in radicalizing Tamerlan.

The attorney for Misha's family says they're cooperating.

RICHARD NICHOLSON, ATTORNEY: To date, they have answered all the questions that have been asked of them by the authorities. They're fully cooperating. And that's it. There's really nothing more to say.

BROWN: Misha denies any wrongdoing and says he hasn't spoken to Tamerlan for three years, according to a reporter who recently interviewed him.

CHRISTIAN CARYL, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: What he told me was, I was not his teacher. If I'd been his teacher, I would have made sure that he knew something that doing something like this was wrong. So, he was very, very emphatic about that, very upset.

BROWN: This new YouTube video has surfaced, allowing us to hear Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's voice for the first time as he plays with his niece.

DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV, BOMBING SUSPECT: Look at me, I'd say (ph). Get out.

BROWN: He's now in this prison hospital here in Devens, Massachusetts, locked up in a tiny ten-by-ten-foot cell, where he must spend all his time, except for one hour allowed each day for outside activity.


BROWN: And we have learned the experienced death penalty lawyer, Judy Clarke of California, will join Tsarnaev's defense team. She has represented a number of high-profile clients, including most recently, Jared Loughner, the mass murderer in Tucson.

Interesting to note here, John, that in most of the cases with her high-profile clients, they have received life in prison, rather than the death penalty.

BERMAN: That's right. All of the high-profile clients.

All right. Pamela Brown in Devens, Massachusetts.

While the investigation continues here in Boston, around New England, there was also this Russian connection. And federal investigators want to know if Tamerlan Tsarnaev ever knew an alleged boxer-turned- jihadist named William Plotnikov.

Our Phil Black is live in Moscow with more details.

And Phil, what do we know about this man Plotnikov?


Yes, William Plotnikov, a Canadian citizenship, as you say, a boxer- turned-jihadist. It sounds familiar. It is a similar narrative, if you like, to what is believed to have happened to the accused Boston bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Plotnikov was born in Russia, moved to Canada as a teenager with his family. And that in some time after that, his family says he was radicalized in Canada. Sometime after that, returned to Russia, to Dagestan, where he fought as a militant. And we know that he was there for the same time, that six-month period in early July 2012, as Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

And, in fact, William Plotnikov was killed by Russian forces in July 2012, only days before Tamerlan Tsarnaev left Russia and returned to the United States.

So, investigators have said they are looking into whether there is any connection between these two men, the possibility that they met, and the possibility that William Plotnikov's death somehow influenced or inspired or was a factor in Tamerlan Tsarnaev's decision to depart Russia and return to the United States -- John.

BERMAN: That timing is awfully coincidental, just days before.

Authorities are also exploring if Tamerlan had any contact with any other militants there?

BLACK: Yes, indeed. There was one other militant that is being mentioned in the same context. Mahmoud Mansur Nidal, a young man, 18, also said to have been a militant. We know a little less about him. But he's being mentioned in Russian media reports. And U.S. investigators are looking into a possible connection between him and Tsarnaev.

He was said to have been a recruiter to local militant groups. And according to the Russian media reports that have mentioned him, he and Tsarnaev was seen to have met on a number of occasions. It supports a theory that is certainly being followed her, that if Tsarnaev was trying to get access to militant groups, this was a logical man for him to be seen with, for him to dealing with, but he also was someone who was killed around the same time, May 2012.

Again, within that same time frame, that same window, that we know Tsarnaev was in Dagestan -- John.

BERMAN: That time frame does appear to be crucial.

All right. Phil Black in Moscow for us, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

We should say that President Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin held a phone call yesterday. They vowed to cooperate in this investigation, that cooperation, Zoraida, no doubt will be needed in the coming days and weeks.

Let's go back to Zoraida for the rest of the day's news.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, John.

In our other big story this morning, veteran NBA player Jason Collins announcing to the world that he is a gay. Collins coming out in a "Sports Illustrated" article. He is the first active player in a major U.S. team sport to do it. The revelation is being met with a chorus of support in the sports world and beyond.

More now from CNN's Rachel Nichols.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS (voice-over): For the past 12 seasons, Jason Collins has done the NBA's dirty work. He's 7-foot, 255-pound frame protecting the basket night after night, with little or no recognition.

But with his revelation in this week's "Sports Illustrated," that he's gay, that anonymity is over. In explaining his decision, Collins said, quote, "I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality, I felt whole for the first time."

President Obama called Collins to say he was impressed with his courage. While the first lady tweeted it was a huge step forward for the country. Many in the NBA community also expressed support.

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Character is found in those who lead. I would like to commend you, Jason, for coming out and showing us what leadership looks like. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad he, you know, took that step. And I know he feels liberated for doing it and I hope -- I wish him the best. And I hope that, you know, NBA guys can get past sexual orientation, you know, all that B.S.

At the end of the day, he's a good guy. He's a hard worker. He's a good basketball player. That's what he should be judged for and known for.

NICHOLS: Not everyone is accepting of his sexuality. Chris Broussard, a prominent ESPN basketball analyst, called Collins a sinner.

CHRIS BROUSSARD, ESPN BASKETBALL ANALYST: I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality. I think it's a sin, as I think all sex outside a marriage between a man and a woman is.

NICHOLS: In his magazine article, Collins said he first thought about revealing his secret during the 2011 lockout, but it was the Boston marathon bombings that pushed him to action, helping to realize, things can change quickly. And there would be no perfect time to divulge his sexuality.

Collins also revealed that he decided to wear rarely seen 98, as a tribute to Matthew Shepard, the gay student tortured in 1998.

Collins is not the first male athlete to come out. But he is the first to do so while still playing for one of the four major leagues.

That said, Collins is a free agent, which means right now, he's looking for a job.

For CNN, I'm Rachel Nichols, New York.


SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Rachel.

This morning, Jason Collins himself is responding to the broad public support he's receiving. He's tweeted, "Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me through e-mail, text, calls, tweets, letters and every other form of communication, #support. And all the support I have received today is inspirational. I know I was choosing the road less traveled. But I'm not walking it alone."

In our next hour, at 6:40 Eastern, we'll talk to Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg, the ESPN's "Mike and Mike", about Jason Collins' revelation, and all of the reaction to it, good and bad.

And a developing story in Afghanistan, where a cargo jet crash has killed seven American citizens. The National Airlines plane went down shortly after takeoff from Bagram Air Force Base. It was on its way to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. National carries military and business cargo in Afghanistan. The cause of this crash is not known. The Taliban is already claiming responsibility. And a grim search in Lower Manhattan grinds on this morning. The New York City medical examiner looking for human remains in a narrow alley where a chunk of rusted plane metal was found just last week. Boeing yesterday confirmed that it was part of a wing flap from one of the two jets that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. The plane part will be removed after the search for remains. It's completed.

So, stocks keep surging and records keep falling on Wall Street. The S&P 500 closing at an all-time high yesterday, up more than 11 points to finish at 1,593. Futures are mixed this morning. And, you know, Christine Romans is going to be minding your business in about 10 minutes from now.

It is 11 minutes past the hour.

Up next, searching for a killer in northern California. An 8-year-old girl -- there she is -- she was murdered in her home. Her parents are looking for answers. We have a live report ahead.

You are watching EARLY START.


BERMAN: Welcome back to Boston, everyone. A really interesting new development to tell you about in the bombing investigation. Female DNA discovered on one of the explosive devices. FBI agents collected DNA from Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife, Katherine Russell. Investigators trying to get DNA samples from a number of other people, as they try to figure out who else might have been involved or if anyone else was involved.

As for surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, another lawyer has been added to his defense team, death penalty expert, Judy Clarke. Past clients included Susan Smith, convicted of drowning her two children, the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and the Tucson shooter Jared Loughner. All these clients, high-profile, indeed, got life sentences instead of the death penalty, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Interesting development there. Thank you very much, John.

And we have a developing story in northern California, where police are still look for a suspect in the murder of an 8-year-old girl in her home. The parents of Leila Fowler did not have to say anything at a news conference last night. The pain on their faces said it all.

CNN's Paul Vercammen live in Valley Springs, California, with the latest on the hunt for Leila's killer. Any new developments there?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the autopsy, Zoraida, confirmed that young Leila died of multiple stab wounds, hemorrhaging at play here. And as we said, she was stabbed a number of times. The authorities are withholding exactly how many times and where because that's a key point of evidence.

Also, no suspects composite out here yet. No prime suspect. And that has residents here very frustrated. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Sheriff's deputies on foot and in patrol cars made their presence seen at Jenny Lind Elementary School. This is where Leila Fowler, the 8-year-old girl stabbed to death in her Valley Springs home over the weekend, attended third grade.

Some classmates held flowers for Leila. Their parents held on to fear.

WENDY CONVERSE, VALLEY SPRINGS PARENT: I'm scared for my kids and for the family. It's horrible. He was friends with her in class, classmates. They sit together at school. It's very sad. Things like that don't happen here. So --

VERCAMMEN (on camera): And, Elijah, tell us what you have and why.

ELIJAH CONVERSE, LEILA'S CLASSMATE: I'm sad. I didn't want her to die.

VERCAMMEN: Leila's mother told CNN via Facebook, "We are devastated. And she was full of life. Look at our baby girl, she didn't deserve this."

Leila's parents appeared at a news conference Monday night. They did not speak and were understandably emotional. Through police, they asked for respect and privacy.

Michael Range (ph) lives near the Fowlers and heard of Leila's deadly stabbing from a neighbor boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I took my kids in instantly and locked the doors. And waited to find out what happened. It was scary. We've been inside all weekend.

VERCAMMEN: A lot of residents here feel trapped, pinned down after the mysterious death of Leila Fowler, who would have turned 9 in June.


VERCAMMEN: And, tonight, they will remember little Leila in a vigil here in town. Undoubtedly, it will be extremely emotional, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. As you hear that mom say, things like that don't happen here.

Tell us a little bit more about that particular community, that particular town.

VERCAMMEN: Well, a lot of people move to these foothill communities or stay in them. Here, in the western slope of the Sierra, because they are so quiet and tranquil and peaceful. It's a choice that many people make, saying it has a low crime rate, it's idyllic.

So, they're absolutely shocked by what happened to them here. One man saying, "I moved from Stockton just to be here. And now, right around the corner from me, a little girl's life is taken."

SAMBOLIN: No, understandably rattled.

Paul Vercammen, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

It is now 19 minutes past the hour.

The man accused of mailing letters laced with the poison ricin to President Obama and two others, is being held without bond. A federal judge in Mississippi has scheduled a preliminary hearing on Thursday, for 41-year-old James Everett Dutschke. He is charged with possessing and using ricin, which is a toxic substance. Dutschke allegedly sent the letters to the president, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, and a local Mississippi judge, as well.

And you may not have heard of Jason Collins before yesterday. But you can bet on seeing a lot more of this NBA trailblazer. What coming out could mean for endorsement deals. That's coming up.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Minding your business this morning -- a record-setting day on Wall Street. The S&P 500, all-time high. On the Dow, triple-digit gains. The NASDAQ, a 12-year high.

Putting investors in a buying mood: a strong housing report, talking to the European Central Bank will cut interest rates. And a rumor out there that the next iPhone could hit store shelves as early as this summer.

Meanwhile, now that veteran NBA player Jason Collins has announced to the world that he's gay has already talked about whether this will boost his marketability. Jason Collins doesn't have a ton of endorsements right now. But some experts we talked to say this acknowledgment that he is gay could translate to cold, hard cash. How much is the question.

Here's where things stand. He made $1.4 million last season. Nike is his only endorsement deal. The company doesn't use him in ads right now.

But one marketing expert tells us Collins could make seven figures from this revelation. Nike might consider using him in specials. The company in a statement said it admires Collins' courage and is proud he's a Nike athlete.

Other endorsements, maybe speaking engagements could follow. But remember, he's not -- until now, he's not a star, star athlete. So, the potential here could be limited. And we know the reason he did this is not for monetary reasons, of course.

But, in terms of corporate America, the timing is right. Advertisers are more open these days. JCPenney and Revlon use Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson. And companies like Starbucks and Target, they've come out in support of gay marriage. You can check out for more on this.

I mean, it would be really nice --


SAMBOLIN: Wouldn't it be something? It was something that we were talking about as we were talking about this, that monetizing this decision that he has made to come out.

ROMANS: And, you know, his decision, when you read that amazing letter he wrote, it's just -- it's just history. You know? So, he was making history, not making money off of this. But you know that corporations and other brands want to line up on the right side of history. You can see how this could be -- his personality could be, his brand could be something that would attract endorsements.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, positive outcome.

All right. Thank you, Christine. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford trying to pull off a political comeback after a stunning fall from grace. Wait until you hear how Sanford responded when his Democratic challenger brought up his past at last night's contentious congressional debate.