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Boston Bombing Investigation; FBI Interviews "Misha"; Tamerlan Tsarnaev Linked To Plotnikov?; NBA Player Jason Collins Says He's Gay; Cargo Jet Crash; Search For 9/11 Human Remains; Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Gets New Lawyer; Search For A Killer

Aired April 30, 2013 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN: 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 now. Did the death of this boxer-turned-jihadist push Tamerlan Tsaranev towards terror?

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And the revelation heard around the world. Jason Collins comes out as gay, rocking the NBA, triggering a huge response from sports fans everywhere.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. It is Tuesday, April 30th. It is 6:00 a.m. in the East. And we're going to begin with some pretty interesting new developments here in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. This surprised a lot of people. Female DNA has been found on one of the explosive devices.

So, now the big question is, who's DNA is it? The FBI now closely monitoring Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow, Katherine Russell. They visited her at her parents' home in Rhode Island, and they left with bags of DNA evidence. They're also trying to piece together her every move in the days before and just after the attacks.

Also news this morning, "The Boston Herald" reports that the state medical examiner has determined Tamerlan's official cause of death, but, but they're not releasing the details because Russell nor anyone else has claimed Tamerlan's body yet.

As for surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev another lawyer has been added to his defense team, death penalty expert Judy Clarke. Her past clients, pretty high profile, they include Susan Smith, convicted of drowning her two children. She represented Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, as well as Tucson shooter Jared Loughner. All these clients were spared the death penalty, getting life sentences, instead.

Investigators now focusing in on that DNA found on bomb fragments in Boston, yesterday, the FBI searched Katherine Russell's family home in Rhode Island, as we told you. Our Pamela Brown is in Devens, Massachusetts. That's where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in custody right now. Pamela's got the latest on the investigation. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, John. The investigation at this point seemed to be focused on Katherine Russell, the widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. We saw yesterday afternoon FBI agents entered the home she's been staying in, in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. They walked out carrying bags of evidence. Authorities want to know what role, if any, she may have played in helping to carry out the attack.


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 block 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 cooker devices used in the Boston Marathon bombings. Russell, who has denied any involvement in the attacks, has been staying in this North Kingstown, Rhode Island, home, ever since her husband's death during a police shootout.

Nearby in this West Warwick, Rhode Island apartment, the FBI has interviewed Mikhail Allakhverdov, the mysterious man known as "Misha," identified by the suspect's 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 in 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 had been his teacher I would have made sure that he knew 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at me, I said.

BROWN: He's now at this prison hospital here in Devens, Massachusetts, locked up in a tiny 10x10 foot cell where he will spend all his time except for one hour allowed each day for outside activity.


BROWN: And we have learned that a judge has appointed the experienced death penalty lawyer Judy Clarke of California to Tsarnaev's defense team. She has represented a number of high profile clients, including Jared Loughner, the accused Tucson mass shooter and interesting to note here, John, that most of her high profile clients have received life in prison rather than the death penalty.

BERMAN: She has a great deal of experience in this field, Pamela, to be sure. Pamela, as we mentioned before the Boston "Herald" reporting that examiners have determined a cause of death for Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but they're not telling us. Why?

BROWN: That's right. And that's because, John, no one has claimed his body. The examiner's office tells us that essentially Tamerlan's widow, Katherine Russell, and his family members haven't come by to claim his body. So until that happens, the officials aren't going to release any details about his cause of death. As you mentioned, they have determined his cause of death -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Pamela Brown for us in Devens, Massachusetts this morning. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Meanwhile, federal investigators want to know if Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev ever knew a man named William Plotnikov, remember that name. Our Nic Robertson is in Dagestan. Nic, what do we know about this figure, William Plotnikov?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was 23 years old. He was Canadian. His parents were from Russia, his father from the north and his mother from the south. And in this area, he was a convert to Islam, had moved out to Dagestan, perhaps in about 2010, and was killed in a village in July last year, along with six other rebel fighters, in a village not so far from this city here -- John.

BERMAN: And, Nic, what's the significance of this connection? There also may be another militant that Tamerlan Tsarnaev could or could not have met with when he was there.

ROBERTSON: Yes, the significance of the connection is, look, he had a number of things in common with Tamerlan. In this region, at the same time, both were boxers. Both had sort of gone down the radical Islamic route, a possibility that the pair of them had met in Toronto, which was where Plotnikov lived in 2009.

Tamerlan reported to have visited his aunt in that city in 2009 so the possibility of a prior connection. But Plotnikov was living with two people sympathetic to rebels in a farm just outside a small village. We've talked to people in that village. They say that the shoot-out that killed him, six other people were killed, one of them a leading rebel commander.

So the concern is, if Tamerlan Tsarnaev knew Plotnikov, he was already fighting with rebels. Is that a sort of connection where Tsarnaev could have gathered bomb making skills, gun fighting skills, anything like that, could he have teamed up through his connection with rebels -- John. BERMAN: It does seem to be a lot of overlap between their times there and also the activities going on in that region at that time. Nic Robertson in Dagestan for us this morning. Thanks so much.

Let's go back to Zoraida in New York for the rest of the day's top stories. Hi, Z.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning, to you, John. So it's not every day a journeyman pro athlete breaks new ground. But Jason Collins did it with these twelve words. I'm a 34-year-old NBA center, I'm black, and I'm gay. Collins is the first openly gay male athlete active in a major American team sport. And reactions are coming out in the pages of "Sports Illustrated" has been largely positive. More now from CNN's Rachel Nichols.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the past 12 seasons, Jason Collins has done the NBA's dirty work, his seven 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. The first lady tweeted it was a huge step forward for the country. Many from the NBA community also expressed support.

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, NBA/TNT ANALYST: Character is found in those who lead. I like to commend you, Jason, for coming out and showing us what leadership looks like.

KENYON DOOLING, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES GUARD: I'm glad he took that step. I know he feels liberated for doing it. I wish him the best and I hope that, you know, NBA guys can get past sexual orientation. You know, all that B.S. you know at the end of the day he's a good guy, he's a hard worker, he's a good basketball player and that's what he should be judged for and that's what he should be known for.

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

CHRIS BROUSSARD, ESPN/NBA WRITER AND ANALYST: I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality, I think it's a sin, as I think all sex outside of 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 NBA lockout, but it was the Boston Marathon bombings that pushed him to action. Helping him 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 number 98 as a tribute to Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student tortured and murdered 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 U.S. pro leagues. That said, Collins is a free agent, which means right now, he's looking for a job.


SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Rachel Nichols there.

Jason Collins responded on Twitter to the broad public support. He tweeted, "Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me through e- mail, text, calls, tweets, letters, and every other form of communication, hash tag support. And all the support I have received today is truly inspirational. I knew that I was choosing the road less traveled, but I'm not walking alone."

So just ahead at 6:40 Eastern, we'll get more reaction from Mike Goalic and Mike Greenberg, ESPN's Mike and Mike, looking forward to that.

A developing story in Afghanistan right now where the crash of a cargo jet 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 and the United Arab Emirates. National carries military and business cargo in Afghanistan. The cause of the crash is not known, but the Taliban is already claiming responsibility there.

And a grim search in Lower Manhattan grinds on this morning. The New York City medical examiner is 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 is completed.

And coming up, a murder mystery in Northern California, the massive search for the man who killed an 8-year-old girl inside her own home.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone, here in Boston this morning. We wanted to update you on some new developments in the marathon bombing investigation. Investigators right now say they found female DNA on one of the explosive devices that were detonated near the finish line.

The FBI is taking a closer look at Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow. They were seen leaving her parents' home with potential evidence, including a bag containing DNA samples. Investigators are also reportedly trying to get DNA samples from a number of other people, as well, as they try to find anyone who may have been involved before, after, or during these attacks.

As for the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, another lawyer has been added to his defense team, a famous one, death penalty expert Judy Clarke. Her past clients include Susan Smith who was convicted of drowning her two children. She also represented Ted Kaczynski, as well as Tucson shooter Jared Loughner. These clients all avoided the death penalty, getting life sentences, instead -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much. It's 14 minutes past the hour. Developing story in Northern California, where police are looking for a suspect in the murder of an 8-year-old girl murdered in her home. The parents of Leila Fowler did not have to say anything at a news conference last night. Look at them. The pain on their faces told the entire story.

CNN's Paul Vercammen live in Valley Springs, California with the very latest on the hunt for Leila's killer. Good morning to you, Paul.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Zoraida. Well, police think that they have fingerprints. They think that they have DNA. That, of course, takes time to process.

In the meantime, residents here want a resolution as quickly as possible.


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 (voice-over): 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: And I took my kids in instantly and locked the doors. And waited to find out what happened. It was scary. I mean, 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 here, they'll let their emotions flow. There will be a vigil for Leila at 7:00 Pacific Time -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I can't imagine trying to get back to normal life, letting your kids play outdoors, very typical for that community.

Paul Vercammen, thank you.

Drug smugglers in Tijuana, Mexico, had grand designs when they constructed a tunnel that was supposed to get their product into the United States. Take a look at this, folks. This nearly 1,200-foot- long tunnel was built to connect a warehouse in Tijuana with another one in San Diego. It features an elevator and a rail system designed to transport drug shipments.

But they never got to use it. The smugglers tunneled within yards of the U.S. border before the operation was shut down by the Mexican military. Quite an engineering feat there, though.

All right. Unless you're an adrenaline junkie or younger than 6 years old, chances are you're not a fan of turbulence when you fly.

Unfortunately, we all maybe seeing a little more of it. Christine Romans explains why a bumpy ride could be in your future in today's warriors.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I know. Here we go, Zoraida. According to researchers in the United Kingdom climate change will cause more turbulence over the next couple of decades. They say that's because global warming will strengthen air currents which is what creates those bumps.

The study focused on the North Atlantic but researchers said they expected to find similar results elsewhere in the world, as well. If spilling your drink, stopping you from using the bathroom and maybe scaring you weren't enough, turbulence may also affect your wallet. Researchers say it already cost the industry around $150 million a year so that figure would likely rise.

Also, flights will get longer as planes fly around turbulence, which means using more fuel. All this equals higher ticket prices, potentially more emissions which could add to global warming. So, you're seeing a horrible little vicious cycle there.

British Airways reports it's already investing in systems to more effectively help pilots avoid turbulence. And authorities say some plane manufacturers are also working on new tracking radars.

You know, it's interesting. As they try to pack the plane and some planes have even been smaller, that means you're more prone to a little bit of turbulence, as well. So, we'll watch this space. Global warming blamed (ph) for something here, researchers from the U.K.

SAMBOLIN: There you have it, "Road Warriors". Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: You may not have heard of Jason Collins before yesterday, but you can bet on seeing a lot more of this NBA trail blazer. What's coming out could mean for endorsement deals. That's coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Twenty-two minutes past the hour. We're minding your business this morning.

S&P 500, record high.

ROMANS: I know. And stocks could make it six for six, Zoraida. It's the last trading day of the month of the NASDAQ and S&P 500 on track for a sixth straight monthly gain. Six months in a row.

SAMBOLIN: We like that.

ROMANS: We like that.

And a record high overseas but not one we like to see. Record high unemployment in the eurozone, 12.1 percent. So, that's what we're watching right now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So meanwhile, for everybody who hasn't heard, an NBA player Jason Collins announcing that he is gay. So, the question is, advertisers. Will they flee? Or will they scoop him up?

ROMANS: It could be a possible endorsement for companies who want to be affiliated with this piece of history, right? And with this movement within professional sports.

And it could translate into money if Collins wants to capitalize and that's unclear. But, right now, Jason Collins doesn't have a lot of endorsements. Just one from Nike. The company, by the way, doesn't even use him in his ads. He did make almost $1.4 million last season.

But one marketing expert tells us Collins could turn this revelation into an additional seven-figure boost. Nike might consider using him in some commercials. Companies already expressing support. Nike says it admires Collins' courage, it's proud that he's a Nike athlete, and it believes in a level playing field where sexual orientation isn't a consideration.

SAMBOLIN: And, by the way, he has a stellar reputation on top of that. So that's a winning combination for him.

ROMANS: Right. He's a pro's pro in the NBA. Now other endorsements and speaking engagements could follow. I mean, he could make a fortune on the speaking circuit.

Look he's playing basketball. He's basketball right now. And that's what makes this so newsworthy, I think.

In terms of corporate America, the timing is right here, too. I mean, advertisers are more open these days. JCPenney and Revlon use Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson. Companies like Starbucks and Target, they have come out in support of gay marriage.

So, the atmosphere has really changed so much in the past five years, the timing is really right from a marketing, from an endorsement standpoint that this is a vehicle the companies might really be interested in. has a really great take-out of what this means, branding and corporate experts are saying about it.

SAMBOLIN: Looking forward to that. I think I need to read that. I read just about everything else. And it's really a fascinating story and the courage to write what he wrote I think is remarkable.

ROMANS: I would suspect, I don't know him personally. I would suspect money had nothing, could be the farthest thing from his mind.

SAMBOLIN: When you read his essay, you won't jump to that conclusion. All right. What's the one thing we need to know about our money today?

ROMANS: Don't forget about the Fed. Policymakers are kicking off a two-day meeting. They are expected to keep pumping billions of dollars into the economy.

So those record highs on Wall Street, they could continue because it's the only place for money to go. Bad news, though, for savers we expect interest rates to stay very, very low for some time.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: It is 24 minutes past the hour.

An awkward moment for former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Did he not expect it? Find out how he responded during last night's congressional debate when his rival raised questions about his cheating past.