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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Boston Bombing Investigation; NBA Player Jason Collins Says He's Gay; Interview with Greg Hilliard, Gunmen Seize Libya's Justice Ministry; Day 2 of Jackson Wrongful Death Suit; AEG To "Show Some Ugly Stuff"

Aired April 30, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. Our STARTING POINT right now, a big development in the Boston bombing investigation. A DNA belonging to a woman found on part of a pressure cooker bomb and now investigators are looking more closely at the dead suspect's wife.

Then an American athlete makes history coming out as gay while still active in one of the major American sports league. Has NBA player Jason Collins knocked down the barrier for closeted professional athletes? We're going to speak with Rick Welts. He is the president and COO of the Golden State Warriors. We're also going to speak to Jason Collins' high school coach, Greg Hilliard.

Plus, the civil trial into Michael Jackson's death is under way and the defense promises it is going to get ugly. We will speak with a possible witness, Attorney Tom Mesereau. He represented Jackson in his 2005 child molestation trial.

And remember when President Obama joked about reaching out to Senator Mitch McConnell?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Well, now, McConnell has a challenge of his own for the president. I think both guys were joking. Not too sure.

It is Tuesday, April 30th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

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BERMAN: Up first, female DNA found on one of the fragments of the Boston marathon bombs. And now, the big question really is, who did it come from? The FBI has now visited Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow, Katherine Russell, at her parents' Rhode Island home. Agents, they were seen leaving with bags of DNA evidence. Meantime, the Massachusetts medical examiner has determined that Tamerlan Tsarnaev's cause of death -- they have been determined his cause of death, but the examiners are releasing details because Russell has not claimed her husband's body. No family member has. No one has yet.

As for surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, another lawyer has been added to his defense team, death penalty expert Judy Clarke. She's had a number of high profile clients in the past.

We want to get straight now to Pamela Brown, who's live in Devens, Massachusetts. That's where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held.

And, Pamela, you have more on this rapidly expanding investigation.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of new developments, John. Authorities trying to figure out who that female DNA found on the bomb belongs to. And they are trying to figure out whether Katherine Russell, the widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, may have played a role in any way in the attack. They went inter her home yesterday afternoon and did not walk out empty handed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 cooker 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 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. 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And we have learned that a judge has appointed the experienced death penalty lawyer Judy Clarke of California to be a part of Tsarnaev's defense team. And she has represented a number of high- profile clients, including Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. More recently, Jared Loughner, the Tucson mass shooter.

And, John, interesting to note her that and with most of her high- profile clients, they have been able to avoid the death penalty.

BERMAN: After pleading guilty.

All right. Pamela Brown live for us this morning in Devens, Massachusetts, with the latest on the investigation -- Pamela, thanks so much to you.

Christine Romans is back in New York with the other top stories we're following this morning. Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, John. Thank you. The other big story we're following this morning. Long-time NBA center Jason Collins revealing he's gay. He's the first openly gay player still active in a major pro-team sports in the U.S. His timing should be just right. Collins is getting support from players, coaches, fans, even the president.

CNN's Rachel Nichols here with more on the reaction to this revelation. Good morning, Rachel.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: You know, it's so interesting. We've had male athletes who come out after they've retired. We have seen male athletes who come out during their careers really for the past 20 or 30 years. But the complexities of the male sports culture, the idea of masculinity in sports, the politics of the locker room, that has made it more complicated for current male athletes.

But it turns out when Jason Collins came out yesterday on the cover of "Sports Illustrated," he taught us all maybe it's just as simple as saying this is who I am.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICHOLS (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.

KEYON DOOLING, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES GUARD: 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 -- 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. 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 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 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NICHOLS: I did have the chance to speak with several -- people around the NBA in the past 24 hours, and Collins will be playing in the NBA next year. First of all, seven-feet tall, utility center.

ROMANS: Right.

NICHOLS: And, you know, I'm a couple inches shorter than that, so I can tell you that's a little bit rare, but also this say league particularly inclusive. It had the first African-American executives, the first female executives, first African-American owner of an NBA franchise. This is a league that has been forward looking in these issues and the feeling has been that it will embrace Jason Collins.

ROMANS: It's interesting, because he also said in that piece that he wanted to come out on his own terms and he didn't want it to be something that showed up in a tabloid or something. You know, he felt there was all of this pressure for the first person to be sort of exposed, and he wanted to control that. I thought that was interesting.

NICHOLS: Yes, he said he kept looking around for someone total raise their hand and he finally decided, "I should be the one to raise my hand." And, you know, this is a kid who went to Stanford. He is a smart cookie. He knows what it means to be a leader. He knows what it is to make this kind of statement. The impact he's going to have.

ROMANS: Rachel Nichols, thanks.

We'll talk to somebody who knows him and has known him since before he went to Sanford, Greg Hilliard. He's a basketball coach at Harvard- Westlake School in Los Angeles. He was Jason Collins' high school coach.

And I'm told you reached out to him on Facebook and you heard back from him yesterday. What did you say to him? What he'd tell you back?

GREG HILLIARD, JASON COLLINS' HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL COACH: Well, I just let him know we were very proud of him and the whole community out here is supportive of him taking that first step and wanted to let him know that we will be with him in the rest of the steps in any way he might need us.

ROMANS: Have you been surprised by the reaction to and the support really for him?

HILLIARD: I think the support is great, and I kind of felt it would be there, and I know it took great courage for him to come out. But I think all of us, now that we've heard the news, are just eager to be there for him and let him thank we admire his courage and that he's exactly who we knew he was, and he's the perfect guy for this role.

ROMANS: You know, there's been a little bit of blowback as well. I want to ask you about that. We heard from ESPN analyst Chris Broussard yesterday who I think voiced what others in the NBA who feel and what other fans feel.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROUSSARD: 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.

In talking to some people around the league, there are a lot of Christians in the NBA and they don't want -- just because they disagree with that lifestyle, they don't want to be viewed and called bigoted and intolerant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Let's talk about some of the challenges you think he'll face from fans in the looker room.

HILLIARD: Well, I think any time you are the first, you are expectant of some reaction like this. And I think Jason is probably listened to and talked to so many people involved in the sport, he is pretty much aware that there will be a few isolated incidents like this he will have to deal with, both one-on-one and through the press and media.

But, again, I think being as articulate as he is, he will express it in a way that will make others around him as comfortable as possible, and I think -- I think he's the guy strong enough to deal with this, and I'm sure he will have some issues to deal with along the way.

ROMANS: We keep saying he's gone from being a journeyman in the NBA to being a trailblazer in the NBA. He's someone you know well and his twin brother. You have known him and his twin brother for years. They, every year, volunteered with you in a basketball camp.

Tell me a little bit about I guess the Jason Collins we don't know. The one have you known for all of these years and what kind of leader he is to young kids?

HILLIARD: Well, from the time the two of them walked in the door of my office, the first time I met them, and both had to duck to get through the door, I was very expectant of some help on my basketball team, and because of them, we had some great success during that period.

But the thing that we noticed right away is two close to seven-footers in the ninth grade out of middle school, definitely stood out. And sometimes, classmates were a little intimidated, didn't know how to deal with them.

I was very, very impressed how they reached out to the other students, reach out to the teachers, made everybody feel that they were happy to be part of this community and as the time went by, we played lots of games against a lot of schools. They were such great ambassadors for our school and for our team, and just showed a lot of class and grace attributed to the way their parents raised them. A very good family with great family values.

ROMANS: All right. Greg Hilliard, Jason Collins' high school basketball coach, nice to meet you. Thanks. HILLIARD: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Developing now: armed men in pickup trucks seizing control of Libya's ministry of justice in the capital of Tripoli. They've also been in control of the foreign ministry since Sunday. The military group demanding a new law be passed forbidding former officials of the Gadhafi regime from being appointed to senior government posts. We're going to have more on this developing story throughout the morning on CNN.

Another developing story out of the rural community of Valley Springs, California. Police are looking at this for the killer of 8-year-old Leila Fowler. She was found stabbed to death at her home on Saturday.

This killer was described as a muscular six-foot-tall white or Hispanic male.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely looking over our shoulders now, and it's never been like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When your husband is walking around with a pistol on his hip, you get a little scared.

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ROMANS: Leila's parents attended a news conference last night with police, but they were too distraught to speak. The look on that mother's face says it all.

All right. Listen to this one -- a 50-year-old woman accused of trying to poison customers at a California Starbucks. Police in San Jose say Ramineh Behbehanian was spotted placing two bottles of orange juice into a refrigerated shelf at the coffee shop. Employees notice a toxic smell. They called police.

One bottle had juice and rubbing alcohol in it. The other contained nail polish remover. The suspect was arrested at her home.

President Obama got a biggest laugh at the White House Correspondents' Dinner using Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as a punchline.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some people don't think I spend enough time with Congress. Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell, they ask. Really? Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now, the senator is returning the serve. McConnell's re- election campaign tweeting a picture of the Republican leader sitting at a bar with an empty seat and two drinks. The tweet from Team Mitch reads, "Greetings from coal country! Hazard, Kentucky."

Ahead on STARTING POINT, the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial is underway and it's expected to get ugly. One potential witness is attorney Tom Mesereau. He represented Jackson in his 2005 child molestation trial. He's live with us next.

We first brought you the story of Ryan Panetta, heroic young man who jumped into rushing floodwaters during superstorm Sandy to save his entire family.

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RYAN PANETTA, TEEN: When something brings you down, you got to get up.

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ROMANS: We followed to see where he and his family are now, six months later. We're going to bring Ryan back, too.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

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ROMANS: Day two of the Michael Jackson wrongful death suit gets under way in a few hours, and the first witnesses could be called today. In opening statement yesterday, attorneys for the Jackson Family accused his former concert promoter, AEG, of missing warning signs of Jackson's failing health.

The family says its owed millions because the promoter hired and supervised Dr. Conrad Murray who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death. AEG says Murray was Jackson's personal hire. And they were warned in court yesterday they were going to quote, "show some ugly stuff."

One of the potential witnesses is Attorney Tom Mesereau. He represented Jackson in his 2005 child molestation trial. Jackson was acquitted of those charges. Welcome to the program. Let me ask you, Tom. Show some ugly stuff, what do you think that they're talking about there?

TOM MESEREAU, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: well, first of all, they want to show, if they can that AEG was not responsible for hiring the doctor, that AEG didn't hire him and had no responsibility to supervise him. If they fail in that effort, they wanted to diminish as much as they can the dollar amount the jury is going to place on the loss of Michael Jackson.

They want to attack his reputation. They want to attack his lifestyle. They're going to say he was in debt. They're going to try and bloody him up as much as they can to reduce the damage amount if they lose on the first issue. I think it's going to backfire.

ROMANS: Do you think that they could, though -- I mean, by showing some ugly stuff, as they show that this is a troubled entertainer, this is someone who, for ten years, have been taking propofol, who couldn't sleep. If they paint this picture that with or without AEG, he was going down this road where his life was at an end, could that help their case?

MESEREAU: I don't think so, because the jury is going to be asking themselves if he was so bad and so damaged, so tarnished, so troubled, why did they enter into a contract with him? Why did they invest over $30 million in him before the tour has even begun? It's going to be -- it's going to be a contradictory situation that they're in. The more they attack him, the more people are going to say, then why were you doing business with him? It's a problematic issue for them.

ROMANS: It certainly is. And you know, shows some ugly stuff could have so many different meanings. You know, cornerstone of the Jackson case is an e-mail that AEG Live co-CEO Paul Gongaware wrote 11 days before his death. I want to read it to you. It says, quote, "We want to remind Murray that it is AEG, not MJ who is paying his salary. We want to remind him what is expected of him."

Again, that's from June 14, 2009. How important is communication like that going to be to this case?

MESEREAU: It's critical, because AEG is claiming that they're in negotiations to hire Murray, but never really did. However, their lawyer drafted an agreement, sent it to Murray. Murray signed it and sent it back, and they're claiming that because Michael died the next day and they never actually signed the document, they shouldn't be bound.

But under California law, you don't need a written agreement signed by all sides to have a contract. And those e-mails suggest that they knew they were employing him and they were trying to direct him as an employer directs an employee. These technical arguments, again, may backfire.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the "A" list of celebrities, how that might affect the case if they have to take the stand and affect the jury. I mean, you -- first hand, you know about the high profile of this, of Michael Jackson, and of course, of trial surrounding his life. So, Diana Ross, Spike Lee, how does that play here?

MESEREAU: Well, along with the emotional appeal to the jury, these celebrities are going to show just what his life was worth. This was the best known celebrity in the world. He was a musical genius, an artist, a dancer, a singer, a choreographer beyond comparison.

And, as they take the stand and testify to just how brilliant this man was, the dollar value of his lost life -- remember, he only died at 50, his parents are both in their 80s, the dollar value of what his life was worth is going to increase in the jury's mind, I believe.

ROMANS: But AEG could show a man here deeply troubled who may never been able to pull off that concert -- a man whose best days might have been behind him as a performer.

MESEREAU: Well, look, those concerts sold out in hours. Everybody was shocked. I mean, there were no seats left quickly. This man was loved on every single continent, every capital. He was just revered all over the planet for his choreography, for his artistry, for his humanitarian efforts. I think AEG bloodying him up and trying to attack him is going to problem later at (ph) themselves.

ROMANS: All right. Tom Mesereau, criminal defense attorney, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Nice to see you.

MESEREAU: Thank you.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, Tim Tebow is off the Jets, but he may not be unemployed for long. The new offer that many men would find hard to resist, next.

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ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Some of the top CNN trends on the web this morning. Take a look at this. These incredible high resolution pictures taken from a NASA spacecraft show an enormous hurricane raging on Saturn. Scientists say the eye of this gigantic storm swirling around Saturn's North Pole is about 1,250 miles wide. That's 20 times larger than the average hurricane here on Earth.

Actress, Catherine Zeta-Jones checking into a mental health facility. A spokesman says it's for the treatment of a bipolar disorder. She told the "Associated Press" that the 43-year-old Oscar winner proactively entered the facility for periodic care of her condition known as bipolar 2. Two years ago, Zeta-Jones had a brief stay at a similar facility.

NFL backup quarterback Tim Tebow looking for a new job now that he's been cut from the New York Jets, and he's received at least one offer as a coach. Tebow who makes no bones about his strong religious conviction has been offered to gig with the legend's football league formerly known as the Lingerie Football League. They want Tebow to service the league's national quarterback's coach. No word from Tebow if he's interested.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, investigators delving into who may have influenced Boston bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsavraev. What they learned after interviewing the mysterious Misha, next.

And NBA player Jason Collins now being called a trailblazer. Will his decision to come out as gay help other players? Rick Welts, the president and COO of the Golden State Warriors, who's also gay, joins us.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

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