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Severe Storms Kill At Least 6 People; White House Scandals; Will Arias Get Life or Death?

Aired May 16, 2013 - 05:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just hit another house. Gosh dang it. Son of a gun, we'll have to check on those people.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Massive deadly tornadoes overnight. At least six people dead in Texas, 14 people are still missing, and fears that the death toll could go up. We are live on the ground there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Quite a story there.

Meanwhile, damage control. The White House tries to take control of the IRS scandal, sending the head of the agency packing.

SAMBOLIN: Especially cruel. A jury finds Jodi Arias eligible for the death penalty in the gruesome murder of her ex-boyfriend. Will she get life or will she get death?

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. A lot of news when you were sleeping.


BERMAN: I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is May 16th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We begin with breaking news this morning.

Dangerous deadly storms overnight killing at least six people, and right now, the search is on for 14 people who are missing and the fear that the death toll could go up. Terrifying funnel clouds bearing down the hardest hit area we understand is Granbury, Texas. That's where those six people were killed in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood. And most of the 120 homes there were destroyed, more than 100 others are injured this morning.

Victor Blackwell live in Granbury for us.

Victor, what is the latest there?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a rescue task force coming in from Dallas now to search for these 14 unaccounted for people. We're told that the six people that you mentioned who were killed, two of them were found so far from homes that they're now expanding the search area. Not just to the central area of an area called Rancho Brazos, where the hardest hit area is, but also to pastures and to forests.

I want to show you this. We're seeing this kind of damage all over this area of Granbury. Huge limb down from a pecan tree. There's insulation in the branches.

Now, is it from a home or a business? No one knows because debris like this is scrambled all over.

Now, when the sun comes up, we will see the worst of it. We're told that there is a mobile home in the middle of a street, homes flattened. The deputies here have blocked off those areas because they want to control the search and also they want to make sure that people who are coming in to just see the damage are safe.

Now, when this happened at about 8:00 local time, 9:00 p.m. Eastern yesterday, we're told that this was a monster. National Weather Service has storm spotters estimated it was a mile wide at some points.

Now, there was so warning, sirens went off here, there was a reverse 911 call because the storm that was passing through was capable of producing a tornado. But when it happened, out of nowhere, people say this was dangerous. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the rain -- the hail started and that was probably 10 minutes worth. And then the tornado just started going in circles and it probably lasted 10, 15 minutes at the most.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only place in our house that was thick enough was our hallway and I grabbed a mattress and, you know, I -- there's just nothing left. I'm sorry. There's nothing left.


BLACKWELL: And lots of people have that story. I'm standing right behind a church and they say when the storm came in, they could see things swirling in the air. They got under the desks and prayed and sang and everyone here survived that storm.

SAMBOLIN: My goodness, those pictures are just incredible, Victor.

So, we went in the story saying six people are dead, 14 others are missing right now. I understand, there are many people hospitalized, as well.

A lot of people evacuated. Where are they staying? BLACKWELL: There are still more than a dozen people with serious injuries at a local hospital here. There are other people at a hospital in Ft. Worth.

As far as the evacuees, we're told 250 people came out of this neighborhood, 90 of them by buses. Some of them are at a Red Cross safe zone. Some of them are with family and friends. We also know that many of them are at local hotels, just trying to find some place to stay until the sun comes up and they can see the real damage caused by this tornado -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Victor, I know you're working hard for us on the ground there and we're going to check back in with you often this morning. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: That's right, because as the sun does come up, we will learn so much more information there.

Right now, we want to find out where the storms might be headed next. Let's go to Jennifer Delgado in the weather center in Atlanta.

Hey, Jennifer.


Yes, we are still tracking severe weather across parts of Texas. Right now, we have a severe thunderstorm watch in place until 6:00 a.m. local time. Now, you can still see, we have stronger pockets moving through Huntington, as well as West Livingston.

As we go to the next couple of hours, of course, we're going to continue to see the storms weakening. But still, right now, we are looking at a lot of lightning out there. So, there's still that danger. And that's why we do have that severe watch in place for some of these areas you're seeing, especially to the south of Interstate 30.

Now, as we take you back in time, we want to kind of pinpoint the reported areas of tornadoes. You can see from Montague, just to the west, and then as we put this into motion, and we also talk about the one that's right on top of Sunset.

And this we go over towards the east -- keep in mind: we're thinking there are three reported tornadoes. The one in Granbury, Texas, of course, where Victor's reporting where we have the multiple fatalities as well as the injury. That is the one we're really watching.

In fact, we have some video that comes out of Cleburne, and we want to show you how these tornadoes come through in the late hours and look at how large this one. This one is actually a classic wedge tornado. You can also see it's rain wrapped. And when it's rain wrapped, makes it even harder for residents to actually see those storms and actually that funnel cloud lowering.

And for this time of the year, we typically see the most tornadoes in the month of May roughly right around 300, but so far, guys, because it has been so cold, it's really limited the number of severe storms producing tornadoes over the last couple of weeks.

SAMBOLIN: Jennifer, one question for you. Do you know if they had good warning there? I know we heard the sirens headed into this.

Was it a good warning? Good amount of time?

DELGADO: Yes. You know, the National Weather Service, they go out and put out the warnings and I hope that people really were paying attention, especially to the local weather authorities there, as well. But, of course, you always want to make sure you have the NOAA radio, because that can make the difference, especially in the nighttime where these storms produce, the tornadoes in areas across the South.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jennifer, live in the CNN weather center, thank you for that.

BERMAN: We're going to move to the storm clouds over the White House. Overnight, the administration shifted into damage control hyper-drive. Sudden moves within hours of each other.

First, to try to calm the controversy over the targeting of conservative political groups by the IRS. President Obama has now forced the agency's acting commissioner out.

For more now, let's go to CNN's Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trying to step out of a political sink hole, President Obama expressed anger at misconduct within the IRS.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's inexcusable and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency.

LOTHIAN: The agency's acting commissioner, Steve Miller, was asked to resign and President Obama vowed to put in place new safeguards and work with congressional investigators.

OBAMA: I'll do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again.

LOTHIAN: But this scandal threatens to run much deeper. The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation and Attorney General Eric Holder was on the hot seat Wednesday, pressed for answers by the House Judiciary Committee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would strongly encourage this administration to get out front, get all the facts out, let the chips fall where they may.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable.

LOTHIAN: The IRS scandal has drawn bipartisan outrage, but some top Republicans already seem convinced laws were broken.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: My question isn't about who's going to resign? My question is, who's going to jail over this scandal?

LOTHIAN: This is a White House under siege -- from the IRS case, to "The A.P." phone records probe, to Benghazi, all threatened to overshadow the second term agenda.

On the defensive, the White House released 100 pages of e-mails Wednesday as first reported by CNN's Jake Tapper. It's part of an effort to prove politics played no role in crafting the so-called talking points that followed the deadly attacks in Libya.

But Republicans are seizing on all these scandals, releasing this tough new video using the president's own words.

OBAMA: The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable.

LOTHIAN: White House spokesman Jay Carney, battered in briefings all week, insisted the president has set a high standard and won't tolerate anything less.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He wants and instructs everyone who works in the government. Whether they work for him or are civil servants to hold themselves to that standard. And when he finds out there have been failures, he acts on it.

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, the White House.


BERMAN: So you saw that hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder. There were some moments of levity during the hearing, thanks to a 19- month-old baby. Take a look at North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt. He had some babysitting duties.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my God. What a cute --

BERMAN: Look at that. That's his grandson Nico sitting on his lap. You don't see this in Congress very often. And Nico, he was on really good behavior for a while. But you sit at a hearing like that, and there's only so much blah blah blah a toddler can take.


REP. MEL WATT (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Many of the steals are increasingly made over the Internet where criminals are -- can hide their identities.


BERMAN: Don't take him away from grandpa.

SAMBOLIN: Are you kidding me? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WATT: Where criminals can hide their identities and elude capture.


BERMAN: Obviously, he was thinking what so many of us were, which is that these hearings are really dull. Get me out of here.

SAMBOLIN: I love that.

BERMAN: That kid was brave.

So, the congressman had the babysitting duties because his wife and his daughter-in-law were having lunch with the first lady.

SAMBOLIN: Perfectly reasonable.

BERMAN: Being a good grand dad.

The attorney general seemed grateful for the mood breaker.


HOLDER: You're only supposed to do that at your confirmation hearing, that's when you roll out the kids.

WATT: I'm just trying to get my line of question. I've been in the back listening and Nico says you've done a good job up until this point. So --


BERMAN: All right. Nico for Congress.

Congressman Watts says he's received some ugly calls claiming that his presence demeaned the hearing. I say he classed up the --

SAMBOLIN: Yes, he did.

BERMAN: The congressman's response was, you know, you do what you have to do.

SAMBOLIN: Big kudos to him. I love that story.

All right. Eleven minutes past the hour.

The penalty phase of the Jodi Arias murder trial gets underway today. On Wednesday, the jury decided the murder of Arias' former boyfriend Travis Alexander was especially cruel, making her eligible for the death penalty. The defense must now try to convince that jury to spare her life.

CNN's Casey Wian is live in Phoenix for us.

There was a lot of talk that this is actually what she wanted. That she wanted the death penalty.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if that's what she really wants, she's one step closer to getting it, Zoraida. The so-called aggravating factor phase of the Jodi Arias trial went rather quickly yesterday and prosecutors were able to persuade the jury that her victim, former boyfriend, Travis Alexander, felt excruciating pain and fear.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury duly impaneled and sworn in the above entitled action, upon our oath, do find that the aggravating factor, especially cruel, has been proven.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jodi Arias sat solemnly as the jury decided she is eligible for a death sentence, that after a mini-trial known as the aggravated factor phase of a process that will determine Arias' sentence. Even before prosecutor Juan Martinez called his first witness, the county medical examiner, family and friends of victim Travis Alexander fought back tears in anticipation of what was to come.

Martinez displayed graphic images of Alexander's body on giant screens enveloping the courtroom. They showed dozens of stab wounds, including one so deep that it punctured a vein going into his heart, that produced a gusher of blood, and several to the head that dented his skull.

JUAN MARTINEZ, PROSECUTOR: She made sure she killed him by stabbing him over and over and over again, and then finishing him off.

WIAN: Then came the most horrific image, a gaping wound to Alexander's throat, sliced open nearly ear to ear. It remained on the screens for what seemed like an eternity. As many in court, Alexander's sisters, Arias herself, and even some jurors, averted their eyes.

Martinez argued that Alexander's murder was especially cruel, a requirement for the death penalty in Arizona.

MARTINEZ: You can imagine the absolute terror as he's sitting there defenseless, water coming down. That is extreme emotional anguish.

Let this set for two minutes.

WIAN: He also asked the jury to sit in silence for two full minutes, the time he contends it took Alexander to die. Arias' defense team said that was an exaggeration and argued that as Alexander fought for his life adrenaline and rapid blood loss could've reduced his suffering.

KIRK NURMI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And Dr. Horn, who testified just moments ago told you that the adrenaline does, in fact, prevent the body from experiencing the pain.

WIAN: Jurors rejected that argument and now will decide whether or not there are enough mitigating factors to spare Jodi Arias' life.


WIAN: (AUDIO GAP) Travis Alexander are expected to take the stand and deliver their victim impact statements. That's expected to be in intensely emotional. Then, after that, the so-called mitigating witnesses will take the stand, and we're expected to hear from a childhood friend of Jodi Arias, also an ex-boyfriend of hers trying to persuade the jury they should spare her life, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: So, Casey, the big question is, will Jodi Arias take the stand?

WIAN: We don't know that for sure. But if she wants to show that she has any remorse and show that she will apologize to the Alexander family, this is her last opportunity to do that.

So, we certainly expect it will happen.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Casey Wian, live for us this morning -- thank you.

BERMAN: And some other legal news this morning, the widow of alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, she's not off the hook. A law enforcement source familiar with the Boston marathon terror investigation says that Katherine Russell continues to meet with investigators as the FBI tries to piece together every moment of Tamerlan Tsarnaev's life, where he went, whom he met with. They're also looking at the couple's finances, we're told.

The stakes are high for Russell to remain out of prison. Of course, she has a 3-year-old daughter.

SAMBOLIN: So, what goes up can go higher. There was no winner in last night's Powerball drawing worth $360 million.

Are you grinning from ear to ear?

So, that means the jackpot for Saturday's drawing will be an estimated $475 million, maybe even more. Add that to the rival Megamillions, which is expected to swell past $200 million for tomorrow night's drawing.

The dueling lotteries could make some players very, very, very, very, very, very rich.

BERMAN: Megamillions maybe be a better deal, it only costs $1. You know, Powerball is 2 bucks. So --

SAMBOLIN: I think we're going to make some serious investment in this, don't you think?

BERMAN: I think we're going to win. Y'all are going to finish second place. We're winning.

SAMBOLIN: I get so excited about these even though the chances are like, you know --

BERMAN: They're smaller than that.


All right. O.J. Simpson on the witness stand. Why he says he deserves a new trial. And why he was so jovial in court.

BERMAN: And we have new information in that New Orleans Mother's Day shooting. This morning, a suspect is in custody. The details straight ahead.


SAMBOLIN: Seventeen minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

We are updating you on breaking news of severe storms in Texas. Rescue crews are assessing all of the damage and they are looking for missing people right now, after possible tornadoes touched down in north Texas.

Take a look at that.

The hardest hit area is Granbury, Texas. The Hood County sheriff says six people were killed in one neighborhood alone. It's a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood. Most of the homes there were destroyed. And emergency medical provider says at least 100 people were injured, 14 others are still missing.

We are assessing all the damage on the ground and we're going to get you a live report here shortly.

BERMAN: And the important thing is, as the sun comes up, we will learn so much more. So, stay with us. This information truly, truly --

SAMBOLIN: Remember what Victor Blackwell was saying, they're looking at a wider swath because they're found people so far away from where their homes were. So, this is a very difficult, very situation and we're going to continue to monitor.

BERMAN: All morning.

Meanwhile, other news, O.J. Simpson -- he has become synonymous with legal drama. But even with all the history, this was a first. He's never testified in any of his criminal cases until now. Simpson taking the stand in Las Vegas trying to get a new trial for his armed robbery conviction four years ago. And, man, was it a spectacle.

The aging inmate told the court he got a raw deal due to legal misrepresentation.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is live in Las Vegas this morning.

Good morning, Paul. PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

O.J. after sitting in prison for 4 1/2 years finally got his turn and everybody else in the courtroom got an earful.


VERCAMMEN (voice-over): More than 4 1/2 years after being sentenced, O.J. Simpson testified for the first time in a bid to win a new trial with only one arm free to gesture. The disgraced former football star said he repeatedly told his then lawyer about plans to confront memorabilia dealers to get back mementos.

O.J. SIMPSON, DEFENDANT: The overall advice he gave me was you have a right to get your stuff. He gave me an example. That if you were walking down the street and you saw your laptop with your name on it in a car, you can use the force to break the window of the car to get the laptop.

He told not only then but even the night before that I couldn't go in a person's dwelling because that would be trespassing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the plan that you have to retrieve your property evolve based on his advice to you?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you talked to him how many times do you think?

SIMPSON: Four, five, six?

VERCAMMEN: O.J. reasserted he wanted no guns involved when he led the raid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did that plan involve a discussion of using any weapons?

SIMPSON: Never no weapons. Weapons was never an issue.

VERCAMMEN: Simpson was at times jovial. The former actor said following his arrest, Galanter constantly assured him he would not be convicted of armed robbery, kidnapping and assault for his role in the confrontation.

SIMPSON: "Relax, relax, O.J., I got it. I got it. I'll take care of this, I got it. I get you out of this. You're not going to be convicted."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And did you trust Mr. Galanter?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you believe he would get you out of it?

SIMPSON: I believe I was innocent, yes. VERCAMMEN: Simpson also said he failed to properly inform him of a prosecution plea deal offer.


VERCAMMEN: And court documents show that the prosecution, which is not talking outside of court, simply says that the plea deal offer and whether or not to testify are ultimately up to the defendant, John.

BERMAN: All right, Paul Vercammen in Las Vegas -- not over yet, Paul. Appreciate it.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-one minutes past the hour.

A suspect in custody. New Orleans police arresting 19-year-old Akein Scott last night in connection with the Mother's Day parade shooting. Nineteen people were wounded in that shooting, including two children. Three of the injured are still in critical condition.

BERMAN: Coming up on EARLY START, the latest on those tornadoes that tore through north Texas killing six people, injuring more than 100. This morning, the search is on, developing at this moment for 14 people still missing.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, one high after another after another. Wall Street breaking all sorts of records as stocks like Google hit more than $900 per share.

BERMAN: That's a lot.

SAMBOLIN: We're minding your business, coming up next.


BERMAN: So, minding your business this morning. Just when you thought it couldn't go any further, the record setting run on Wall Street continues.

SAMBOLIN: So, we've been watching the Dow and S&P 500 hit all-time highs. All sorts of highs. Now, add one more record to the list.

Our Christine Romans has the details.


The Dow, the S&P 500, and Google, three record highs yesterday. Google shares topping $900 a share for the first time.

Google is a widely held tech stock. If you have this in your portfolio, you know it is up 50 percent in just the past year. It has doubled in value over the past three years, and that happened before the lights even came up on Google's annual developers conference in California. It debuted a new music sharing system among other things.

Overall, the Dow's 20th record high close this year. And the S&P 500 climbed further past 1,600. This run started back in 2009 after hitting rock bottom.

I want to show you what stocks have done. They have surged with some pullbacks, but mostly, this has been a steady march higher and the S&P 500 is now up 145 percent, making this the fifth strongest bull market since the 1920s.

And you guys some of those bull markets since the 1920s have gone up, 200 percent, 300 percent, 400 percent, 500 percent. The bulls say there's further for this to go.

This morning, I'll be watching Cisco shares up nearly 8 percent. Cisco reported strong profit and revenue. Its CEO says he's seeing some good signs in the U.S. and other parts of the world. That's really important because Europe has been in crisis. Europe, I mean, France is now in recession, Germany just holding on the eurozone, 12 percent unemployment.

So, when you hear somebody like the Cisco CEO saying he is seeing strength around the world. That's a good thing.

Also, I'm listening to speeches today, the tone will be set by the Federal Reserve, Federal Reserve officials. We want signals about how and when the Fed will begin to unwind what has been epic support for the economy. We'll also hear today, jobless claims, are the layoffs still slowing? We're going to get housing news.

So, futures a little bit lower this morning. I'm telling you, there's no way to know how we close today if we hit another record, because there's so much brand new information that will be coming in on the economy today.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Thanks, Christine.

Coming up, details from inside the house where three women were held captive for nearly a decade. How Ariel Castro allegedly singled out one of his victims for extra cruelty.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God! Oh, my goodness! Dude!


SAMBOLIN: Breaking news this morning, at least six people dead as dangerous storms ripped through Texas. Take a look at that. And right now, the search is on for more than a dozen missing.

BERMAN: Just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. Shocking new details out of Cleveland revealing that one of Ariel Castro's alleged kidnap victims treated as a human punching bag. SAMBOLIN: And dramatic new video.