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More Sexual Abuse Cases in U.S. Military; Robots Lend a Helping Hand; Exclusive Interview with Bernie Madoff; Jodi Arias Jurors Hear From Victim's Family.

Aired May 17, 2013 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: After a week of dealing with controversy in Washington, President Obama is talking jobs in Baltimore, Maryland. Specifically, the president is focusing in on the middle class jobs market out there and new opportunities. He's visiting a company that manufactures innovative dredges and dredge equipment for infrastructure projects. We'll monitor his remarks. We'll bring you any major developments or headlines. Standby for that.

"Shameful and disgraceful," that's how President Obama describes the cases of sexual assault plaguing the U.S. military right now, and yet another case is adding to the outrage and the calls for change.

We have details from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another embarrassment for the U.S. military. This time, at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division. Lieutenant Colonel Darin Haas, the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention, was removed from his job after being arrested for violating a protective order to stay away from his estranged wife.

LT. COL. DARIN HAAS, U.S. ARMY: Hi, this is Major Darin Haas from Bagram, Afghanistan.

STARR: He had sent greetings to his wife while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.

The incident came to light just hours after President Obama met with top brass about sexual assaults in the military.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no silver bullet to solving this problem. This is going to require a sustained effort over a long period of time.

STARR: The Ft. Campbell firing was the third in two weeks of personnel assigned to military sexual assault prevention jobs. At Ft. Hood, Texas, a sergeant first class is under criminal investigation by the Army for pandering. A Pentagon official says he may have forced someone into prostitution, other allegations, abusive sexual contact and maltreatment of subordinates. And last week, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krushinski (ph) was arrested on sexual battery charges for allegedly groping a woman near the Pentagon where he worked in sexual assault prevention.

On Capitol Hill, pressure is mounting for historic changes in military law. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is introducing legislation so, in sex assault cases where there may be jail time, the decision to prosecute is taken away from commanders and given to military attorneys. Many feel prosecutors from outside the unit will be more vigorous.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, (D), NEW YORK: We believe enough is enough. It's time to change the system that has been held over since George Washington that is simply not working today for the men and women who are serving.

STARR (on camera): Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the retraining of key personnel involved in sexual assault prevention programs. But with the number of cases on the rise in the military, key commanders are acknowledging they just are not sure what to do to solve the problem.


BLITZER: Barbara is joining us now live from the Pentagon.

Barbara, what steps have been taken, at least so far, to try to get a handle on this really serious problem?

STARR: Well, they are talking about retraining, more education, tightening up on prosecutions, all of that. But most people in the military will tell you this is one of the most complex problems they have faced and there is a growing acknowledgement they're just really not sure what to do about it.

And I have to tell you, Wolf, just about an hour from now, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marty Dempsey, will you holding a press conference, meeting with the Pentagon press corp, and I think it's a safe bet to say this will be topic number one -- Wolf?

BLITZER: And it should be. A survey out this month, Barbara, showed an alarming jump in the number of cases of unwanted sexual contact from 19,000 back in 2010 to 26,000 last year. So do officials have any explanation for will this very worrisome increase?

STARR: One thing about the survey that we must explain to people, it was a very small sample survey conducted by the military, and they did extrapolate on a statistical basis to come up with those numbers. The real problem, of course, is nobody knows what the real numbers are because so many victims don't want to report these cases, just as it's a problem in civilian society. There is a lot of trauma involved with this. A lot of people, men and women, who are sexually assaulted in the military, won't report when this happens. And that's one of the key issues, Wolf. Nobody may really know how serious this is.

BLITZER: Good point.

Barbara, thanks very much. Let us know what the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs say later today. He was an Internet hero. Now the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker, as he was called, is a murder suspect himself. We'll have the story. That's next.


BLITZER: A man who became briefly famous from a viral video is now under arrest and facing a murder charge. Millions of people saw Caleb McGillvary tell how he intervened in a crime and saved two people. He was hailed as a Good Samaritan and given the nickname the "hatchet- wielding hitchhiker." Now he's accused of killing a New Jersey attorney. Police say the two exchanged text messages and believe their relationship went further than that.

The man accused of kidnapping and rapping three Cleveland women apparently had a love of dogs. Two terrier-poodle mixes were found inside Ariel Castro's house and a Chihuahua was found reportedly in his car on the night he was arrested. They have since been cleaned up and neutered. And now the FBI is asking Cleveland officials to hang on to the dogs so that the women can claim the pets if, if, they want to.

Two years after Moammar Gadhafi's violent fall from power, Libyan people are trying to get back on their feet, trying to forge a new identity. But their country is still unsettled, very uncertain, and, frankly, kind of a bizarre place right now.

Anthony Bourdain went to Libya for this weekend's installment of "Parts Unknown."



ANTHONY BOURDAIN, HOST, PARTS UNKNOWN: This is supposed to be the biggest, fanciest new hotel development in town, and like a lot of the newer structures, they pretty much stopped when they started to pull down the government.

There are a lot of cranes building nothing at the moment. A lot is just frozen as everyone figures out what happens next. As we can see, it's one of many moments of unexpected weirdness in Libya. Mosques, the Medina, the frozen wait-and-see Hotel. And we got stuck with militia looking at us.

Meanwhile right over there, they are playing Rod Stewart, "Do You Think I'm Sexy," to an amusement park full of kids. Makes no sense at all, in a vaguely encouraging way.


BLITZER: Very cool. You can see Anthony Bourdain in Libya Sunday night right here on CNN. "Parts Unknown" comes in at 9:00 eastern. Tune in or set your DVR. By the way, I'll be speaking with Anthony Bourdain later today in "The Situation Room." That will happen during our 6:00 p.m. eastern hour. He's so broke, he had to call CNN collect. An exclusive interview with Bernie Madoff behind bars. We'll have details.


BLITZER: His fall has been spectacular. Once a billionaire and head of his own finance firm, these days, Bernie Madoff is a prisoner, just a number. He's making $40 a month. He's serving a 150-year sentence after admitting to a ponzi scheme that stole billions from thousands of investors. And now he says this: "It was certainly never my intention for this to happen. I thought I could work myself out of a temporary situation but it kept getting worse and worse and I didn't have the courage to admit what I had done."

CNN Money's" Aaron Smith spoke exclusively with Madoff by phone.

Aaron is joining us now.

Aaron, you got a fascinating glimpse into Madoff's day-to-day life. He's in Butner, North Carolina, the federal prison there. He says he's not sleeping. What's his explanation?

AARON SMITH, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, thank you. One of the first things he mentioned when he called me last week -- and he actually called me several times -- he said that he's haunted by his son's death. He feels responsible for the death of his older son, Mark, who has we know committed suicide. He hanged himself on December 11, 2010. This is the second anniversary of his father's arrest. So this is one of the first things that he mentioned.

He also said that it is very difficult for him to be separated from his family. He mentions that he was married for 50 years to his wife, Ruth. And he just feels disconnected. He may have called me because he feels lonely.

BLITZER: Did you know him from before? Why would he call you?

SMITH: I wrote him a letter and I included my number in the letter. I told him that I've written many stories about him over the last several years and I used to speak to his lawyer, but he no longer is being represented by that lawyer and I wanted to get his point of view. I never really had any direct contact with him, so he called me collect and I put money into his account, his prison phone account, and I spoke to him three times last week.

BLITZER: How did he sound? What was the nature of his voice, did he have any sort of -- he's 75 years old. He knows the enormous damage he caused so many people out there who invested all of their money in him, hoping to retire one day, live comfortably. He bankrupted so many families, decent people. How did he sound to you?

SMITH: He sounded very calm and collected. He sounded almost sort of grandfatherly, but it sounds like he's in pretty good health. He doesn't necessarily sound like how you might envision a 75-year-old man who has been in prison for several years coming across. He is clearly very intelligent. When he started talking about the trades he used to do and he started going into the Wall Street jargon, I have to admit, some of it was over my head. And I found it intimidating at times. And I started to think about how he used to communicate with his investors, and I can totally see how someone would give him money. He is very reassuring. And he definitely sounds like a man who knows what he's doing.

BLITZER: He caused his son to commit suicide. He destroyed so many people's lives. What does he do now?

SMITH: He has a job where he makes $40 a month. That's a month. And he basically cleans off phones and computers and he checks to see if they're still working. These are the computers and phones for the prison system. He emphasized this is not a technical job. It requires no skill whatsoever. And that's what he's doing right now. He says he only works a few hours a day, which I think gives him considerable amount of down time to basically think about where he is right now.

BLITZER: Do you know if he can watch television? Does he have a computer? Can he go online? Obviously, he can make phone calls, if people will accept his collect calls.

SMITH: Yes, we didn't really go into a lot of detail on that, but I do think he is plugged into the news. He does seem to be aware of news events. And I would like to hear more from him because I'd like to hear about what he has to say about the current situation on Wall Street. I would ask him if he thinks that the stock market is overpriced.

BLITZER: All right.

Just me, I don't want to hear what he has to say about Wall Street. He's done so much damage to so many people. I know several families that have invested money with him and they lost it all. These people were decent, honorable people who invested money with him. Some of them were even Holocaust survivors. And did to them what he did on them was just an awful, awful situation. But just a personal note there.

Thanks very much, Aaron. Good work.

Aaron Smith from "CNN Money" doing an excellent job reporting on Bernie Madoff.

Sometimes kids just need a helping hand or, in this case, a helping robot. We'll show you how in our series, "Technology on the Front Lines."


BLITZER: The day-to-day tasks most people take for granted, a Pittsburgh company is now trying to change that with some help from a friendly robot.

CNN's Zoraida Sambolin has the story.

Shower or brush his teeth, can you tell me?


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some children with autism are getting help from a friendly creature.


SEEMA PATEL, CEO, INTERBOTS: Popchilla is a robotic therapy system designed to help children with autism learn and practice skills in a fun way.


SAMBOLIN: Like making their bed --


SAMBOLIN: -- or brushing their teeth. Students at the Children's Institute of Pittsburgh are testing the system. They can play with Popchilla using an iPad app and then interact with the robot in the real world.

STACY PORTER SMITH, THERAPIST, CHILDREN'S INSTITUTE: Children with autism, you want to present things in as many formats as possible until you find what really works for that child. This is just another tool to help them learn.

SAMBOLIN: Interbots is the company that created the system. Originally specializing in entertainment robotics, they realized they could help kids with autism by chance.

PATEL: We were at a kids' fair and had a high-end animatronic robot there and parents came up us and explained our child has autism and never talks to strangers and rarely talks to us and he sings about having a conversation with your robot for 15 minutes. And that's when we realized there was something interesting going on here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There you go. Now --

SAMBOLIN: The app, which can be used its own, will be available this spring.


SAMBOLIN: The robot could be released as early as 2015, and the app will control what the robot says and does.


PATEL: So our hope is by leveraging technology that children with autism really respond well to that we can help them learn daily routines and social interaction skills through play.


SAMBOLIN: Zoraida Sambolin, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Coming up, tear-jerking memories of a murder victim, Travis Alexander, read out loud in court. Jodi Arias' fate hangs in the balance now. Her defense plans to show off her art work in an attempt to save her life.


BLITZER: The lawyer who O.J. Simpson says botched his case is on the stand in Las Vegas. The disgraced football star is seeking a new trial on an armed robbery, assault and kidnap conviction. The case stems from a confrontation in Las Vegas back in 2007. Yale Galanter says he did his best to represent Simpson.


YALE GALANTER, FORMER O.J. SIMPSON ATTORNEY: I wanted to do everything I could possibly do to give O.J. a shot at getting released. I thought that his conviction and sentence was unfair.


BLITZER: Simpson is serving 33 years in prison right now.

In Phoenix, jurors in the Jodi Arias trial are hearing from the family of Travis Alexander. They're sharing emotional stories about the man Arias is convicted of brutally murdering.

Casey Wian has details.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Steven Alexander was in the U.S. Army in 2008 when he found out his brother, Travis, had been murdered. As his killer, an emotional Jodi Arias, sat and watched, Alexander told jurors about the unanswered questions that haunt him to this day.

STEVEN ALEXANDER, BROTHER OF TRAVIS ALEXANDER: How much did he suffer? How much did he scream? What was he saying? What was the last thing he saw before his eyes closed? What was his final thought in his head?

WIAN: Next, sister Samantha Alexander approached the podium, crying even before she spoke.

SAMANTHA ALEXANDER, SISTER OF TRAVIS ALEXANDER: Travis was our strength, our constant beacon of hope, our motivation, and his presence has been ripped from our lives.

WIAN: Defense witnesses are expected to speak about several mitigating factors that could spare Arias' life, including her lack of a criminal past, her past efforts to convert to the Mormon faith, and her talent as an artist. KIRK NURMI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This is a girl right here that you pledged, when you were selected as jurors, that after hearing or after possibly convicting her of first-degree murder and finding aggravating factors, that you would consider giving Miss Arias life.

WIAN (on camera): In a trial full of gripping moments, one of the last is likely to come from Jodi Arias herself next week. She's expected to beg for mercy from a jury that has already convicted her of an especially cruel first-degree murder.

Casey Wian, CNN, Phoenix.


BLITZER: A man arrested on terrorism charges in Boise, Idaho, made his first court appearance today. The 30-year-old is from Uzbekistan and is accused of supporting what is called the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. He's also charged with possession of an unregistered explosive device. And in a separate case in Utah, he's accused of teaching people how to make explosives and weapons of mass destruction.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. See you back here, 5:00 p.m. eastern, in "The Situation Room."

Ashleigh Banfield takes it from here. She's live in New York.