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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Tornadoes Devastate Parts of Oklahoma; Jodi Arias Pleads for Her Life; More IRS Hearings Today; Devastation on Oklahoma

Aired May 22, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to take you through the tornadoes path from beginning. Those are homes, those are timbers, those are roofs.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This hour, we take to the skies to tour the devastating path of the tornado damage in Oklahoma, the tornado that ripped apart lives, limbs, homes, schools, families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She asked if she was OK? And I just -- I told her she didn't make it.

CUOMO: Little Jenae died at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. This hour on CNN, we'll hear from a family who lost their little girl and still light up every time they say her name

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to this special edition of STARTING POINT live in Moore, Oklahoma. I'm John Berman.

CUOMO (on-camera): And I'm Chris Cuomo. This search and rescue mission that's going on here after the tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma is now transitioning into a recovery operation. The death toll stands at 24, nine children. Over a hundred people have been rescued alive. That's the good news. More good news, neither of those numbers are expected to change less than 48 hours after this monster tornado turned its fury on this 56,000 community.

The home, Moore, Oklahoma. The National Weather Service now confirmed that the twister that tore apart Moore was, in fact, EF-5, measured by the damage of the storm. Maximum winds, 210 miles an hour. One of the most ferocious storms in U.S. history.

BERMAN: They don't go higher than EF-5. Insurance claims are expected to top $1 billion here. 2400 homes damaged or destroyed, 10,000 people affected by the twister was 1.3 miles wide. I want to look at this video shot by Charles Gaffer of Moore. He is one of the lucky ones. He rode out the storm in a shelter. These pictures were taken from inside the shelter. It gives a picture of what it's like to be inside a tornado from ground level as it's happening.

CUOMO: Somewhere we never want to be. We want to understand it to have better appreciate for the people who survived. Imagine that, an EF-5 tornado. That's what we're looking at right now. One of the things we are doing here is we get a sense from a ground and a very different one from the air. You can really get a sense of the shear destructive force of this tornado, the path it took, the randomness of who was affected and who wasn't. So here is the look from above.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: We are going take you through the tornado's path from beginning to end. If you look down here, you'll see a brown line. It starts with debris field going in this direction. That is actually the tornado's trail. As you see, it's going to get much more dramatic as we get near a populated area.

You can trace with your finger a line where the tornado went. The path is the obvious. It's about a block and a half wide. You notice it by seeing everything that's destroyed. Everything that looks like paper on the ground, they are homes, timber, roofs, cars. And 16 minutes, that was the warning window before it touched down. Then a 10 minute window during which it went from heavy wind to destroying everything in its path.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god!

CUOMO: This is where the tornado was. Look at the difference between life and death, between losing everything and losing nothing. Over the water, it looks like it disappears. Then when touches land and destruction resumes.

Scientists say debris from the tornado can hit 10 times as high as we are right now into the air. Look at the trees. It looks like people pulled them up and laid them down like they were weeding their garden. They are huge, rooted pine trees. Cars are littered along the trail. They were never there. They were tossed like toys.

When you look at the debris, you can understand why search and rescue is difficult. It's hard to get into the areas. Once you do, to find your way through the homes is literally like digging through a hay stack. This tornado is one that this community has seen before. In 1999 and 2003, terrible tornadoes here that carved almost the same path for this community.

This part of the community shows the randomness and intensity of the tornado. A block away, they have been spared. This part of the debris trail ends at a school where children lost their lives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: The randomness, that's what strikes you from above. The length almost 20 miles long that it went. The randomness, one block away people's homes are fine, a block like this.

BERMAN: The trail, that brown line that you were describing there, it's really amazing to see it from the sky.

CUOMO: It gives us better appreciation of people that made it through in Moore, Oklahoma.

BERMAN: That's a look from above. There are so many stories on the ground. One family who knows about the destructive power of a storm like this are the Lee's. Their home was demolished in this tornado. They believe good things are just around the corner for them.

CUOMO: We have with us Dawnita and James with our right now with their son Josh. We want you to know James is profoundly deaf. His wife will sign for him. Some will say this is the perfect marriage where You tell him everything he needs to know, it's perfect. It's perfect. He's a perfect listener.

DAWNITA LEE: Perfect, always.

CUOMO: You were in good spirits?

DAWNITA LEE: Yes.

CUOMO: You are dealing with loss. What is this like for you to not have the same home to go home to?

JAMES LEE, LOST HOME IN MONDAY'S OKLAHOMA TORNADO: Well, I was at work and I had no idea what was going on and saw on TV there was a storm and he was trying to get through his work to get back and get his car because he was in a company car. He came all the way from Edmond trying to get through the traffic and everything. He couldn't get through to us. I couldn't get through.

So my son-in-law called and said my wife was safe and my son was safe. My mother-in-law confirmed it. We were just -- you know, so much grief. There needs to be shelters. We need to have basements or cellars or a safe room for our kids in the schools. And we're just so grateful my family was OK.

CUOMO: Safety concerns will be questioned going forward. From your perspective, is experiencing a tornado different for you because you don't deal with the sound, the horrible sound that make everyone so frightened? How is it different for you?

JAMES LEE: You know, just being there and seeing my family. I know that we are going go through grieving time. It's overwhelming because our house is gone. I had an old Chevy 51 that was passed down that was my grandfathers. My dad just passed away a month ago to the day that we buried him that the tornado hit. You know, he was a veteran. We wanted to have his flag. So, just thing that are sentimental that are hard to get back.

JOSH LEE, LOST HOME IN MONDAY'S OKLAHOMA TORNADO: It's hard. We have been looking hard for the cat. It's hard, realizing that everything is gone.

BERMAN: Your mom gave us pictures, sent us pictures of your house, Josh. What's it been like to see this house you grew up in?

JOSH LEE: It doesn't look the same. It doesn't look like the same place. It looks like a different world, really. I mean, it's crazy to think that I don't have a place to live, but, I mean, at least I have my family.

BERMAN: Sure do.

JOSH LEE: I mean, there's people at the elementary where I went to school at and there are kids they haven't found yet. It's awful.

DAWNITA LEE, LOST HOME IN MONDAY'S OKLAHOMA TORNADO: Our heart goes out to all the families that are still looking, that have lost their children. I just can't imagine it. I work at a school, I'm fortunate at the school I work, at the high school, we had a safe room. The May 3rd tornado destroyed the high school, and we had a safe room, we were all in it. At the same time, my son was one mile away and there was no shelter and no safe room. My dad tried to pick him up, but they wouldn't let him leave because the storm was that close. And I'm grateful my dad got back home. And all my family is safe. That's really important.

But we have a big concern because we need shelters. We need safe rooms for our kids. At the same time, I know that I just can't believe how many blessings and how strong our family, our friends and the support we've got and how big our god is. We are overwhelmed by the blessings we received. Our insurance has been amazing.

CUOMO: Where will you stay now?

DAWNITA LEE: Right now, the first night, we spent the night with my mom and dad. We got back to our house at like, 6:00, on Monday night and went through things. It was hard, you know. We found some valuables. We know there's still treasures under the rubble.

But, it took us like two hours just to get two or three miles from where our house was to my folks house. We got there, they had no water. It was OK. There was a place to stay. Family. It was OK. Right now, we are staying in a hotel that our insurance is taking care of. So, we are getting blessing after blessing. There's a rainbow everywhere. With god, all things are possible.

BERMAN: We are so sorry for your loss, but we are so thrilled for you that you are all OK and surrounded by each other and by these blessings that you speak of. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for being with us this morning. We really appreciate it and wish you the best of luck.

DAWNITA LEE: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, so what now for people like the Lee's and all those left homeless in this town? We'll speak with FEMA administrator Craig Fugate about the plan to help people get back on their feet.

CUOMO: First, we're following the other top stories. Jodi Arias speaking in her defense, pleading for her life. The question is, will her words help? Find out what HLN's Nancy Grace thinks next. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. In just a few hours, an Arizona jury resumes deliberations in the Jodi Arias murder trial. Jurors must decide whether Arias will face the death penalty. On Tuesday Arias asked them to spare her life. She says she could make a difference in prison, teaching fellow inmates how to read, helping victims of domestic violence, and donating her hair to Locks of Love. CNN's Casey Wian has more from Phoenix.

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CASEY WIAN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Jodi Arias began her plea for her life with an acknowledgement of the pain she has caused the family of Travis Alexander, the former boyfriend she brutally murdered in 2008.

JODI ARIAS, CONVICTED OF FIRST DEGREE MURDER: Nothing drove that point home for more than when I heard them speak last week. I never meant to cause them so much pain. I didn't know I was capable of such violence. For that, I'm going to be sorry for the rest of my life.

WIAN: The rest of the statement was in sharp contrast to the interview she gave a local reporter minutes after her conviction. Then she spoke of suicide and said she would prefer the death penalty.

ARIAS: I didn't know then that if I got life instead of death I could become employed and self-reliant. I didn't know that if I got life there are many things I can do to effect positive change and contribute.

ARIAS: I didn't know if I got life there are many things I can do to affect positive change and contribute in a meaningful way. In prison, there are programs I can start and people I can help.

WIAN: Arias promised, among other things, to continue her practice of donating hair to cancer victims, and to teach Spanish, sign language, and reading to other inmates. One surprise, she displayed the T-shirt she's been selling to raise money for domestic violence victims even though the jury rejected her claims that she killed Alexander in self defense.

ARIAS: Some people may not believe that I am a survivor of domestic violence. They're entitled to their opinion. I'm supporting this cause because it's very, very important to me.

WIAN: As convicted killer Jodi Arias waits for the jury to decide if she'll be executed or sentenced to life in prison. She sat for a new round of media interviews.

TROY MAYDEN, KSAZ REPORTER: You had ample opportunities to apologize to Travis Alexander's family. It doesn't seem like you did it today. Why didn't you?

ARIAS: I did apologize to them in my allocation (ph). MAYDEN: I never heard you say I'm sorry.

ARIAS: I don't think I used those two words but I feel I made my remorse, and if I didn't adequately convey it, then I regret that, but --

MAYDEN: Do you want to do it now?

ARIAS: Well, there's nothing I can do to take back what I did. I wish I could. I really, really wish I could.

MAYDEN: Earlier Tuesday, she began pleading for the jury to spare her life by acknowledging the pain she caused the family of Travis Alexander, the former boyfriend she brutally murdered in 2008.

WIAN: Without any mitigation witnesses testifying on her behalf, it was entirely left to Arias to appeal for mercy by showing her artwork and family photos. Every time I have had the thought or desire to commit suicide, there's one element that almost always caused me to waver. They are sitting right over there, they are my family. Either way, I'm going to spend the rest of my life in prison. It will either be shortened or not. If it's shortened, the people who will hurt the most is my family. I'm asking you please, please don't do that to them.

Alexander's family watched in silence, their faces saying everything. Casey Wian, CNN Phoenix.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Joining me is now Nancy Grace, host of HLN's "Nancy Grace." She knows the Jodi Arias trial like no other. Good morning. I have to tell you, you know, some of these things she says she wants to do to be a meaningful contributor to the prison society. Let's listen to a little bit of what she says she plans to do with her years in prison if she's spared her life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIAS: If I get permission, I would like to implement a recycling program. The woman's prison (INAUDIBLE) houses thousands of women and each week huge loads of waste are hauled off to landfills. I would like to start a book club or reading group. Something that brings people together in a positive and constructive way. Additionally, I have designed a T-shirt, this is the T-shirt. Which 100 percent of the proceeds go to support non-profit organizations which also assist other victims of domestic violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Nancy, what kind of alternate reality is she spinning here? She's being removed from society to be punished and taken out of the public for a reason yet talking about contributing to society in these ways.

NANCY GRACE, HOST, "NANCY GRACE": Well, I'm all for contributing to society. What I'm not for is continuing to blame your murder victim and everybody but yourself in your final plea. What she said to the jury, shockingly, was not the end of Jodi Arias' statement. Like when she got the guilty verdict, she immediately plopped down in front of cameras and gave yet another series of tell-all interviews after demanding hair and make up.

Look, speaking as a crime victim myself, when I went through the murder of my fiance, I could hardly speak, I couldn't think, I couldn't eat. I find it amazing she has the wherewithal to demand hair and make-up. The finger pointing went on into the evening last night where she blamed her lawyers. She said she was betrayed by the jury and says she never -- she wished she never met Alexander, seeming to blame him and the relationship for her brutal act of murder.

ROMANS: What is her point sitting down with the media after she gives this 19 minute plea to spare her the death penalty. Why is she doing this, do you think?

GRACE: I have been wondering about that a lot. She seems to suggest that the real reason that many people hate her, it's one of the questions posed to her last night in the late night hours. She's sitting down for interviews while the Travis Alexander family is reeling, they can't eat, they can't sleep, they are nauseous, they're missing work, they're away from their family back home to be there. She's giving interviews.

During those interview, she said I think the reason some people hate me is because psychologists have told me people enjoy the persecution of others. Some kind of twisted form of maybe schadenfreude where you enjoy the misery of others. Instead of the fact she slaughtered an unarmed man -- 29 stab wounds and a gunshot wound.

What I'm getting at is she's in some kind of alternate universe and she enjoys being on camera and the limelight. Look, you might as well give in. This is the Jodi Arias show. She's been pulling the strings from the get go. She pulled her whole defense, now blaming everybody but herself.

ROMANS: And she -- in the 19 minutes to the jury, she showed them some of her artwork, she showed her family pictures, she talked of giving her hair to Locks of Love. Do you think this generosity, this I don't know, this desire to be a contributing member of society, even if it's behind bars, is this genuine?

GRACE: I don't believe that anything she said changed however the jury already feels. I am not one to throw a stone at doing a good deed, all right. I found it very interesting that she never mentioned Mormonism. She said she was a devout Christian, Latter Day Saint. All of that seemed to go out the window. Last night, she said she's not really religious, she's more spiritual. And she no longer believes in Hell. That's convenient. This is a fine time to decide there's no penalty for murder.

ROMANS: All right, Nancy Grace;. Nice to see you. Thank you for your commentary and insight throughout this process. "Nancy Grace" airs at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. eastern on HLN. Don't forgot to watch "Nancy Grace, Behind Bars," a two night special coming soon on HLN. Nancy goes behind the bars to talk to female inmates at the same jail where Jodi Arias awaits her fate.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, more tough questions today for the IRS. Congress may not get all the answers its looking for. That's next. You are watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Developing this morning, in a few hours the IRS official at the center of investigation into the targeting of conservative groups for audits is expected to invoke her fifth amendment rights before Congress. Lois Lerner may not say anything in today's hearing but she's spoken about the matter. CNN's Dan Lothian has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She's at the center of the storm, the head of the unit accused of targeting conservative groups seeking tax exempt status and the first to admit publicly it was done.

LOIS LERNER, IRS OFFICIAL: They used names like "Tea Party" or "patriot." And they selected cases simply because the application had those names in the title. That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect. It was insensitive and it was inappropriate.

LOTHIAN: But her lawyers informed Congress that despite a subpoena to testify, today, Lerner will invoke her fifth amendment right and refuse to answer questions.

Her bosses were in the cross fire yesterday. The acting commissioner telling sentators he did not hold back information from Congress.

STEVE MILLER, ACTING IRS COMMISSIONER: I did not lie, sir --

SEN. ORIN HATCH, (R) UTAH: You lied by omission. You knew it was going on and you knew we asked. You should have told us.

MILLER: I answered the questions. I answered them truthfully.

LOTHIAN: Former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman's answers didn't seem to settle sentaors' concerns.

DOUGLAS SHULMAN, FMR. IRS COMMISSIONER: Senator, I --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's easy. Three words: I was responsible.

SHULMAN: I understand the words. What I'm telling you is this happened on my watch and I accept that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, you are not personally responsible.

SHULMAN: I'm deeply regretful that this happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, never mind, never mind. Let's move on. LOTHIAN: The controversy's forcing the White House to play defense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to figure out how people in this building knew what they knew and when they knew it. And we --

(CROSSTALK)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Let's step back. Here's what they knew --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just (INAUDIBLE) us for not asking precise questions. Here I am asking precise questions and you're acting like I'm petulant.

LOTHIAN: Admitting the White House was not just told about the IRS in April but was part of discussions of how Lerner should roll out the agency's revelations.

CARNEY: There were discussions about the timing of the release of this information and the findings of the report.

LOTHIAN: Facing one tough question after another, Carney continued to push back.

CARNEY: We can go down the list, what about the president's birth certificate. Was that legitimate --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: So, Carney says while some White House officials and treasury officials did discuss aspects of the matter, the president was deliberately kept out of the loop in order to prevent any possible suspicions of presidential meddling. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Dan Lothian. Thanks Dan, at the White House.

Let's go back now to John and Chris in Oklahoma where they are covering the devastation and now the recovery and the moving forward after the huge, huge tornado earlier this week. Hi, guys.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOE: Thanks so much, Christine. The sun is rising here in Moore, Oklahoma. A much nicer day to pick through the debris. The damage simply astounding with thousands of homes gone. All around us, these homes have been flattened. I want to show these aerials now. What happens to all the people left homeless? All the people that lived in the houses below that are now gone? We will get answers from FEMA administrator, Craig Fugate, coming up.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are going keep telling you the stories of what people have made it through here. One woman had moments to spare before she escaped to safety with her newborn baby. You have to hear this. You are watching a special edition of STARTING POINT live in Moore, Oklahoma.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)