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Arizona Mom Freed from Mexican Jail; Severe Weather Threat; Royal Visit; Animal Planet's "Mermaids" Hooks Fans

Aired May 31, 2013 - 06:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It's 30 minutes past the hour on this Friday. BREAKING NEWS this morning: Yanira Maldonado is a free woman this morning. A Mexican judge released her just hours ago, after a week in jail on charges of smuggling drugs. The key: surveillance video.

Rafael Romo live from Nogales, Arizona.

Rafael, we just heard Maldonado speak. What did she reveal about her time in jail?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a very difficult time, as you can imagine. But something that we learned about her, she's a Mormon and what she told me on Wednesday and repeated again today was that during that difficult time in prison, when she didn't really know whether she was going to be released, as soon as she wanted, she relied on Scripture, she relied on prayer, and also the prayers of the people outside and the messages that she was receiving.

Let's listen to what she had to say about what the conditions were inside the prison in Nogales, Mexico.


YANIRA MALDONADO, FREED FROM MEXICAN JAIL: I was told that I would be, you know, sent to another prison, a federal prison and it really scared me, but it really got my faith and reading the Scriptures, I found a Book of Mormon, and I was reading with some of the inmates in there and we did a fast on Sunday. And it just, talking to them and getting to know them, I really feel that there's other people going through their own problems and makes yours smaller.


ROMO: Both Yanira Maldonado and her husband, Gary, are back on American soil, here in Nogales, Arizona. They're expected to head over to Goodyear, Arizona, in the Phoenix area, where they live and where they will meet their seven children -- Christine.

ROMANS: Was it the best surveillance video that cleared her Rafael?

ROMO: That's exactly right. What the prosecution, the federal government was saying was that she managed to smuggle almost -- or I should say, more than 12 pounds of marijuana on to the bus. This video introduced by the defense attorney showed that they only had two small blankets, two bottles of water, and her purse.

So, it would have been impossible, and the video clearly showed it, and I was one of the journalists who was able to see it, for them to smuggle that amount of drugs on to the bus. And that was, perhaps, one of the main reasons why the federal judge decided to release her last night.

ROMANS: And, of course, her husband has surmised could be that these are trumped up charges. That someone was trying to bribe them, get a kickback or something. So, could there be any kind of blowback for the people who detained her in the first place?

ROMO: It is definitely a possibility, Christine. But at this point, what the Mexican government, my sense is what they want to do is get it over with, because this case has brought a lot of really bad publicity to Mexico, especially to this area, which is an area that is frequently visited by Americans going to Mexican beaches, coming here for shopping. There's a lot of interaction between the two states and that was definitely a very, very bad situation for Mexico, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Rafael Romo in Nogales, Arizona, for us. Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Just into CNN, I want you to take a look at these, just incredible images. We're told that this small plane ran out of fuel and crashed into an apartment complex in Herndon, Virginia. Two people in the plane and one person in the building were taken to the hospital, just minor injuries. Nine adults, seven children, and three passengers were evacuated from the building.

Sources say the plane was on its way to Manassas Airport from Philadelphia, tried to land at Dulles in Washington, D.C., but did not make it.

Again, so crashed into this apartment building --


BERMAN: Seemingly on the roof, but just some injured suffered by some people in there. That is simply stunning.

All right. We're also following another developing story this morning, the threat of severe weather, relentless weather across so much of this country. Storm trackers say at least two tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma yesterday and conditions could produce even more of these storms today. Also, dumped serious rain on the Tulsa metro area.

ROMANS: In Arkansas, a tornado tore through the town of Odin, ripping roofs away, snapping trees. Nine people were injured because of bad storms in that state.

BERMAN: And in California's Angeles National Forest, more than 500 firefighters trying to get the upper hand on the 1,000-acre powerhouse fire. At one point, firefighting planes dumped fire retardant because the flames were threatening the power lines. But there is some good news. The hikers reported missing near the fire, those hikers have been followed safe.

ROMANS: Meteorologist Ingrid Petersons following this major threat for us this morning.

Good Friday morning to you. A very busy day.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, still another busy. Once again, we're talking about all this instability. I mean, look at this, this is only the break, the time of the evening when things come down until all the activity picks up again in the afternoon. But even these early hours, all the lightning, the thunderstorms really continuing through these overnight hours.

So, today, another day with just not a slight risk for severe weather, but even a moderate risk. Again, a little bit different today and that it shifted to the East, we're talking about Great Lakes, all the way again down through Texas. But that moderate bull's-eye is once again over Oklahoma City, Moore, Norman, the typical spots. And today, also, including even Joplin into that moderate risk area.

So, as we go through the afternoon, once again, we'll be lacking at this activity to pick up.

Now, the other story, the heat wave really in the Northeast. Look at these temperatures, 20 degrees above normal in New York, 13 degrees above normal in Pittsburgh, 80s and 90s.

It seems like this hot weather isn't going anywhere. So hot and humid and what a change from a few days ago, we were seeing cool temperatures.

But there is good news. There is a cool down in sight. It could take another day or so, but you can see the difference, all the 90s to the East Coast, and going back a little bit towards Chicago. We're going to start to see a little bit of that cool air. In fact, we see some 60s and some 70s in the future. Showers will actually pick up towards the Northeast by about late Saturday, kind of in towards Sunday.

So, a hint of good news somewhere across the country.

ROMANS: Good for Chicago, a nice weekend. We'll be hunkering down.

BERMAN: Congratulations, Chicago.

ROMANS: Indra Peterson, thanks.

BERMAN: Also new this morning, Queen Elizabeth visiting the barracks in London where a soldier was murdered last week. Twenty-five-year- old Lee Rigby was killed in what police are treating as a terrorist attack there. Rigby was a member of the battalion that fires gun salutes during royal events and state ceremonies.

Atika Shubert now joins us live from London.

What's the latest, Atika?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're actually right in front of the royal artillery barracks here and the queen is inside. She's meeting with the king's troops force royal artillery.

And, you know, this is a pre-planned visit. This is something that had been months in the making. But she made a point, the Buckingham palace made a point to say after the attack that this would be going ahead, despite that attack last week perhaps to show the resolve of the royal family, that they would go ahead undeterred.

But clearly, this visit has taken on much greater resonance and significance. In addition to meeting other members there and seeing the barracks here, she's going to be meeting with people who actually coordinated the response of the barracks to the incident. So, it will have a great meaning for people to see the queen here.

BERMAN: Atika, I understand just a few minutes ago, the family of Lee Rigby released a statement. What are they saying this morning?

SHUBERT: Yes, basically thanking their supporters, all the well- wishers who have come out and put flowers here at the scene, for example. What they said in that statement was, basically, we're struggling to come to terms with this loss of, and we are truly grateful for everybody's support.

But they also made an appeal and said, "We would like to emphasize that Lee would not want people to use his name as an excuse to carry out attacks against others." That seems the to be a reference to this, quote, "anti-Muslim protests" we've seen over the last couple of days and in particular, attacks against mosques in some parts of the country.

So, the family is clearly making an appeal for calm.

BERMAN: So, even as they are mourning, they are trying to keep the peace.

All right. Atika Shubert in London for us this morning, appreciate it.

ROMANS: New questions this morning from the father of a man shot dead by the FBI while being questioned about the Boston marathon bombings. Abdulbaki Todashev is waiting for a visa so he can come to the U.S. and bring his son's body back to Chechnya. He said his son was unarmed and did not have to die.


ABDULBAKI TODASHEV, FATHER OF IBRAGIM TODASHEV (through translator): He didn't pose any threat to them, but even if he threatened them with his fists, couldn't they shoot his leg? My son couldn't attack him, because he's not crazy. I don't know how they could shoot him like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: The father also says his son was not close with Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, only knowing him from training at the same gym. But the U.S. says both were involved in a previously unsolved triple murder.

BERMAN: So last night in Boston, they were singing for their city.


BERMAN: Steven Tyler and Aerosmith sharing the stage with a host of other artists, all ties to Boston, for a benefit to support the Boston marathon victims. It was really a labor of love for all of them, including sweet baby James right there, James Taylor.


JAMES TAYLOR, MUSICIAN: A lot of my songs were written to make me feel better, and sometimes that resonates with other people too, you know? So you write a piece of music or a song that sort of has the purpose of seeing you through a tough time or putting something out there that you feel internal.


BERMAN: That's James Taylor with Brooke Baldwin, who somehow drew the short straw, covering the best concert ever. Proceeds from the concert go to One Fund Boston, the charity established to help the bombing victims.

Forty minutes after the hour right now.

And coming up, the mermaid shocker. We're going to show you the broadcast that has thousands of people asking, did you just see that?


ROMANS: Welcome back.

New this morning, images of the Boston bombing suspects together, only days before the attack. Video obtained by CNN shows the Tsarnaev brothers working out at a gym, just 72 hours, 72 hours before the bombs went off.

BERMAN: Not a care in the world.

ROMANS: No, just skipping rope, working out. Security cameras at the Y Crew Mixed Martian Center in Boston showed the brothers arriving with a friend around 2:45 p.m. on Friday, April 12th.

The manager says Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was seen here wearing a hat, looked different after shaving his beard. Before they even start the workout, you can see Tamerlan arguing with the manager about taking off his shoes. It's a policy at the gym. The manager says he was so annoyed at Tamerlan Tsarnaev that he tried to have him banned from the gym. BERMAN: Also new this morning, police in Turkey using tear gas to clear up protesters staging a sit-in in its symbol's commercial district. The protesters opposed a plan to build a new shopping center there. They tried to block bulldozers from entering a park to take down trees. Thursday marked the third consecutive night of protest against government policies.

ROMANS: The former owner of a monkey who was famously photographed at an Ikea store in that stylish jacket in Canada is now fighting in court to get the monkey back. And Yasmin Nakhuda he may have a good case. The animal sanctuary where Darwin the monkey has been living is no longer pursuing charges that he was mistreated while in her care.

BERMAN: All right. So, he is the king bee. New York eighth grader, Arvin Mahankali, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee last night in style. He was school, he was calm, he was collective throughout.

ROMANS: And his winning world was knaidel, a Yiddish word for a dumpling.




ROMANS: Mahankali is a national spelling bee veteran. He came in third the past two years, ninth in 2010. This was his final shot at the big win. He says he's happy to be retired on a good note. And, words just in the knaidel sales are up 20 percent.

BERMAN: Right. She's going out like Elway. Mahankali going out like Elway on top of the world right now.

And now, your morning dose of news about mythical creatures. Animal Planet's "Mermaids: The New Evidence" had 3.6 million viewers -- coming in just second behind EARLY START -- making it the highest rated program in the channel's 17-year history. The show was so convincing that many viewers were left scratching their heads, wondering if mermaids are real.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my God! What is that?

BERMAN (voice-over): So what is that creature on top of a rock, supposedly captured on film by tourists?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is not a seal, man!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God, oh, my God!

BERMAN: Many watching Animal Planet's "Mermaids: The New Evidence" saw it as proof that mermaids do exist. The show presented as a documentary details close encounters with the mythical sea creatures. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Paul Robertson, welcome.

BERMAN: It even featured guests, reporting to be scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, but it was all in the name of entertainment, and it turns out Dr. Robertson is not really a scientist. So many viewers were fooled, NOAA, a federal agency, felt compelled to issue a statement.

It said, "Neither NOAA nor its sciences are involved with anything related to this topic. No one from NOAA was involved in making the fictional show and the person identified as a NOAA scientist was an actor."

If you watched the show closely enough, Animal Planet did include this disclaimer during the closing credits. "Certain events in this film are fictional." Disappointed viewers took to Twitter after discovering the show was fictional. "Animal Planet, you are dead to me. You got me on your little mermaid hoax. What was the freaking point," one said?

The fascination with merpeople is not new. A wave of films like "Splash," and "The Little Mermaid" has opened people's imagination to the possibility of life under the sea. That's apparently what the filmmaker, Charlie Foley, wanted. He told CNN that the show is based on real scientific and evolutionary theory and real-life phenomena, rooting our story with facts encouraged a sense of intellectual possibility.





BERMAN: What is that?

ROMANS: Is it a sea lion?

BERMAN: One thing it's not.


BERMAN: A mermaid.


BERMAN: All right. This is the second time people were duped. This is actually a sequel to the wildly successful "Mermaid: The Body Found," which aired last year on Animal Planet.

ROMANS: What percentage of the 3.6 million people who watched that do you think walked away thinking there really could be mermaids like sasquatch?

BERMAN: I don't know. We can keep on hoping.


BERMAN: I wish.

ROMANS: All right. Marriage proposals go high-tech. With just five seconds to get the job done. Wow! Five seconds for a marriage proposal. We explain right after this.


ROMANS: The Miami Heat are one win from heading back to the NBA finals. LeBron James took over last night's game in the third quarter, outscoring the Pacers all by himself.

BERMAN: Joe Carter has more in this morning's Bleacher Report. Great to see you, Joe.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good to see you, too, guys. LeBron James, you could say, may have actually saved this series for the Miami Heat last night, because he turned a potential loss into a defining win. Players have certainly described this series as extremely physical, and you could call this a boiling point last night.

Chris Anderson, Tyler Hansbrough, each of them got into it. The officials slapped Anderson with a flagrant foul and we (ph) actually might come back later with a further punishment. You can see LeBron James giving his team a pep talk at the start of the third quarter. That really helped his game and the Miami Heat.

LeBron James outscored the Pacers in the third quarter by himself, 16- 13. Miami broke it open from there. They win by 11. They now lead the series three games to two. Game six is Saturday night back in Indiana.

The Yankees' center fielder, Curtis Granderson, just donated $5 million to help his alma mater, to help pay for a new baseball stadium. See, in 2002, he graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago. And this past February, the school decided to retire his jersey and he vowed to help them build a new ballpark.

You see, it's beautiful there. It's going to be a great stadium. It's going to be an open air brick stadium. It's going to cost about $7 million. So, certainly his $5 million will help a great deal. And it's expected to open in about three years.

This is some pretty interesting video. It's not from a window washer, it's actually from LSU football coach, Les Miles. They call him the mad hatter and appropriately he strapped on a helmet camera and recorded his ride down the side of a building. He repelled down a 24- story building in downtown Baton Rouge and supported the over the edge for adoption charity.

Well, right after a couple threw out the first pitch at the Kansas City royal's game, the boyfriend dropped down on one knee, Travis, to proposed to the girl, Taysha (ph). It was a great moment. He said it was a perfect moment to thank the person who saved his life and hopefully will have the rest of his life to thank.

See, earlier this year, Travis was given one of her kidneys and it happened just before Valentine's Day. Travis was born with only 25 percent of a functioning kidney and his girlfriend, Taysha (ph) was a perfect match. A nice perfect story. And the reason why he decided to do it at the Royals game, guys, is because that's where they had their first date.

BERMAN: That is a lovely, lovely story.

CARTER: nice way to end on a Friday, right?

BERMAN: Right, Joe Carter. Thanks, man. Have a great weekend.

ROMANS: Speaking of marriage --

BERMAN: A proposal in five seconds flat. One groom going high-tech to pop the question.

ROMANS: Kurt Bethman (ph) asked his girlfriend, Marcia Collier, to marry him. He sent his proposal via a five-second vine (ph) video on Twitter. That's a whole one second to spare. Collier tweeted back her response, a resounding, yes.

BERMAN: Short, too.

All right. That is all for EARLY START this morning. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. "Starting Point" begins right after this break.



ROMANS (voice-over): Breaking news this morning. Freedom for the American mom jailed in Mexico. Her dramatic release, her emotional reunion with her family, and just moments ago, these words.

YANIRA MALDONADO, FREED FROM MEXICAN JAIL: I'm free! I shout, like, I'm free, I'm free. I'm free. I was innocent, so I was very, very happy to be out.

ROMANS: We talked to her this morning.

BERMAN: Person of interest. Investigators now questioning a Texas man possibly linked to those ricin-laced letters sent to the president and the New York mayor. What led these investigators to him?

ROMANS: First on CNN, terror on tape. The two Boston bombers just three days before they set off explosives caught on video. What the video can tell investigators?

BERMAN: Chilling.

And then, under the sea and causing a stir. It is the documentary, fake documentary, about mermaids, yes, mermaids, that had viewers hook, line, and sinker.