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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Arizona Mom Freed From Mexican Jail; American Woman Killed In Syria; Why Did He Have To Die?; Hillary Clinton Losing Her Luster?; Asteroid Fly-By; Oprah's Advice; Animal Planet's "Mermaids" Hooks Fans; Lebron Puts Team On His Back; Les Miles Rappels For Charity; Concert For Boston

Aired May 31, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here is what she had to say, just after she was released from prison and crossed over the border from Nogales, Mexico to Nogales, Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEOCLIP)

WIAN: It was apparent to the family, all along, they were adamant that she was innocent in this case and as testimony was unveiled throughout the week in a Mexican court, it was very clear that prosecutors had no case. First of all, the Mexican military officials who arrested Yanira Maldonado did not show up to testify as scheduled yesterday.

And then video emerged of her and her husband, Gary, boarding that bus, where the marijuana was found. They were carrying nothing other than a couple of blankets, bottles of water, and a small purse, very, very happy for the Maldonado family here in Goodyear, Arizona -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Casey, we heard Yanira say that she found out last night at about 9:00 that she was going to be released and when she got the news, she screamed she was so happy. What can you tell us about her arrival? Do you know about what time she plans to arrive back in Arizona and what the family has planned?

WIAN: We know they plan to speak to the media later this afternoon. We expect that they will arrive at the home here. Before that, we don't have an exact arrival time. It's about a 2-1/2, to 3-hour drive from Nogales to Goodyear. My sense is they're probably getting a little bit of well-deserved rest in Nogales right now before they start that trip back home.

BERMAN: Well-deserved, that's an understatement. Casey Wian in Goodyear, Arizona. We know you'll be there when she does arrive back at that house. We will hear from you again this morning. Thanks, Casey. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Now to a developing story out of Syria, where a woman from Michigan is the latest victim of that country's bloody civil war. Syrian TV reporting a 33-year-old female from Flint, Michigan, has been killed by government forces in Syria. They claim she and two other westerners died fighting for the opposition.

Nick Paton Walsh tracking these developments for us, he joins us live from Beirut, Lebanon, this morning. Good morning, what can you tell us, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know very little apart from that what state TV in Syria is willing to tell us. They claim she is part of foreign-backed terrorist involved in helping the insurgency. They show her passport, the passport of what appears to be a British man alongside that.

The gulf they were ambushed in the northern city of Idlib, hotly contested between regime and rebel forces. We know the identity of the woman, but we're not releasing that until it's 100 percent confirmed that it's the woman shown in the grizzly pictures on Syrian state television. But of course, this part of the Assad regime's contention of foreigners assisting their insurgency is not domestic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIA (through translator): Arabs have forgotten the real enemy is Israel and engaged themselves in fights amongst themselves. We remind Arab nations that our enemy remains in the same place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALSH: So, of course, clearly, they're making the case, President Assad, that Israel is somehow involved in this Syrian civil war. That's been his justification for allowing Hezbollah, the big militant group here inside Lebanon to join on his side in the fighting. The bad news is for many in this region, they see the Syrian civil war as purely many civil rebels against a mostly Shia regime.

ROMANS: Nick Paton Walsh, live for us this morning in Beirut. Thanks, Nick.

BERMAN: 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 says he doesn't understand why Ibragim Todashev had to die. He said he was unarmed and surrounded by four or five agents when he was shot seven times.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 he shoot his leg? My son couldn't attack them because he's not crazy. I don't know how they could shoot him like that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The father also claims his son was not close with the Boston bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, only knowing him through training at the same gym. But the U.S. says both were involved in a previously unsolved triple murder.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be losing some of her lustre. A just-released Quinnipiac University poll shows she's still pretty popular with a 52 percent approval rating, but that is down sharply from February, when she had an all-time high of 61 percent. The poll also shows that if Clinton were to throw her hat into the presidential ring in 2016, she leads potential Republican challengers, Rand Paul and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

ROMANS: An asteroid nearly two miles wide will pass by planet earth today. At its closest point, the asteroid will be 3.6 million miles away from planet earth. Indra Petersons will join us to tell us what we can expect. That is, as Berman says, a close shave.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. Not as close as what we thought back in February, but this guy is huge. You just mentioned, two miles long, two miles wide, basically. If that hit the earth, it would be absolutely catastrophic. It would take us out. The dinosaurs, it was only five times bigger of an asteroid than this.

Here's the good news though, as we mentioned, it is for a far enough away, we're talking 3.6 million miles away. That is some good news. I want to tell how fast this guy is moving, 23,666 miles per hour. Put that in perspective, that's 15 times faster than a bullet.

Now, yes, it's big, but so far out there, very tough to see. It's still a hundred times lighter than the lightest star out there. You'll still need a telescope. Viewing, 4:59 today, but the best place to see it, even with a telescope, is going to be in Africa.

But there's some cool stuff about this guy. Remember the last time that meteor in February or asteroid in February was in our satellite's orbit so a lot closer than the moon. Now this is 15 times the farther than the moon, which is a good thing, considering how big it is, but it has its own little moon surrounding this.

That's what's so fascinating about this. But we were tracking this really close call, and then a completely different meteor actually struck Russia. That's what's so crazy. Space is so huge. There are so many things out there. We can't track everything. So, no, this isn't supposed to hit us today, by that doesn't mean that there's something else out there somewhere.

BERMAN: I have never heard someone so excited by an asteroid before. There are like 10,000 separate facts there, each more interesting than the last. Indra Petersons is an expert at not just what happens inside our atmosphere but beyond as well.

PETERSONS: It means I'm out there, right. ROMANS: Please change the name under her name to say space cadet. And making us all feel very insignificant because doesn't it make you feel insignificant when you're talking about meteors and asteroids.

BERMAN: I have that feeling every day.

ROMANS: Indra, thank you.

Oprah Winfrey offering college advice to college graduates of Harvard. The talk show host turned media mogul received an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the university. She spoke of the stress and frustrations she has had to deal with running her own television network. She told graduating students, there's no such thing as failure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, MEDIA MOGUL: The challenge of life, I have found, is to build a resume that doesn't simply tell a story about what you want to be, but it's a story about who you want to be. When you inevitably stumble and find yourself stuck in a hole that is the story that will get you out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Oprah also told the crowd to keep in mind one goal. Everyone should strive to be the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being. You want to max out your humanity.

BERMAN: Good advice.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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!

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, purporting 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 scientists 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. Fascination with merpeople is not new. A wave of films like "Splash" and "The Little Mermaid" have opened people's imagination to the possibility of life under the sea.

That's apparently what the filmmaker, Charley Foley, wanted. He told CNN that the show is based on real-scientific and evolutionary theory and real life phenomenon. Rooting our story with facts encouraged a sense of intellectual possibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is that?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: It looks like a sea lion.

BERMAN: What could it be? So this is the second time that people were duped. This was actually a sequel to the wildly successful "Mermaid: The Body Found," which aired last year on Animal Planet. My favorite part of this, besides the use of the word "merpeople" is that the government had to actually issue a denial that it wasn't study. I wish they had to say, we had to cut back on our merpeople investigation because of "The Sequester."

ROMANS: I wonder how many people were actually believed they were watching a true documentary.

All right, ahead on STARTING POINT -- the very notable Boston natives who returned to their beloved city to help the victims of the marathon bombings, awesome concert. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good Friday morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. The Miami Heat is 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: I think Roy Hebbert still going to stop him. Meanwhile, Joe Carter has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report." Great to see you this morning, Joe.

JOE CARTER, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good to see you again too, guys. Lebron James, you know, we talk a lot about him, but he had one heck of a game last night and I'll tell you, it seems like he might have saved the series for the Miami Heat with his play in the third quarter. He potentially lifted them into a position where they'll be back in the championship in just a matter of days.

And this series has been described as an extremely physical one. You see it there, when Chris Anderson and Tyler Hansbrough get into it. In the third quarter, when the Heat came out of the half, they were down by four. Lebron James gave him a pep talk, and he was inspired by himself, because he outscored the Pacers by himself in the third quarter alone, 16 to 13.

Miami broke it open from there. They won the game by 11 points and now they lead the series three games to two. Game six, a very important one for both teams, obviously, is Saturday night in Indiana.

This video you're seeing is not from a window washer, but it's from a helmet cam worn by LSU Football Coach Les Miles. They call him the mad hatter for many reasons, but here's he's repelling down the side of a 24-story building in downtown, Baton Rouge, and he did it for the "Over the Edge for Adoption Charity," 300-plus feet of fun.

Right after the first pitch at the Kansas City Royals game, boyfriend Travis surprised girlfriend Tasha by dropping down on one knee. Now Travis said he thought it was a good time to thank the person who saved his life. See, just before Valentine's Day this year, guys, she gave him one of her kidneys.

Travis was born with only 25 percent of a functional kidney. She happened to be a perfect match. They'd on been dating for ten months when she decided to donate her kidney to him. The reason why she wanted to propose to her at the game was because that's where they shared their first date together. Nice story.

BERMAN: There is so much awesome about that story.

ROMANS: That story is very sweet. Nothing else I take away from Friday, it's going to be that story.

BERMAN: Joe Carter, thanks so much. Have a great weekend.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, Aerosmith, James Taylor, a who's who of Boston natives, the best people on earth, returning to their city, they love to rock out and raise money for victims of the Boston marathon bombings. We'll show you the highlights. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: They were Boston Strong in words and music, a benefit concert featuring Boston natives, Aerosmith, James Taylor, a lot of others, raising money for the victims of the marathon attack. CNN's Brooke Baldwin was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a quintessential Boston song, originally by the Sandels, normally reserved for wins at Fenway, Foxborough and the TD Garden, but Thursday night a whole new level of victory taking center stage. Ten star-studded bands and artists with ties to Boston, sharing the stage and helping raise money for Boston's "One Fund," the likes Aerosmith, New Kids On The Block, Jimmy Buffet and James Taylor.

JAMES TAYLOR, SINGER: We'll sing "Sweet Baby James." It's got that line.

BALDWIN: After the bombs went off on Boylston Street, Boston-born James Taylor got a call from an old pal to help. Taylor didn't hesitate. He knows his music helps heal.

TAYLOR: I don't know. A lot of my song s songs were written to make people feel better and sometimes that resonates with other people too. So you -- you write a piece of music or a song that -- that -- that sort of has the purpose of seeing you through a tough time or putting something out there that you feel internally.

BALDWIN: And 15,000 fans, Boston Strong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Celebrating the city and the pride of the city and hopefully making something good out of a bad event. Here to celebrate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to be part of it, I wouldn't not be here.

BALDWIN (on camera): "Dirty Water" ending the whole show with "Dirty Water." It's a special Boston song.

JIMMY BUFFET, SINGER: It is. I forgot about it until it seems like the perfect song to play.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Jimmy Buffet, an Alabama native who fell in love with New England many years ago back when he was still playing gigs as an opening act. Before the concert, he and his good friend, James Taylor, met with bombing survivor Jeff Bauman backstage.

(on camera): What's your message for Boston?

BUFFETT: I called my old friend, James Taylor, because we were talking to Jeff, one of the victims of the bombing and he is a guitar player and we're talking about it was interesting to see the statue of Paul Riviera that is very much revered in the city with a -- a kind of a -- an image of a Les Paul electric guitar. Maybe they should keep that in Paul's hand. They did a poster, but wouldn't be nice if Paul had one and then James said -- somebody said what do you think it should be?

BALDWIN (voice-over): Don't mess with Boston. This city is something wicked special. Brooke Baldwin, CNN, Boston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Wicked special indeed. Brooke is watching from Boston Logan's Airport with a crowd of people. Hi, Brooke. Thanks for watching. Boston strong.

ROMANS: She got the best, best assignment of the day.

BERMAN: I know and I hate her for it.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, the Arizona grandmother released overnight from a Mexican jail. Yanira Maldonado telling CNN how it feels to be free. We're going to go live to Nogales, Arizona, at the top of the hour.

ROMANS: And we have a winner, how a Jewish dumpling helped a kid from Queens at the top of the spelling world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Our STARTING POINT this morning, breaking news overnight, an American mother held in a Mexican jail on drug smuggling charges, released, just hours ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALDONADO: I'm free! I am free, I'm free. I'm free. I was innocent so I was very, very happy to be out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Such a wonderful sight. We have the moment she was reunited with her husband and what may have convinced the judge to let her go.

ROMANS: Then first on CNN. Brand new video showing the Boston bombing suspects working out in the gym, just three days before they allegedly unleashed terror on the marathon. Why it may show warning signs of the horror to come.

Plus, what's going on here? Planes falling out of the sky, not one, but two instances of small planes crashing into homes, get this. Everyone survives. The dramatic footage ahead.

And is Justin Bieber's bad behavior gone too far? The cops want to talk to him after he sped through the neighborhood. Why won't he go in? Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Friday, May 31st. Welcome to STARTING POINT. Up first, the breaking news, the Arizona mother accused of smuggling drugs is finally free from a Mexican jail. A judge in Nogales released Yanira Maldonado overnight. Remember she was arrested last week after authorities claimed they discovered 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat. The mother of seven is thanking God, her family and her lawyers for her freedom.

Rafael Romo now live from Nogales in Arizona this morning. Rafael, what's the latest?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: John, it has been both an emotional and joyful morning for Yanira Maldonado. Only 24 hours ago, she was facing the prospect of spending years in prison. Instead this morning, she is getting ready to be reunited with her three children and four stepchildren.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO (voice-over): It happened just before midnight an American mother of seven jailed in Mexico for more than a week, finally released, tearfully embracing her husband and thanking her supporters.

MALDONADO: I want to thank first God that I'm free now and he sent good people my way, and I'm very grateful that I'm free, for my family, my children, and special thanks to my lawyer, my counsel from Nogales, Arizona.

ROMO: Yanira Maldonado and her family never wavered from claiming her innocence, after Mexican officials accused her of trying to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana on a bus. Shortly after her release, Yanira Maldonado addressed the media recounting the moment she learned she was going home.