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Dzhokhar In His Own Words; Boston's Fire Chief Resigns; "He Said, I Killed Her"; Heat Dominate Pacers in Game 7

Aired June 4, 2013 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: From Mississippi to the L.A. Mountains, thousands deal with Mother Nature's fury. We'll have the latest on fires and floods, forcing evacuations and worries.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, calls his parents from prison. We'll tell you what he said and what they thought about the conversation.

ROMANS: And she famous or infamous for her choice of clothes. Wait until you hear about the fashion reality show Hillary Clinton said she'd love to be a part of.

BERMAN: Can't wait to hear that.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: We're going to start with the weather. Destructive wildfires posing a triple threat from the southwest all the way to the west coast this morning. In New Mexico, north of Pecos, an 8,000 acre fire has forced the evacuation of 100 homes. It's only about five percent contained as of last night.

In Jefferson County, Colorado, residents are keeping a close eye on a wind driven fire that threatened hundreds of acres. That one could threaten homes as well. And 32,000 acres and six homes have already been destroyed by the powerhouse fire north of that Los Angeles, but firefighters there are finally beginning to gain the upper hand with that blaze now about 60 percent contained.

ROMANS: Right now, flooding remains a major problem along parts of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. A levee break forcing the emergency evacuation last night of resident from West Alton, Missouri. That's near St. Louis. Forecasters say there could be severe flooding in the region today. Officials say the Mississippi River at St. Louis currently more than 10 feet above flood stage.

BERMAN: Severe storms have now claimed at least 18 lives in Oklahoma since Friday, and there is a slight risk of more dangerous weather there today. Meteorologist, Indra Petersons, following all the developments for us. Good morning, Indra. INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. We're definitely still in the slight risk (ph). First, I want to talk about all the rain. This is the big picture. Actually watching barb wreck (ph), remember from the pacific, but actually made its way right now into the gulf, and all that left over moistures and we picked up and bringing even more rain in the Florida. Now, the reason this matters, they've had seven inches of rain in seven days.

Just torrential rains out there. And look at the next five days, the rain will continue to accumulate with all that tropical moisture now being picked up into the system. So, that's one place we're watching the flooding, and of course, we mentioned the Midwest. I mean, take a look at all the moisture out there. Yes. We're talking about even more rain in the forecast. They're ten feet above major flood stage.

Remember, the beginning of the year, they were four and a half feet below. Unbelievable how much water they've got. More showers in the forecast especially by Wednesday. And we were mentioning the severe weather threat. Yes, a slight risk is still out there and today, unfortunately once again where we typically see it right over Oklahoma, Kansas. Portions of Texas, we're looking at risk again today. Yes, Oklahoma City right in the bull's eye.

BERMAN: Not again. All right. Thanks, Indra.

All right. Boston fire chief, Steve Abraira stepping down, ending a nasty battle with his deputies. Thirteen of them sent a letter to Boston's mayor saying Abraira failed to show leadership, including after the marathon bombings. Abraira became chief in 2011, the first who did not come up through the ranks there. In his resignation letter, Abreira claimed he never had the support of many of his firefighters.

BERMAN: The parents of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects are revealing details of their only conversations with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev since their son was placed under arrest. Tsarnaev played audio recordings of the conversations during an interview aired on British television.

CNN's Phil Black live in Moscow with all the details. Good morning, Phil.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, John. Yes, this phone conversation took place one week ago, we're told. And we understand that the parents and their son were not able to talk about any specific details about the Boston case, itself. So, it was relatively brief but very emotional. The parents asked lots of question about their son's welfare. We understand, they asked him at one point, "are you in pain?"

And this was his reply. He said, "no, of course not." He said he's already eating. He's been eating for some time. He's being fed rice and chicken and he insists that everything's fine. And his mother says that's very match the sort of things that he was able to say under those circumstances. She was generally very surprised by how calm he was. She thought that he would be demanding answers, wanting to know what is happening to him and why. Instead, she says, he was calming her down, insisting that everything will be fine -- John.

BERMAN: What are his patients saying about the fact of this conversation, Phil?

BLACK: The question of guilt or innocence, they say, did not come up at all. And for them, they say, it is not an issue. They believe both of their sons were the victims of a setup. And so, on this, they were asked just what they thought of their son's guilt. And this was the reply. The mother said, "It is terrible what happened, you know, but I know that my kids did not do it."

The father, Anzor said, the child is in shock. He doesn't understand what is happened to him. "I understand I'm just someone in shock because justice has vanished. There is no justice. It's impossible to understand what happened."

Now, we do know from U.S. officials that Russians were concerned about the radicalization of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his mother long before the actual Boston attack. They didn't address this specifically, but Tamerlan and Dzhokhar's mother, Zubeidat, commented and spoke with some pride about just how religious she is, how religious her son Tamerlan was, and how they tried to pass those beliefs on to her younger son, Dzhokhar -- John.

BERMAN: As a parent still seemingly in a some kind of a state about what's going on on the ground here in the United States. Phil Black in Moscow, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Potentially damning testimony as the prosecution wraps up its case against an ex-cop accused of killing his wife and torching their home. Yesterday, a marriage counselor for Brett and Vashti Seacat testified that hours after his wife's death back in 2011, Seacat called her, the marriage counselor, and said, quote, "I killed her. Vashti is dead, and it's my fault."

But his defense claims it was suicide. Ted Rowlands breaks down for us this intense courtroom drama.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Brett and Vashti Seacat were high school sweethearts who got married, had two children, and were living in the small town of Kingman, Kansas until April of 2011.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911. We have an emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a fire.

ROWLANDS: Starting with his 911 call, Brett Seacat, a former sheriff's deputy, has maintained that his wife committed suicide after setting the family home on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She shot herself. She's in the fire. My wife is upstairs. I'm about to go upstairs and try and get her down.

ROWLANDS: Seacat told investigators in a seven-hour videotaped interrogation that he was sleeping on a downstairs couch when his wife called his cell phone from upstairs telling him to get their two boys, ages four and two, out of the house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you murder her?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you pull the trigger?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you kill her?


ROWLANDS: Prosecutors say Seacat is a calculated killer who even forged his wife's suicide note. Just days before she died, Vashti filed for divorce. And according to friends, she was worried about her safety, even asking a friend about the exact scenario that eventually took her life.

JOY TROTNIC, FRIEND OF VASHTI SEACAT: "Do you think Brett would burn the house down with me in it?" And I looked at her and I said, "what?" And she said, "do you think Brett would burn the house down with me in it?" And I was taken aback by that. And I said, "not with the kids at home."

ROWLANDS: Seacat denied ever making threats to his wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She told a friend a week and a half prior to this incident that you threatened to kill her.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You threatened to burn the house down and you threatened to make it look like she did it.


(on-camera) Prosecutors will likely wrap their case some time Tuesday, then, it is on to the defense. Brett Seacat is expected to testify to try to convince this jury that he did not kill his wife.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Kingman, Kansas.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Ted for that report.

Ft. Hood massacre suspect, Nidal Hasan, can represent himself in his own court-martial. That's the ruling of a military judge who says the army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people is physically and mentally capable of defending himself against these murder charges. The army psychiatrist fired his private lawyer at 2011. Jury selection in this case begins on Wednesday.

ROMANS: If the media want photos, video, or other documents from the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, they might have to get permission from survivors or the victim's family. That's part of a bill in the works in Connecticut. The governor wants to limit the release of anything that depicts the physical condition of any victim.

Many of the Newton families are urging lawmakers to support this bill, but a journalist group says it opposes any bill that blocks access to public information.

BERMAN: So, she's always worn the pant suit in the family. Now, Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, former secretary of state, former New York senator, is poking a little fun at herself. Speaking at a fashion industry gala in New York last night, Clinton said she had the perfect idea for a new reality show.


HILLARY CLINTON, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: I am going to be pitching Andy and others on a new show for Bravo. To sort of fill that gap that is so apparent to some of us. And, all you really need is a small but passionate audience to be successful. We could call it Project Pant Suit.


CLINTON: We have all kinds of ideas.


BERMAN: I don't think anyone has ever had their fashion dissected (ph) quite as much as Hillary Clinton. So nice to see her joke about it. Mrs. Clinton was there to honor the legendary designer, Oscar De La Renta who said he hopes Hillary will be our next president. That's to be said.

ROMANS: Let's stay on the fashion beat, shall we, John? Nancy and Donald Featherstone truly are a perfect match. These birds of a feather have been dressing alike for the last 35 years. Where do they get the fantastic his and her ensembles? Nancy makes them, of course. She has designed 600 matching outfits as their way of showing how close they are. The couple has one other claim. The famed (ph) Donald who proposed to Nancy on their first date created the plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament --


ROMANS: In the 1970s. Some may say it's strange, but at least, they never have to worry about clashing. I don't think it's strange at all. I think it's awesome.

BERMAN: Really? I like to see you and the husband out there in town wearing those. The matching, you know, silver lame tuxedos with the pink shirts.

ROMANS: Who says we don't, John?

BERMAN: It's a great point.

ROMANS: You don't see me on the weekends.

BERMAN: You just gave away our secret.

Coming up, the last of the Boston bombing victims leaves the hospital, pledging to keep going despite the long recovery ahead. We will have her inspiring story coming up next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Fifty days after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the last wounded survivor has left the hospital for home. Maryland preschool teacher, Erika Brannock thought she was going to die on that terrible day. Here's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's almost time for Erika Brannock to leave the hospital. So, she's getting one last pedicure from her nurses. Above her bed, a dragon fly hangs.

ERIKA BRANNOCK, BOSTON BOMBING SURVIVOR: It had the saying on it that was a symbol of strength and courage and getting through hard times. So, it's kind of been like my mascot.

KAYE: Hard times is an understatement. On marathon day, Erika, her sister, and brother-in- had gone to see her mother run. They were standing near the finish line when the bomb went off.

BRANNOCK: I fell backwards. I could hear the sirens and people crying and screaming.

KAYE: Erika was also screaming for help. The lower part of her left leg had been blown off, and her right leg was broken.

BRANNOCK: This woman kind of crawled over to me and she grabbed my hand. And she could hear -- she had heard me screaming for help. And she said my name is Joan from California and I'm not going to let you go. And she stayed with me the whole time.

KAYE: Joan used her belt as a tourniquet on Erika's leg. Erika never got Joan's last name or contact but swears the woman in the yellow jacket with brown hair saved her life. She desperately wants to find her and thank her.

(on-camera) In all, Erika had 11 surgeries. And each time she'd be wield down this hallway and then through those doors where she'd pick up the elevator. She soon learned, though, that the entire wing of the hospital back there had been shut down because that's where the surviving bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was being held.

She started to have nightmares about it, nightmares that he was going to blow up the hospital. So, she met with the FBI who assured her that he was going to do nothing of that sort, that he would never hurt her again.

(voice-over) Erika had some brighter moments, too, like a visit from actor, Kevin Spacey. But what's really kept Erika going is the preschool class she teaches back home in Maryland. This little girl made her a video on YouTube with some help from mom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you want to tell her?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What else did you tell me? You miss her very --


KAYE: In Maryland, Erika will start physical therapy and learn to walk with a prosthetic leg. Her motto is, "She's one tough cookie." She knows it be a long road ahead, but with a send-off this week --


KAYE: Erika Brannock's fresh started home will have a touch of Boston's strong.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Boston.


ROMANS: Welcome home, Erika. As Randi mentioned, Erika would like to find that woman, Joan, who helped her right after the bombing. If you have any information, you can e-mail, find Joan at Also, friends have set up a fund to help Erika pay her medical bills, which, you know, no question are substantial. If you like to donate, please go to www.the

BERMAN: We're so happy for her. And with those kids, those preschool kids behind her, she's going to be able to accomplish anything. That's great.

Forty-seven minutes after the hour. Coming up, The Miami Heat take it to the net and they make it back to the NBA finals. But there is still one thing, one very, very old thing standing in their way.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. So, it took longer than most people expected, but the Miami Heat finally punched their ticket to the NBA finals. The defending champs with Lebron James leading the way, although, that's Dwyane Wade right there who finally scored some basket. They dominated the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of their series.

CNN's Rachel Nichols has more from Miami.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Few things define an athlete like playoff game 7. And on Monday night, Lebron James met the moment. Not only leading the Miami Heat to a dominant win over the Indiana Pacers, but quite in questions about his legacy with a third straight trip to the NBA finals.

LEBRON JAMES, MIAMI HEAT: This is what it's all about. You know, I dreamed about opportunities like this as a kid, to have a game 7. That's the notion that, you know, high caliber players need to step up and play at the highest level in game 7s.

DWYANE WADE, MIAMI HEAT: Moments like this could define your career. Situations when -- when everyone is, you know, you're looking like everyone is counting you out, you're looking down, to see how you respond. And I feel like we, as a team, we respond very well.

NICHOLS: For the Heat, the stakes went well beyond a basketball game. The team is built on the star trio of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. And speculation was rampant. A loss here would have sent at least one of those three packing. But players said that pressure only helped them against Indiana.

CHRIS BOSH, MIAMI HEAT: We all love those big moments. And, you know, those bright lights are on. I think guys just really step it up and really accept that challenge to really overcome any kind of obstacle we have.

NICHOLS (on-camera): Next up for the Heat are the San Antonio Spurs, the same team that swept Lebron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in his first NBA finals in 2007. James says he remembers being torched in that series. But he also noted he was just 22 years old at the time. And that now, at 28, he's quote "20, 40, 50 times better a player." On Monday night, he showed it.

For CNN, I'm Rachel Nichols in Miami.


ROMANS: Wow. All right. Someone at celebrity cruise has apparently failed to read the lobster clause as in C-L-A-U-S-E lobster clause. Officials in (INAUDIBLE) island which have strict environmental regulations not only cited the celebrity expedition, it pulled its permit to operate there because of routine inspection found out it was transporting storing 25 pounds of frozen lobster tails while out of season. So far, at least one cruise has been canceled.

A quick programming note tonight in "AC 360" investigation explores recent mishaps on cruise ships. How safe are they? "CRUISE NIGHTMARE" airs tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

BERMAN: And coming up here on EARLY START, Rosie the floor cleaner? Why a new ad has some people up in arms asking if this tribute to Rosie The Riveter gives the wrong idea of just what women can do.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Fifty-seven minutes after the hour or three minutes before the hour. Taking a look at a top CNN Trends on the web this morning. A dynomite find in Wyoming has paleontologists and kids for digging up fossils of three triceratops, that's a plural, triceratops, two adults and probably a child triceratops. One of the adult is thought to be the most complete skeleton of the giant ever found.

The fact that three of them seemed to have died together may mean they traveled as a group, which is something never seen before. And if you're wondering just how they died, the pattern of broken bones means they likely died at the hands and jaws of a T-Rex.

ROMANS: So cool.

All right. Swiffer is getting flack this week for putting Rosie the Riveter back in the kitchen on to the -- of many. The cleaning company has updated Rosie's look with a swash of her lipstick instead of a strong arm, a sweeper, beasel (ph) steam boost. Critics say the company is missing the point of the 1943 Westinghouse poster that has become symbol of female empowerment and the feminist movement. Stay apparently we can do it refers to we can seem clean the entire kitchen.

BERMAN: Outrage. Outrage continues. To check out this and other top CNN trends, head to

EARLY START continues right now.