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Zimmerman Trial Nears End; 911 Calls Released After Asiana Crash; Markets Set to Open Higher; Snowden Faces Tough Path to Asylum

Aired July 11, 2013 - 09:00   ET


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During one of the most surreal moments in court, both sides straddled a foam dummy in attempts to illustrate the conflicting arguments as to what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed.

Prosecuting attorney John Guy argued that it would have been difficult for Zimmerman to shoot at a 90-degree angle had Trayvon Martin been on top as presented by the defense.

JOHN GUY, ASSISTANT STATE ATTORNEY: Would it be consistent the 90 degrees if Trayvon Martin had been backing up and the defendant raised his gun and shot at 90 degrees?

HOWELL: Then defense attorney Mark O'Mara grabbed the dummy to support his argument.

MARK O'MARA, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Were the injuries on Mr. Zimmerman's back of his head consistent with someone doing this?

HOWELL: And on the final day of testimony, George Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman, returned to the stand to address the screams heard on the 911 tape.


O'MARA: Is that an opinion that you still have through today?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly.

HOWELL: In another important ruling, Judge Debra Nelson will decide whether or not to grant the prosecution's request to apply lesser charges of manslaughter and aggravated assault.

O'MARA: Self-defense is self-defense to everything. There shouldn't be a second-degree murder charge and there shouldn't be any lessers.


HOWELL: So we are getting, Wolf, to the beginning of the end of this case. You laid it out earlier and I'll cut through what is to be expected again. Today at 1:00 p.m. we expect the jury to arrive here to hear closing arguments from the prosecution. That could take about two hours. Then tomorrow on Friday, we expect to hear from the defense attorneys. Their closing arguments and then the prosecution, Wolf, will have one hour for rebuttal. So, after that, it all goes over to the jury.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And before it goes to the jury, the judge will have this -- will have to deliver the instructions to the jury in this hearing that's about to begin right now. This procedure will be very, very significant whether or not lesser charges, as you point out, manslaughter, aggravated assault, can be considered. And it's significant because presumably if he's not convicted on second-degree murder, they, the jury, could decide he might be guilty of manslaughter or aggravated assault and presumably the sentencing would be reduced as opposed to second-degree murder. This could be seen as some sort of compromise.

HOWELL: Well, you know, and you can tell -- you can see that the prosecution, you know, this could be sort of a backstop. If this jury does not believe that the case warrants second-degree murder then certainly aggravated assault. Then manslaughter, those can be considered as well.

Wolf, I don't know if we can dip into live video now, but you can see that Judge Debra Nelson has taken to the courtroom. You can see the court is just about to start. And, again, we expect to hear some testy exchanges.

This is really important because the defense wants to focus in on the wording. What is told to this jury? What are they instructed to do when they go away to make their decision? The defense team will focus in on justifiable homicide. Keep in mind that Stand Your Ground, it's a clause that we've thrown around for a bit. But Stand Your Ground, that is just like one line in justifiable homicide in the statute here in Florida.

They want to focus on the wording. What is this jury told? How are they told to consider what is justifiable homicide? So we expect them to get in the weeds on that here over the next hour or so with the prosecution.

BLITZER: You know, let's bring in Mark Nejame as we wait Judge Debra Nelson getting ready to begin this hearing. Criminal defense attorney Mark Nejame is joining us.

Explain why the defense is really resisting this notion of having these lesser charges considered? They want second-degree murder or nothing.

MARK NEJAME, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they could end up winning the battle and losing the war in this situation, Wolf. You've got a lesser included offenses, which if the jury comes back and they go, you know, we've got to come back with something, it's that kind of case. Well, the penalties are still extremely severe.

On a manslaughter charge, it might sound like less, but it ends up because a firearm was used, the penalty doubles from a 15-year maximum to a 30-year maximum. And on aggravated assault which is normally in Florida just a third-degree felony but because a firearm was used in it, well, all of a sudden you have mandatory prison sentences imposed. So you could end up, you know, thinking that, remember one other thing, jurors are not told what the penalties are.

So they might think, well, we're going back and giving him just a little slap on the hand and it puts him to prison for many, many years.

BLITZER: It's interesting. You -- we just saw one of the criminal defense attorneys Don West inside having a little chat with Judge Debra Nelson. Mark O'Mara, the other criminal defense attorney, is not going to be apparently in the courtroom today because he's gearing up for his closing argument to continue for about three hours so yes, I'm assuming he wants to gear up for that, prepare that closing argument.

Mark, are you surprised that he decided not to come into the courtroom on this day to hear the state's closing argument -- this afternoon? Maybe he'll be there this afternoon. He's not there for this hearing this morning.

NEJAME: I would expect him to be there this afternoon. He really needs to be there this afternoon because no matter how much he prepares, there's going to still be things that he's going to have to respond to in the first phase of the prosecutor's closing argument.

Remember, they're likely going to go for two hours for the first part. He gets sandwiched in between probably for his three -- his full three hours or however long he takes and then they have the right to go ahead and close it. So they'll do another hour. So he'll definitely need to hear what they're saying so that he can respond appropriately while he's sandwiched in the middle. So I fully expect that we'll see him back for their closing argument.

BLITZER: The -- and maybe George, if George is still with us, a quick question, George. Because I want to go through the timeline and, Mark, hold on for this point as well. The state will give its closing argument this afternoon starting at 1:00. We have this -- the arguments now on whether or not the lesser charges should be used. Then the jury will be dismissed. We expect the prosecution to continue their closing argument for about two hours, let's say.

The jury will be dismissed for the day. They'll come back tomorrow morning, Friday morning, and they'll hear the defense deliver the closing argument that probably will start around 9:00 a.m., although that's not 100 percent set in concrete.

We expect Mark O'Mara to go for about three hours. At that point, the prosecution will have another one hour or so to give a rebuttal, the prosecution will get the last word. The judge will then spend probably 20 minutes to a half hour giving instructions to the jury Friday late afternoon. At some point the jury will then begin its deliberation.

George, Saturday, Sunday, the jury is going to consider. Let's say they come up with a decision Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoon. Will they then call the trial back into session to announce what the jury has decided or will they wait until Monday?

HOWELL: You know, Wolf, and I think you said it just a minute ago. It's hard to tell. It is highly possible, you know, that they could be called to announce that decision over the weekend. We have yet to see. You know, this judge doesn't really explain a ahead of time what is going to happen. Even when she talked to the jury. She said, you know, I'm always cautious about telling you what to expect because things change. That is her style but these things are possible.

We also, Wolf, have some insight into what could happen, what will likely happen when the defense gives its closing arguments. You remember that computer animation that reenactment of the crime scene. That is possibly going to be used in the closing arguments for the defense.

Remember that Judge Debra Nelson said that it can't be used as evidence. So this jury can't take it back to the jury room, they can't touch it, they can't see it play out there, but she said that it can be used as a tool, a demonstrative tool and that seems to be, from what we understand, what could happen when the defense gives its closing arguments.

To let this jury see how the defense team believes this played out and, in the animation, I believe we have video of that. But in the animation, you see, you know, figures that are supposed to be Trayvon Martin, that are supposed to be George Zimmerman, in a struggle. That's what the defense team wants this jury to see as they walk away to make their decision.

BLITZER: The judge has just recessed this hearing for a half an hour apparently to give both sides a little bit more time to prepare their arguments. Not a huge surprise, Mark, is it?

NEJAME: No, not at all. I mean, she -- it's getting ready to come to the end. So she's going to let everybody ready themselves. It's appropriate. These are very complex issues and some of the most important issues might be a little bit -- some of the more uninteresting things. But they couldn't be more important in the case because they really will navigate what's going to be told to the jury and it's going to direct them as to what their deliberations should be considering.

So it couldn't be a more important matter concerning the charge, you know, preparation for the charge to the jury.

BLITZER: And explain one thing to me, Mark. You're an expert in Florida law. You've done a lot of criminal trials down there. Is it true that the six women on the jury will not know the possible sentencing guidelines for these three respective charges, second- degree murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault? They'll assume there are lesser charges, they will be reduced sentencing, but they won't know specifically, the judge will not tell them what kind of sentencing requirements could be imposed, if George Zimmerman is convicted on one of the lesser charges.

Is that true, they won't know the sentencing guidelines? NEJAME: That's exactly right, Wolf. And that is the greatest fear of the defense right now that some sort of compromised verdict will come in. And what's all the more amazing about this is that the jury could actually come back with manslaughter with which -- in which there is no mandatory minimum sentence on that because manslaughter is not one of the enumerated offenses to go ahead and have the 10-20 life kick in.

Could come back with what they think is even the lesser charge of aggravated assault with a firearm. And you can get a greater sentence for the lesser charge of aggravated assault with a firearm, then you can technically get with a manslaughter charge. So it's -- the biggest fear of the defense and they are going to be -- you're going to hear it in their closing argument. They're going to be doing everything to make that jury know, this is -- self-defense is a defense for any and all charges whether it's a lesser or not.

Self-defense cures all and that's what they're going to be focusing on. They do not want a lesser included offense come in. A compromised verdict would, in fact, be a great victory for the prosecution.

BLITZER: And it's up to the judge and only the judge to impose a sentence. The jury will either convict or acquit, but the judge, Mark, will make the final decision on what kind of sentence. Is that right?

NEJAME: That's right. There's no recommendation, unless it's a death penalty case. There's no recommendation from a jury. Their soul job is to come in and either determine guilt or not guilty. And with that if it's a guilty verdict on any charge, it's purely up to the judge for sentencing to determine which sentence would be imposed.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We're going to have a lot more coverage --


NEJAME: May I say one other --

BLITZER: Go ahead, finish your point.

NEJAME: I'm sorry, Wolf. Yes, I'm sorry. And now the judge has no discretion as far as minimum as it relates to certain minimum mandatory sentences. So there, that's even discretion taken from her. Certain offenses, she's got to give them -- she's got to give the minimum.

BLITZER: All right. Mark Nejame and George Howell, they will remain with us. We're standing by there in recess now. The judge is just taking a half hour recess to let the lawyers prepare a little bit more for this -- the arguments, whether or not lesser charges should be allowed to be considered by the jury in the George Zimmerman murder trial.

We'll have a lot more coverage, including live coverage once they resume. Stand by for that.

There's other important news, though, we're following, including an area south of Colorado Springs already devastated by fire, now dealing with a new and messy problem. Mudslides. Cars being swept away in a river of mud.

This incredible video was shot in Manitou Springs. The driver of that car reportedly was not injured. Just one inch of water fell on charred lands. But it was enough to close many roads. The mud left anything in its path covered and stuck.

Our meteorologist Chad Myers is joining us now. He's got more on what's going on.

The images, the pictures, pretty devastating, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And this is what happens, Wolf, when you get an area that has burned. That's what they have there in Colorado. And there's many, many millions of acres that have burned recently.

When it rains on top of that land and that's we're talking about a mountain, that land has no more root system. The trees, the grasses, everything that used to allow the water to run off all gone. There's just dirt there. And when the dirt becomes so saturated, it just begins to run off as a mudslide.

Here's what happened yesterday. Thunderstorms -- and will happen again today. Thunderstorms developed along the ridges of the mountains here and that thunderstorm activity caused rain to come down. As the rain fell in the same place for a very long time, it got into the canyons and, eventually, down through and eventually down into the plains.

Well, the canyon was the problem. All that water and all of that mud had to go down through and what do you put in the canyon? That's where you put the roads because it's the easiest place to build a road. You don't build a road over the mountain, you build it through the canyon. And that's exactly what those drivers got into yesterday and there's not a question in my mind that this couldn't happen again today.

Need to be very careful. Those flash floods happen. If you want to go back and look at a textbook case, the big Thompson Canyon flood north of Denver, Colorado. Many, many years ago, not even had anything to do with a mudslide or anything to do with a fire but it was all to do with almost 10 inches of rainfall falling in Estes Park all coming down the same canyon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That could be very, very frightening if you're driving along that area. All right, Chad, thanks very much.

We're also hearing the frantic calls for help. Passengers on the Asiana Flight 214 calling 911 moments after their plane crash-landed in San Francisco. It comes as the relatives of those two teenage girls killed in that crash make a very somber trip. A private moment touring the site where those two 16-year-olds died.

And we're learning more about what was going on in the cockpit during those final minutes and seconds of the flight. Including changes to the flight path and the altitude.

Plus, one of the pilots says he was temporarily blinded by a flash of light around the same time the pilots noticed the plane was flying too low and too slow.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is joining us now live from San Francisco with more.

A lot of talk about pilot error, but I know officials, investigators say it's still too early to formally come up with that conclusion.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, certainly. It will be a good year, probably 18 months before they're able to say anything definitive about this. There is a lot of talk about pilot error but that will -- there's a lot of factors in that. We can talk about that in a second. But, you know, San Francisco airport now getting ready to reopen that runway 28 left. They're doing a lot of work to get that done or at least beginning that work to get that done. It will take some time. All of that as we're learning a lot more about this investigation.


911 CALLER: We just got in a plane crash and there are a lot of people that need help.

911 CALLER: We have people over here who weren't found and they are burned really badly.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): A chilling description of the traumatic scene as passengers escaped the burning aircraft in a desperate plea for emergency medical assistance.

911 CALLER: We have been on the ground, I don't know, 20 minutes, or a half hour. There are people laying on the tarmac with critical injuries, head injuries. We're almost losing a woman here. We're trying to keep her alive.

MARQUEZ: And overnight, a somber moment on an airport runway, family members of the two girls who died and others who were injured on Asiana flight 214 visit the crash scene.

And for the first time, six members of the Asiana flight crew make a stand of solidarity. With six of their colleagues still in the hospital, emotion and anguish is written in their faces.

"We are putting in our best effort," she says, "to recover from this accident."

Many crediting the heroic actions of the flight crew for saving so many lives. Investigators now say three flight attendants were ejected from the plane, still in their seats. A fourth injured by an emergency slide that deployed inside the cabin. They also pulled out extinguishers and fought fires as passengers escaped.

Investigators now say it took a minute and a half for the evacuation to begin.

This, as we are learning more about the investigation itself. NTSB saying two and a half minutes before impact, there were several changes to auto pilot and auto throttle modes. But still not clear is whether the pilots themselves were making those changes.

The pilot of the aircraft also told investigators at 500 feet, he was temporarily blinded by a light.

DEBORAH HERSMAN, NTSB CHAIRWOMAN: He did talk to us about the approach and landing. He relayed that to us, but it was a temporary issue.

MARQUEZ: Airport and airline officials eager to get back to full operations as arrangements are made to move the charred remains of flight 214.


MARQUEZ: Now, on those 911 calls, officials here say, look, there was a huge triage operation at the plane itself. It was some time before they realized there were other victims much farther down the tarmac near the sea wall there. So, it did take some time for those individuals to get help.

Also, the ambulances. Why they had a lot of ambulances in this situation stayed away from the plane because if the plane exploded, they didn't want the ambulances to go up, as well. So, that was consideration for officials as they took on this massive effort in just seconds -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Miguel Marquez on the scene for us in San Francisco, we'll stand by for new developments today. Thank you.

Meanwhile, good news for your 401(k) this morning. Markets are set to surge at the open and may even reach some record highs after the Fed Chief Ben Bernanke indicated that the government's massive stimulus program isn't going anywhere.

Alison Kosik is following all the latest moves from the New York Stock Exchange.

A little upbeat attitude on the floor today, I take it, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Wolf. The bulls getting ready to make a run of it. In about 12 minutes, the Dow set to rise 130 points at the open. If that happens, it would push the Dow actually back into record territory. Something that happened for the first time back in May and this is all thanks, as you said to those remarks from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He spoke at an economic conference last night and what he said was monetary policy would remain highly accommodative for the foreseeable future. Translation: it means the open $85 billion in stimulus money that is pouring into the financial system, that that's likely to keep flowing. It's really what helped the stock market reach the record highs that we've seen.

He also said that interest rates would stay at record lows. That essentially made it more affordable for Americans to take out car loans and mortgages.

Now, there have been worries about the Fed pulling back on stimulus, sooner rather than later. What these comments essentially do is help alleviate some of those concerns. And, Wolf, not all great news, though. Oil prices also in the mix today. They're dipping a bit today, but are up 10 percent over the past month.

So, you can expect that to filter to the gas pump soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What was the phrase he used? Highly, what, accommodative?

KOSIK: Highly accommodative. It means that -- it essentially means that these accommodative policies where the Fed is pouring this $85 billion into the economy, that's pushing bond rates low and essentially pushing investors to the best investment in town that's stocks, and that's creating the wealth effect in the stock market. It's keeping interest rates low.

So, it encourages businesses and consumers to borrow money. And where businesses are concerned, it encourages them to especially borrow money with the expectation that hopefully, they would expand and hire so that that would eventually at some point filter through to the job market, Wolf.

BLITZER: A phrase like that could have a huge impact and people making a lot of money in the stock market as a result of highly accommodative by Ben Bernanke.

All right. Thanks very much, Alison.

We'll keep an eye on the New York Stock Exchange. And other markets to see what's going.

We're also keeping a close eye on the developments in the George Zimmerman murder trial. Prosecution and defense attorneys -- they are getting ready this morning to argue over whether or not the jury could consider lesser charges: manslaughter, aggravated assault charges, something the prosecution wants and the defense does not want that.

We're going to take a quick break and get back to the court. They're in recess right now. But Judge Debra Nelson is expected to bring them back soon.

And Edward Snowden could soon be on his way to Venezuela. His flight to asylum, though, could be rather risky. We're going to hear what it could cost, as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The Judge Debra Nelson in the George Zimmerman trial, she's called a little recess. It's expected to resume in about 10, 15 minutes or so, maybe 20 minutes, because the arguments that both sides want to make on whether or not lesser charges should be allowed to be considered by the jury. That's going to be significant.

Later today, the closing arguments portion of this trial begins. We'll have live coverage of all of this, coming up, including this hour. Stand by.

BLITZER: Other news we're following, though, right now, including the NSA leaker Edward Snowden. His best option for asylum appears to be Venezuela, that according to the journalist Glenn Greenwald of "The Guardian" newspaper, which published Snowden's leaked material.

But it's not clear if Snowden has accepted anyone's offer of asylum and he's believed to be still in Moscow's airport. If he is headed to Venezuela, it could be rather tricky.

CNN's Phil Black explains why.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Bolivian president's recent flight from Moscow to South America was effectively a dry run for Edward Snowden.

Evo Morales plane was denied entry to French and Spanish air space on only the suspicion that Snowden was on board. It spent 13 hours grounded in Austria.

The incident proves Snowden has no easy way of escaping Moscow for a friendly South American country. The most obvious flight to the region is the much-discussed Havana option, a direct flight to Cuba that Snowden was reportedly booked on weeks ago, but didn't take. That flight usually cuts through America's eastern states.

But would it be allowed to follow that path if Snowden was on board? Could the United States force a commercial passenger aircraft to land?

President Obama has said he won't use the military.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.

BLACK: If Snowden finds little comfort in those words, he would then need to look at other options. Most of them much longer, more complex and expensive, involving private aircraft and the cooperation of multiple countries that are prepared to defy the United States.

He could try hopping from one sympathetic nation to the next through the Middle East and Africa before making the final jump to South America.

Or there's the long way via the Arctic and the Atlantic -- a risky ocean journey that would be a real struggle for most aircraft on one tank of fuel.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.


BLITZER: Also, we're keeping a close eye, as I said, in the developments in the George Zimmerman murder trial. The prosecution and defense attorneys, they are arguing over whether or not the jury should be allowed to consider manslaughter and aggravated assault charges in addition to the second degree murder charge. Something the prosecution wants the defense does not want that.

They're getting ready for a hearing. It's about ready to resume. We'll go back to the court in a minute.


BLITZER: Good morning. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in for Carol Costello.

We'll have live coverage of the George Zimmerman trial. That's getting ready to resume. They're in a little recess right now.

First, though, a quick check of some of the other top stories we're following. We could be into another incredible day on Wall Street. Markets could set new highs, at least potentially after the Feds reassurance that the massive stimulus program will, in fact, stay in place for now.

Joining me now: CNN's Alison Kosik. She's at the New York Stock Exchange.

And "YOUR MONEY" anchor Christine Romans, she's also in New York.

Alison, for you. They could break another record today, couldn't they?

KOSIK: Very much so, Wolf. Opening bell will ring in about 30 seconds at this point. The expectation that the bulls are going to charge out of the starting gate, pushing the Dow back into record territory.

Now, the number we're keeping our eye on is 15,409. Right now, the Dow is at 15,291. But last time it reached that 15,409 number, it was back in May.

And this is all thanks comments from Ben Bernanke. Last night, he was speaking at an economic conference. He basically said the stimulus punch bowl is going to stay on the table. It has been really the main factor that's propped up stocks and this stimulus effort is an $85 billion a month effort where, you know, mortgage-backed securities, treasury bonds are being bought up. It's pushing investors because it's pushing interest rates lower.

And, you know, it's been a real roller coaster ride for stocks over the past month. And there have been fears about what would happen, when that punch bowl is pulled away from the table.