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White House: No Decision On Syria; Belafonte Reflects On The March; Mother Of Dead Toddler Testifies; Zimmerman Wants $200,000 From Florida; Stoking Excitement About The Sciences

Aired August 27, 2013 - 14:30   ET


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't necessarily have to be a military attack, but really he implied that is the great expectation at the moment. The reason they say that the peace talks will be dead in the water unless there is some kind of reaction is that the only way that the peace talks work is that if both sides, the rebels and the government, believe that they cannot win militarily.

And the assessment right now is that Bashar Al-Assad feels that he can make gains militarily and that if he isn't reprimanded if you will for using chemical weapons or alleged abuse of chemical weapons then he will continue in that vein so for a peace to work, there needs to be a response. That's really the expectation here -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: In the U.S., it's still saying -- many sources are saying, you know what, any sort of response is going to be to hold Syria accountable, but they still want what they consider this diplomatic process to move forward or at least that's what they're saying. Nic, I want to ask you about Syria's allies. They may be the wild card in all of this, how they respond if the U.S. decides to strike? What about Syria's friend Iran?

ROBERTSON: Yes. Well, Iran has the real potential here to stir up even more trouble in Lebanon, to the west of Syria. The problem there, Iran's ally Hezbollah is based there. Hezbollah fighters inside Syria are supporting Bashar Al-Assad. Iran wants to maintain Bashar Al-Assad or a regime like him in power, keep that link to Hezbollah so they can keep pressure on Israel.

How this will shake out now it is expected if there were strikes and Iran wanted to, it could create problems, trouble, explosions, bombs as we've seen recently in mosques in Lebanon. This sort of terrorist type activity could take up and lead to an escalation of the sectarian tensions. The same kind of sectarian tensions that exist today exist in Lebanon that could spark even greater problems we've seen. That's how Iran could really play into this, really upsetting the situation there in Lebanon -- Brianna.

KEILAR: That is the predicament as President Obama weighs his options here. Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

Coming up, George Zimmerman is about to ask Florida for some cash, 200 grand, in fact, find out what that's for. Plus, as thousands get ready to march tomorrow to honor the 50th anniversary of the "I have a dream" speech in Washington, one Republican says race shouldn't even exist in America anymore. Well, I'll speak live with someone who's never shy about voicing his opinion.

But first, speaking of tomorrow's march, one of CNN's "CROSSFIRE" hosts shares a moment from the classic show, which is returning next month. Check it out.


VAN JONES, HOST: Well, the country's about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech. At this point, it's almost impossible to imagine that it was ever controversial to want to honor Dr. King, but in 1983, it certainly was to Jerry Falwell when he came on "CROSSFIRE."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not a Martin Luther King Day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just feel that there are other black Americans and the corporate body of black Americans who are due honor more than one recent individual about whom there's a great question mark to this moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the question mark?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question mark is that so far all the records are sealed and neither you, Tom, nor I really know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you talking about his personal character, personal morality?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And he may be as clean as Billy Graham, but we don't know that because the records are sealed.



KEILAR: The 1963 march on Washington gave us so many lasting images, including Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of that historic day giving Americans a chance to reflect on how much has changed and how the nation still restless with the issue of race.

Entertainer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte was on that stage in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. He had gathered a group of Hollywood stars to lend their support to the event.


HARRY BELAFONTE, ACTOR: Myself personally, my task was to organization a cultural contingency to come to the march on Washington.

OSSIE DAVIS, ACTOR: I give you Mr. Bert Lancaster.

BELAFONTE: Paul Newman, Lena Horn, Sammy Davis Junior, Marlon Brando.

CLARENCE JONES, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: All of them looked to harry as their spiritual political moral civil rights mentor because they knew his close relationship with Dr. King.

BELAFONTE: One of the things I said in my conversations with the Kennedy's discussing why they should be more yielding in their support of our demonstration was the fact that there would be such a presence of highly profiled artists that that alone would put anxiety to rest, the people would be looking at the occasion in a far more festive way.


KEILAR: Harry Belafonte joining me now from New York. Thank you so much for your time. I know that this is a period of reflection for so many people at this point. People look back. They say what's happened? What progress has been made? There is now an African- American president, but what do you see as the unfinished business from that march?

BELAFONTE: Well, the unfinished business from that gift that was given us by the people who struggled in that great campaign is the fact that we are watching those gains made through so much struggle, through so much sacrifice, through so much violence to in fact now be in the process of being dismantled, what's going on in North Carolina, some of the things we've seen down in Florida with the Trayvon Martin murder, with what we see going on in the Supreme Court and the reversal of the laws that were put in place to protect our voting rights and our voters.

That was a big part of our campaign. To see all of that under threat now is deeply disturbing, but I'm convinced that there is an America that will be awakened to this reality and step into the breach and begin to re-campaign all over again to say you cannot, you cannot dismantle the gains made by the citizens of this country.

KEILAR: Obviously and just to your point there race is still very much an issue, but I want to get your feedback on something that Louisiana's Republican Governor Bobby Jindal said recently. He said Americans need to get pass race. They need to stop emphasizing what they called our separateness. So I wonder, the Republican Party has obviously realized they need to reach out to more minorities and they realize that from the last election. Do you think that Jindal's comments considering he is one of the few Republican minority leaders, do you think his comments help or do they hurt? Does he have a point?

BELAFONTE: Yes, I think that he's absolutely correct in his point of view. I think for America to have a very healthy discourse in the political process, we need to have all parties, both parties and other parties, may come to the floor to be able to have a discourse representing all of the citizens of our nation. The Republican Party has been somewhat severe in recent years in its behavior in relationship to the minority vote, the vote of color whether it be black Americans or Latino Americans. We are in a bit of an edgy place here at the moment.

KEILAR: And that was one of the policy prescriptions certainly that I know the Republican Party put out after the last election. They did not fair very well when it came to minority voters. We'll see how that goes obviously. Perhaps some of you might say the unfinished business of civil rights eras.

BELAFONTE: I'm glad to hear that Colin Powell has raised his voice to this indiscretion on the part of the Republican hierarchy. I'm very glad to see him stepping in and saying although we may have political differences, there is an America that we all ascribe to and it's an inclusive America, Republicans, Democrats, all people who want to get on with the democratic process need to have an inclusive process.

KEILAR: Harry Belafonte, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

BELAFONTE: Thank you.

KEILAR: Well, coming up, a teenager on trial for allegedly killing a baby in a stroller while his mother watched.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't realize, you know, that it was real. It didn't look like a real gun, and apparently he kept asking me and I kept telling him, I don't have any, and he shot my baby in the face.


KEILAR: Just moments ago Sherry West, the baby's mother, took the stand. We'll be talking with HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell about this case next.


KEILAR: A mother whose baby was shot and killed on a street in Brunswick, Georgia, in broad daylight is recounting the traumatic event as she testified against Marquise Elkins, the teen accused of pulling the trigger. Two teenage boys allegedly walked up to Sherry West and demanded money. They shot her 13-month-old boy in the face as he sat in his stroller. The trial generated so much publicity that they had to move it to the suburb in Marietta County. Moments ago an emotional Sherry West took the stand talking about the morning of the shooting.


SHERRY WEST, SON WAS SHOT AND KILLED IN STROLLER: I dressed him and put him for a nap at 7:00.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how long did the baby sleep?

WEST: He took a morning nap from 7:00 to 8:00.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he woke up at what time?

WEST: At 8:00.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what did you do then?

WEST: I dressed him to go out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell the court and the jury as best as you recall what you dressed him in.

WEST: It was cold. He had, I think, sweatpants and a sweatshirt and mittens and a hat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he have some kind of a little fuzzy hat that you put on his head?

WEST: To match his mittens. I'm sorry.


KEILAR: HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell is joining me from New York. I mean, that's very moving testimony, Jane. This is the star witness from the prosecution. I have a hard time keeping it together watching her testify. I imagine the jury's going to react the same way.

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST, HLN'S "JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL": Thinking about this 1-year-old shot through the eyes and killed in that manner. It's incomprehensible. You know, Brianna, there's a trend now in criminal defense work, the defense really wants to blame the victim and if possible let's turn the victim into a total monster and that's what the defense team in this case has done with this mother.

They have actually in motions and other ways tried to suggest that this woman is responsible for her own son's death and they have called her every name in the book, they've said she's a crack addict. They've accused her of trading sex for crack and the fact is that the prosecution says they've got the right to defend it.

And this defendant tried to rob somebody else in a very similar manner ten days earlier and that other victim, a pastor, took the stand and described being shot by this teenager so the idea that these -- go ahead.

KEILAR: Let me ask you this about. This is a mom who is literally -- I mean, she basically whimpered as she's describing the mittens that she put on her son this morning and then you compare that to the defendant who, yes, as you just mentioned, allegedly committed this other murder just days before the baby was shot. How does that even -- how is the jury going to weigh that? Could they even do you think be swayed by this? Do you think the defense should have taken a different tact here?

MITCHELL: I think the defense should have taken a different tact. I understand that everybody's entitled to a defense. This trend I'm seeing, we saw it with Jodi Arias, trying to turn the victim into a pedophile, which was certainly not true. Now this is a trend in criminal defense work. It's absolutely obscene. I mean, this woman has lost her precious child and now they're suggesting that she did it, that she's the real killer and she did it to get insurance money? Apparently, it's very complicated because she doesn't have a great relationship with her adult daughter who gave an interview saying that, well, you know, I don't know. It's kind of suspicious. They've taken that ball and run with it.

KEILAR: I think it is a horrible trend and certainly we will wait to see the outcome of this case and we'll be talking with you. Jane Velez-Mitchell, thank you.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

KEILAR: Coming up next, George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida. He's said to ask the state for at least $200,000 to pay for his legal costs. Why? We have that next.


KEILAR: George Zimmerman is telling the state of Florida, pay up, please. His lawyers are preparing to ask Florida to reimburse them at least $200,000 for court costs. Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury in July on second degree murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Now joining me to talk about this is legal analyst for, Lisa Bloom as well as HLN legal analyst Joey Jackson. Joey, let me start with you. Do you think the state will go ahead and reimburse this in full or in part?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I think ultimately it will be in part. Why? There is an audit done. The audit determines whether the fees are appropriate. Are they documented properly? But you know, what's interesting, because this is really a legislative issue. The legislative issue, they thought that they should have a statute that says, listen, if you're acquitted, you can make application for your resources back. That's exactly what this is.

I understand also, Brianna, there's a lot of concern out there as to, you know, this is not relevant, appropriate, something that should happen. But really the legislature enacted this law and to that extent he'll be able to apply for these fees and get part of them back.

KEILAR: When you look at the law, obviously he does have a case to make here and, Lisa, to you, Zimmerman and his wife were accused of lying at their bail hearing. This was last year when they said they had no funds yet they did raise hundreds of thousands in donations. Do you think that's going to play a part here?

LISA BLOOM, LEGAL ANALYST, AVVO.COM: I absolutely think it should play a part. I would encourage the state of Florida to push back, what's happened to that several hundred thousand of dollars, money that was raised -- fundraising from people who donated $5, $10, $1,000. What's happened to that money? Is it all gone? I mean, the attorneys for George Zimmerman have said they have not been paid so where has that money gone, between $200,000 and $400,000 depending on what report you believe. Why should the state of Florida be paying his court cost if he has that resource to draw upon?

KEILAR: Where has that money gone. I'd like to know that as well. Lisa Bloom, Joey Jackson, thank you.

Unpredictable and moody, that is the description of Bashar Al-Assad from one of the few people who have gained personal access to the Syrian president. We will take you inside the mind of the dictator.


KEILAR: A recent speech by a sophomore at Georgia Tech is lighting up the internet. Have you seen it? It's pretty good. Well, the timing could not be better as it turns out. Tom Foreman explains in this week's "American Journey."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want to change the world --

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maybe no one else in the country whipped up more excitement about math and science this month than Georgia Tech Sophomore Nick Selby whose rousing speech to incoming freshmen has been seen more than 2 million times on YouTube.

NICHOLAS SELBY, GEORGIA TECH SOPHOMORE: If you want to build the ironman suit, you're in Georgia Tech, you can do that.

FOREMAN: But at schools everywhere, especially those where science, technology, engineering and math, the stem studies are king, a more profound excitement has been steadily growing. Georgia Tech President, Bud Peterson.

G.P. "BUD" PETERSON, PRESIDENT, GEORGIA TECH UNIVERSITY: People all around the world realize that in order for a country to remain competitive globally, they have to have a work force that's trained and educated in the stem fields.

FOREMAN: The White House certainly knows it. The president wants to see 100,000 new stem teachers trained over the next decade.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A higher education is the single best investment you can make in your future, and I'm proud of all the students who are making that investment.

FOREMAN: And all of this is not just about making the country more competitive. Researchers have found students in stem fields generally enjoy better returns on their education investment with more job options and higher salaries. An average engineering graduate, for example, can easily start at 65,000 a year, and with one out of five American jobs now stem related, that's enough to make students and parents at many strong stem schools very excited, indeed.

SELBY: I am doing that! FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.