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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Ariel Castro Found Hanged in Prison; Authorizing Force; Putin Speaks on Syria; Samsung Smartwatch Debuts Today

Aired September 4, 2013 - 05:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. Ariel Castro, the man who kidnapped and tortured three Cleveland women for upwards of a decade, found dead inside his prison cell. We are live with the latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The crisis in Syria. New developments, President Obama picks up crucial support for military action in Congress. But overnight, a fresh warning from the Russian president. You'll want to hear it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRIN CHING, CAR HIT BY SURFBOARD: And shot right through.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How close was it your face?

CHING: Like this much. A few inches away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: A close call for one driver, when a surfboard smashes through his windshield. Look at that picture.

BERMAN: Not what you want to see in a windshield.

SAMBOLIN: And he's smiling. We're going to hear more from him.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone.

SAMBOLIN: That's a good news, right?

BERMAN: It's a good news, indeed.

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

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Wednesday, September 4th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: We're going to begin with shocking news out of Ohio. Ariel Castro, the man admitted holding three women in his home for years, torturing them, he's dead. Officials say he was found hanged in his prison cell just weeks after being sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail.

Remember at the sentencing, one of the survivors of this terror, Michelle Knight, told Castro in court, "I spent 11 years in hell, now your hell is just beginning." Well, life behind bars turned out to be just weeks.

How did this happen?

Scott Taylor of CNN affiliate WOIO TV is in Cleveland this morning. He joins us on the phone.

Scott, what do we know?

SCOTT TAYLOR, WOIO TV (via telephone): Right now, we know that prison officials checked on Ariel Castro around 9:00 last night. Then, they discovered at 9:20 that he hanged himself. So we're not sure exactly what happened in those 20 minutes.

Medical team rushed in, John, tried to work with him. They eventually took him by Life Flight, we believe, a helicopter to Ohio State Medical Center, within an hour, he was pronounced dead. I think the big question now is how did a high profile inmate like Ariel Castro end up committing suicide when he's in protective custody, John, and they're checking on this guy every 30 minutes, which is a lot different when he was here in Cleveland in the county jail, they were checking on him every 10 minutes.

So I think some big questions are going to be sent to prison officials to try to figure out how in the world this happened.

BERMAN: Indeed. You said high profile. One would think the highest profile in the entire state there. You said there were procedures in place. They were checking at him every 30 minutes at staggered intervals. Anything else they were supposed to be doing to make sure something like this didn't happen? The one thing you would think they were trying to prevent from happening.

TAYLOR: Well, I think they would probably be checking on him, checking on his emotional state when he was here in Cleveland, in the jail, they brought teams of doctors in. He was under suicide precaution. They did not think he was going to hurt himself here. But he was a high profile inmate. They wanted to make sure he was OK.

You would think prison officials were doing that as well. They were sending in teams of doctors, I believe, checking on his emotional state. Eventually, he would be put into general population. But as far as I know right now, he was locked up by himself. He didn't have access to any other inmates, he did receive mail, and he did receive phone calls but this is just really shocking the entire community. A lot of people here were reacting on Twitter and Facebook, basically saying that they're upset that prison officials allowed him to escape this life sentence.

We have not yet heard anything from Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, or Gina DeJesus. We do know that Castro's family have been notified. And I also know that Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus, two of the three girls kept captive in his house for 10 years, they wanted him to serve the rest of his life in prison. They did not want the death penalty for Ariel Castro. But it looks like he might have taken the easy way out.

BERMAN: A lot of questions this morning. What was in his cell, how did he get there? We know you're asking those questions.

Scott Taylor of CNN affiliate WOIO in Cleveland for us. Thanks so much, Scott. We'll check back in with him a little bit.

SAMBOLIN: And also on the phone with us now is Maria Castro-Montes. She is the cousin of Ariel Castro.

And, Maria, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us early this morning.

Can you -- can we start with how you found out and how you felt when you heard the news?

MARIA CASTRO MONTES, COUSIN OF ARIEL CASTRO (via telephone): I found out through a text message from my younger brother at about 12:19 this morning. So, obviously, I was sleeping. I got a text, and when I looked at it, it was just my brother saying, did you hear that Ariel killed himself?

And I immediately, you know, sat up in the bed, turned on the TV to search for the news to see what had had happened. And then, you know, we saw a local reporter in front of what used to be the house reporting on the incident.

SAMBOLIN: I spent a lot of time with you and your family, you know, when this case really received all of this media attention when they found a girl --

MONTES: You did.

SAMBOLIN: And I asked you this morning how you felt when you heard the news.

MONTES: Right.

SAMBOLIN: And you told me, you cried?

MONTES: I did.

SAMBOLIN: Why?

MONTES: I cried for several reasons. Initially, my first thought was, oh, my gosh, do the girls know? You know, does Nancy know?

SAMBOLIN: When you say the girls, Maria -- I don't mean to interrupt you. What girls are you talking about?

MONTES: I'm talking about the victims. Obviously, Gina, Amanda and Michelle. I was wondering had they heard, had someone notified them or would they just be sleeping soundly not knowing that this had happened. That this had transpired.

So, you know, I immediately thought of them and did they know, and if so what was going through their minds, you know? As a mom, I was thinking about what Nancy would be thinking right now. And then my thoughts just kind of went to, you know, the memories of the person I used to know. Or that I thought I used to know, and just thinking about his mother.

Obviously, you know, that's still her son. She had been visiting him in the jail, along with her daughter. So, obviously, now this is just a whole other level of, you know, suffering for her. Because regardless, he did some really horrible things, but she's still his mother and she still loved him. And now, she's got to, you know, deal with all of this as well.

So, yes, I cried. It's tough. And at the same time, I just thought, you know, I guess this is how it needed to be. I don't know.

So, you know, it is what it is. It's unfortunate in so many ways. I know these girls wanted him to live out his sentence. I'm glad he didn't get the death penalty because I didn't want them to have to testify and relive all of their horrible memories and thoughts. And everything they'd gone through.

But, you know, maybe this is for the best. Maybe this is the only way that he will be out of the spotlight because I think he was just always going to be in the spotlight. It seemed like every day, some new news report was coming out. And I don't think they were ever going to find peace if he was still alive and in prison.

SAMBOLIN: We have very few details about what happened. We just talked to a reporter. What do you think happened?

MONTES: I don't know. You know, knowing that they have been watching him, knowing that he was supposedly on a suicide watch. One of my initial thoughts was, did he really do this to himself? Or could possibly someone else have gotten to him?

You know, obviously, it is a jail. There's a lot of criminals behind those bars. And even some of those criminals and some of the horrible things they may have done, obviously, probably were not as bad as some of the things he did.

And, you know, people always have an eye out for someone that has done something as horrible as these things that he's done. So I really have to wonder. But, you know, I guess at this point, it doesn't really matter.

But, you know, they say that suicide is a cowardly thing, and obviously, he took the coward's way out. But I still really find it hard to believe, that after everything that he did, he somehow mustered up the strength or the so-called courage to take his own life. Somehow, I just find it hard to believe.

SAMBOLIN: And you knew him for years. So, I mean, I know we're just spectating here. I really appreciate your thoughts on this.

I don't want to leave you without talking about the community there. You know, they suffered with all of this for years. They kept on looking for these girls when they thought they had found them, and then the media attention and the scrutiny for the community.

Do you think this helps the community heal? Do you think this will bring some level of closure?

MONTES: I don't know, you know, obviously, I haven't been out in the community. I haven't spoken to anyone to this yet, not even anyone in my family because the news did break so late. I've heard on the news, you know, about the Twitter and Facebook reactions, that kind of thing. Obviously, there's mixed reaction.

You know, this was a very difficult thing for our community. Obviously now, it's going to -- and it has, started up a whole new media storm for the moment, hopefully, that dies down quickly. I think, you know, people just need to move on and, you know, focus so much on the fact that he, you know, escaped a life sentence.

You know, we just need to take it for what it is and move on. And, you know, just close that chapter of our lives. Like I said, previously, hopefully, these girls can heal and move on.

You know, no matter what, I think at this point, justice has been served. It may not be our justice now that's served. You know, there's only one person of justice that's going to be served and that's his Lord. And he's got to meet him now. And he's got to do his explaining.

And, you know, we obviously have to be satisfied with whatever. His life or his afterlife is going to be now. He's in the proper hands. That's the final judge and jury, and I think we just need to let it be, you know, that's what comes of it.

SAMBOLIN: Maria, thank you again for joining us this morning. I appreciate the time. I know that this is a very difficult time for your family. And so, our thoughts and prayers are with all of you as well. Thank you for the time this morning.

BERMAN: We certainly do appreciate her words there. She talked about justice.

One thing is clear. This not what the justice system intended.

SAMBOLIN: Right.

BERMAN: This was not the than she was handed down and there are procedures in place to make sure this doesn't happen. Yet, it did. Very serious questions.

And Michelle Knight, the victims didn't want --

SAMBOLIN: Michelle Knight in particular. She's the first person I thought of actually --

BERMAN: She said, I will live on. You will die a little every day as you think about the 11 years and the atrocities you inflicted on us.

Not the ending that either the people who survived this terror or the justice system called for.

SAMBOLIN: Had intended. Actually, it was one of the things that Maria when I called her on the phone this morning. It was one of the first things that she talked about. It doesn't make any sense to me.

So, to the family, they were up all night talking about this, about what actually happened in there because as you heard her say, she just doesn't believe he had the courage to do this. So, it was just -- it's really, you know, we'll find out more details as they became available.

But that is the big question here, how can something like this happen. He had been on suicide watch. They knew, you know, there was a potential problem. How does this happen?

BERMAN: We'll find out.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Twelve minutes past the hour. Now to the debate over Syria and the latest surprising developments that could mean air strikes against the Assad regime. Two of President Obama's biggest rivals, the top Republican in the House, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Eric Cantor now say they back the president's call for military reaction. That as the Senate committee prepares to vote on use of force. But the language is carefully crafted and different than what the White House originally asked for.

Here's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The revised authorization limits strikes against Syria to 60 days with an option for a further 30 days. It also explicitly bans U.S. troops on the ground, though, it would permit a rescue mission if needed.

The bill comes after Secretaries Kerry and Hagel and General Dempsey, three veterans who know the immense cost of war, delivered an impassioned case to senators that military action is right and necessary.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Are you going to be comfortable if Assad, as a result of the United States not doing anything, then gases his people yet again. And the world says, why didn't the United States act?

SCIUTTO: Attempting to thread a political needle, the administration had something for both supporters and skeptics of military action, who dubs strict limits on the scope and duration of any attack.

For hawks, reassurance that the administration's larger strategy also includes strengthening the Syrian opposition. But the administration faced hard questions from both sides. Senator Rand Paul demanding that the president abide by the congressional vote, win or lose.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: If we do not say that the Constitution applies, if we do not say explicitly that we will abide by this vote, you're making a joke of us. You're making us into theater.

KERRY: Senator, I assure you there's nothing meaningless and there's everything real.

PAUL: Only if you hear what we vote on. Only if our vote makes a difference.

SCIUTTO: From Senator McCain, a long supporter of more vigorous U.S. involvement, bitter criticism of the president's decision to delay military action as he seeks congressional approval.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When you tell the enemy you're going to attack them, they're obviously going to disperse and try to make it harder.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: That was Jim Sciutto reporting. And I would like to welcome my friend Jim to CNN.

Overnight, a fascinating twist in this story from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He says he is not convinced that the Assad regime was behind the chemical weapons attacks. He's told "The Associated Press" and state television, there's still a chance he believes that the rebels themselves committed the atrocity.

He did say Russia could go along with military action if the United Nations approves it, which, by the way, it's not about to do. But he cautioned any unilateral strike against the Syrian government would be considered an act of aggression.

Meantime, France's parliament is set to debate takes action against Syria but no vote is scheduled. And President Francois Hollande has said he will not call for a vote until the U.S. Congress makes its decision.

As I said, the comments from Vladimir Putin were fascinating. And the tone very different than we've heard before.

Coming up in the next half hour, Phil Black will join us live from Moscow to break down what the Russian leader said and what it all means.

Meantime, President Obama has arrived in Stockholm this morning. There you see him departing Air Force One. He's there for meetings with some leaders in Sweden before heading to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the G-20 Summit. He was originally supposed to go to Moscow first but the White House scrapped a meeting with President Putin after Russia granted temporary asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

SAMBOLIN: And coming up --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just see this red thing coming up, it turns out it's a surfboard crashed into my windshield. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: You can imagine that? It stopped just inches from his face. A surfboard crashes through one driver's windshield. How did this happen? That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So, we've all had to dodge strange things when driving. Little pieces of wood. Road kill and a bouncing tire. A bouncing tire coming at me once.

SAMBOLIN: I've had a piece of a tire coming at me.

BERMAN: But nothing, nothing like this. What are we talking about here? Yes, folks.

SAMBOLIN: Look at that.

BERMAN: That's a surfboard, ladies and gentlemen. That's a surfboard it crashed through Jarod Qing's windshield in Honolulu over the weekend after apparently falling off an overpass and bouncing of a school bus before smashing into glass there.

That is nuts. It landed, as you can see, sticking into the windshield there. Just inches from the driver's face. Police do not know whose board it was. The driver, as you can imagine, wants to know as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHING: Can you please claim your board? And I don't know, pay for the windshield or something? Because you almost killed me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: He's saying -- he's obviously a good driver. How do you survivor that if you're not good. He's obviously very lucky and happy.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, look at that. Some scratches on his arm and face. That's it.

BERMAN: That is amazing, walking away with a smile with just a few scratches.

SAMBOLIN: I hope the owner of that surfboard surfaces somewhere and apologizes at the very least, oops.

BERMAN: How do you drop a surfboard?

SAMBOLIN: I don't know. I have no idea.

All right. Coming up, beating Apple to the punch, Samsung is expected to set to unveil its first smart watch. "Money Time" is tracking this one, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: It's the "Money Time" dance.

SAMBOLIN: Can you dance?

BERMAN: Not like that.

SAMBOLIN: You can't dance at all, you can?

BERMAN: I can't dance. It's not going to help ratings. When you dance, I think it helps ratings. With me, not so much.

SAMBOLIN: We're doing a brand-new "Money Time" dance. Alison Kosik is here.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm not joining you in that dance.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Alison.

KOSIK: We'll dance to gold digger. It's a real good testament, isn't it?

Let's talk about what's happening.

(CROSSTALK)

KOSIK: It was a big, big say for Samsung, actually. It's going to debut its smartwatch called the Galaxy Gear. This is going to debut. It ended up making a big splash.

Samsung's smartwatch is going to try and hit that sweet spot among consumers who might want to track their own health and also have the convenience of a cell phone without having to dig it out of their purse.

Analysts forecast very widely on just how big the market is for this kind of device, anywhere $10 million to $50 million over the next five years. Samsung joins Google glasses and what's expected to be an iWatch that could be released later this year as the new wave of wearable devices.

SAMBOLIN: Berman is skeptical, do you see him?

BERMAN: I always lose my watch. I have to have a watch that I hang on to. I don't know, I'm curious to see if it catches on.

SAMBOLIN: I thought it was an age thing. And you thought it wouldn't be large enough for to you read.

BERMAN: Are you calling me old?

SAMBOLIN: I thought maybe it was a demographic issue, your age and stuff?

BERMAN: I don't think you want to start with the age. KOSIK: I just question how fashionable this is going to be.

SAMBOLIN: The young hip crowd, I think that could be cool. It looks cool.

KOSIK: It does.

One more, a famous real estate developer is saying a big thank you to his alma mater. A $200 million thank you. Steven M. Ross is going to become the University of Michigan's biggest benefactor with the single largest gift in university's history. Ross is a real estate developer who also owns the Miami Dolphins, my personal favorite. He graduated from Michigan in 1952 and describes him as just an average student.

"The Wall Street Journal" said the gift will be distributed between the business school already named after him and the athletics program. I like what he said. He was quoted in "The Wall Street Journal" saying I believe you give until it feels good. This is a 73-year-old guy who is actually a transfer student from the University of Florida.

SAMBOLIN: Really?

BERMAN: $200 million feels pretty good.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: I hope it gets to the students who need it. So, that's great.

Thanks, Alison. We appreciate it.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)