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Ariel Castro Found Dead; Obama Arrives In Stockholm; Awaiting President Obama News Conference; Making The Case Against Syria; California Rim Fire Almost 80 Percent Contained; New Sentencing Hearing; Bill Clinton To Give Health Care Speech

Aired September 4, 2013 - 06:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, September 4th, six o'clock in the east, and we are going to have a lot on the shocking news that came overnight.

You are now looking at the prison where Ariel Castro was found dead in his prison cell. One of his victims has said he didn't deserve the death penalty, that his hell would be being in prison. We're going to dig in to how, and perhaps, why this happen. We're also going to talk to one of his family members live in just a moment.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, President Clinton is getting back on the political stage today. President Obama has kind of joked that Clinton should be the secretary of explaining stuff. Well, the man who may be able to sell Obama's policies better than he can, today, he takes on the task of defending the president's health care law amid growing opposition.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And the photos that we really can't stop talking about. Look at these. And we assure you, these are not fake. They are real alligators caught by amateur alligator hunters. We're actually going to hear from the man who caught them coming up. But also, there's some controversy surrounding this sport. We'll get into that as well this morning.

CUOMO: Let's get straight to the breaking news out of Ohio. Arial Castro found dead in his prison cell. Ohio corrections official say Castro who held three Cleveland women captain for over a decade apparently hanged himself in his cell. This comes just a month after he was sentenced to life plus a thousand years for his crimes. Pamela Brown following the story for us. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you too. Yet another shocking, bizarre twist in the story, Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man convicted of raping and kidnapping three women for more than a decade has been in state prison for less than 30 days. This morning we are learning he is dead after hanging himself inside his cell.


BROWN (voice-over): Ariel Castro's last public words delivered a month ago.

ARIEL CASTRO: I'm not a monster. I'm a normal person. I am just sick. I just act on sexual instincts.

BROWN: Last night, he was found dead, discovered at 9:20, hanging in his jail cell at the Correctional Receptions Center in Orient, Ohio near Columbus. He had been sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years for kidnapping and sexually assaulting three women for over a decade. Castro was being held in protective custody, the only one in his cell with guards checking on him every 30 minutes.

Prison medical staff tried to revive him and rushed him to the Ohio State University Medical Center. He was pronounced dead at 10:52 p.m. Castro received few visitors while in prison. His daughter told CNN back in May that she wanted nothing to do with him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My father's actions are not a reflection of everyone in the family. I have no problem cutting him out of my life. I have no problem doing that. I never want to see him again.

BROWN: Earlier this month, the house where Castro tortured his victims was torn down. Neighbors rejoicing during the demolition of the so-called house of horrors. At his sentencing he apologized to his victims, but remained defiant about keeping Gina Dejesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight locked up in his home for around a decade.

CASTRO: I have a family. Every time I came home, I would be so blessed for the situation, as crazy as it would sound. I am truly sorry for what happened. To this day I'm trying to answer my own questions. I don't know why.

BROWN: Only one of his victims showed up in person to confront him saying she wanted him to spend the rest of his life in prison.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The death penalty would be so much easier. You don't deserve that. I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning.

BROWN: For his three former captives, Ariel Castro's death is yet another gruesome chapter in a tragic story.


BROWN: Ohio State Police and the Department of Corrections are investigating this death. Again he was in isolation and checked on every 30 minutes, but he was not on suicide watch. Still so many unanswered questions here, Chris and of course, we're digging into this, making calls this morning.

But you know, the irony is that this plea deal was worked out. The big sticking point was the death penalty. They took that off the table. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years. Now we're learning he died of an apparent suicide.

CUOMO: His lawyers worked very hard to avoid the death penalty under instructions of their client and he winds up taking his own life. We don't know if it's irony or what wound happening to him once he was incarcerated. We heard from you 30 minutes they're supposed to check, assuming even they did it. People may not know you can hang yourself very quickly.

BROWN: Right. I know we've talked about this. You've covered similar stories where inmates on death row, what they go through psychologically, how this could happen, we heard him there at his sentencing and less than a month later, he takes his own life.

CUOMO: Big questions now will be what was going on inside his mind, where he arrived that he decided to do this. We're trying to get insight from the family. Maria Castro Montez is the cousin of Ariel Castro. She said she cried when she found out this morning that he had apparently killed himself. Earlier she spoke with "EARLY START's" Zoraida Sambolin by phone. Here's what she had to say.


MARIA CASTRO MONTEZ, ARIEL CASTRO'S COUSIN (via telephone): 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 are 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.

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. 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 he did, that he somehow mustered up the strength or the so-called courage to take his own life. Somehow I just find that hard to believe.


CUOMO: I'm sure many do. Zoraida joins us now. You did the interview. Clarify a couple things. One, explain what the tears were about and any information about where Castro's head was while in prison.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": The tears, you know, I wasn't surprised. I spent a lot of time with this family when I was in Cleveland. You know, they grew up together and so Maria's memories of Ariel are of growing up together, of the kids together so that's what she was mourning. The whole family has been mourning the man that they thought they knew, not the man that he is or he became so that's what she said, I just need to let that out and so that's why the tears were there.

As far as where his head was, because we talked about, I said well, what do you think happened? And we talked quite a bit on the phone and she said this isn't sitting right with me because I don't think he was courageous enough to do something like this. We've been talking about this all night, what happened in that jail cell. It doesn't make sense to the family that he would have taken his life.

He wasn't on suicide watch, not at that point. He was earlier, but still she thought that seemed implausible so they need to hear more about the investigation and what was actually happening.

BOLDUAN: This kind of goes to -- it kind of continues the conversation about how it was in the courtroom, when he made that disjointed and really difficult to follow and convoluted statement in the courtroom after his sentencing. This kind of -- there is a lot obviously to this man that you cannot make sense of and I don't think anyone wants to make sense of and this adds to that.

SAMBOLIN: She talked about and talked about the fact she felt he's not right. He's definitely disturbed but when you talk about taking your own life, she just thought that seemed implausible and that she needed to hear a lot more from investigators on what actually happened in there. This is a family, a community that just has been mourning for so long. The loss of the girls originally then they thought they had found one of the girls in the community and the stigma for them in the community, so to them it is one more layer that they weren't anticipating.

CUOMO: Suicide is often pain, right, as opposed to power, and things can happen in prison. This man was clearly living a delusion about himself and what was going on in his home, and with all that time, to do nothing but think about who you really are and what you really did, he may have arrived at some conclusions about himself that he couldn't live with.

SAMBOLIN: One thing, Chris, this was important, the first thing when I asked her, I said how do you feel? She said "I feel for the girls. I want to know how they're feeling." That was the first thing that came out of her mouths, the three girls, Ariel Castro's daughter, his mother and what she is going through right now. So I want to make sure that we spotlight that. That initially it was not a selfish thought, it was all about them.

BOLDUAN: There are a lot of victims.

BROWN: Let me add to that quickly, I spoke to a family friend of Gina Dejesus and I'm told that they are aware of what happened. I don't know about the other two victims, but you know, the concern is that this is just bringing this back up to the surface, the women trying to move on and now this.

SAMBOLIN: That they wanted him to spend the rest of his life in prison paying for his crime so that's something that they have to deal with.

BOLDUAN: The focus though, good point, should remain on the victims and for them and the recovery going forward. Thank you both.

BROWN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Let's turn now to the other big story we're watching this morning, of course, the crisis unfolding in Syria, President Obama touching down in Stockholm just hours ago set to make his case to allies in Europe arguing the need for a strike on Syria.

Meanwhile today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is likely to take up a revised bill for the use of force in Syria. It would limit authorization for any attack to 60 days with an option for an additional 30-day deadline if needed and finally an important point, no boots on the ground.

We've got the Syrian crisis covered like no other network can. So let's start with senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar live traveling with the president in Stockholm this morning. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Kate. You know, this visit of the president to Sweden is actually supposed to be very much a social visit, but the issue of Syria will be following him here. The Swedish Prime Minister, Frederick Rhinefeld, has taken a public position that he would like to see a diplomatic solution over a military solution to the crisis in Syria.

So in their discussions that could very likely come out and then after his trip here, President Obama will head to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the G-20 summit. It is an economic summit. Officially Syria isn't even on the agenda. You'll have 85 percent of the world's economy represented there, but Syria is going to dominate unofficially and those conversations that are had on the margins as it said when world leaders sort of pull each other aside and have some informal discussions in the corridors of that summit.

And the president's visit here to Sweden coming as Vladimir Putin, Russian President, has given an interview to the Associated Press. He says it's absurd to think that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people and said that Russia, if that were proven would be open to some U.N. action.

I'll tell you White House officials traveling with President Obama find those comments to be disingenuous and are standing by their intelligence. They say it is Assad who used chemical weapons on his own people. Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Brianna, and yet real questions about what the case, what the proof is, and that's why what's going down in Congress ever more important. So here's what we know. In less than three hours, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin tackling a measure that could lead to U.S. military strikes against the Syrian regime.

Let's dig deeper into the plan and what the political groundwork is with CNN's new chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, joining us live from Washington. Good morning, my friend.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Chris, it's great to be on board particularly with an old friend. I know we're going to be doing a lot of work together and more to follow today the case for war moves to the House where Secretaries Kerry and Hagel and General Dempsey could expect even tougher questioning than they did in a riveting session yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. By close of business yesterday, a bipartisan agreement had been drafted authorizing the use of force, which the Senate committee will take up today.


SCIUTTO (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, but it would permit a rescue mission if needed. The bill comes after Secretaries Kerry and Hagel with General Dempsey, three veterans who know the immense cost of war delivered an impassioned case to senators, 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 they 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. 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.

SENATOR 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 theatre.

KERRY: Senator, a sure you there's nothing meaningless and there is everything real --

PAUL: Only if our vote makes a difference.

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

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


SCIUTTO: The president received two powerful endorsements for military action yesterday from Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Whip Eric Cantor, both going on the record saying they will support the authorization. The question is can the administration sway skeptical House members aware that the U.S. public as well remains very skeptical of military action in Syria.

CUOMO: So Jim, we have the public perception. We have all the rationale for doing it, but ultimately in politics it comes down to the votes. So thank you for the reporting. We'll get back to you later on in the show.

Right now, let's see where the tally lies. Will Congress ultimately have the votes to authorize use of military force against Syria? CNN has been tallying the votes. So far here's what we know, in the House, 18 Democrats and six Republicans are backing the president, 17 Democrats and 50 Republicans are against him. And over 300 lawmakers are either undecided or their feelings as of yet unknown, very unusual.

Now in the Senate, 14 Democrats, five Republicans support a strike against Syria. Two Democrats, seven Republicans do not with 70 senators still undecided. Remember the magic number there 60, why, avoid filibuster, not just the majority, but make sure that this vote is one and done.

In the next hour we're going to talk live with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez.

BOLDUAN: A lot more on that, of course, ahead. There's also a lot of news developing at this very hour so let's get straight to Michaela for the latest headlines.

PEREIRA: Good morning you guys. We're watching the headlines, the huge rim fire burning near Yosemite National Park is slowing down. We're happy to report it's almost 80 percent contained this morning. Authorities have lifted evacuation orders and advisories in the area.

Also a power plant damaged in the fire is back online. That power plant supplies some of San Francisco's electricity. Investigators are now working to find out how the fire started. One fire chief is actually blaming marijuana growers.

A Montana judge ordered a new sentencing hearing for Stacy Rambold. He is the former teacher who admitting to raping a 14-year-old student who later committed suicide. The judge saying the 30-day sentence he imposed last week may be illegal. He also apologized for saying the 14-year-old girl was as much in control of the situation as Rambold.

A new twist in the bitter custody battle over a little girl named Veronica. Oklahoma's Supreme Court issuing an emergency stay that allows the nearly 4-year-old girl to stay with her biological father for the moment. At least four other courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have said that Veronica should be returned to her adoptive parents in South Carolina. That state is asking the Oklahoma courts to lift the stay. We'll bring you much more on the story later in the show.

It would have been a heck of a way to go, a surfboard came flying out of the blue onto a Honolulu highway. That's right. Wow, indeed, smashed into a driver's windshield. It came within inches of the guy's face. The driver is OK, just some scrapes on his face and arms. Police are now trying to determine who owns that board and what happened to it besides ending up on a windshield.

And this is the stuff that dreams are made of. A treasure hunting family hits the jackpot off the Florida coast finding 64 feet of gold chain, five gold coins and a gold ring, all believed to be from Spanish ships that went down in a hurricane back in 1715. Get this, that haul could be worth $300,000. Rick and Lisa Schmidt says money is not their first priority, though.

Lisa says her greatest treasure is time with the family. They are amateur treasure seekers and it really paid off this time. They didn't it.

BOLDUAN: But the payoff is so sweet. And you get to spend time with the family.

PEREIRA: It's so sweet. Absolutely.

CUOMO: That is really like the metaphor of the pot of gold. Like that is living the dream.

PEREIRA: Literally.

BOLDUAN: Now they're going to keep searching for it, like that good golf game.

CUOMO: It's never enough. The eternal quest for more.

BOLDUAN: All right. Good stuff.

Let's get straight to Indra Petersons and find out if there's more good stuff at least in the forecast.

Good morning, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. I thought you were going to say you wanted more rain. I totally misunderstood. Yes, my bad.

Down in the Southeast, we're still watching a stationary front. This is the leftovers from the storm that went through just a couple of days ago, still staying in place, about one to two inches possible in the Southeast today as it kind of hangs on for the next several days.

But in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic another cold front making its way through, notice a dry front. Just some spotty showers overnight tonight in through tomorrow morning. The biggest change, you're going to feel this, are the temperatures. Notice what they are like now. Today, we're looking at 82 degrees in New York, 76 there in Burlington.

Now, by tomorrow we're going to talk about below normal temperatures in New York City. Cool 60s now over into the Northeast, that's not the only thing, it's the overnight lows are going to drop as well. The humidity numbers are high today but by tomorrow before we go to the overnight hours we could drop down to 30 percent and 40 percent which means we may have frost. So that's totally what you were talking about.

PEREIRA: Sorry, what?

PETERSONS: Thank you.

PEREIRA: I'm not familiar with that.

PETERSONS: Bye-bye summer.


CUOMO: You've been saying, that' for sure. Get used to that part.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Indra.


CUOMO: All right. Coming up on NEW DAY, Syria not the only thing on the government's agenda. A critical component of the president's health care reforms set to kick in, in less than four weeks, and polls show most of us still in the dark about what it will mean.

Can Bill Clinton enlighten the nation? The White House sure hopes so. We'll tell you why.

BOLDUAN: And the long awaited unveiling of Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch just hours away. So, will it trigger a watch race? We'll talk about it.

CUOMO: Did you get yours? They gave it to us.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

We have a story out of the White House and not about Syria. The White House is using their secret weapon today to promote President Obama's health care law.

Former President Bill Clinton is delivering a major speech this morning on the health care law. Millions of Americans will be eligible to sign up in about a month and it's Clinton's job to clear up any confusion and a big job that is indeed.

CNN's Athena Jones is in Washington with more.

What do we know, Athena?


This is a big job. This speech comes as a new poll shows more than 50 percent of Americans don't understand the health care law, that's proof that it still needs selling three years after it passed. And in the White House's view who better to help sell it than President Clinton.


JONES (voice-over): When President Clinton takes the stage to sell the Affordable Care Act today, it won't be his first turn as salesman for the White House. President Obama may be the commander-in-chief, but the former president has shown he just might be the explainer in chief.

At the Democratic National Convention last summer, he gave a passionate defense of the administration's policies, including Obamacare.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: For the last two years, health care costs have been under 4 percent in both years for the first time in 50 years.

Let me ask you something. Are we better off because President Obama fought for health care reform? You bet we are!

JONES: Prompting this response.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Somebody e-mailed me after his speech and said, you need to appoint him secretary of explaining stuff.

JONES: And he went to bat for Mr. Obama in 2010.

CLINTON: I feel awkward being here and now you're going to leave me all by myself?

JONES: Speaking to White House reporters alone for half an hour to push a tax cut deal with Republicans.

Now, the challenge is to sell this very controversial piece of the president's domestic agenda, and a law vital to his legacy. Today's speech comes as Republicans, like Senator Ted Cruz, keep up their opposition to the bill.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We have been getting calls from people saying, please, stop Obamacare. Please stop this train wreck.

JONES: And as GOP Senator Marco Rubio blasted the administration Tuesday afternoon for plans to spend $8.7 million taxpayer dollars on ads promoting the law.


JONES: Now, polls are still very much divided on the health care law and the majority of young people and the uninsured say they don't have enough information on it. So, President Clinton and the Obama administration still have a big job ahead.

Back to you, Chris, Kate.

CUOMO: All right. Athena, thank you very much for reporting this morning. Appreciate it.

JONES: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Coming up next on NEW DAY, what happened to the American flag in this iconic 9/11 photo? Officials say it just vanished. Well, now, CNN is on the case. The latest on the search, ahead.

CUOMO: And then, it is our must see moment. Can you guess what's happening here in this photo? Here's a hint. It's a top senator's cell phone. Hmm.


ANNOUNCER: You're watching NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.

CUOMO: Good morning and welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, September 4th. Let's get right to Michaela for your top stories right now.

PEREIRA: All right. We're following breaking news.

Notorious Cleveland kidnaper Ariel Castro is dead. He was found hanging in his prison cell. Ohio's Department of Corrections reviewing what exactly happened, saying Castro was in his own cell in protective custody and rounds were being made as staggered intervals every half hour. Castro was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years for the kidnapping, rape and assault of Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry.

President Obama in Sweden right now as a decision to intervene in Syria looms on Capitol Hill. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee taking up a revise bill, limiting authorization to 60 days, with an option for an additional 30 days with no votes on the ground. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs chair, General Martin Dempsey, set to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Japanese government jumping in to help with the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant. It has promised nearly $500 million to help stop radioactive water from leaking. Officials found radiation levels near the water tanks keeps going up and could kill a person within hours. There is talk of freezing the ground around the plant in order to keep the water from seeping into the Pacific.

If you are tempted to scream and yell at your teenagers, you might actually want to stop, count to 10 and tone it down, so says a new study founding screaming, cursing and criticizing your teens to make them behave can actually make them depressed and more likely to misbehave.