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Ariel Castro Found Dead; Interview with Maria Castro Montes; Congress Considers Syrian Strike Approval; Interview with Sen. Robert Menendez; Custody Battle Rages On

Aired September 4, 2013 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, September 4th, 7:00 in the east. We're covering a lot of news this morning, including incredible breaking news out of Cleveland. Overnight we learned in the prison where Ariel Castro was serving his sentence he was found dead in his cell last night. They say it was an apparent suicide. We'll explore how this could happen and talk to one of his family members live in a moment.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we're also following a surprise release of an elementary schools principal arrested in connection with her husband's murder. If police think she did it, why hasn't she been formally charged?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And a dramatic twist, an update in the bitter custody battle over this little girl named Veronica. Her biological father is fighting her adoptive parents for custody rights. This heart-wrenching case crosses state lines has even gone before the Supreme Court, and now a new ruling is giving her father a reason to hope this morning. We'll break it down for you.

BOLDUAN: But first this morning, the shocking death of Ariel Castro. Breaking overnight, corrections officials in Ohio confirm the kidnapper who held three women captive in his suburban, Cleveland home, subjecting them to horrors, apparently hanged himself in his prison cell. Pamela Brown is here with more details on this shocking twist on this very sad story.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I just got off the phone with Ohio state police. We know that investigators are on the scene as we speak at that state prison near Columbus, Ohio, where Ariel Castro was found hanging in his cell last night according to prison officials. He was only there for less than 30 days after being sentenced to life in prison. This morning many questions remain about how this could have happened.


BROWN: Ariel Castro's last public words delivered a month ago.

ARIEL CASTRO, CONVICTED KIDNAPPER: 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 cell near Columbus. He had been sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years for kidnapping and sexually assaulting three women over a decade. Castro was being held in protective history, 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 in prison. He daughter told CNN in May 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 keeping Gina Dejesus and Amanda Berry, and Michelle Knight locked up in his house for around a decade.

CASTRO: I have a family. I do have value for human life, because 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: Castro was in isolation, he was checked on every 30 minutes at the state prison but not on suicide watch like he initially was when he was first taken into custody. Back in May officials determined after that that he was not a suicide risk.

Meantime I've spoken to a family friend of Gina Dejesus and told her family is aware of the news but have not released a statement yet. No word from the other victims this morning. Still early obviously, lot of people coming to grips with this news. The city of Cleveland expecting to release a statement around 8:30 a.m. eastern time.

BOLDUAN: We'll wait to see what they say. Pamela, thanks for that.

CUOMO: It's going to sit heavily on both sides of this. Let's bring in Maria Castro Montes right now, the cousin of Ariel Castro. She says she cried when she found out this morning that he apparently killed himself. She's joining us now by phone. Can you hear me, Maria? MARIA CASTRO MONTES, COUSIN OF ARIEL CASTRO, (via telephone): Yes, I can hear you. Good morning.

CUOMO: Good morning. When you learned of this news, we just said you were emotional, you cried. Tell us why. What did it mean to you? .

MONTES: Firstly I cried wondering if the girls, the victims Gina and Amanda and Michelle, whether or not they knew, if somehow they had been contacted, and I was just wondering what they were thinking and what they were feeling. And as a mother and everything that Gina Dejesus' mom went through, I was wondering how she was feeling and what she was thinking. And just wondering, this man that did this to my daughter, would I be glad that he took his own life or would I be mad that he took his own life?

You know, I cried for his mom. A mother's love is unconditional and his mom had been visiting him in jail and this is a whole other level of grief for her and what he did, no reflection on her, you know. She has to go through a whole other level of suffering.

I know his kids said they wanted nothing to do with them. All of us in the family said we didn't want anything to do with him any longer. We had all cut him off. None of us were going to go see him. This is all surreal. It's been surreal since the moment the news broke that he had even done this.

So not a day has gone by where I haven't had all of these twirling around in my mind wondering why and how and just thinking back to the person that he showed the outside world. I mean, he lived two lives, that life that was the happy person that was the talented musician, that was supposedly good and loving father and grandfather, and then this dark horror going on behind closed doors.

And, you know, it was just -- it was just shock and part of it was even relief in hopes that now this will just end all of it and that his name is not going to be out in the spotlight for years and years and years to come.

I just hope these victims can move past this now. I know they wanted him to live out a life sentence, but really, what was he suffering behind bars? I mean, getting three square meals a day, sleeping in a nice, warm, soft bed, you know, being basically watched over and guarded, making sure that he was safe. You know, those girls didn't even have that luxury when they were being held captive in his home. They were being raped. They were being tortured. They were being beaten. He wasn't getting any of that.

So now he gets to meet his maker and, you know, the ultimate price he'll have to pay, whatever -- I'm a god-fearing woman, and whatever god feels is his punishment now, that's what he'll have to endure in his afterlife, and maybe that's better punishment than he could have ever gotten here on earth.

CUOMO: Well, I think you lay out everything that's going on here. There are so many layers, so confusing. Your word "surreal" seems to fit. And you mentioned where he was in his head and what was prison doing to him. Did you get any sense from any family members about how he was experiencing his time in prison, what it was doing to him?

MONTES: No, because the only ones that had been visiting him were his mom and his sister, and I had not been in contact with his mom since this all happened, although she has been in contact with my parents basically just telling them how she has been suffering but not relaying anything about him or his particular feelings or anything.

But of course we saw what we did during all of the court proceedings. He first didn't want to take responsibility for anything. He finally took responsibility and pled guilty but yet still threw blame toward the victims. So what was going on in his head during the jail time, who knows? I can't even still figure out what was going on in his head when all of this was happening for over a decade. So --

CUOMO: Maria, thank you so much for joining us and giving us the perspective this morning. You really lay it all out very eloquently, and I appreciate you coming on NEW DAY to explain your family's take on this situation.

MONTES: Thank you. Thank you so much. I just hope everybody can just kind of close the book on this and move forward.

CUOMO: I'm sure that sentiment is appreciated. Take care. Thank you.

MONTES: Thank you. All right, bye-bye.

BOLDUAN: Very interesting.

Let's talk now, though, move to the other big story we're watching this morning, President Obama putting the case for striking Syria on the world stage. The president arrived in Stockholm, Sweden, overnight. Here at home a resolution authorizing the use of force against Syria is coming together in Congress. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up a revised authorization bill for the use of force in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey go before the House Foreign Relations Committee after taking a grilling in the Senate yesterday.

CUOMO: Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin tells the AP if, if there is proof Syria used poison gas he could then support a U.N.-led strike, very big if. That is a big part of this story going forward. We're going to cover it like no other network can. Let's start with CNN's Brianna Keilar. She is with the president in Stockholm.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the president's visit to Sweden is essentially a social one, but the debate over Syria will follow him here. The Swedish prime minister, Frederik Reinfeldt, has said publically he prefers would like to see a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis over military intervention.

And then on Thursday and Friday when the president heads to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the G-20 summit, officially it's an economic summit, the topic will be jobs. However, unofficially, Syria will dominate in those discussions on the margins, as it's said, as world leaders talk to each other basically in the corridors of the summit.

The president's overseas visit coinciding with an interview Vladimir Putin gave the associated press where he said it's absurd to say that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people and also saying that if that were proved to be true, Russia would be open to U.N. action. I'll tell you, U.S. officials traveling with the president look on those comments and feel they're disingenuous and they stand by the intelligence they say proves Assad did use chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Brianna, thank you so much for that. The Senate committee taking up that revised use of force resolution, is expected to approve it, the bill. That resolution sets strict limits in time and scope for retaliatory strike against Syria. Let's go to CNN's new chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto live in Washington with more details on this. The big question that I guess no one has an answer to, is this new draft enough to pass congress?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You're right. And also the question whether they can get the support in the House where the case for military action is moving today. The president already has two powerful endorsements for military action from senior Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority whip Eric Cantor both coming out in favor. And in the Senate the Foreign Relations Committee will take up the draft authorization for military force, setting a clear definition of exactly how far these strikes will go.

SCIUTTO: The revised authorization limits strikes against Syria to 60 days with an option for an additional 30 days. It also explicitly bans U.S. troops on the ground but it would permit a rescue mission if need.

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, 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 supporters and skeptics of military action -- for doves, 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 the president abide by the congressional vote, win or lose.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: If we do not say that the constitution applies f 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 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.

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.


SCIUTTO: Throughout these sessions the administration has to make a very difficult case that military action will be tough enough to be worthwhile but limited enough to guarantee that the U.S. doesn't find itself dragged into a another war in the Middle East. All this as the American public remains very skeptical of any action whatsoever against Syria. Chris, a new poll out yesterday from "The Post" and ABC news showing that 60 percent of Americans oppose any strikes against Syria whatsoever.

CUOMO: All right, Jim, you lay out the issues perfectly there. Now, let's turn to how it's going to play out. The bipartisan resolution authorizing military force in Syria was drafted in that Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That's what we've been telling you. Joining us now is the chairman of that committee, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez. Thank you very much, senator, for joining us. Appreciate it.


CUOMO: First let's deal with how we believe this is being conducted among members of the Senate. Do you think that what you're dealing with is just the raw questions of whether or not this is the right move and how you make it the right move, or are partisan politics starting to show up here, Democrats backing the president, Republicans being reluctant to do so. What's your take?

MENENDEZ: Chris my sense of it is that we're moving toward a bipartisan effort. The resolution of that we will consider is a bipartisan produce. Senator Corker, the ranking Republican on the committee, and myself along with input from members on both sides have drafted a resolution that we think is tailored specific, meets the needs of the president to respond to Assad's crimes, but ultimately also doesn't permit American troops on the ground, and has a 60- daytime frame.

And so I think we have struck the balance here in terms of the competing views that we heard on the committee, which is probably reflective of colleagues in the Senate, so I look at this as what I hope will be a bipartisan process.

CUOMO: Sixty days plus a provisional 30, how do you reconcile that with limited in scope and duration? That's a long time, two months. MENENDEZ: Actually, under the War Powers Act, the president could have conducted an action unilaterally without congressional approval, and if that action exceeded 60 days, then he would have had to come to Congress. So it seems to us that trying to limit the president to greater than what the statutory authority already provides him would have been wrong, and the 30-day extension which he would have to certify is necessary is subject to a vote of congressional disapproval if the Congress believes it should not be extended for 30 days. We're basically giving him what exists under the War Powers Act.

CUOMO: Thank you for clarifying that. A big part of the rationale for going into Syria, from lawmakers like yourself, is the humanitarian aspect -- what we're seeing on the ground, the needs of the refugees and the innocent. What are you putting into this resolution that addresses that? Is this all about the military or is there also going to be aid included in this strategy?

MENENDEZ: Well, in the resolution, we speak about a broader Syria strategy that we want the administration within 30 days of passage of the resolution to send us a broad, Syria strategy that includes the military equation, it includes whatever other diplomatic efforts are going to be made. You heard Secretary Kerry yesterday talk about a negotiated process which he calls Geneva II, where the Russians were originally in agreement. It also talks about how we deal with elements of the humanitarian tragedy. The conclusion of this is really about the national security of the United States and I think that case was made very vividly yesterday in terms of what not only happens in Syria but the global message we send as regards to violations of the use of chemical weapons and how that message is received in places like Iran, North Korea and elsewhere.

CUOMO: Senator, help me with the timing here. The United States is planning to get out ahead of the U.N. here, the phrase "slam dunk" is being used once again in terms of our development of intelligence. Is there concern that because of this distrust that exists around the world with regard to how we got into the Iraq war and what the U.S. said about intelligence there that maybe you should wait, the United States, maybe you should wait, you lawmakers, until the U.N. and the international community has come to the same conclusions you have?

MENENDEZ: Well, Chris, first of all, I voted against the war in Iraq so I understand those concerns, but the intelligence here is clearly far more defined and a high degree of confidence in it, and it has been declassified to a very large degree so that the American people and the world understand the backup for this. The French and the Germans have come to similar conclusions in their own intelligence reports and the question of the United Nations, we have tried to go to the U.N., even to get a condemnation of the use of chemical weapon, not even saying it was Assad, and the Russians opposed even that simple recognition that the world recognizes that there was the use of chemical weapons. So we have tried the U.N. Unfortunately, the patrons of Assad have used their ability for their veto at the security council to deny a multilateral effort in this regard so that's why we have been proceeding as we are.

CUOMO: You know that the American people when polled right now are below 50 percent on approving taking military action in Syria. Can you look into the collective face of your constituents in America and say this is the right thing to do. This will work out well for America if we commit to an attack on Syria?

MENENDEZ: I take this obligation as do members of the committee, and I'm sure members of the Senate, very seriously. As I said, I voted against the war in Iraq when the vote for the war was popular. I voted against it. I have voted and advocated a quicker withdrawal in Afghanistan. I believe that in this instance not only is the punishment for the use of weapons of mass destruction via a chemical weapons in violation of international law and needs a targeted military response, but also we send a message to the ayatollah in Iran, do not march toward the nuclear weapons you're trying to acquire. We send a message to the dictator of North Korea, serious about protecting South Korea and the Korean peninsula, and we send a message to global actors. That is our national security, that will ultimately make us safer. That will be a deterrent and I think that's why this is essential to do.

CUOMO: Senator Menendez, thank you for your perspective this morning. We know you expect a vote in short order. Look forward to checking in with you again.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

CUOMO: A lot of other news developing at this hour, so let's get to Michaela for the latest. Mick?

PEREIRA: All right Chris. Thanks so much. Let's give you an update now on the long and intense fire fight in California. That rim fire has now scorched more than 235,000 acres. It's now 80 percent contained and as firefighters continue to get the upper hand, the focus now turns to a cause. Fire officials say the inferno may have been started by an illegal pot growing operation. Full containment of the fire isn't expected for another two weeks.

A Montana judge rethinking what many called the slap on a rapist's wrist. Judge G. Todd Baugh has ordered a new sentencing hearing for this Friday. That judge sparked national protest when he gave Stacy Rambold a 30-day sentence. The victim was a 14-year-old girl. She committed suicide before the trial. The judge now says it appears state law required Rambold to serve at least two years.

Former New England Patriot-now accused murderer, Aaron Hernandez, granted a delay in a Florida civil lawsuit filed by one-time friend who says Hernandez shot him in the face, that man, Alexander Bradley, lost an eye. The judge approving the stay until criminal charges are settled. Hernandez has been indicted for the murder of friend and semi-pro football player, Odin Lloyd.

Toyota announcing two safety recalls involving some 369,000 vehicles worldwide. One deals with a hybrid system problem. In 2006 to 2010 Highlander models and 2006 to 2008 Lexus RX 400 vehicles. The other recall involves an engine bolt defect in several Lexus models from 2006 to 2011. Researchers in Peru - wow look at this video -- getting a little too close to the belly of the beast. They were climbing a volcano when it coughed up all sorts of steam and ash near them. They dove into a crevasse to escape and were not injured. They had expected something like this, though. The volcano had erupted about a dozen times over the last few days. They were crews from the Peruvian Geophysical Institute to examine this, and boy they got a front row seat to the action.

BOLDUAN: Beautiful sight though, albeit scary.

CUOMO: That's why they were so quiet.


Let's talk about other weather, Indra Petersons with the forecast, probably still a wet one.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A little wet and cooler. Double bang for your buck. Another cold front kicking through overnight tonight into tomorrow. Hint of a rain maker. It's dry as you see the temperatures go way down. I want to take you day by day. Today New York City 82 degrees, Binghamton 76. Watch the front go through, and look at that -- 60s expected in northern New England and 70s in New York City, we take you through Friday and we're going to be talking about temperatures dropping to the low 70s here. Who likes heat, right? Cold, rainy, perfect.

BOLDUAN: Roller coaster crazy. Thanks so much, Indra.


BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, new developments in the custody case over a little girl named Veronica. She's nearly 4 now and Oklahoma's highest court is weighing in on the battle between her biological father and her adoptive parents. The surprising decision, -- it just doesn't end, ahead.

CUOMO: A woman accused of murdering her husband but this morning a popular elementary school principal is free, all charges dropped. We'll tell you why.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. A shocking decision in the custody battle over a little girl named Veronica. The biological father of the 4-year-old Cherokee girl had been locked in a heart-wrenching fight with their adoptive parents. They have been locked in this is for years. This morning he has new reason for hope. CNN's Randi Kaye joins us now with more. It has been back and forth and back and forth. The search never ends.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not ending any time soon, either. He has more new hope following this 80-minute hearing yesterday where both sides met with what they call a court referee, but Dustin Brown, the biological father, has always said the fight for Veronica should take place in Oklahoma because that is where she's been living the last year and a half or so with him when he was told he had to give his daughter back to her adoptive parents who live in South Carolina.

He threatened to take the fight to Oklahoma courts and he has, and now it seems Oklahoma Supreme Court is defying a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding veronica's adoption.


KAYE: More than a month after he was ordered to hand over his biological daughter to her adoptive parents, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an emergency stay allowing Dustin Brown, at least for now, to hold onto his 4-year-old daughter, Veronica.

It's a move that shocked Veronica's adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina. Since four courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States, ordered the adoption upheld.

Brown has been fighting hard to keep his daughter since the adoption was finalized this summer. I spoke to him about the case while he was training with the national guard in Iowa.

DUSTIN BROWN, VERONICA'S BIOLOGICAL FATHER: I'm going to fight until I have no fight left in me, until they say you can't fight no more. I mean this is my daughter. This is not a yo-yo that I can just say hey I borrowed it for two years, here's it back.

KAYE: The Capobiancos adopted Veronica at birth from her biological mother, after Dustin Brown had given up his parental rights. Then suddenly four months later, he asked for his daughter back citing a federal law designed to keep Indian children in Indian homes.

Brown is Cherokee, but in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal law didn't apply to this case. The adoption was finalized July 31st.