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Newlywed Murder Trial Starts; Honoring Mandela; The Legal Limit; Bands Nix SeaWorld Shows

Aired December 9, 2013 - 07:30   ET



STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Graham's attorneys are claiming it was an accident, saying the couple started arguing, and that when she tried to remove her husband's hand from her arm, he lost his balance. Investigators say she initially did not report the incident and was lying when she later told them that Johnson had driven away with friends. She later admitted she was having second thoughts about the marriage, but she has pleaded not guilty to murder and to making a false statement.

But other explosive charges in this case have drawn national attention. Prosecutors are saying they have evidence Jordan may have blindfolded her husband before pushing him, while Graham's attorneys are claiming prosecutorial misconduct, using confusing interrogation techniques and claiming inappropriate touching during Graham's polygraph testing.

The FBI agent denies the claim. Whatever the outcome of the trial, Cody's friends have already made up their mind.

MAXIMO ROCHA, FRIEND OF CODY JOHNSON: He didn't deserve whatever ends she gave him.

ELAM: If convicted, Graham faces life in prison. Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los Angeles.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: What a case, thanks so much, Stephanie. Let's talk more about this. Let's bring in HLN legal analyst, Joey Jackson and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin. A lot to talk about with this case.


BOLDUAN: So it's beginning, jury selection begins today. Joey, what do you think? What do you make of the very beginning of this trial?

JACKSON: Well, you know what, the prosecution is going to attempt to circumstantially assign, well, no doubt remind us momentarily to establish their case because remember, there were two people on top of that cliff, Kate, right? One of them is dead and the people speaking for the decedent, right, they're going to make the argument that this was deliberate. This was premeditated. This was a planned act to get rid of him --

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: She pushed him off the cliff.

JACKSON: That is going to be the argument. However, what they are going to argue is that's pure speculation. The reality is, is that she is going to say it was purely an accident and as a result of him grabbing at her and her saying, move and pushing, he fell, it was an accident, not premeditated therefore, Kate, not murder.

HOSTIN: So maybe he jumped off the cliff, is that possible?

JACKSON: Well, certainly not possible.

HOSTIN: Spoken like a true defense attorney, Joey.

BOLDUAN: So her attorney say, that yes, she did make, she did change her story, which is not good for her as this whole thing began, but that it was an accident. She had no intention of this happening.

HOSTIN: That's ridiculous. The bottom line is this is one of those cases that a prosecutor loves. It's a who does that, who behaves like that kind of case, because they are going to really show her behavior before this and afterwards, afterwards, we know that he fell off the cliff perhaps, but she didn't say it to anyone. She didn't tell anyone anything.

She basically told the police, he got into a car with some friends, I didn't see him again, then she leads a group of people to where she thinks he may be, his body is there at the bottom, just happens to be there at the bottom of the cliff. If I'm the prosecutor, I want a jury that has real life experience. I want people that perhaps are married. People that are divorced and I want to argue to them, who does this, who behaves like this.

BOLDUAN: Eight days after their wedding.

JACKSON: Exactly. I think the defense going to argue, listen, after she did that, she was under the belief no one would believe it was an accident, as a result of that, she panicked and out of anxiety and out of stress, she says nothing, only to later say, let me come clean and call off this search and let me explain exactly what happened, which defense will say she did.

BOLDUAN: And right at the very beginning, the judge isn't helping out the prosecution. The judge decided the prosecution can't bring in some previous statements that she's made, some previous behavior that she has had, they would like to bring up, basically statements she made, lying about abuse in previous relationships, and kind of how she's acted. How much of a problem is that for the prosecution?

HOSTIN: I don't think it's a problem. I am never going to say that this case is a slam dunk, but any case is a slam dunk, but you don't need that if you are the prosecutor. The bottom line is eight days after your marriage. You have under surveillance photos of both of them walking into the park. He ends up dead at the bottom of a cliff. She tells no one. That's really all I need. I know there has been a lot to do with this blindfold evidence.

BOLDUAN: Yes. The federal judge might not let it in.

HOSTIN: They don't need it. They have to prove premeditation and intent. You don't need a blindfold. All you need is her behavior.

BOLDUAN: What about this element. They are going to dissect how he fell and everything that happened around it. The question of did he fall face first, backwards? They say he fell face first, how can that be happening in the middle of an argument?

JACKSON: Well, I'll tell you what happens, Kate, what they are going to say, the defense is going to say, and she admitted it in the affidavit when she spoke to the police that she pushed and he was face first. However, it's certainly plausible so says the defense that in an argument when you are grabbing. She pushes, he is moving. That could have represented the face falling. However, going back briefly, Kate, to the evidence that's going to be excluded --

BOLDUAN: She admitted.

JACKSON: The thing is it was an argument. As a result of that, it was accidental, that she didn't possess the requisite malice, ill going to and spite to push him. That would represent murder.

BOLDUAN: What is this case, do you think, what is it going to turn on?

HOSTIN: You know, I really think again this is one of those who does that, I think it going to turn on a jury really bringing themselves to that place, bringing them to that common sense place, a new bride, within are you supposed to be in the honeymoon phase, you're supposed to be very happy. I have been married two years; eight days into my marriage, I was thrilled.

I think that jury going to say, who does that in people don't behave this way. It going to turn on her behavior, all of the lies, her behavior, not so much before necessarily, which I don't think it's important she had lied before about previous relationships. It's really her behavior after and in terms of premeditation, you know this, Joey Jackson --

JACKSON: In an instant.

HOSTIN: They can be in an argument and she can say, I don't like you, why did I marry you? Push. That's first degree murder.

JACKSON: It's about plausibility. Is it likely that she was so, I mean, people argue, people get into issues newlyweds or not as to their relationships. It doesn't make you a murder. The defense will to say, you know, pure and simple, anything else, speculation.

BOLDUAN: First and foremost, the jury selection.

JACKSON: To be continued, to be determined.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys. Sunny, Joey, it's great to see you. Thank you -- Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Kate, thanks so much.

Next up on "NEW DAY", SeaWorld snubbed again, Willie Nelson, The Bare Naked Ladies, now another band is saying no to performing at the theme park. More on the "Blackfish" ripple effect. Chris, over to you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you very much. It is shaping up that South America is going to be the focus of the world's attention, at least for tomorrow. You see what's happening behind us, we are waiting on word that the president of the United States has lifted off to come here. He is bringing two former presidents with him and now we hear former President Carter as well, just some of the almost 100 countries that will be represented here. We'll take you through it when we come back.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to "NEW DAY". A potential water shed case out of Connecticut. Two 17-year-old boys have been arrested for allegedly allowing a friend to drive drunk. That girl also 17 died last July after her car struck a tree. CNN's Pamela Brown joins us now. Tell us what happened here? There are so many questions.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There really are. Michaela, this story draws into focus the issue of whether you can be held responsible for letting someone else get behind the wheel drunk. Police in Glastonbury, Connecticut say two teens knew their friend was drunk, but still let her drive. They say their inaction cost their friend her life. Now police have been charged them both with a misdemeanor for being an accessory to a crime.


BROWN (voice-over): The 17-year-old Jane Modlesky was driving alone in Glastonbury, Connecticut in July when she crashed the SUV she was driving into a tree and was killed. Her blood alcohol according to police was 0.27, three times the legal adult limit. Now three of the teenagers driving with her are being held accountable for allowing her to drive drunk.

AGENT JAMES KENNEDY, GLASTONBURY POLICE: These two juveniles knew that she was intoxicated, knew she shouldn't have been driving and allowed her to drive.

BROWN: Police say the two teens were the last to get out of the car, leaving her to get behind the wheel and drive herself off. She drove only half a mile before crashing. After a thorough investigation, police arrested the teens this month and charged them with reckless endanger.

KENNEDY: There are so many things that can be done, worried about getting in trouble for sneaking out. Is that really that important?

BROWN: The arrest sent shock waves through the Glastonbury community still shaken up by the tragedy. On a Facebook page, one friend recently wrote, "Today brought me and many others I'm sure right back to the week you left us, the case is once again raising questions about moral obligation versus legal responsibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We expect adults to act with a certain degree of judgment and reasonableness, when somebody is 16-years-old, it's sort of hard to place the kind of criminal responsibility on them that we would place on an adult who handed keys to a drunken driver.

BROWN: And legal experts say in the past, there have been cases where adults and bar tenders have been prosecuted for letting people drive drunk. It is extremely rare, after all, they are only 16 and 17- years-old, a part of this is likely to send a small Miami about underage drinking.

PEREIRA: That's why they are doing it. It's bringing that moral obligation versus legal responsibility really into play here.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about criminal responsibility, the age has to come into account.

BROWN: Right. You have to think that as Paul Callan said, they don't have the same judgment ability as an adult. They have been drinking as well so that impaired their ability to judge. So there is a lot of factors at play here.

PEREIRA: That impaired their ability to drive drunk is there it takes you with a teen and your parents say if you are with somebody who is drinking, call us, you don't want to be responsible for it. You don't want to get in trouble for it or anybody to lose their lives.

BOLDUAN: What a tragedy. All right, let's go over to Indra now, checking in on the weather, Dallas, what a rough weekend.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I feel nervous saying that, these four people in Dallas especially at the airport still dealing with delays this morning. Thanks to, yes, freezing fog now, look at the temperatures right there at that freezing mark. That is the concern, still even through 10:00 Central Time, they will be having freezing fog advisories.

Here in the northeast, we are finally joining the party here. We saw snow yesterday. We are getting wintry mix as well the threat of icing from New York all the way down through Virginia. Again, we still have that concern for the ice out there, that wintry mix. It doesn't stop there. We have another one overnight in through tomorrow.

So tomorrow looks mainly like a snow system. We are going to be talking about New England seeing the snow, to the south, rain, not a lot again today we could see a quarter of an inch. About a tenth of an inch or so, keep in mind, you could have ice on the ground with snow over it. Definitely makes for dangerous driving conditions out there.

Speaking of dangerous, temperatures this morning, once you factor in the wind chill, we are talking places feeling like negative 30, through Dakota. All of this struggling out there, when you add in the wind chill. It feels like negative 16 in Denver, today's highs, very cool, spreading to the northeast. New York City is going to feel like just 45 degrees. Within are you this cold, it takes about a week or so until temperatures climb slowly back up.

BOLDUAN: It does not take long for them to drop so fast.

PEREIRA: Probably because on the weekend, you can hunker down. Everyone has to go back to school, back to regular lives.

BOLDUAN: They can walk in it.

PEREIRA: Coming up next on "NEW DAY", big game performers are bow out of their gigs at SeaWorld. We will tell you about the "Blackfish" backlash. Say that twice.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to "NEW DAY". SeaWorld is facing more backlash following the CNN film "Blackfish." It's the latest act to bow out of an upcoming performance there. Martin Savidge has been following the development for us from the CNN Center. Good morning, Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. Yes, there's been a growing defection in the music world. Ten days ago a Canadian rock group bowed out and then on Thursday, you had Willie Nelson, and now comes heart. The CNN film "Black Fish" has a lot to do with it.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): Millions tuned in to see the critically acclaimed documentary "Blackfish" when it aired on CNN in October. The film has fueled the controversial debate over keeping killer whales in captivity and the dangers they pose to trainers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're meant to be in the wild and that's pretty much where they should be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd rather see them out in like in their natural habitat.

SAVIDGE: Petitions on amassed thousands of signatures, calling on sea world to free its killer whales and pressured several musical groups to pull out of scheduled performances at its Orlando theme park, taking notice of the public outcry. Heart has chosen to decline their forth come performance at SeaWorld on February 9th, 2014, due to the controversial documentary film "Black Fish."

Country singer, Willie Nelson and Canadian rock group Bare Naked Ladies also bowing out of their February performances because of issues of the film. Bare Naked Ladies explained to their fans on Facebook, "We don't feel comfortable proceeding with the gig at this time."

SeaWorld released a statement regarding the cancellations, which says in part, "While we're disappointed a small group of misinformed individuals was able to deny fans what would have been great concerts at SeaWorld, we respect the bands' decisions."

SeaWorld's signature killer whale performances came to a halt and it raises questions about the practices at SeaWorld and their treatment of these whales in captivity. SeaWorld says the documentary ignores the park's conservation efforts and research.


SAVIDGE: There are still a number of other musical groups that are planning to perform at SeaWorld. You can bet opponents are going to be watching them very, very carefully --- Ladies.

BOLDUAN: All right, Martin, thank you so much.

PEREIRA: We'll take a short break here on "NEW DAY". Up next, for millions up and down the east coast today, ice, rain and snow. While it's bad on the roads, flyers are really getting the worst of it, many have been stranded for days. We're live with the latest.

BOLDUAN: And talk about being stranded, imagine waking up in a cold, dark plane all alone, and you can't get out. It happened to one man. He's going to be joining us live exclusive to share his incredible ordeal. But first let's get back to Chris in South Africa.

CUOMO: All right, Kate, Mickey, we are here in Johannesburg at the home of Nelson Mandela. Waves of people keep coming, emotions of song and dance keep breaking out building up to tomorrow as the world is taking its echo of the message of Nelson Mandela of peace and reconciliation and yet that's not everybody's feelings. We're going to bring in Newt Gingrich. He wrote a thoughtful essay honoring the memory of Nelson Mandela and he got a lot of criticism especially from conservatives. Why is this going on? We're going to talk to him about it, right after the break.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could barely see up the road. Next thing I knew, we ended up in a ditch.


BOLDUAN: The polar express hitting the east coast this morning. Temperatures plunged, mixed with ice and snow. Your commute may be a nasty one and at the airports, sleepovers as hundreds of flights are canceled.

CUOMO: Paying tribute, the world is descending on South Africa this week, one of the biggest memorials ever, leaders from the U.S. and around the world en route, but why are some under fire for praising Mandela?

PEREIRA: A "NEW DAY" live exclusive, the man everyone is talking about, how did he sleep through his plane landing and all the passengers departing only to awake stranded on the tarmac and why did no one wake him? He joins us live.

CUOMO: Your "NEW DAY" continues right now.


ANNOUNCER: What you need to know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can we live without Mandela? I'm so sad.

ANNOUNCER: What you just have to see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I woke up, the lights were out. I was like what's going on? Everybody falls asleep on a plane.

ANNOUNCER: This is "NEW DAY" with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.


BOLDUAN: Good morning and welcome to "NEW DAY". It's Monday, December 9th, 8:00 in the east. I'm Kate Bolduan here in New York.

CUOMO: And I'm Chris Cuomo in Johannesburg, South Africa. You're looking at a live picture at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, that's where the president's plane is. President Obama is expected to lift off any moment now to come here to Johannesburg for what could be an epic memorial for Nelson Mandela.

He'll be bringing two former presidents with him, Presidents Clinton and Bush and we hear that President Carter is coming as well and these are just some of about 100 world leaders that going to be here as literally South Africa becomes the focus of the universe. We'll tell you what's going on right here, what's leading up until tomorrow, but first let's get back to Kate for the big news this morning -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Chris, much more ahead. Back here at home the east coast getting hammered with snow, rain and ice, the deep freeze causing major headaches for travelers, thousands of flights have been canceled, snow also making a mess of roads in southeast Wisconsin, at least 60 crashes reported in a single stretch of the interstate there, we're covering every angle of the story this morning.

Our Ed Lavandera is in hard hit Dallas, but first let's begin with - begin our storm coverage with Indra Petersons is tracking the storm -- Indra.

PETERSONS: Hard to believe we're still talking about the threat of wintry mix, freezing rain and fog through Dallas, but over the weekend the entire country was affected by two storm systems.


PETERSONS (voice-over): Snow, freezing rain and dangerous ice. In Texas, residents captured video of ice cascading from rooftops. Another winter storm is wreaking havoc across much of the nation. The frigid storm put Dallas in a deep freeze over the weekend and made a mess from the Ohio Valley to the northeast. Road crews were out in full force plowing and salting streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not going to stop until the roads are clear.

PETERSONS: It's been treacherous conditions on the roadways.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been rough. I think every year people forget how to drive in the snow.