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Nevada Family Rescued; Kendrick Johnson Death; Deadly Thanksgiving Crash; Fake Mandela Sign Language Interpreter; American Jailed In Abu Dhabi; Bush Paintings A Hit On Air Force One; Montana Newlywed Murder Trial; Elian Gonzalez Lashes Out At U.S.

Aired December 11, 2013 - 07:30   ET



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

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, December 11th. Coming up, still in the show, a passionate appeal from the family of an American jailed in the United Arab Emirates for eight months now, all for making what he says was just a funny video. We have a reporter on the ground trying to find out more on this story.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Such a mysterious story. An emotional and damaging day in court for the Montana newlywed accused of pushing her husband off a cliff. Jordan Graham's brother sobbed on the stand saying he was angry that she lied. What does that mean now for her case?

All right, but first, Pamela Brown is in for Michaela today with more on the day's headlines. Hi, Pam.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. Making news this Wednesday morning, a Nevada family is counting their blessings. They were rescued two days after their car overturned and rolled down a ravine in the mountains. Temperatures dipped to the minus 20 range over the last few days. In order to survive, the adults started a fire outside and warmed rocks to help keep four kids warm in the car. They were found using a signal from one of their cell phones.

A bipartisan budget deal has been reached on Capitol Hill. Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan unveiling a two-year plan that cuts spending and eliminates most of those draconian forced spending cuts. The president backs the deal, but getting it through Congress could be a challenge with several prominent conservatives already bashing the plan.

New development in the story CNN has been following closely, the parents of Kendrick Johnson, the Georgia high school student found dead in a rolled up gym mat are taking their search for answers to the steps of a state capital. A rally will be held later this morning in Atlanta. Johnson's death was ruled an accident, but his family doesn't buy it. They're calling for an investigation into the funeral home that handled their son's body. Just released police dash cam video shows a horrific Thanksgiving night crash that killed an elderly couple. A trooper spotted a car rocketing down the Ohio turnpike. It was traveling so fast he couldn't catch up and when he did, this right here is what he saw, flames and two mangled cars. Police say 24-year-old Andrew Ganz slammed into a minivan. The couple inside died. Ganz was not hurt and is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide.

And the sign language interpreter at Tuesday's memorial service for Nelson Mandela is accused of being a fake. A deaf member in South Africa's parliament even tweeted he could not sign, get him off during the memorial service. Officials for the Deaf Federation of South Africa now confirming to the Associated Press the signs broadcast around the world were indeed bogus.


BROWN: True story here. South African government officials say they're going to respond to the allegations with a prepared statement. Now, how did they think they could get away with this?

BOLDUAN: I don't know sign language. I'll say that. I don't know why you'd call them allegations. It seems this would be an easy thing to say happened or didn't.

BERMAN: I want to see that statement from the government because if this in fact happened, that is crazy.

BOLDUAN: What a loss for people in South Africa and around the world who want to be part of this experience.

BROWN: Right.

BOLDUAN: My goodness. Let's talk about another story overseas, a family of a U.S. citizen jailed overseas is urging a mass petition to set him free. The 29-year-old Shezanne Cassim was working in Dubai when he posted a parody video online, simple enough, right? But officials there, they did not find it funny, charging him with endangering national security and throwing him in jail eight months ago.

Well, now his family is demanding his release, understandably. CNN's Sara Sidner is in Abu Dhabi where he is being held, searching for answers.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, as you know, this is a situation that's absolutely gutted the family, but it's also baffled media, law experts and even a member of Congress. The U.S. Embassy has worked very hard, but no one has been able to get Shezanne Cassim out of prison for doing something that he thought was entertaining and even funny.


SHERVON CASSIM, BROTHER OF SHEZANNE CASSIM: Shez is in jail for making a video and we call for his human rights to be recognized and that he'll be release.

SIDNER (voice-over): A desperate plea from the brother of Shezanne Cassim, an American citizen locked up in the United Arab Emirates prison for eight months.

CASSIM: He's going stir crazy in that cell.

SIDNER: Cassim's family gathered Tuesday in Minneapolis hoping to raise public awareness about Shezanne's detention and about the fact that they're still awaiting answers to why he's not being released. For weeks now, we've been working the phones.

(on camera): This is Sara with CNN. Can you tell me anything about the Shezanne Cassim case?

(voice-over): Trying to get answers.

(on camera): Why does he and his friend been arrested? Can you tell me that? No? Why not?

(voice-over): Why has this American, Shezanne Cassim and his friends, been locked up in a prison here for eight months? Well, it started with this video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you know in Dubai, it's dangerous.

SIDNER: A satirical film he and his friends shot that pokes fun at the idea of wanna-be gangsters training to protect people on the not- so dangerous streets of suburban Dubai. Their weapons are comical, shoes, for example. It was meant to be a joke, a mockumentary. No one is leaving now.

No matter how hard we try, UAE officials will not make a single comment about the case to journalists and the government doesn't have to, because the laws here do not require it. However, we did manage to find a UAE citizen that says he does have information about the case.

In an exclusive interview, he told us he knows something because he spent time in prison with the amateur filmmakers. He says the guys told him they were charged under the newly revised cybercrime law, which is exactly why he was sent to jail. "I was using social media, especially Twitter, to express my opinions and defend human rights. I was calling for political reform."

What he got instead was time in cell block seven where he says he met the American and his friends. "In terms of their health they seemed thin. They seemed down, because they didn't expect to face charges over a humorous video that was only intended to be funny."

(on camera): We've driven out to the middle of the desert. This is where Cassim's family says he's being held in a facility that isn't just any prison, but a high security prison, a prison meant for people who are considered a national security threat.

(voice-over): He was arrested in April after posting this short film, which clearly state it's fictional on YouTube. One media law expert who lived and worked in the UAE says elements in the film may have touched on sensitive subjects for the gulf monarchies, particularly a line which mentions using Twitter to gather fighters, a tactic that helped fuel crowds during the 2011 Arab uprisings. The law was updated after the revolutions.

MATT J. DUFFY, MEDIA LAW PROFESSOR: The Arab spring really worried the leadership of the UAE.

SIDNER: But only the government knows why Cassim and the others are in prison. So far, they're not making any public comment.

CASSIM: We hope that this convinces them to release Shez. We'd just like him home.


SIDNER: As we understand it, his next court date is in about six days. We'll be watching and let you know what happens -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, thank you so much, Sara. We'll follow that one up.

BERMAN: All right, next up on NEW DAY, emotional testimony in the trial of the Montana bride accused of murdering her husband. What made her break down in court?

BOLDUAN: We will never forget the images of Elian Gonzalez being hauled away to go back to Cuba. Now almost 14 years later, what does he say about the United States? We'll show you what he told CNN.

BERMAN: Look at him.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Question is, how do you kill little time on a long flight? Check out former president turned painter, George W. Bush doing a little showing off on his way to South Africa. This picture was snapped by White House photographer, Pete Sousa.

There is Mr. Bush on Air Force One using his iPad to give everyone a good look at his newest artwork. You can see a whole cast of really big time political celebrities there. That's Hillary Clinton, Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice right there. You can see Laura Bush's head, Attorney General Eric Holder and Michelle Obama, the first lady in the corner.

This to me is an astounding picture. It is so human, I'm thinking Hillary Clinton is going there, if Bill ever tries this painting thing, I'm going to kill him. The former president takes such pride in his painting.

BOLDUAN: He does. In that interview with Jay Leno I think he even said he'd been taking some lessons and he painted a portrait of Jay Leno. I have to tell you, it was good. BERMAN: He says it has changed his life, the painting has. You can see he's proud of it there. Everyone in that room was taking a great deal of joy out of it. Looked like a fun flight.

BOLDUAN: He is a definition of a retired president, that's for sure.

All right, let's go to Montana now, an emotional day in the courtroom there in a trial of a new bride who's accused of murdering her husband just eight days after their wedding. Jordan Graham broke down as her teenage brother gave tearful testimony claiming she lied about her husband's disappearance. Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jordan, what did you think as you're watching yourself on the police videotapes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jordan really doesn't have anything to say.

LAH: Nothing to say after a damaging day listening to herself lie. The jury saw and heard Jordan Graham lying to police in two extensive taped interviews. In the first video, Graham was matter of fact and unemotional as she tells police that her husband, Cody Johnson took off from home in a dark car with Washington plates. Johnson had been missing for two days. Police were searching for him.

The reality is, Graham knew her new husband of just eight days was already dead at the bottom of a cliff at Glacier National Park because she watched him fall. The very next day, police videotaped Graham again. She went to police because she received an e-mail dated July 10th, three days after her husband's death. The e-mail came from a mysterious friend named Tony.

It reads, "Hello, Jordan, my name is Tony. There is no bother in looking for Cody anymore. He is gone." The e-mail claims Johnson died during that car trip. Detective Corey Clarke knew something was fishy about Graham's story.

(on camera): Have you had many people lie to you?


LAH (voice-over): But on the stand the detective testified the e-mail traced back to a computer at Graham's father's home, a fake e-mail created to support Graham's story to police. Witnesses testified that Graham appeared fixated with getting the police out of her life. On the day she led friends and family to suddenly discover Johnson at the bottom of the cliff, two friends testified Graham said that since her groom's body had been recovered, the police going to get off her back.

Defense attorneys say Graham was simply a scared young woman, that the fall was just a terrible accident. Graham contends she was fighting with Johnson, he grabbed her, she pushed him away and he fell. Her lawyers say she lied because she feared no one would believe her story. Graham now has to hope a jury of 12 will as testimony continues on the third day of her trial. Kyung Lah, CNN, Missoula, Montana.


BOLDUAN: All right, Kyung, thanks for that.

Now let's get to meteorologist Jennifer Gray to take another look at what's in store with this winter weather. She's not there.

BERMAN: The storm has got her. It's a whiteout. We'll get the latest as soon as we can.

Next up on NEW DAY, Elian Gonzalez, he's taking the U.S. to task for its policies with Cuba. We'll have a look at this interview, coming up next.


BOLDUAN: Talk about calm in the face of, I don't know how you describe this. A woman loses control of her car. You can see it. Look at her. She has a camera on her dashboard. She's cool as a cucumber throughout the entire thing. The video was published on Tuesday. The person that uploaded it said the driver is a friend of his and that she is actually getting a kick out of the hilarious comments that people are posting. She can use a new car. Look at it again. No facial recognition, really.

BERMAN: My goodness. I suppose after you go through that you can laugh at anything.

BOLDUAN: No. Thank God she was wearing her seat belt.

BERMAN: She checked the dash. She turned off the radio after that. What is she looking down? Unbelievable.

All right, 51 minutes after the hour. Let's go to the interview that everyone is talking about. Elian Gonzalez is all grown up and lashing out at the United States. In 1999, the then 6-year-old was found clinging to an inner tube after his mother drowned trying to him to the United States. He really became an unwilling star of an international custody battle. He was sent back to Cuba. Now he's 20 and he's firing back. CNN's Rosa Flores joins us.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know one of the interesting things that I think we all remember too is that experts were saying this child, Elian Gonzalez, is going to have some life lasting trauma. Here we are, folks. It's more than a decade later. He's 20 years old and he's speaking out for himself not only about how he's doing, but about the U.S. embargo on Cuba.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is how the world remembers Elian Gonzalez, a frightened 6-year-old getting pulled from his Miami's family home by federal agents and sent to Cuba to live with his father. That was in 2000. This is him today. He's 20, a cadet at a military school in Cuba studying engineering. Gonzalez says he hasn't suffered any long lasting psychological trauma from the international custody battle. He spoke to CNN while traveling outside of Cuba for the first time since his ordeal, attending a youth conference in Ecuador. He's now an outspoken Fidel Castro supporter blaming Cuba's economic crisis on the U.S.

He says it's America's unfair blockade that cause a critical economic situation in Cuba and that many have died trying to reach America. His mother was one of them. Back in 1999, she and nine others died trying to reach Florida. Elian survived and was placed with relatives in Miami. The messy aftermath launched worldwide headlines, intensifying the already heated U.S.-Cuba relations.

JANET RENO, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's time for this little boy who has been through so much to move on with life at his father's side.

FLORES: Since his return to Cuba he's been hailed a hero. For the past 13 years, Fidel and Raul Castro, regulars at his birthday parties.

He says he remembers little about his mother. The youth conference he's attending is known for promoting the very leftist views his mother died trying to protect him from.


FLORES: Now Elian Gonzalez did an interview with a Cuban newspaper and here's what he said about Fidel Castro. Quote, "Fidel Castro for me is like a father. I don't propose to have any religion, but if I did my God would be Fidel Castro." Like I was telling you, I couldn't help read other Spanish newspapers from around the world. One of the other things that really stood out to me was a quote where he said that in Cuba he enjoys freedoms that he couldn't enjoy in the U.S.

BERMAN: But how much freedom given that he's been such a public figure there, forced into the spotlight as a propaganda tool.

FLORES: Now I'm curious as to what's going to happen next with him.

BOLDUAN: He took an opportunity to speak out. It reminds us when you see that video what a mess that custody battle was that played out.

BERMAN: No kid should go through that.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Rosa. Thanks for that. Interesting to hear that.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, an amazing story of survival, a family of six is found in the Nevada mountains after days in freezing temperatures. New details how the father kept them all safe. We're live at the scene.

BERMAN: The parents of a Texas college student shot and killed by campus police, they are speaking out to CNN. Do they think their son attacked the officer? Why they now say the truth will come out.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I came around the corner and counted six of them standing there nice and warm.


BOLDUAN: The will to live. The family of six lost in the Nevada wilderness for days in sub-zero temperatures found alive. New details this morning on just how the father kept them all safe. We're live at the scene.

BERMAN: Compromise, a dirty word no more. Republicans and Democrats averting another major crisis, making a budget deal that avoids a shutdown, but the GOP's lead negotiator Paul Ryan is now under fire from his own party.

BROWN: Gone too far? A 6-year-old boy kisses his classmate on her cheek and suspended for sexual harassment. The school is defending its actions this morning.

BOLDUAN: Your NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see this agreement as a step in the right direction. In a divided government you don't always get what you want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Push off the bottom. Wham. Something grabbed me. When I started shaking I knew it was a shark.


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

BOLDUAN: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, December 11th, 8:00 in the east. Chris and Michaela are off today, but we are joined by John Berman and Pamela Brown. Good morning.

It's being called the miracle in the mountains a family of six out to play in the snow in Nevada are rescued after two days stranded in bone chilling temperatures. And they are all said to be doing pretty well, especially when you consider the conditions. Stephanie Elam tells us the mom and dad are being praised for keeping them alive and she is joining us live from Lovelock, Nevada. Good morning.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. It's nice to start the day off with some good news.