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Severe Cold Grips the Nation; Problem On Space Station; Mandela Interpreter Speaks to CNN; Family Rescued In Nevada; Montana Newlywed Murder Trial

Aired December 12, 2013 - 08:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: New this hour, speaking out. The now infamous interpreter accused of signing gibberish at Nelson Mandela's memorial explains himself to CNN. Why did he say his signs were off? Did his schizophrenia play a role?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: New this hour, Houston, we have a problem. An important pump failing aboard the International Space Station. NASA working this morning to fix it? How serious is it?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Too rich to do time? A ruling causing anger across the country. A 16-year-old let off with just probation after killing four people in a drunk driving accident. His defense, he was too spoiled to know the right thing to do.

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY continues right now.


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

BOLDUAN: Good morning and welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Thursday, December 12th, 8:00 in the East.

We're going to have that interview with the translator in just a moment. It's being fed from South Africa as we speak.

But first, winter isn't here yet, but it feels like it. Much of the country has been hammered lately with freezing temperatures and yet another round is on the horizon. Meteorologist Indra Peterson is outside our studio tracking all the conditions for us.

Good morning, Indra.


The fun continues. The temperatures continue to go down and not the way we want them to go. It now feels like 11 degrees standing outside. At least we're not in single digits and looking for the upside here somewhere. But you know what? It is in a lot of places.

Take a look at the country. Huge chunk of the country today seeing those temperatures below freezing, really only in the south that we're seeing temperatures above that freezing mark.

You add in the wind-chill, I mean, look at these temperatures. A lot of us are dealing with this morning, definitely some dangerous conditions are out here.

But we also have the snow to talk about. Lake effect snow, that's going to be out there. Today's not really the big story unless you're off the lake. Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, anywhere from one to two feet of snow possible.

But it's when that next system moves in that the fun continues. I want to say begins, but we've been already been dealing with system after system. Here comes the next guy dropping south from Montana, going right around maybe the Central Plains there. So, you're talking about Kansas, Missouri, look for that wintry mix.

Then as we go -- why does this happen? On the weekend? Here we go, we're talking about another round of snow, anywhere from the Northeast back again to the Midwest. Wintry mix again from New England, all the way in through West Virginia and I think we know by now, and the temperatures stay cold. They'll get used to it.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Indra.

CUOMO: All right. We are hearing that an emergency space walk could be on the agenda to fix a problem at the International Space Station. Operations on the station have been scaled back after a pump shut down in the cooling system.

NASA says the space station and crew were never in danger. But the agency is hard at work on fix.

Let's bring in John Zarrella. He has more -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, it is a serious problem anytime you have an issue on board the International Space Station.

Bottom line: there are two of these pumps on the space station used to cool the interior and exterior. One of those pumps yesterday, early yesterday, went down, started failing. NASA was able to get it back up and running, but it is not working properly.

So they have had to do is shut down some noncritical systems in three different modules up there, the U.S. harmony, the Columbus module, the European module, and the Japanese Kibo module. Now, the mission management team is meeting this morning. They're going to try and figure out whether a space walk would be required to fix this.

Now, back in May, they did a space walk for a similar issue in the cooling system and then three years ago, back in 2010, the pump that is, there was a pump that failed and it was replaced by this pump that's now failed. So, it's a serious situation. It's one of what they call the big 12. Big 14 issues that they are always practicing for in case they need a space walk to go and replace this pump because those pumps, Chris, are on the outside of the International Space Station. Back to you guys.

CUOMO: All right. John, stay on top of that. Let us know what happens. Appreciate the reporting this morning.

All right. So, just in, we were just hearing Kate, she was saying we were waiting to get this interview fed.

The sign language translator at Nelson Mandela's memorial. That's the subject. He is speaking to CNN. He's defending his ridiculed performance, saying the reason it didn't go well is because he is schizophrenic, saying he is perfectly qualified.

Now, an official in South Africa is admitting mistakes happen, but also defends the interpreter saying -- somewhat bizarrely -- there is no sign language standard in the country. Remember, this isn't just about signing. It's about security and how did this man get past there, get put so close to so many world leaders if, in fact, he is not an interpreter.

David McKenzie is in South Africa, joining us with more. He did the interview. Let's start with it. David, what did we learn?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we learned was this man says he's qualified. Thamsanqa Jantjie was standing through all of those memorials, with all those world leaders, including next to President Barack Obama, signing through that whole period and then the scandal broke. Several experts here in South Africa saying he wasn't signing anything. That it was all a fake and that none of it made sense.

We tracked down this man in the township of Soweto. We talked to him. He remains defiant and says it's perhaps because of his mental illness. Take a listen.


MCKENZIE: What sort of disability do you have?

THAMSANQA JANTJIE, SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETOR: I'm suffering from schizophrenic, which is uncontrollable and -- I'm under a treatment positively (INAUDIBLE) South Africa.

You can look at my portfolio. It speaks itself, from the event I was doing in my country. My portfolio, it shows exactly that I've been a champion of what I've been doing.


MCKENZIE: Well, I kept on pushing him about that portfolio, asking him was he qualified, where he studied. He wouldn't answer any of that. He says he's part of a company that was contracted to this event. But when the government was put to the task for this question, they said that company has disappeared -- Chris.

CUOMO: Right, David. We're reading that. The owners of the company that they can't find them right now, that raises suspicious. The government saying, well, there's no real unified standard of how to vet whether they're a translator. That adds to the confusion.

But then the main, of course, is security, David. What do we know about how carefully this man's background, if not his skill set was vetted before he was put so close to so many world leaders, including the president of the United States?

MCKENZIE: Well, he said he wasn't a security threat at all when I put that question to him. He said he's been next to South Africa's president for years doing sign language interpretation. He said, well, through all those years, why didn't anyone bring up this issue? And if people want to charge him for some kind of crime, he says he's ready to be charged.

But the question remains, how did he get so close to these world leaders and how could on such a big stage, someone effectively sign rubbish, according to most experts? He said -- he remains defiant and he was doing his job and if anyone says he's not, they should come speak to him.

CUOMO: Well, certainly, some answers need here. There's going to be to have proof of his mental illness that will help validate his story. You're going to have to figure out how he was vetted and then, of course, know something about his background to justify the decision that he's not a security threat.

But thank you for providing some pieces to the puzzle, David. We'll have some more on this later on. Appreciate it, David McKenzie.


PEREIRA: All right. Let's take a look at headlines at this hour.

A blast outside the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan was an accident. That, the official word this morning. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry tells CNN it happened at an arms depot in Kabul and was set off by mistake. The International Security Assistance Force nearby says everything at its headquarters is back to normal and, thankfully, nobody was killed.

The pilots of an Asiana jet that crashed this summer were deeply confused about the plane's automated system, that according to investigators testifying Wednesday. The accident left three dead and nearly 200 injured.

The NTSB also released new video showing the plane tumbling down the runway after hitting the sea wall.

Newtown, Connecticut residents heading to Washington today for a vigil at the National Cathedral, in memory of the victims of gun violence. Saturday will mark the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Massacre, where 26 people, including 20 first graders, were shot to death. Several private memorials will be held in Newtown this weekend.

George Zimmerman will not face charges for his arrest, following a domestic dispute last month. Zimmerman's girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe had said Zimmerman pointed a gun at her during an argument, but in court document, she later said she didn't want charges filed. Prosecutors decided not to move forward. For his part, Zimmerman denied those charges from the start.

It is being described at the bling ring meets the "Hangover" movies. More than a dozen teens allegedly arrested for partying and ransacking a vacant mansion last month. The Los Angeles sheriff's office says the damage they called with what they stole added up to at least $1 million. Among the loot cops seized, medieval armor, scuba gear, Armani suits and a $250,000 mounted snow leopard.

Apparently, they bragged about it online. Does this sound oddly familiar at all?

BOLDUAN: That they learn from the movies?

PEREIRA: No, we've done a story like this. The retired football player, he didn't have the --

CUOMO: Brian Holloway.

PEREIRA: He didn't have --

CUOMO: Stuffed snow leopard. I don't know if that's legal.

PEREIRA: I don't know either.

CUOMO: Interesting to see what's done to those kids, though, in light of another story we're going to --

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Good question.

All right. The parents of a Georgia teen want to know one thing. What really happened to their son? Seventeen-year-old Kendrick Johnson's body was found in a gym mat. You remember this story. Officials ruled his death an accident, but his parents claim he was murdered, pointing out several red flags in the investigation.

Protesters joined their cause yesterday at the Georgia state capital, demanding answers.

CNN's Victor Blackwell has been investigating this story for months. He's live in the Atlanta with the very latest.

Good morning.


And attorneys for the Johnsons say that looking forward over the next few weeks and months, we're going to hear more of this pressure they're placing on state and local officials. That rally was to urge the governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, to order a coroner's inquest. And here's why -- the state's official claimed is that Kendrick Johnson climbed into a mat to reach for a shoe. That was 11 months ago. And was killed by his own body weight, an accident. He was suffocated.

Their pathologist, the family's pathologist said there was evidence of blunt force trauma, non-accidental death. Well, Georgia law suggests the need for a coroner's inquest. A jury would be impaneled, which would override the state and determine his death was a homicide.

One speaker yesterday said, "We're not asking for it. We don't come hat in hand. We demand it because justice demands it." The governor's office has said they will wait for the federal investigation to be completed -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And, Victor, the funeral home is kind of getting drawn into this as well. What is the family alleging the funeral home did and how did they say this impacts the investigation into their son's death?

BLACKWELL: Well, CNN was first to report in October that Kendrick Johnson's organs were missing and he was stuffed with newspaper when his body was exhumed. Well, the family filed an official complaint with the secretary of state's office in Georgia. They said the funeral home committed a fraud and they misled the family. Also, participated in a cover up.

And here's how it could affect the outcome of the case. They believe those organs would have at least refuted the state's claim this was an accident, possibly would have shown evidence of trauma, as their pathologist claims.

We know that after our report in October, the secretary of state's office launched an investigation, so this may run parallel. Soon we're hoping to get a response. The outcome of that investigation launched two months ago -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Victor, thank you so much for staying on top of this story. We'll follow up with you of course.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, new details about the family that survived two days in their stranded car in Nevada. How did they hold it together? Young children there. An aunt is sharing new details about their ordeal with CNN.

CUOMO: And more incriminating testimony against a Montana bride accused of murdering her new husband by pushing him off a cliff. We'll tell you what Jordan Graham's friend had to say.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. We're learning new details about the incredible survival of a family of six that was stranded in the Nevada wilderness. Two of them are out of the hospital already it seems, and the other four are doing very well. Their family members spoke to CNN about how they survived the ordeal. CNN's Casey Wian is in Lovelock, Texas -- Nevada rather, with more on this. Good morning, Casey. CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. It's five below zero this morning here in Lovelock and I'm pretty well bundled up. Hard to imagine a family with young children surviving conditions as low as 20 below zero for two days, but this family did.


WIAN (voice-over): Christina McIntee in the red, leaving the hospital with her three-year-old daughter, Chloe, silent but emotional after the two-day ordeal she and her family endured in the subzero Nevada wilderness. Her fiance, James Glanton, seen here wheeling an IV stand and three of the children remain hospitalized. The couple may not be talking, but Christina's aunt is sharing new details with CNN.

LAURIE MCDERMOTT, SURVIVOR'S AUNT: Very scary, you know? I mean, they intended on being out for a couple of hours, you know, and ended up getting into a situation where their, you know, jeep flipped over and they were in an area where they were kind of backed up against a hill. So, it's just camouflage the jeep.

WIAN: Glanton and McIntee were experienced visitors to Nevada's back country.

MCDERMOTT: They, you know, burned wood, they burned sage brush. They heated rocks, you know, to keep the kids warm. They burned a spare tire. You know, they had food and some water.

WIAN: But surviving temperatures as low as 20 below zero on crackers, chips, and cookies with four young children, nothing short of remarkable.

MCDERMOTT: She said she never saw such strength in little kids ever. You know, they didn't cry. They were scared, obviously, but you know, they would play a little bit during the day.

WIAN: McDermott said the couple never lost hope, but they were growing desperate and were about to begin walking toward help when they were found Tuesday.

MCDERMOTT: She said it was the happiest moment of her life. Relief, joy, tears, you know? And then, she said then the shock kind of set in. She's an amazing mother. You know, she stayed strong for her kids and her niece and her nephew the entire time, you know? She worked side by side with her boyfriend to make sure that those babies were taken care of and that they survived.

WIAN: Survived to celebrate little Chloe's fourth birthday today.


WIAN (on-camera): Doctors also say they hope that the other four family members will be released from the hospital today. The family releasing a statement through the hospital, thanking all the rescuers, the hospital personnel, and the public for their concern throughout this ordeal -- Chris. CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much. We want to turn now to a provocative testimony in the murder trial of a Montana newlywed. Jordan Graham is accused of killing her husband just eight days into their marriage by shoving him off a cliff. Now, a coroner says the young man wasn't wearing a wedding ring when his body was found.

What does that mean? Also, a parade of witnesses saying Graham told her husband she had a surprise in store for him that day. Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cody Johnson's friends arrived for the third day of his murder trial, but their grief visible and still raw. They testified Jordan Graham was not an overwhelmed newlywed who accidentally pushed her husband of eight days off a cliff, but a regretful bride who planned to kill. Eddie Clone (ph) said he saw his friend, Cody Johnson, the day he died and asked him to go golfing.

Johnson said he couldn't because Jordan said "she has a surprise for me." Three witnesses testified the same thing, including Steven Rutledge, Graham's own step-father, who said his new son-in-law also mentioned the surprise to him. The defense downplayed it and Graham later told the FBI the surprise was just a barbecue with friends.

But later that night, Johnson plunged to his death off the stiff cliff at Glacier National Park. Graham's lawyers called the death an accident, that the couple was fighting on the cliff. Johnson grabbed her, she pushed and he fell to his death. But prosecutors have a different version. They say Graham wanted out of her marriage and plotted to kill her new husband.

Deputy coroner, Richard Sine, testified downstream from Johnson's body, he found a black cloth. Prosecutors have raised the theory that at the cliff, Graham blindfolded her husband possibly with the black cloth, before pushing him in the back with two hands face first to his death. Defense attorneys have already began fighting about how this cloth was handled by police alleging contamination of evidence.

Already established, the multiple lies Jordan Graham told investigators until an FBI interrogation where she was shown this image. It's a snapshot of a surveillance camera at the entrance of Glacier National Park. At a higher picture resolution, it's clear, Graham is a passenger in the car sitting next to her husband, putting her at the scene of the crime.

Caught, the jury listened to Graham's voice recorder statement to the FBI where she finally admitted she pushed her husband to his death. Her lawyers expected to begin arguing later this morning what they believe motivated this young bride to lie.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Missoula, Montana.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CUOMO: For those following this, that second question winds up being most important. Yes, it's dramatic when the defendant acknowledged that she did it, but why she did it will be the difference --

BOLDUAN: There's no dispute between -- that she pushed her husband off the cliff. The motivation now, right?

Coming up next on new day, we're going to have more from David McKenzie and his interview with the South African interpreter who is at the center of what has become quite a scandal from the Mandela memorial. Is he a fake? He answers that question in his own words.

CUOMO: And don't blame a teen for causing a fatal crash, blame his parents for spoiling him too much. Does that make sense to you? Is that justice? Does it give accountability for the deaths involved? four of them. Controversial story and a judge's decision coming up.


CUOMO: I see it right there. Just in. Welcome back to NEW DAY. Here's what's just in. We're hearing more from the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial. He is defending his much criticized performance to CNN saying he is perfectly qualified but also schizophrenic and that's what changed his performance. The South African government speaking out as well in equally bizarre fashion.

David McKenzie spoke with the interpreter and joins us now from South Africa. What's the latest, David?

MCKENZIE: Well, we tracked him down in Soweto, Chris, and the latest is he's defiant. He said he did the right job. He's bemused with the fact that -- experts here in South Africa said he had no idea what he was saying. Through that whole time, four hours, in fact, interpreting for people including President Barack Obama.

Obviously, questions about the security of someone who says he's on medication for schizophrenia during this event. When I put those questions to him, he defended his record.


MCKENZIE: Are you embarrassed by this scandal?

JANTJIE: Not embarrassed. It's a, it's a -- this is a wake-up call. This is the wake-up call. At hospitals, at police station, at the Department of Education, which interpreter you call a fake? Which teacher qualified to teach a sign language? Is it a fake? And how many originals do you have? I understand if someone from U.K. or another country said, I didn't understand that interpreter.

Then I would say maybe I don't do the right one, but I was interpreting in my country, interpreting -- and if (INAUDIBLE), there was no any mistake, but (INAUDIBLE). If I have to be charged by doing anything wrong, of doing what I believe it was right, then it's OK.

MCKENZIE: So, you think you were doing South African sign language? JANTJIE: That's what I think I was doing and then if I was doing something wrong, there must be something that it could have been long time ago because it's not the first time I've been interpreter. I've been interpreting for many years.

MCKENZIE: Where did you learn sign?

JANTJIE: It's a question of my CV. My CV, you'll find in, it's interpreter.

MCKENZIE: On your CV, what does it say?

JANTJIE: I don't want to discuss it, you know?


MCKENZIE: Well, very defensive there about his record. He wouldn't specify where he had trained, what his qualifications were. He also said he's been doing this for several years. In fact, we've seen footage of him doing it for President Jacob Zuma of South Africa some years ago. He's bring up the question, why do people only call him out on it now if they think it's incorrect.

But he also said that he believes he's not a security threat. If the government he said wants to charge him with any crime, he's ready for that.

CUOMO: David, if you can find him, I think the only thing to do now is to test his ability to interpret in English and that's the only way you're going to get an answer.


MCKENZIE: I asked him several times and he refused to do it.

CUOMO: All you can do is ask the right questions. David McKenzie, thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Those are my questions. David, thank you.

So what many people are calling a staggering sentence in Texas? A teen who killed four people while driving drunk avoiding jail time. Sixteen-year-old Ethan Couch was sentenced to ten years' probation after he admitted guilt. Part of the defense in all of this, that his wealthy parents are really to blame for spoiling him. Alina Machado is at the CNN Center with more. Please explain, Alina.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. A judge reportedly said during sentencing that it was the teen and not his parents who was responsible for his actions, but, some are saying the judge's decision to keep the boy out of prison is denying justice to the victim's families.


MACHADO (voice-over): Ethan Couch's attorneys argue he is the product of what's been called affluenza, living a life of privilege with parents who never taught him that bad behavior has real consequences. The 16-year-old admitted to drinking alcohol the night he caused a chain reaction crash that killed four people and severely hurt two others in Tarrant County, Texas.

His sentence, ten years of probation, not the 20 years of prison prosecutors asked for. The teen's defense and the judge's lenient sentence have sparked outrage. His victim's loved ones are stunned.

MARLA MITCHELL, DAUGHTER WAS KILLED: He'll be feeling the hand of God, definitely. He may think he's gotten away with something, but he hasn't gotten away with anything.