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Ice in the South; Rand Paul Sues; Colorado DOT Performs Controlled Explosions to Reduce Avalanche Risks; Closing Arguments in "Loud Music" Murder Trial

Aired February 12, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's being called "epic," "colossal," "catastrophic." Much of the south, a solid sheet of ice. Trees taking down power lines, cars spinning, flights grounded. Treacherous conditions right now from Texas to North Carolina. And trouble on the way from Virginia up through the northeast.

Also ahead, did Michael Dunn convince the jury that he truly feared for his life? Closing arguments this hour in the loud music murder trial after a day of riveting testimony and excruciating cross- examination.

And, you're being spied on. That is precisely what Senator Rand Paul says he's suing the president and some top NSA officials about. Is this partisan politics or is this protecting your civil liberties? It could be up to the Supreme Court to decide, if it even gets off the ground.

Hello, everyone, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Wednesday, February the 12th. Welcome. Nice to have you here on LEGAL VIEW.

It is this hour's breaking news on CNN. A bona fide winter weather emergency. I hate repeating that over and over, but this time it is the southern United States in the crosshairs of this storm. It's happening right at this moment. Yes, we know when some cities get a little bit of ice and snow, that it is a - it's not that big a deal.

But we are talking about Atlanta, Augusta. These two cities in Georgia. Also Columbia, South Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina. Places that just about never see ugly winter storms and they sure don't have the equipment, the gear, the people and the savvy at this point really to deal with this kind of weather.

This was the most welcome sight today in the city of Atlanta, the highways at morning rush hour pretty much empty. Thank God. Any other Wednesday morning, this part of town would be bumper to bumper. But the people of Atlanta today, wisely, did exactly what the mayor and emergency officials begged them to do, at least this time, they stayed home.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in Decatur, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. He's watching the ice beginning to build up there. As well our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, is in downtown, outside of the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

Nick, I want to start with you first. You know, I feel like I'm getting real repetitive every time I say that this is an epic and historic storm. But let me know, how epic does it look so far? How are things -- how is everybody getting along? How are you getting along?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, using those words, I think we should probably temper our enthusiasm. We hadn't - we - you know, we haven't seen this catastrophic or biblical storm that was predicted. We have seen a lot of freezing rain, though. And with the temperatures below freezing, that's causing a big problem. Yes, there are some people out in Atlanta right now having a great snow day. In fact, there is a couple of kids off to the side here with sleds playing a game of football.

Not everyone is so lucky, though, Ashleigh. Tens of thousands of people here in the state of Georgia, principally in the metro area, without power. A big problem, that freezing rain freezes with power lines. And especially in this area in Decatur, just outside of Atlanta, this neighborhood notorious for losing power. I just spoke to a resident a little while ago. For now, they do have power. But as the day progresses and as the temperature stays below freezing, it's going to be a really big issue, not just for clean-up, but also for people that are home off those roads.

We're not seeing the images that we saw a couple of weeks ago during that first round of storm, but we saw thousands of motorists trapped on the highways. Why? Well simply because, as you were saying, Ashleigh, people were listening to officials when they said stay home, this is going to be a major event, we're not overreacting, we're not over exaggerating. This is just what's, you know, what it's going to be. And so far, lots of freezing rain, very cold temperatures. So we'll see just how bad it is as the hours progress.


BANFIELD: And that was a live picture that we were getting treated to as well, as you were just reporting, Nick. Somebody who's taking our camera down the roadways in Atlanta. This is great. I hate to say how awful the weather is, but how great the picture is because Atlanta, like you said, just a couple weeks ago, did not look this clean and safe. Yes, you get the occasional car trying to make it into the downtown area or wherever he or she thinks he or she needs to be. But generally speaking, this is a welcome relief.

I want to go to Chad Myers, who is in the downtown spot of most critical importance.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Ashleigh, I can't hear you.

BANFIELD: OK, Chad, just take it away. Take it away.

MYERS: It just rained (INAUDIBLE) and now all my equipment is wet and so literally it has been - it has been a mess here. The rain is the problem though. It was sleeting earlier. That means that the rain drops coming down from the sky, 35 degrees, a couple thousand feet up, they were freezing on the way down, making little sleet balls. Now, they were hurting. The wind is blowing 15, 20 miles an hour and it hurt to get hit by it. But now it's all liquid. All of this liquid is coming down as water, and now it's collecting on these trees.

I'm going to walk over here because I can't hear you anyway so I'm just going to tell you what's going on. Look how these trees are getting coated and they're getting heavier and heavier. This is all now ice coating these trees. We did not have this earlier.

These sleet balls that we had earlier down here, they were bouncing off. This is like the snow cone. That's what we were getting. And that doesn't stick to trees. It doesn't stick to power lines. It bounces off and goes to the ground. That's not as dangerous as what we're seeing right now here in Atlanta as we've switched back over to rain and now we're going to see all of these power lines continue to come down, even more so than we saw before with this sleet.


BANFIELD: Our first power outage. It's officially Chad Myers' gear. He can't hear a word I'm saying.

Chad, look at the tape, I'm saying thank you, and I feel so bad for him because he always gets those assignments, which are very uncomfortable, does a stellar job at it, too.

So it just started snowing in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well, and the people there are bracing for the ice and the snow to hit full force. In fact, the governor just spoke, and he says he wants everyone to be ready for what's coming. Have a look.


GOV. PAT MCCRORY (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Right now is the time to get your batteries out, to get your flashlights out, to get your transistor radio out and get warm clothing on. My wife, the first lady, will also say take care of your pets, give them an appropriate amount of water and keep them warm. Do the common sense things. We know it's coming, take the precautions right now. Do not wait.


BANFIELD: Ah, do not wait. Great advice about the pets too. If you put your pet outside in the backyard, set a timer and that will remind you your dog or your cat or whoever is outside.

No matter where you live, too, we want you to send us your i-Report photos and videos. Show us and tell us what the weather's like in your neighborhood. Just go to and let us know what's happening, as Al Roker would say, in your neck of the woods.

Now, this isn't weather-related, but it is one of those things that happens when the natural and the developed worlds try to live together. Take a peek. An enormous sinkhole, about 40 feet across, not just any place. This opened up today beneath the showroom of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Mario Andretti is probably crying right now. It's his favorite car.

Here's what the showroom looked like before the sinkhole opened up. There it is after. It just makes me weep! No one was hurt, thank God, except for the eight classic Corvettes that fell into that sinkhole. While the workers at the museum hurried to roll others away from the edge, I guess they were able to save several.

Strangely, 25 to 30-feet deep hole in the museum. The museum's still open in certain parts today, though, strangely. The museum is part of Kentucky where sinkholes are fairly common. There are lots of caves and underground springs in that area. The director says he cannot put a dollar value on the damaged cars just yet. I think he's using one word to try to sum is it all up at this early point and that is "substantial." Might be the understatement of the day.

Other news now. A U.S. senator announcing that he's got one mega lawsuit coming. It's against the federal government and guess who else, the guy who leads the federal government, the president, on behalf of you and me and everyone else in America who thinks you might have had your phone tapped or your privacy tapped. Is this for real? Does this lawsuit stand a chance? And while we're using the word "stand," how about standing? Does that guy have standing on behalf of you and me? You might be surprised at what you're about to find out.


BANFIELD: Welcome back to LEGAL VIEW. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

Senators have all sorts of ways to let presidents know what they think about government's actions, but they really don't often resort to filing lawsuits. So, leave it to GOP Senator Rand Paul to bring what he calls possibly the largest class action suit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights. Rand Paul is suing President Obama to try to stop the NSA from collecting so-called metadata, numbers and times and durations on hundreds of millions of phone calls of United States citizens. And this is how he came out on these steps and put it into plain English for us last hour.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Good morning. On behalf of myself, Freedom Works and everyone in America that has a phone, we are filing suit against the president of the United States in defense of the Fourth Amendment. We will ask the question in court whether a single warrant can apply to the records of every American phone user, all of the time, without limits, without individualization.


BANFIELD: So CNN's Joe Johns is on this story.

Joe, so categorize this for me and let me know exactly what it is we're looking at. Is this politics or is this really something of substance?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think it could be both, quite frankly. You saw Senator Rand Paul there, also Matt Kibbe of Freedom Works, calling this the largest class action lawsuit also of its kind on behalf of users, subscribers, customers of phone service in the United States since 2006, suing President Obama, the director of National Intelligence, the director of the National Security Agency and of the FBI.

And it's calling on the federal courts to put an end to the government's metadata collection, to require purging of records that now exist. And what they're asking for, Ashleigh, specifically, is for the court to declare what's known as the mass associational tracking program unconstitutional, as in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They're not asking for a temporary injunction. So this is a case that could go for years if it clears procedural hurdles and gets certified by a court.

So there's potential there. It's a very unusual lawsuit because of all the people who could be involved. And the question is, what's the court going to do with it?

BANFIELD: All right, Joe Johns, stand by, if you would. Thank you for that report.

I want to bring in our senior legal analyst here at CNN, Jeffrey Toobin, knows a thing or two about these federal cases and whether this could end up ultimately at the Supreme Court or if it's going to be literally alive for a nanosecond until they shoot it down saying, you don't have a standing.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: There are a lot of procedural problems with a lawsuit like this and standing is one of them. In order to file a lawsuit, any kind of lawsuit, you have to prove that you were injured. And the argument that the government will make in defending this is that Rand Paul, and any of the other plaintiffs in this case, can't prove that they were hurt by this government program, that their phone calls were monitored. They will argue that it's implicit, that everybody's phone calls were monitored, but that's a big problem.

Also, a class action this big presents a lot of problems under the class action rules. But the underlying issue about whether this program is constitutional or not is certainly a real one.

BANFIELD: I want to have this bigger conversation once we figure out if this thing can even ever get some legs, the standing, as you call it. And then I want to talk about just the notion that we've had federal judges rule on this one way and the other before.

TOOBIN: Right.

BANFIELD: However, I can't have the conversation now. I've got some other breaking news. So, stand by if you will, Jeffrey Toobin. Thank you for that.

And, by the way, Rand Paul is going to be on "Erin Burnett" tonight at 7:00 Eastern. So make sure you join Erin and her team for that. That should be awesome. I want to take you out to Colorado right now. There have been a number of avalanches and deaths in Colorado over the last couple of days.

What you're looking at right now is a live picture in Summit County, Colorado, where, as I understand it, a lot of the engineers and safety experts who work mountain parks and mountain issues oftentimes will try to prophylactically stop avalanche danger by setting off explosives and ultimately get rid of ridges and cornices that present serious damage when weather patterns change to basically cause avalanches, knowing no one is in their path.

If you hear anything going off and explosions, you'll know what those sounds are.

In the meantime, our correspondent, Ana Cabrera is just off camera. Tell me what they're doing and how they're doing it.

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We want to keep the camera zoomed in, and that's why I'm standing to the side, but we're watching Colorado department of transportation workers currently doing a controlled avalanche blast.

So, they're setting up several tons of TNT into the mountains here near I-70, the main east-west corridor in Colorado. This is near the Eisenhower Tunnel, for those familiar, about 60 miles west of Denver.

Of course, avalanches not only threatening people, but also threatening commerce and a huge really public safety threat when you look at the conditions we're seeing right now.

What we're seeing from these current pictures is some snow sloughing off. This is the location where they have had avalanches in recent days and weeks. And they have already done several controlled blasts in this area, one of the workers telling us they have seen avalanches every single time they have tried a controlled blast.

We expect a few more of the blasts to go up, and basically that sound kind of hitting this rocky area in some of the cornices and breaking away what would be the heavy layers on top of weaker layers.

And so those weaker layers eventually give way, leading to the rush of snow that can come down a mountain, anywhere from 20-miles-per-hour to 80-miles-per-hour, so that gives you a sense of how powerful some of these avalanches are.

As we continue to watch pictures, I want to give more perspective. Some of these controlled blasts that CDOT has been doing recently have brought down avalanches that are so big they could bury cars, break trees, even destroy small buildings, certainly a huge threat if there are any of those things in the nearby vicinity.

In fact, avalanche experts telling me this is perhaps the most dangerous avalanche season they have seen since 1996, which is a record-setting snowfall year.

And already we're seeing a widespread issue happening across the west this season. We have seen six deaths in three different states, just since Saturday, two in Utah, two in Oregon, two here in Colorado.

And there have been dramatic rescues caught on camera. We're continuing to monitor pictures, but I believe we have some video. I want to show pictures from avalanches that happened the last few days.

Check out this GoPro from Cody Strong, gets caught in an avalanche on his snowmobile. This was just on Monday. You can hear that.

You see the video get thrown around. He is thrown from the snowmobile. In fact, about 100 feet, he tells us, but yet he manages to walk away from this.

There was another intense situation that happened just yesterday in Utah, where are you can see some video of rescuers having to dig out a snowmobiler, who was buried in a slide there. In fact, he was unconscious. He was blue, we're told, when crews got to him. But amazingly, he survived.

So, coming back out live here, we just heard another blast go off. We're still watching to see if there are any major snow avalanches that are triggered from these blasts.

But certainly, Ashleigh, a sign of the dangerous avalanche conditions happening right now.

BANFIELD: Tell you what, Anna, I grew up in the northern Rockies. I watched this on a regular basis.

These controlled blasts going off, and the concussion that they send off is really remarkable. And the ensuing avalanches that you can watch happening real-time are just -- they're so remarkable to behold. And it does give you a lot of relief to see that those -- those very dangerous cornices can be made more safe.

I will say this about the snowmobiler, though. There is one thing right now that's causing a lot of problems when it comes to avalanches, and that's snowmobilers who do high-marking.

They cause danger for other people. They cause, ultimately, people to have to come and do rescues that are life-threatening. It is a big bone of contention among people, snowmobilers. Obviously, snow machines are loud, and they can send concussive sounds, as well, that set off avalanches.

So. while it's remarkable to see video like that, I will say this -- I don't know this about Cody, but I will say anybody out there who thinks high-marking is a whole bunch of fun, it is lethal, not only for the person doing the high-marking, but ultimately anybody who may be below or those dispatched in emergency to do the rescue.

Ana Cabrera, thank you for that.

We're covering a big story this week, big across the country. May have emanated from Florida, but reverberations everywhere.

Self defense or murder? The big question for Michael Dunn, as he shot and killed Jordan Davis, and the bigger question for the jurors who are sitting in judgment of him as we speak.

The lawyers are making their final appeals to this jury today in the so-called "Loud Music" murder trial.

Obviously, the case is in the shadow of the George Zimmerman trial, big comparisons because of the racial overtones.

A lawyer who defended Zimmerman, the lawyer on record, in fact, joins me right now to tell me what it is like to be in that courtroom at this moment and what you have to do to try to save your client.


BANFIELD: Lawyers in what some people are calling the "Loud Music" murder trial are summing up their cases for the jury today.

A middle-aged, white software developer named Michael Dunn is charged with the first-degree murder in the shooting death of a black teenager named Jordan Davis who Dunn claims threatened to kill him.

All of it went down outside of a convenience store in Jacksonville, Florida, when Dunn asked Davis and his three friends in the SUV, again, all three of those friends also black, to turn down their rap music in their SUV.

Dunn swears that what he did was in self defense. The police say the teens were not armed.

My colleague, Alina Machado, live in Jacksonville. So we have had quite a rousing closing argument from the prosecutors.

Ultimately, we're going to hear -- the tenor shifts as soon as the other side takes over, that will happen with the defense.

But give me the highlights on what the prosecutors were able to achieve in that closing.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ashleigh, the prosecutor spent more than an hour and a half making the argument that Michael Dunn was not acting in self defense when he shot and killed Jordan Davis.

I want to start off by showing you how she started her closing arguments. Take a listen.


ERIN WOLFSON, PROSECUTOR: Let me make very clear. On November 23rd, 2012, when this defendant shot and killed Jordan Davis, there was no gun in that Durango.

There was no stick. There was no bat. There was no lead pipe. There was no gun.

What was in that Durango were four, teenage boys.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MACHADO: And that really gives you a sense of what the state argued in its closing arguments.

Prosecutors focused on all of the inconsistencies between what Michael Dunn told investigators and what he testified in open court yesterday.

They argued that, again, there was no gun inside the SUV, that Jordan Davis was inside the vehicle and not outside when Michael Dunn shot and killed him. And they also made it clear that Dunn was angry, that he was the one who was escalating the situation, and not Jordan Davis.

Now, they also made the point that Michael Dunn was the one who acted after the shooting in a way that made it seem like he was not defending himself.

He was the one who fled the scene. He was the one who did not call the police. And those are all actions, Ashleigh, that the prosecution really focused on in their closing arguments.

BANFIELD: So Alina, much like the Zimmerman case, things started off, and they gathered momentum. The community started really getting engaged.

And I'm seeing people behind you with signs. I can't read them. When I was just down there, I also heard a loud megaphone, as well, and apparently it was somebody who turned up at the Zimmerman trial, as well.

Are you feeling that there is some community momentum all of a sudden, people turning out at the courthouse? Or does it just seem scattered?

MACHADO: It seems like there are some protesters out here today. These people behind me are holding signs, basically saying, "Justice for Jordan," and also saying -- they're chanting, "No justice, no peace." They're walking around the courthouse.

But that's about as large a group as we have seen so far here, Ashleigh. So this is kind of the situation here.

BANFIELD: OK. Alina Machado keeping an eye on things for us in Jacksonville. Thank you for that.

For the LEGAL VIEW, I want to bring in CNN's legal analyst, Mark O'Mara, who, of course, won acquittal for George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, and has had to sort of switch hats.

You were inside that courtroom while we were all outside reporting and doing the analysis, and now you find yourself in the analysis boat.

It's not an easy thing to do when you're not actually at defense table, but what do they have to do, knowing what you've heard in this closing from the prosecutors, in order to turn the tables for their client?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The prosecutors did a pretty good job of trying to show the emotion of the moment and really blame Dunn for everything he did, he didn't do right, and certainly for leaving the scene afterwards was a huge mistake.

But really you have to remember what the standard is, and if Strolla, the defense attorney, can focus on this, he may buy himself a way into an acquittal.

The standard is, that jury has to have no reasonable doubt that Dunn acted in self defense. The converse, if they have a reasonable doubt that Dunn acted in self defense, then under the law they should let him go.

After all, there is no evidence that Dunn came to the scene with the intent to kill. There's the argument that Dunn seemed to act somewhat reasonably in his own position, having thought he saw a gun.

As we know, a gun doesn't have to be there. I'm sure Strolla is going to focus on the fact there was a tripod in there, and maybe Davis thought -- he didn't mean it, maybe he thought he was going to be bravado, but if he put that tripod up against that window and Dunn thought he saw a shotgun, then it was justified.

BANFIELD: Let me ask you this.