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NEW DAY

Winter Storms Continue to Hit Parts of U.S.; Winter Olympics Continue in Sochi; Lucky Skydiving Teenager: Makenzie's Strong; Interview with Michael Dunn's Attorney

Aired February 14, 2014 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A CNN iReporter captured two men giving it their all to try to get a driver out of a snowy spot. Eventually it works. Boston will get a brief respite from the snow and freezing rain before the storm picks up once again tomorrow.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: In Connecticut, whiteout conditions making for hazardous driving conditions. Plows did what they could, but Mother Nature, she was persistent. Check out the scene in New Haven, a heavy blanket coating the ground, more than a foot of snow across southern Connecticut.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: More incredible pictures of snow damage, this New Jersey. The weight of the snow and the much heavier ice too much for the roof on this Verizon facility. Three people were inside when a building section caved in. They were treated for minor injuries. Parts of the state also had to deal with flooding because, again, ice and snow now clogging sewers.

BOLDUAN: Right now, nearly half a million people without power from Arkansas all the way to Maine. Most are in Georgia and the Carolinas still this morning where ice covered tree limbs are wiping out power lines. Electricity for many isn't expected to come back on until sometime next week.

PEREIRA: Many people got a little extra something with their nor'easter, thunder snow. We were going to let you hear a boom, but that particular boom you were supposed to here was in Philadelphia. Also reported in New York City and parts of New Jersey.

CUOMO: Heard it last night and saw lightning here in New York City. Air travel therefore of course terrible. Thousands stranded. Half a million Americans from New England to Arkansas, no power. Let's cover this for you. Meteorologist Indra Petersons begins our snow coverage in White Plains New York. They got hit very hard there. Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's unbelievable. We're talking about a good 10 inches of snow. Take a look at what you have to deal with if you haven't shoveled out. Some of the neighbors around here have definitely been out early this morning shoveling out, but not everyone did.

And we are talking about a good couple of feet of snow, but that's what we're talking about. With the last several storms you got several feet. Here's the problem, once you get past all the snow, it's what's underneath it. Remember we was some rain last night, so on the ground, pure ice. We keep seeing a lot of cars sliding up and down this hill this morning trying to make their way to work.

Yes, the snow has now stopped here in New York. Also now exiting out of the northeast, still some snow left in Vermont, Connecticut, and now towards Maine, but there is another system out there. Keep in mind, we've had a foot, if not two feet of snow here in the northeast. Ohio Valley seeing snow towards dinner time on Valentine's. By midnight tonight, once again in the northeast several more inches of snow expected on the ground right on top of this.

BOLDUAN: So from the New York area to the Washington area and right now in parts of Maryland they're digging out from more than two feet of snow. CNN's Erin McPike is live in Walkersville, Maryland, which is outside Washington D.C. Good morning again, Erin.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, good morning to you. The National Weather Service is urging drivers to be careful once again today because of the freezing rain that fell last night that's making roadways very slick. We did get about 19 inches here yesterday. We're looking at more tonight, but look at some of these snow heaps, huge, heavy to deal with. Across the street over there you can see the Red Cross vehicles, they're sort of parked in the snow banks. Again, we're looking at another one to three inches tonight.

PEREIRA: Thanks so much for that. Meanwhile, nothing but frustration and confusion this week for air travelers. More than 10,000 flights have been scrubbed since Monday. Airports from Washington to New York at a virtual standstill before this holiday weekend. Rene Marsh is live from Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. How are things there?

RENE MARSH: Well, Michaela, it looks a lot better than it looked yesterday. Yesterday, a bad day. We had more than 6,500 cancellations nationwide. Here Reagan was a really hard-hit airport. Runways were shut down. If you walked about the airport yesterday, you really didn't see anyone. It was a ghost town. But take a look. It looks a lot different today. People actually lined up to try to get on flights. Wow. Flights are actually taking off.

We can also tell you, though, don't get too excited. There will still be delays and cancellations. We still see a few canceled signs there. So not everyone in the clear just yet. And today, we do know airlines are ramping things back up, trying to get those planes back in the air. Of course, that will take a lot of coordination. They have to make sure there's enough space on the runways and enough space on the taxiways for all of these planes trying to get to their destination. But really good news for passengers like that one. That guy's using a FedEx box as his pillow. One could joke he may get to his destination a lot faster using FedEx than air travel.

CUOMO: Rene, don't ask him. He's sleeping.

So as we go through what's happening in the southeast, it is the big thaw now after the deep freeze. At least 525,000 customers however, still without power. Remember, that often means no heat. The encouraging news, people heeded warnings, mostly stayed off the roads, and the south is now warming up. Let's get to Ed Lavandera. He's in Atlanta for us. Ed, what are you seeing?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Well, you know, two things people are thinking about this morning here in the southeast are those power outages and how long it's going to take to get electricity back and also the condition of the roads. As you mentioned, there's About 500,000 people still without power, about 200,000 of those in the state of Georgia. And really the hardest hit area of all is in the town of Augusta, Georgia, which is east of Atlanta. That is really a town that took the brunt of all this.

You look at the morning commute here in Atlanta, these were roadways that two weeks ago were completely paralyzed by the last ice storm. And these conditions have improved vastly. The morning commute you will see as they head into work this Friday morning will be vastly improved. Still some pockets on the roadways of black ice and ice have been pushed off to the side. But all in all, vast improvement from what we've seen the last two days.

BOLDUAN: Much needed good news, and thank you very much.

New this morning, the White House may hold off on finalizing a stalled security pact with Afghanistan, waiting for the country's next president to complete the agreement. Tensions have been high between the two countries after Afghan president Hamid Karzai allowed the release of more than 60 militants from former U.S. prison in Kabul. Elections for Karzai's successor are set for April. The security agreement will impact how many U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan in 2015.

Breaking news overnight out of Indonesia. If it isn't ice, it's fire. A volcano erupted on the main island. The eruption is being blamed for building collapses that killed two people. Flights at area airports have been canceled because of ash.

PEREIRA: Families divided in North and South Korea will go ahead as planned this month. In the meantime, Secretary of State John Kerry sat down with China's foreign minister to discuss Beijing's influence with North Korea. Kerry is hoping China will help calm the North's behavior and rhetoric.

BOLDUAN: Breaking overnight, a massive spill of coal ash into a North Carolina river is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation. Officials with Duke Energy say enough coal ash to fill 32 Olympic- sized swimming pools spilled from the power plant into the Dan River. That river supplies drinking water to thousands of residents nearby. As much as 27 million gallons of waste water also reached the river.

CUOMO: New this morning, California health officials say thousands of people in the Bay Area may have been exposed to measles when an unvaccinated college student attended class last week and rode commuter trains. The University of California, Berkeley, says it's likely the student was infected during a trip to Asia. Officials are now warning anyone who rode the area's Bart system from February 4th to the 7th may have been exposed. BOLDUAN: Hillary Clinton offering advice to young women on dealing with adversity. She was speaking at a forum at New York University when she offered the following guidance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's important to learn how to take criticism seriously but not personally. I mean there's that old, you know, saying that your critics can be your best friends if you listen to them and learn from them, just don't get dragged down by them. And that again is hard for anybody, but it is particularly hard for young women just starting out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The former secretary of state appeared at the forum with her daughter Chelsea and Melinda Gates.

CUOMO: Happening this Valentine's Day, Pope Francis is playing cupid. He's hosting thousands of engaged couples for a special general audience at the Vatican. Erin McLaughlin is following the unprecedented gathering from London. Juan San Valentino, I should say, since we're talking Italian.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Love is in the air at the Vatican. Some say this is part of Pope Francis' effort to trigger a sort of marriage renaissance, if you will, within the Catholic Church. Some 25,000 couples from 28 countries registered for today's event. There was comedy, singing, music, as well as testimonials from married couples. And then of course Pope Francis arrived and took three scripted questions from couples in the crowd. He's currently in the process of answering those.

The archbishop that organized this event said that the number of young people that turned out for this event illustrates their belief that love will last forever in a perhaps skeptical world where divorce rates are rising.

PEREIRA: I'll take it here. We always have to remain hopeful.

Let's take a look at what's in the papers this morning. We'll start with the "Los Angeles Times." A big victory for guns owners. A federal appeals court striking down rules that allow individual counties within California to restrict the right to carry a concealed weapon in public. This two to one ruling overturns restrictions now in place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The court ruling said those restrictions violate the Second Amendment's guarantee of the right to bear arms.

In the "New York Times" interesting new research identifying when and where major populations have mixed genetically in the last 4,000 years. Among the most prevalent, the rise and fall of empires, the flow of trade routes, and slavery, all of which led to populations mixing around the world. The goal of this work, to provide a new source of information for historians. And from the "Chicago Tribune," who's to blame for the underwhelming performance of U.S. speed skaters in Sochi? The unifying thread may be the thread. Some are suspecting that the teams high-tech speed skating suits by Under Armor have a design flaw that may actually be slowing down the skaters. One skater in fact says team members felt like they were fighting the suit in order to maintain correct form and stay in that low position to achieve maximum speed. How about that?.

CUOMO: It's proving to be very comfortable underneath my suit however.

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: This is a spoiler alert. We have some early results from Sochi. If you don't want to hear, it's a good time to get your coffee. Bode Miller unable to salvage his time in Sochi. After a tough time on the slushy downhill, his slalom run strong, but just moments ago, eliminated from medal contention. The other American favorite Ted Ligety tried to rebound from a slow downhill, but it also was not enough for a medal.

BOLDUAN: China taking the gold in the women's 500 meter short track race. In speed skating Li Jianrou was in last place in the final before a chain reaction crash that caused the other skaters to fall, and then she was first to cross the finish line.

CUOMO: Talk about a wardrobe malfunction. Take a look at this Swedish skier nearly losing his pants during a qualifying run in the slope style competition. Good thing he has very festive undies on. He also finished sixth in the event. He said he wasn't too worried because his controversial baggy ski pants come with suspenders.

Also one more spoiler alert, an update to the medal count. With the men's 15 kilometer cross country race in the books, no change at the top of the leader board. Norway still on top overall with 13 followed closely by the Netherlands and the United States of America, then Russia and Germany.

PEREIRA: Check out Germany with seven golds. That's a lot of golds.

Let's take a look at what is trending at this hour. We know what President Obama plans to do this weekend after he meets with King Abdullah of Jordan in California. Check out his tweet. From the commander in chief it says "Tomorrow at House of Cards, no spoilers please." And 13 new episodes of the Netflix political drama premier simultaneously at midnight tonight. We know the president is a big fan of the show. He likes the way Kevin Spacey's character Frank Underwood gets stuff done.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: And he does get stuff done. The son of former UPS executive arrested for allegedly impersonating his father in an elaborate scheme to buy "Maxim" magazine. Prosecutors say Calvin Darden used fake e-mails and bank statements to fraudulently get more than $8 million and try to secure another $20 million. His attorney and his father not commenting.

PEREIRA: I'm not surprised.

Big change to Facebook going beyond male and female. The social network is adding new gender options for peoples' profiles. Users now have some 50 additional choices, such as trans-gender, gender fluid, intersex, and neither. The Facebook post on its diversity page says they want people to feel more comfortable about being their true, authentic self.

TURNER: This should warm your soul. Not one but three ladies grace the cover of the "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit edition. They shot the cover off the Cook Islands. This is a slight change from last year's cover. And this is the first time since 1994 that three women have been on the cover, and this is the 50th anniversary swimsuit edition.

BOLDUAN: I don't see swim suits, though.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: Can I be a proud friend for one moment.

PEREIRA: Is that a friend of yours?

TURNER: No, no.

It actually shows their derrieres. One of my girlfriends, her swimsuit line is featured on "Sport's Illustrated" swimsuit edition.

TURNER: Oh, so they've got your friend's bottom (ph) done.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Not often the swimsuit that people are focusing on, I don't know why. But I can be a proud friend.

CUOMO: I've very interested in the articles.

TURNER: Actually, I got that for you as a gift just so you could read the articles.

BOLDUAN: Good, because he needs to work on his reading.

CUOMO: Yes, I don't read so good.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: We'll work on that.

This is a story that we've been following very closely. And Nischelle followed up on this for us. This blew our minds that this Texas teenager was able to survive this. She is lucky to be alive this morning after a terrifying plunge to earth in a skydiving accident last month.

This morning we're hearing for the first time what it was like when she jumped out of that plane and into a free fall. CNN's Nischelle Turner has this incredible story. Makenzie Wethington, we spoke with her father and her surgeon. And now we're finally hearing from her.

TURNER: Yeah, you know, sometimes we throw that word "incredible" around, but in this case, it really is incredible. It's remarkable. Her father says she jumped out of a plane, but she fell into God's hands. Her recovery is miraculous.

Now, a 3,500-foot fall, that's what she had during a skydiving incident last month. And now we are hearing from 16-year-old Makenzie Wethington for the first time as she recalls that terrifying ordeal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAKENZIE WETHINGTON, SURVIVED SKYDIVE FALL: I know I was scared and I know that there was something very wrong.

TURNER (voice-over): In her own words, 16-year-old Makenzie Wethington is speaking out for the first time since last month's horrific sky diving mishap in Oklahoma that sent her plummeting a terrifying 3,500 feet to the ground. It's a story she miraculously lived to tell.

M. WETHINGTON: I remember jumping out of the plane and looking up and seeing that there was a complication with the parachute. And so, I started kicking my feet like I was taught in the class, and I looked up and it still wasn't fixing. So I tried to pull the toggles apart, and I just was not strong enough to fight off the wind. So I just remember screaming and then I blacked out.

TURNER: All this as her father Joe, who had made the same jump just moments before, looked on in terror.

JOE WETHINGTON, MAKENZIE WETHINGTON'S FATHER: I'll never forget the look on her face and how she looked when I run up on her when she was on the ground. I mean, that was horrific.

TURNER: The sky dive was a gift to the Texan teen for her 16th birthday. It was her first jump and a dream she'd always wanted to fulfill. But the dream turned into a nightmare, leaving the teen with a fractured back and bones and bleeding in her brain. Her strong spirit, though, is one thing that can't be broken.

M. WETHINGTON: Makenzie's strong.

(LAUGHTER)

Strong enough to fall 3,500 feet and live.

TURNER: Her doctor says she's making a full recovery and she's lucky to be alive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just an amazing story. She'll be walking on her own very soon, maybe even within the next month.

TURNER: The incident has given the 16-year-old a new outlook on life.

M. WETHINGTON: I think that God has a lot to do with it and he has plans for me in the future.

TURNER: As for sky diving again --

M. WETHINGTON: As much as I would like to, I think that my parents and the rest of my family would die if I did.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TURNER (on-camera): I would agree.

Now she does still struggle with cognitive ability. Physically, she does understand this is a process. But mentally, she's had some tough days. She recalls one day where she burst into tears because she just couldn't understand a math problem and she couldn't grasp why she didn't know it because she's always known it before.

BOLDUAN: When you consider how far she fell --

TURNER: There's no explanation for that. Sometimes you just got to throw up her hands and say thank you.

BOLDUAN: Even her surgeon -- and doctors are careful to not talk about miracles too much -- but even her surgeon acknowledged that when we interviewed him.

TURNER: Yeah.

CUOMO: There's always an explanation. It's about what you decide to believe.

TURNER: There you go.

CUOMO: One thing's for sure, that family has really been a beautiful example of how to deal with adversity and show that there's always hope and what matters. It's been amazing.

TURNER: Can I represent real quick?

CUOMO: Please.

TURNER: For my folks at the table? Because you guys are all spoken for, so happy Singles Awareness Day to all you solo dolos (ph) out there --

(LAUGHTER)

-- like me. We are celebrating ourselves today.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Well, it's interesting you say that.

The Olympics -- BOLDUAN: There we go!

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: As a joke this morning, I have my own little "Go USA" mittens. Mickey's got her Canada mittens. So I say, come on, give me a little -- all of a sudden there is this wave of power and fury and I am grabbing with both hands and Mickey's got, like, this Canadian lumberjack strength or something going on.

BOLDUAN: I have to give it to Canada.

When did this occur?

PEREIRA: You were doing, like, actual news.

BOLDUAN: I do not recall this fight happening.

CUOMO: You were walking around doing visualization exercises. She was killing me.

(LAUGHTER)

Killing me. My arm still hurts.

BOLDUAN: That's what happens.

CUOMO: Nice smile, then she kills me.

BOLDUAN: Well done.

TURNER: I was going to say look at that sweet face.

CUOMO: So anyway, so much for Valentine's Day.

TURNER: Don't let it fool you.

CUOMO: Thought I was leaning in for a Valentine's Day hug. She's like hey, go find your rotator cuff.

Coming up on NEW DAY, we're on verdict watch here in Florida. You know the story. Michael Dunn says he shot and killed the teen because his life was in danger. Will the jury agree? Most importantly, will you? This jury, this decision has implications beyond the case. We have a special opportunity. Dunn's attorney is here. He'll make the case. We'll test it. you decide.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, the forecast was clear, a bad storm was on the way. Why are some officials saying that they didn't know what it coming? Or maybe they didn't know it was coming so fast? New York's mayor among several officials under fire for their storm response. We'll have a look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Jury deliberations continue today in the Michael Dunn loud music murder trial. This is the second day that they have the case. The jury watched surveillance video from the night of the shooting and requested a mannequin that was used to depict Jordan Davis' wounds. That last request was denied, but it may give us some clues into what the jury is thinking.

But how about the case? Why should it be an acquittal? Why might it be a prosecution? Why does it matter to you? Why should you be the judge? Because of the implications of this case extending beyond the facts and the law to community relations, to politics.

So joining us now from Jacksonville is Michael Dunn's attorney, attorney Cory Strolla.

Counselor, thank you for joining us this morning. Let's begin with your overall opinion about whether the trial has been fair, do you believe that the case was fairly charged?

CORY STROLLA, MICHAEL DUNN'S ATTORNEY: I don't believe the case was fairly charged. We definitely got a fair trial. We picked a great jury. I think they've got a tough road ahead of them. It was, I believe, eight or nine days of testimony and a lengthy jury selection that took three days. But I think the charges were a little too much. I think the premeditation just wasn't there.

CUOMO: We'll talk more about Zimmerman in a second and the comparisons being made. That case came down to second degree and manslaughter charges, lesser charges in the eyes of Florida law. So there's some frame of reference.

The timing of the jury, how long they're deliberating, what they asked for, why were against them getting the mannequin, explain your take.

STROLLA: They've been deliberating -- the first day was a short deliberation. Because by the time they got the case, it was about 5:00 and we called it at 8:00. They went all day yesterday.

The reason we were against the mannequin at the end part -- originally, we didn't object. The problem was when the state removed what they called bendy, the rods, the dowels were taken out and then were reinserted by the state attorney's own people. And then they wanted the doctor to come in and readjust it.

And if you saw my cross examination of the doctor, there was no way I was going to allow this witness to try to reenact that dummy to go back there. So in the end result, we did object. And under the law, nothing that was not admitted in evidence should go back unless there was an agreement. And once I found out those dowels were manipulated, there's no way I could agree.

CUOMO: All right. So now let's take a look at what you believe to be the strengths of the case. I'll test it with what we've heard from the prosecution.

And let's start with the larger context of the George Zimmerman trial because of the comparisons. I will submit to you that it seems to me on the face of what I've seen in the record that George Zimmerman had a much stronger self defense case than your client. Let's start with that proposition.

STROLLA: Well, and I would agree in a sense. George Zimmerman was a completely different scenario. You actually had a physical altercation. George Zimmerman was basically given the stand your ground immunity from the police upon the investigation. If you recall, they actually had to bring in Angela Corey (ph) as an outside special prosecutor because the Sanford police refused to prosecute. You actually had Trayvon Martin on top of George Zimmerman, slamming his head down onto the ground, and you had injury.

This case is a lot different. It was a lot harder. This was a case where my client did not wait to become that victim. My client did not wait to either get assaulted with the weapon or have somebody potentially pull a trigger. So there are similarities because of the self-defense used.

But, you know, with George Zimmerman, it's hard when the police say, well, we're not going to prosecute him, and a prosecutor comes in and says, "No we're going to."

In this case, they had an arrest warrant the night of the shooting. Before they even talked to my client, they had they had already had a judge sign an arrest warrant for murder. They already made up their mind before they even had the evidence basically looked at and put together. So there was no question in their mind they were going to charge my client with murder from day one.

CUOMO: Well, let's talk about why. With all the evidence that's come forward about your client, the defendant, and how he felt about people like this, and what he thought about the music, and what he did, and what his girlfriend has had to say, and how quickly he came to violence, what can you point to that shows this was self defense, that it was reasonable in the face of a threat?

STROLLA: Well, if you look at it and if you watch the trial, it wasn't quick. When the alleged individual, Jordan Davis, started cursing at my client, he didn't respond. When he started calling him racial slurs, Mr. Dunn didn't respond. When he threatened him that I should kill you, I should kill that M-fer, my client didn't respond. My client actually rolled down the window to say, "Hey listen, I said thank you" because he did after they turned the music down.

This was not an argument over music. That is the number one misconception that has been from day one. An argument takes two people yelling back and forth. And all three men in that car who were there all testified on cross-examination that Mr. Dunn never raised his voice, never cursed, never used derogatory words, racial slurs, and never even showed a sign of anger.

It was actually Jordan Davis that escalated it. And when my client didn't react and actually went to talk to him, that's when it got worse, and that's when he grabbed -- excuse me -- a weapon and put it against the door. And my client still didn't -- CUOMO: Grabbed what weapon? What weapon?

STROLLA: I'm sorry?

CUOMO: What weapon, Counselor? What do you mean he grabbed a weapon? Who says he grabbed a weapon? What proof is there there was a weapon?

STROLLA: Well, you're almost asking us now to disapprove there wasn't. Because again, if you watched the trial, the SUV drove over a hundred yards away, was gone for over three minutes. We have independent witnesses saw them get out. When the witnesses called 911, their exact words are, "They're trying to stash something from the vehicle."

Then they drive all the way back to the gas station and allege, "We drove back just to call for help." Meanwhile, they're in a safe plaza apparently with witnesses around them. They had no idea that two people were on the phone with 911 watching them.

CUOMO: But, Counselor --

STROLLA: So they had--

CUOMO: I get it. I get the scenario of possibility. I'm not stopping you to be unfair. I'm stopping you because we get it. We've heard it.

STROLLA: No, that's OK. Go ahead.

CUOMO: But you're the one who is playing on the possibility here, not the prosecution. They didn't find a weapon. There were no ballistics evidence that could show that there had been a weapon.