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Co-Pilot Hijacks Airliner; Michael Dunn Guilty on Second-Degree Murder, Not on First; George Zimmerman Speaks Out; Obama Talks Healthcare, Hoops with Barkley

Aired February 17, 2014 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You got that right, Chris. Have a great day. NEWSROOM starts now.


COSTELLO: Happening now in the NEWSROOM breaking news. At 30,000 feet --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, the situation clarified on that. When it will end.

COSTELLO: Co-pilot hijacking his own plane loaded with more than 200 passengers landing in Switzerland to seek asylum. The drama unfolding each second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll be coming out.

COSTELLO: Also one-on-one with George Zimmerman.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: Do you regret that you killed Trayvon Martin?

COSTELLO: CNN's Chris Cuomo.

CUOMO: Do you regret that night? Do you have regrets about it?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, CHARGED OF MURDERING TRAYVON MARTIN: Certainly I think about that night and I think my life would be tremendously easier if I had stayed home.

COSTELLO: The must see interview straight ahead.

Plus, Obama and Barclay.

CHARLES BARCLAY, FORMER NBA STAR: Thanks for taking the time.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's great to be with you, Charles.

COSTELLO: The NBA Hall of Famer talking all things basketball.

BARCLAY: How often do you get play basketball now? OBAMA: You know, these days it's probably once a month. You got to start thinking about elbows and you break your nose right before a State of the Union address.

COSTELLO: And Obamacare.

BARCLAY: What do you think of the term Obamacare?

COSTELLO: And it's Fallon's night. The new king of the "Tonight Show." Here's Jimmy.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

We begin with breaking news from overnight. A co-pilot hijacking his own flight and commandeering the airliner on a desperate mission for asylum. First off we'll tell you all 202 people aboard are safe and sound.

Here's the route for that Ethiopian Airlines flight. It left the capital last night bound for Rome but when the pilot left the cockpit for the restroom the co-pilot seized his chance. He locked the cockpit door and rerouted the plane to Geneva, Switzerland. The airliner landed safely and the co-pilot now faces a whole lot of questions.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us live from Berlin with more.

Good morning.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. Yes, and the authorities say that the passengers on board that plane were never in danger but certainly it wasn't a very safe situation. The airliner was circling over Geneva for several hours until it was finally intercepted by two jets there and forced to land.

Now the interesting thing that happened, Carol, was that this co- pilot, even as he was commandeering the plane, was still pretty much only worried about managing to get asylum in Switzerland.

Now we have some of the voice recordings of his interactions with the tower, with air traffic control. I just want to listen in to a little snippet about what he says to them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you have to give us lastly information about the asylum -- because everything is not in English portion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I know. Sorry but still waiting for the response. We are trying our best to get you the response.


PLEITGEN: Now we have to mention at this point the airliner was very low on fuel and he's trying to get an answer there from the authorities. Now keep in mind this was at 6:00 a.m. in the morning on a Monday. So certainly it's going to be very difficult for those air traffic controller to get any sort of answer from a Swiss politician.

In the end as we said he landed the aircraft. Everybody on board was safe. And he is now in custody. Whether or not he's going to get asylum is really something that's very much in question -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Was there some sort of rope from the cockpit because there were rumors earlier he had --


COSTELLO: -- climbed down that rope on to the tarmac?

PLEITGEN: Yes. That's a very interesting question. And you're absolutely right. He used the rope to climb down on to the tarmac. And there's actually another piece of interaction between him and the tower where he says don't make any sudden moves, I'm going to open the cockpit window, I'm going to climb down via a rope.

Now all that seems very strange, seems as though he planned this, which clearly he did. But we also have to note, Carol, that modern airline cockpits actually always have a rope in a compartment above one of the windows and that's a safety precaution because if one of these airliners has to make a hard landing or crash landing and the way out the back to the actual emergency exit is filled by fire or some other obstruction the pilots do have that rope as a last way of getting out of the aircraft.

And clearly now he used that rope to get out of the aircraft as fast as possible. But he was immediately apprehended when he got there on the tarmac. And there is that picture of that rope hanging out the window. It really was a bizarre morning for those passengers.

One of the other weird things, Carol, that apparently most of them actually thought they had landed in Rome, in Italy, and not in Switzerland. They didn't even know where they were. So it was really a very bizarre day for those people. Luckily they all escaped unhurt -- Carol.

COSTELLO: That's right. All safe and sound.

Frederik Pleitgen, reporting live for us this morning.

Shocking news this weekend from a courtroom in Florida where a jury fails to reach a verdict in the loud music murder trial. Convicting Michael Dunn of attempted second-degree murder and shooting at a vehicle but on the biggest charge, the first-degree murder of Jordan Davis, that jury was hung.

Now both sides say the fight is not over. Just a few hours ago Michael Dunn's daughter reacted to the verdict on "Good Morning America."


REBECCA DUNN, MICHAEL DUNN'S DAUGHTER: I can't imagine life without him. He's generous, protects himself. If he sees another way that's what he's going to do.


COSTELLO: Alina Machado joins us live from Jacksonville, Florida, with more.

Good morning.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. The jury deliberated for about 30 hours before reaching their partial verdict. Now both sides are preparing for the next step.


JUDGE RUSSELL HEALEY, DUVAL COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: Mr. Dunn, your having been convicted of counts two, three and four by a jury.

MACHADO (voice-over): Michael Dunn, guilty of three counts of second- degree attempted murder in the 2012 shooting that killed Jordan Davis. A guilty verdict for each of Davis' friends who were with him that night. But on the charge related to the 17-year-old's death the jury could not agree.

HEALEY: Based on the jury's inability to reach a verdict as to count one, I would declare that mistried.

MACHADO: Following the verdict, outrage and disappointment outside the courthouse. And on Twitter, many questions how to jury could fail to reach a verdict on the murder charge. One tweet reads, "A partial lie is still a lie. And partial justice is still injustice."

JANET JOHNSON, LEGAL ANALYST: Juries do do confusing things.

MACHADO: Legal experts say the jury's initial request during deliberations to see the surveillance video where you could hear the gunfire the night of the shooting may provide insight into how jurors were struggling over the murder charge.

JOHNSON: The logic may be that they thought he did shoot potentially in self-defense and that there was a gap when he could have left the scene and then he shot again as the truck was getting away. Maybe they thought that was the attempted on the other occupants of the vehicle.

MACHADO: Another possibility, the jury may have disagreed on whether Dunn was guilty of first-degree murder.

JOHNSON: And remember in closing, John Guy said, we don't want a lesser offenses.

JOHN GUY, ASSISTANT STATE PROSECUTOR: We don't want a lesser included offense, we're not asking for that.

JOHNSON: It's all or nothing. That's what he said. He kind of threw down the gauntlet.

MACHADO: The conviction on the other counts means the 47-year-old will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

RON DAVIS, JORDAN DAVIS' FATHER: He's going to learn that he must be remorseful for the killing of my son.

MACHADO: Dunn could still face another trial on the murder charge. Davis' mother says their fight is not over.

LUCIA MCBATH, JORDAN DAVIS' MOTHER: We will continue to stand and we will continue to wait for justice for Jordan.


MACHADO: Angel Corey says she intends to pursue a second trial on that first-degree murder charge. Dunn's attorney says they will likely file an appeal in this case -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Alina Machado, reporting live from Jacksonville, Florida.

The Dunn case stirred strong echoes of the Trayvon Martin case, the unarmed teenager who was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer. In fact Trayvon's mother Sabrina Fulton shared this hug with the mother of Jordan Davis. Both of Trayvon's parents have voiced their support and sympathy for Lucia McBath and her family.

This morning we're hearing from George Zimmerman, the man acquitted in Trayvon Martin's death. In the seven months since the jury returned a not guilty verdict in his murder trial the public has seen little of Zimmerman, aside from his various scrapes with the law. Now two years after shooting the unarmed teenager he describes his life as a lightning rod for criticism and death threats.

Chris Cuomo of CNN's "NEW DAY" sat down for an extensive one-on-one interview with Zimmerman.

Tell us about it, Chris.

CUOMO: Well, Carol, there are two main reasons to interview George Zimmerman. The first is because there was so many questions that remain about his case and we got to ask him about all of them and people can judge their answers for themselves.

And the second is that there's so many big issues that reverberated out of that case that we again echoed in the Michael Dunn case, questions for society that George Zimmerman is often given a lot of credit of being a calculating zealot who knew how to work the system and understands these laws. So we asked him about them so that people could see if that's what he is or is he really something less?


CUOMO (on camera): Do you regret that you killed Trayvon Martin?

(Voice-over): It's a simple question. But one George Zimmerman can't seem to answer.

ZIMMERMAN: Unfortunately, the Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigation so those are the types of questions that because of the investigation I have to tread lightly on and I can't answer them.

CUOMO: We checked and the Department of Justice is investigating any civil rights violations, but says charges aren't expected. Still Zimmerman's reluctance seems to be about more than legalities.

(On camera): Do you regret that night? Do you have regrets about it.

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly I think about that night. I think my life would be tremendously easier if I had stayed home.

CUOMO: If you could go back you would have stayed home that night?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly, yes. In hindsight, absolutely.

CUOMO: And now as a point of clarification you said my life would be so much easier. When you say I wish I had stayed home that night, are you thinking about you and also Trayvon Martin?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly I think about him. I think about my family. All the families that have been put in any type of dangerous situation. So yes, I think about everybody involved.

CUOMO: But safe to say if you could change how that night came out, you would both be alive today?

ZIMMERMAN: I think that's just a different way of rephrasing it.

CUOMO: If you could go back and do it again you would said -- you would have stayed home that night?

ZIMMERMAN: I would have stayed home.

CUOMO: So that both of you would still be alive today?

ZIMMERMAN: That's the presumption I can't make. I don't know what would have happened. I could have gotten in a car accident when I left, you know.

CUOMO: But you wouldn't have wound up killing Trayvon Martin if you had your way.

ZIMMERMAN: He probably wouldn't have ended up attacking me either if I would have stayed home. I know.

CUOMO: His family -- do you think about his family? Is that true?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly. Yes.

CUOMO: Because people want to know that, right? Coming out of this situation they haven't heard you say, I feel for his family.

ZIMMERMAN: I appreciate the opportunity. I would hope that they had seen that at the bond hearing I did address that.

CUOMO: It's different in court.

ZIMMERMAN: Sure. But I was just simply saying that I did address it because another misconception is that I've never apologized, I've never reached out for the family. Would I like to? Certainly.

CUOMO: What would you say?

ZIMMERMAN: You know, I would say exactly what I said on the stand that I'm sorry for their loss, and I -- just exactly what I said on the stand most likely.

CUOMO: Thoughts about the victim, Trayvon Martin. The victim was Trayvon Martin, you know that.

ZIMMERMAN: No, I certainly was a victim when I was having my head bashed into the concrete and my nose broken and beaten, so I wouldn't say I was not a victim.

CUOMO (voice-over): Of this Zimmerman is sure, despite the public outrage painting him as a racist, in a strong case by a prosecution calling him a murder.

(On camera): What do you want to say to people who believe that you went out that night as a vigilante looking for trouble and found it and bailed yourself out?

ZIMMERMAN: I don't focus on them. Ideal with their hatred by loving my supporters more.

CUOMO: When people would reach out to you for the wrong reasons, who are supportive of you for the wrong reasons.


CUOMO: You know, because they like that a young black man had been killed, how did that make you feel that they saw you as somehow symbolically as representing them?

ZIMMERMAN: Equally as disgusted with them as I was with people that were threatening my family and saying negative things about me.

CUOMO: Sitting through all of it, listening to the evidence, and everybody's different take on you and your actions and your reactions and why, did it make you doubt yourself?


CUOMO: Why not?


CUOMO: In yourself or God?

ZIMMERMAN: No. God. I know that ultimately he's the only judge that I have to answer to. He knows what happened. I know what happened. So I leave it up to him.

CUOMO (voice-over): A faith that keeps him in Florida despite a number of threats on his life.

(Voice-over): If people around you'd say George you got to go?

ZIMMERMAN: I'll never leave this country and I'll leave my home when I want to leave my home. I know it sounds stubborn and maybe ideological but I'll move when I want to.

CUOMO: The word "haunted" often comes up in these situations. Do you find yourself haunted by memories of that night?


CUOMO: Because?

ZIMMERMAN: I don't know.

CUOMO (voice-over): George Zimmerman is not haunted by taking a man's life. Perhaps more surprising, Zimmerman thought his life would stay the same.

(On camera): The feeling was that people will accept this, you know, I'm going to go through trial. It is what is it. The outcome will be accepted and then I move on. That's what you thought would happen?

ZIMMERMAN: I was hoping for that, yes.

CUOMO: And when did you realize you weren't going to get what you hoped for?

ZIMMERMAN: I think it was the first speeding ticket when it made international news. It was shocking to me.


CUOMO: Of course, there'd be a lot more than speeding tickets, right, Carol? There are two main take weighs for us and why we thought this was relevant. The first is the silence that you hear when I ask him about what he wanted to say to the family and how reluctant he is to say that he wished he had not killed Trayvon Martin.

The reason for that is he believes he was a victim and what he did was right and that's why he stuck, that's why he's not haunted, that's why he doesn't have any doubts.

And then the bigger question becomes, Carol, why make this man relevant. He is relevant. I think just as important as him being relevant is why. People assume he's a calculating manipulator of the system. I asked him about stand your ground he doesn't want to be the face of it. I asked him about self-defense he says he doesn't understand it. I asked him about the Dunn trial, he says he doesn't watch a frame.

I believe people have falsely empowered this man. I think he's relevant for a very different reason. He's an example of what happens when someone who is relatively unsophisticated and makes a series of bad decision and gets bailed out by a law, the Florida self-defense statute that makes it too easy for someone to get away with murder.

It doesn't punish stupid the way the law should, Carol, and as a result you'll have verdicts where juries are tested and you'll see that even a good jury like Michael Dunn can't come out to the right situation because of the law and also because of a lot of other prejudice and culture issues that we have to deal with outside of the courtroom.

COSTELLO: Right, right. But in my mind he's clearly troubled. He hasn't been able to find a job. He's been getting into these scrapes with the law, accused of domestic violence and he's traveling at high rates of speed when he knows he'll be stopped by police and that the spotlight will shine ever brightly on him.

He seems troubled to me. Did he seem that way to you?

CUOMO: Absolutely. He's got to wear a bullet proof vest. He's got people making death threats. He's got lots of security. He can't go anywhere. He can't be with his family.

A lot of people hear that and say, but he has his life, but he well then if he was in any other state. It's about the balance of it and certainly being at the center of such a huge trial makes him very relevant. The question is why. It's not about ignoring him. It's about examining him the right way because this is a discussion, Carol, you've been great with it but we need to keep having a discussion how we treat violence in the country, how we punish it. As a culture it's got to change.

COSTELLO: Well, we're going to talk more about it in the next hour of NEWSROOM.

Chris Cuomo, many thanks to you.

President Obama talks health care, hoops and a lot more to NBA fans.

Brianna Keilar live at the White House for us.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Carol. President Obama weighing in on a number of topics as he was interviewed by Charles Barkley from LeBron James to Michael Sam to the controversy over Obamacare. We'll have a live report right after this.


COSTELLO: In honor of Presidents' Day, a new CNN poll of polls takes a look at President Obama's approval rating over the past two weeks.

We took an average of the three latest nonpartisan polls it shows the president's approval rating at a dismal of 42 percent. That's up slightly from his all time, but still down 10 percentage points from this team a year ago.

Last night, President Obama talked everything from health care to hoops. He sat down with former NBA star Charles Barkley for an interview that aired just before the NBA all-star game on CNN sister network, TNT. The president is known as an avid basketball player but says it's now harder to hit the court since he's now busy running the country.


CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA STAR: How often do you get play basketball now?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know these days once a month. Things happen. One you get older and creakier.

The second thing is you got to start thinking about elbows and you break your nose right before a State of the Union address.


COSTELLO: That would be bad.

Brianna Keilar live at the White House to tell us more.

Good morning, Brianna.

KEILAR: Good morning to you, Carol. This was an interesting interview covered a range of topics over several minutes. President Obama was asked by Charles Barkley to weigh in, who is better, LeBron or Michael Jordan. Pretty diplomatic answer from President Obama as he acknowledged LeBron James' prowess and also acknowledged Michael Jordan and his Chicago checks. They talked about Michael Sam who recently came out and they talked about the controversy over Obamacare.


BARKLEY: What do you think of the term Obamacare?

OBAMA: I like it. I don't mind. I tell you five years from now when everybody is saying man I'm sure we glad we got health care a whole bunch of people don't call it Obamacare any more. You don't know what life will throw at you and sometimes people don't recognize particularly young people how important it is to have coverage until you get sick and you realize you may lose everything you have or your parents may lose everything they have trying to make you well.

So, we're encouraging people to sign up. They got until March 31st to sign up for this year.

BARKLEY: This week, Michael Sam came out.

OBAMA: Right.

BARKLEY: I saw the first lady call his decision courageous.

OBAMA: Right.

BARKLEY: What do you think about that?

OBAMA: I really like the fact that Michael did it before the draft because his attitude was, you know what? I know who I am. I know I can play great football. And judge me on the merits.

BARKLEY: Speaking about Attorney General Holder announced same sex benefits package in the last week.

OBAMA: Think about basketball. You think about what the NBA was before African-Americans were allowed to play on an equal footing. You know, you think about the stories like Oscar Robinson, you know, tell of what they went through.

You know, you think about what Jackie Robinson ended up meaning not just to baseball, but to the entire society. I wouldn't be sitting here if it weren't for him. I think America is stronger where everybody is being treated, you know, with respect and dignity.


KEILAR: So, Carol, some heavier topics as well as lighter ones with the focus on basketball. You mentioned President Obama in this interview saying he only plays once a month and he worries sometimes about take an elbow to the face.

I mean, you've seen him in the past, he actually had a busted lip once that required 12 stitches and he showed up once on the campaign trail with a black eye. So, for now, he's in California. He's been doing more of the low impact golf this weekend and he comes back here to the White House tonight.

COSTELLO: Brianna Keilar, reporting live for us this morning -- thank you.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me.

History could be made today on the ice in Sochi for the United States. They never had an Olympic champion in ice dance but Meryl Davis and Charlie White lead going into today's free skate. In fact, the Americans set a world record for points in the short dance. They were fantastic. The United States needs help with gold medals by the way. They sit in seventh place in the gold medal count. Germany has the most gold medals. The Netherlands have the most medals overall.

The weather is still not cooperating in Sochi. For the second straight day heavy fog has rolled in severely limiting visibility. The fog postponed the start of today's biathlon 15k and pushed them to snowboard cross to tomorrow.

After several days off, Bob Costas will return tonight hosting NBC's primetime Olympic coverage. Costas is over an eye infection that kept him away from the cameras. Before these games, Costas has anchored the game for 14 years.

Also this he's one of the biggest American names in these games. Now, Bode Miller is known for his emotion as well as his skiing. Just moments after winning the bronze, Miller broke down in an interview with NBC.


REPORTER: When you look up in the sky at the start we see you there and it just looks like you're talking to somebody. What's going on there?