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Possible Scenarios of Events After Crimean Referendum; Pistorius's Trial in Context of South African Judicial System; Many Meaningful Anniversaries on Wall Street; Weather Warming Up for American Northeast; New Series "Death Row Stories" on CNN; Saturday Night Live on Crimean Crisis: Liam Neeson Coming to the Rescue

Aired March 9, 2014 - 06:30   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Bottom of the hour now, welcome back. I'm Pamela Brown.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Joe Johns. Here are five things you need to know for your NEW DAY. BROWN: New evidence in the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 239 people suggests the jet may have turned back before vanishing off the southern coast of Vietnam.

BROWN: The evidence on the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 239 people suggests the jet may have turned back before vanishing off the southern coast of Vietnam. Meanwhile, we now know that two people who boarded the flight using stolen passports appear to have bought their tickets together and other names on the passenger manifest are now raising questions.

JOHNS: Number two, a judge has set bond for a pregnant mother accused of trying to kill her three children at $1.2 million. Yesterday Ebony Wilkerson made her initial court appearance after being charged with three counts of attempted first degree murder. According to police, Wilkerson told her children to go to sleep before driving them into the ocean on Tuesday.

BROWN: Number three, police have busted what could be one of the largest known counterfeit schemes in the United States. Authorities say these two brothers, here you see them right here from New York made millions by selling knockoff products like chap stick, Johnson's baby oil and Vaseline up and down the East Coast. Both brothers are expected to appear in court on Tuesday and are being held on $100,000 bond.

JOHNS: Number four, George Zimmerman was all smiles this weekend at a Florida gun show autographing photos and greeting the small crowd that came to see the controversial guest of honor. According to a report, the gun show was forced to move out of its original larger venue because of public backlash. It's been just over two years since the former neighborhood watch captain shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

BROWN: And in one week, people in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula will vote on a referendum to either join the Russian Federation or stay part of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian troops and other pro-Russian forces are gaining ground in Crimea, accused of more bullying tactics, blocking international observers from entering that region, taking over Ukrainian military office and shooting at a Ukrainian plane.

JOHNS: President Obama might be on vacation, but he is working the phones. Yesterday he called the leaders of Britain, Italy and France and Secretary of State John Kerry giving a stern warning to Russia's foreign minister that diplomacy will end if Russia continues to escalate the situation or try to annex Crimea. Joining us live from Moscow, CNN analyst Vladimir Posner, he's a Russian journalist and TV anchor. Vladimir, we have one week before the Crimean referendum. What happened if they vote to join Russia? Is that just what Putin wants?

VLADIMIR POSNER, CNN ANALYST: I'm not sure. And I would like to point out I'm also a U.S. citizen, just to make it clear that I don't take sides in this conflict. I think saying that it's the end of diplomacy, well, then what comes after diplomacy? Is it force or we are going to have a war over Ukraine or Crimea, a nuclear exchange, may be, World War III. I think at this point in time one has to be very careful with what one says and I think there is a way out of this conflict.

JOHNS: Are the fears that voting could be rigged in Putin's favor overblown or do you think they're just about on the money?

POSNER: I think they're way overblown. It's clear. I mean, I've been to the Crimea several times. 60 percent of that population is Russian ethnic and they've always wanted to be part of Russia, as they were, once upon a time. They will definitely vote in favor of becoming part of the Russian federation. Frankly, I wouldn't like to see that happen because I think it's very dangerous. Because formally and (INAUDIBLE), let's put it this way, Crimea is part of Ukraine and it would create a very, how should I put this? A very dangerous situation. It's not the first time territorial integrity has been insulted, if I may use that word. It happened when Yugoslavia was disbanded. It happened when the United States went in to get - it's happened before. It's never a good thing. And I hope it doesn't happen here. But as I said, I think there's a way out. One would be for the West, for the United States and for Western Europe to sign some kind of agreement with Russia that Ukraine would never, at least in the next 50 years, become the member of NATO. Because Russia is very, very worried about NATO being in Ukraine. And the second thing would be, perhaps, for the new Ukrainian government to include a clause in the Constitution guaranteeing that the Russian language would be the second official language of Ukraine. I think those two steps might be a way to really solve the whole issue.

JOHNS: What do you make of Secretary Kerry's threat to Russia that diplomacy is going to end if Russia's military actions continue to escalate? Is this just angry words between envoys and empty threat or is there more to it?

POSNER: Well, I wish I knew. And then what could there be more to it. Sanctions are already being used. So, what else comes when there is no more diplomacy? A Cold War? What does that really mean? Or a real war, as I asked at the beginning. I really don't know what Mr. Kerry has in mind, but I do know that threats don't work. Try to threaten the United States, it's not going to work and it doesn't work, (INAUDIBLE) just not the way to deal with this country as far as I can understand it.

JOHNS: Is there a concern here that in the long term and the standoff continues in Crimea it will be harder for Russia to get out? What is this so-called off ramp that people talk about?

POSNER: I think the longer that it lasts, the more difficult it is to get out and the more the people who want to become part of the Russian federation feel that they're going to become part and that is what concerns Crimea. But there's also Eastern Ukraine, the second largest city, Kharkov where the majority also are Russian and also want to be part of the Russian federation. This is a Pandora box. You open it and Lord knows what comes out and then how do you close the lid? In my opinion, if something isn't done pretty quickly and there is no decision reached, some kind of agreement that would settle the interests of both sides because we're talking about national interests here? We're talking about geopolitics. If that doesn't happen, I think it's going to be bogged down for a long time and a very dangerous situation will come out of it.

JOHNS: CNN analyst Vladimir Posner, thanks so much for that.

POSNER: Thank you.

BROWN: Still to come right here on "NEW DAY," the trial of South African Oscar Pistorius has some marched differences from an American trial, including no jury. We're going to tell you why and what it has to do. Up next.


BROWN: We're all being watched, that's according to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who spoke at the South by SouthWest festival in Austin yesterday. Assange who was thrust into the international spotlight after publishing secret government documents online, appeared to be a satellite from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Assange told the audience his life in the embassy is like a prison and that the ability to survey everyone on the planet is "almost there."

Well, if you've been watching some of the Oscar Pistorius trial at home, you may have noticed some differences between the South African legal system and our own. The huge list of witnesses, only a judge, no jury. So, here to help us walk us through this, CNN editorial producer in South Africa Nadia Bilchik. Great to have you with us here, Nadia. Let's start up off the fact that there is no jury. Can you explain why that is?

NADIA BILCHIK, CNN EDITORIAL PRODUCER: In South Africa, there were juries up until 1969, but during the Apartheid years given the race issues in South Africa, there was a concern that a white jury would be prejudiced against black defendants. The other thing was that a jury wouldn't have the qualifications to make legal decisions. So, we have just the judge in this case, Thokozile Masipa, she's only the second black woman to be appointed as judge to a high court. She will have to give all the reasons behind her decisions and if you notice, she has two assessors on either side of her. Now, the assessors are to assist her. Not with legal interpretation that is after her they are there to assist with the facts. They are called experts.

BROWN: And let's talk about the testimony here because I noticed some big differences that we're hearing and seeing there that you don't see here in the U.S. Can you break it down for us?

BILCHIK: So, if you notice the girlfriend who testified on Friday, Samantha Taylor, it was character witness. Testimony that would not be allowed, as you said, in a U.S. court. So, let's take a listen to the leeway that South African courts have.


SAMANTHA TAYLOR: The first time our relationship ended was when he cheated on me with ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just take your time, please. Just pause for a moment.


BILCHIK: In a U.S. ?ourt, that would be seen as character witness. It would be seen as non-permissible evidence. But here you have someone crying, talking about his character. Later on she talks about the fact that Oscar cheated on her with Reeva Steenkamp. That kind of leeway American lawyers are surprised it's allowed in South African corporate. Remember, this is not a jury. So, to be concerned that that kind of emotional testimony would sway a jury, whereas this belief and understanding that the judge is much more objective about it all.

And, you know, if this was happening in the U.S., you would probably hear objection a lot more. You didn't hear that there, Nadia. Also interesting to note, I think people were listening to it. And she kept saying my lady. As that is the common - she had been coached to refer to the judge as my lady based on the British system of law, where the judge would be milady, and if it was a male judge, it would be milord. But given her accent she (INAUDIBLE) milady, she kept saying my lady which sounded rather strange and also that (INAUDIBLE) male, the prosecution was addressing her. And then she would say, milady.

BROWN: Right. I know a lot of people are talking about that. I want to get your perspective, Nadia, because you're from South Africa and Oscar Pistorius's defenses that he thought it was an intruder. Tell us about premier perspective - what the crime is like in South Africa.

BILCHIK: And the crime is bad. But it is very hard to believe that even if he thought it was an intruder that he wouldn't check on his girlfriend. And South Africans are quite upset and angry that this is the picture that is being portrayed to the world. So, I'm not saying crime is not an issue, it's just hard to believe that he wouldn't check on the girlfriend. But if you think Americans are obsessed with the trial, in South Africa it's a 24-hour channel, that is devoted to forensic experts, ballistic experts, prosecution, defense, people who are talking about this and what we're seeing, Pamela, really, is human drama at its most compelling. So, remains to be seen. This week we're going to see more expert witnesses and we're going to hear a lot more from certainly Peter Barber who was the security guard who says that when he called Oscar after Reeva had already been shot that Pistorius said it was all fine.

BROWN: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think there's still a lot to learn and this is still unfolding and certainly a fascination with this trial. Thank you so much, Nadia Bilchik, thank you.

BROWN: A different kind of drama coming up on "NEW DAY." Frightening moments in the sky as a small plane collides with a sky diver. Full story coming up next.


BROWN: We're checking what's ahead on Wall Street this week after a better than expected jobs report came out on Friday.

JOHNS: Investors will be watching to see if the Federal Reserve will pull back on stimulus measures. CNN's Alison Kosik has more on a key anniversary. Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Joe. We've got some big birthdays on Wall Street this week. First up, the bull market when the opening bell rings on Monday, it will mark the bulls' first trading day as a five-year-old. Stocks hit bottom in 2009 and had been soaring ever since. The Stock Trader's Almanac says the average bull market lasts only two years. So this one has clearly gone on longer and many say there's still room to run. Another big birthday, the Worldwide Web, it turns 25 this week. It was developed by a software engineer in Switzerland in 1989 and has since become one of the most powerful communication tools out there. Join the party on CNN Money this week. It will have a look at how the Web has revolutionized the way we live.

Also topping our list of the biggest stories on Wall Street, we'll get a health check up on the American consumer. Are people shopping? So far this year, retail sales haven't been too hot and big names like RadioShack and Staples have announced their closing some stores. It's a big deal because spending is what drives this economy. Joe, that's what's coming up on Wall Street.

JOHNS: Alison Kosik, thanks for that.

BROWN: All right, New Yorkers. Listen up, get ready for some even nicer weather.


BROWN: It could warm up into the mid-50s soon. I think we're all ready for some warmer weather.

JOHNS: Right. I just want it to stay that way.

BROWN: Yeah. I know. Meteorologist Jennifer Gray, can it stay that way?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I will start with the good news. Because you're right. There's going to be a warm up, but we always know that there's going to be cool down on its heels. So, we're going to start with these temperatures and, you're right, look at New York.

We warm up to 40 degrees today, 49 on Monday and then Tuesday at 54. But look at D.C., you will be almost 70 degrees by the time you hit Tuesday and it's not only the north, of course, the south enjoying very nice temperatures. Atlanta will be at 70 today warming up to 75 on Tuesday. Of course, in Jacksonville, temperatures will be in the lower 80s. But like I mentioned, we are going to start to see things change a little bit as we make our way into this week. By the end of the week, Wednesday, Thursday time frame, we're going to have this low develop and we could see more snow for the northeast by the end of the week so that's something we're going to be watching closely. It could mean quite a bit of rain for the southeast, as well. That's going to be moving out by late on Thursday into Friday.

And then one more thing I want to show you because this is too cool. It just kind of puts winter in perspective. If you compare last year to this year and look at the Great Lakes, and you can see basically nothing frozen. As you look at this year, look at that, almost completely covered in ice. So, guys, we will all be happy when we say good-bye to this winter.

BROWN: Clearly not out of the woods.

JOHNS: What's that arctic north? That picture is unbelievable.

GRAY: This is unbelievable. Pictures are from NASA, pretty cool stuff.

BROWN: Thank you.

If you like crime investigations, you are in for a treat. CNN brings you an original new series called "Death Row Stories," which looks at the back story of capital murder cases in America and here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A 34-year-old law student named Diana Holt came to the South Carolina death penalty resource center as a summer intern. One of her first assignments was reviewing Al Morris (ph) case.

DIANA HOLT: The first time I saw the name, really - Al Morris, I was reading through a transcript.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Diana started having suspicions that Al Morris's trials weren't fair. She was troubled that Al Morris defense attorney didn't call any expert witnesses and rarely challenged any of the prosecution's evidence. Diana new that an incompetent defense was grounds for an appeal. HOLT: I felt like there was something wrong. I needed to meet him and give him an eye ball up and down and size him up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And who she met wasn't what she expected.


JOHNS: "Death Row Stories" premieres tonight at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.

BROWN: Coming up in our next hour, we're going to have much more on the massive search under way at sea for a Malaysia Airline jet missing off Vietnam, including a Vietnamese boat (INAUDIBLE) to investigate a "strange object spotted in the water where the Boeing 777 vanished.


JOHNS: So, did you see "Saturday Night Live" last night. They always try to keep it current, you know, and this time it was about the Obama/Putin relationship.

BROWN: That's right. It's pretty funny. Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like being tough is more important to Mr. Putin than being rational. Desperate times call for desperate measures. So, I brought him a friend. Liam, come in here.


LIAM NEESON, ACTOR: Thank you, Mr. President. Good evening. Recently I got a very disturbing call.


NEESON: Crimea had been taken.


NEESON: I hate it when things are taken.


NEESON: During the crisis, the United States and the European Union have been more than fair. But a man like Putin doesn't listen to reason. He would rather ride in a motorcycle gang or get photographed shirtless on a horse.


NEESON: So, I want to give President Putin a personal message from me. Mr. Putin, Vladimir.


NEESON: I've never met you, I don't have experience in international diplomacy, but what I do have is a very particular set of skills.


BROWN: Liam Neeson to the rescue.

JOHNS: Leave it to ...

BROWN: Did you see that movie "Taken"?

JOHNS: Yeah.

BROWN: It's pretty good.

JOHNS: The spelling bee standoff, it is over. Remember, now two rival spellers who went head-to-head for more than 60 rounds. The testers ran out of words for the contestants to spell during their faceoff in February. Well, now, seventh grader Kush Sharma is headed to the Scripts national spelling bee after beating fifth grader Sofia Hoffman who spelt stifling wrong.

KUSH SHARMA: In the two weeks that we had, I mean, we just become really good friends. I sort of, you know, I was sort of like getting a little - I was getting pretty sad when she got that word incorrect.


JOHNS: Yeah, that's tough.

BROWN: Tough for him.

JOHNS: I know.

BROWN: I know. Imagine. You make it that far.

Well, Sharma will compete in the national bee in May for the grand prize of more than $30,000. Best of luck.

Well, it's terrifying plane collision caught on camera.

JOHNS: Look at these still images showing a small Cessna aircraft slamming into a sky diver and throwing him just about 75 feet to the ground. That's incredible.

BROWN: Unbelievable. Look at that. Thankfully, though, neither the sky diver nor the pilot were seriously injured. Really incredible looking at the ...

JOHNS: That is ...

BROWN: Serious injuries there.

JOHNS: See, I've never sky dived, like sky dive -- I guess that's ...


JOHNS: I don't know what the grammar is on that.


BROWN: Maybe we get some tweets on that one.

JOHNS: I never jumped out of a plane.

BROWN: Yeah. I haven't either - and nor will I and seeing something like that.

JOHNS: All right. And some amazing video to show you.

A cringe-worthy crash on a Canadian highway. A couple's dash-mounted camera captured all of it as they approach a side road, a pickup truck hauling a trailer comes right out onto the road and, boom, what's amazing is that no one was seriously injured in this crash.

BROWN: Unbelievable. Once again. No serious injuries. The driver of the pickup truck was charged with failing to yield to traffic. And if you look closely, you can see that it looks like he is talking on his cell phone there. This is just before impact.


BROWN: Not good. As you said, rid of all evil.

JOHNS: Right. And I've got another one (INAUDIBLE)

BROWN: All right. That's a good one. Good one, Joe, We'll announce this morning. Well, thank you so much for starting your morning with us.

The next hour of your "NEW DAY" starts right now.