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Death Penalty Frequency Declining in America; Search Continues for Missing Malaysian Plane; Reactions to NBA Commissioner's Ban of Donald Sterling; Interview with Isiah Thomas

Aired April 30, 2014 - 07:00   ET

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


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But I think that we have to speak to what just the common push on each side of this is. Either you kill or you don't. There seems to be like a moral dilemma that goes on with this. And, yes, there's a trend that states are moving away from the death penalty and they're making it more qualified. But why such confusion over this issue?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, because there's a paradox at the heart of it. We have to kill people but we have to do it in a way that satisfies our rules. Now, there's an inherent contradiction there I think anybody can see. If you're killing someone, obviously the safety and effectiveness of the drugs is not something you would ordinarily think about. But the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, regulates all drugs including death penalty drugs.

CUOMO: Why use drugs? If you wanted to kill me quickly and mercilessly -- and mercifully, I mean, we would not think logically to go to the drugs, right? We would think of something much quicker, guaranteed to kill me right away. Why don't we do it that way?

TOOBIN: You could. The Supreme Court has not said the lethal injection is the only appropriate method. Utah doesn't execute many people, but they have a firing squad.

CUOMO: That's right.

TOOBIN: You could do that.

CUOMO: We want to kill but we want to feel good about it? Is that what it is at the end of the day?

TOOBIN: You know, Chris, that's exactly right. And that's why we struggle with this problem, because those goals seem to be inherently contradictory.

CUOMO: So what's your take? Do you think this is proof that the death penalty is going to go away, that it just doesn't make sense anymore, we can't do it in a way that's a chiefs the aims, or there needs to be a rebirth of doing it more harshly but in a way that fits what our objective is in the first place?

TOOBIN: I think one of the less told stories in recent years is the decline of the death penalty in the United States. Even in Texas, which has been known as the world capital of the death penalty, prosecutors will are for the death penalty less. Juries are imposing it less. And there are fewer executions. So I think the death penalty is in a slow fade in the United States. But it's certainly not going away tomorrow. And these two people in Oklahoma, or the one who is surviving, I can't imagine any way they will not be ultimately executed. But in the big picture I do think the death penalty is very much in decline here.

CUOMO: Just to be clear, you don't think it's in decline because of which companies makes the drugs and the openness of the system and all these issues that are being argued out in this Lockett case in Oklahoma. That's somewhat of a distraction, isn't it?

TOOBIN: Well, I do think it's one factor. I think the big factor is DNA evidence. Jurors, all of us have seen how flawed the American legal system is. And Innocence Project and other people who have used DNA evidence to prove conclusively that there have been innocent people on death row, that I think has driven this whole process. But also we have less crime in the United States than you used to. There are fewer murders, people are less panicked about crime. But I also think the discomfort a lot of people feel with the methods of execution is another reason why the death penalty is in decline. So I don't think it's one factor, but I think all of these things play together.

CUOMO: And adding to it, we keep getting these new reports out about what percentage of people are innocent yet on death row because of this DNA evidence and other factors and the more efficiency of the legal system as it goes forward. I think we both know, Jeffrey, at the end of the day it's not about the methods. It's about the purpose. And either you're comfortable killing or you're not. And I think the country has to come to grips with that central question. Otherwise we're going to see lots of different cases demonstrating different points around the main question. Thank you for the perspective this morning.

TOOBIN: Always a pleasure.

CUOMO: Jeffrey Toobin. Michaela, over to you.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Chris and Jeffrey, thanks so much for that.

Let's get a look at your headlines. Right now potentially deadly storms are threatening millions of Americans from the gulf coast to New England this morning. Massive flooding is now a major problem in parts of Alabama and the Florida panhandle of a foot of rain. One drowning death has already been reported in Escambia County, Florida. It's really been a disastrous week of weather, tornadoes carving up the Midwest and plains states. The severe weather has already 36 lives since Sunday.

Ukraine's interim president says his country's armed forces are in full combat mode because of the threat from pro-Russian rebels. That came after hundreds of separatists stormed government buildings of one of eastern Ukraine's provincial capitals, raising their flag, firing on police. The aggression continues despite new sanctions from the U.S. and European Union.

The Los Angeles Clippers winning game five of their playoff series against the Golden State Warriors just hours after the NBA's unprecedented decision to banish the team's owner for life. Donald Sterling also fined the maximum allowed $2.5 million for the comments that he made that were viewed as very racist by many people. The NBA commissioner says he's going to try to force Sterling to sell the team. It's interesting, I've had a lot of conversations with my friends and family back in Los Angeles. One of my friends who used to work for the Clippers organization a long time ago said he didn't believe the Clippers would ever make it -- ever, ever win a championship under the ownership of Donald Sterling. So maybe that day could come.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Maybe they will win a championship.

PEREIRA: Look what they've been doing the last few years. They used to be a joke in the league but they're not.

CUOMO: Now they're the most important team in the league.

PEREIRA: And relevant.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Go Clips.

Let's get back to the big story on the Malaysia flight 370. An Australian company is now standing by its research, saying that it may have found Malaysia flight 370 in the Bay of Bengal, a very different area from where the search is currently located. The findings from Geo-Resonance have drawn plenty of attention and plenty of skepticism with the main search focused thousands of miles away. So why is the company confident it found plane wreckage that could be the doomed plane? Our Anna Coren is in Australia and when inside the firm to get a better look at it to get better answers. Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we spent several hours with a couple of directors from Geo-Resonance and they are confident they found the wreckage of the plane in the Bay of Bengal. I think it's very important to stress they are not saying that this is for sure MH370. But what they are saying is that they have evidence, they have proof that they have sent to Malaysian Airlines and to the governments of Malaysia and Australia. They've given them coordinates, and all they are asking is that authorities go there with their Navy, with their ships, with their sonars and see for certain what, in actual fact, it is.

They have done these tests, if you like, with spectral imaging using is a lights and planes. They began this search some four days after the plane disappeared. And if you remember back then, authorities were looking towards the northern corridor. They weren't looking towards the south at that stage. So by a process of elimination, they went through certain areas covering thousands of square kilometers until they finally got to this location, 190 kilometers off the coast of Bangladesh which came up with elements of titanium and copper as well as other elements that are in a Boeing 777. Let's have a listen to my conversation with managing director Pavel Kursa a little bit earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COREN: The elements that you found look incredibly similar to the outline of a plane. Can you explain that to us?

PAVEL KURSA, MANAGING DIRECTOR, GEORESONANCE: What we did, we identified again, three -- more than 11 benchmark elements that make up an airplane. And what we are seeing here is a projection of a source of electromagnetic radiation on the surface. So if you just concentrate on anomaly for the time being. So that's how the projection of the elements looking on the surface, titanium, copper, and then some other elements, we also tested for hydrocarbons and some alloys, steel alloys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COREN: Now, it's all very confusing and rather scientific and we asked them to explain, you know, their imaging. They are reluctant to do so because of intellectual property. But, Kate, just before I go, one thing that was rather alarming in their latest test, their last test that they conducted, they tested and found positive read for organic matter. When I asked him could this be human remains, his response was, possibly.

Now, obviously this is extremely sensitive. Families of the victims of the 239 on board are desperate for answers. Geo-Resonance is not saying this is MH370. What they are asking is for authorities to go and check it to make sure that, in fact, it isn't. Kate?

BOLDUAN: You can be sure they are now getting the attention that they want on their findings and the research. Anna, great job. Thank you very much.

Let's discuss this a little bit further with two CNN aviation analysts, Mary Schiavo, former inspector general at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and also Miles O'Brien, PBS science correspondent. Good morning to both of you. Miles, Mary and I were talking last hour. Mary said she was not completely discounting this research and these findings though she's skeptical, as, I would say, I think every analyst and every expert we've talked to is offering skepticism. Do you see promise in this report?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: No. Not one bit of it, Kate. My blood is boiling this morning. I have talked to the leading experts in satellite imaging capability at NASA and they know of no technology that is capable of doing this. I am just horrified that a company would use this event to gain attention like this. This is magic -- excuse me, technology that is really is magic box. They owe a full explanation of how it could work. The experts who really know about this say it doesn't exist.

BOLDUAN: I'll tell you though, miles, they said that they had been ignored by the Australians and Malaysians for probably, I think it came up to some weeks. That's why they decided to go public. And now Malaysian officials say they are taking a look at it. O'BRIEN: Well, I think they have to. It's a public relations thing now. They have to say that because the families are now aware of this. I think it's just very cruel in this situation, when you think of the families, to offer up this kind of false hope. Everybody says, why don't we just check it out? In a perfect world with unlimited resources, sure. But to the extent that it takes resources away from where we've heard pings, from with the Inmarsat data verifies those pings, and puts it in a place where some strange Soviet era technology that no one has heard of that finds something that's not very credible, I think is a huge mistake.

BOLDUAN: Mary, you said you've heard of this before, though it has never been a proven technique used for searching for a plane wreckage. Right?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Right. I've heard of it in relationship to searching for materials and metals and, you know, geodesic services, you know, oil, things like that. More what you would expect when you're searching for some kind of minerals and metals.

BOLDUAN: What do you think of the question that Miles posed? Everyone is saying in the absence of evidence elsewhere, why not go and check it out? Do you think they eventually will? Do you think there will be pressure to do that? Or is there another way to test this theory without having to divert resources?

SCHIAVO: Well, I think they can always repeat it again for the Australian and Malaysian authorities, show them why this is reliable. The problem with the situation here is we've now spent a lot of time and a lot of resources searching where the Inmarsat data said it should be and looking for the pings. And we've come up empty. The pings were not 37.5, they were 33.5. And we still haven't found anything because -- because of that, because of the lack of findings where it's supposed to be, I think at this point the investigators are going to be hard pressed to blow this off. They're going to have to go and at least do a cursory look. You know, ask people to look on the shores of Bangladesh and India to see if there's any wreckage. They wouldn't if the plane is intact. But I think at this point with the lack of results and where they've been searching for six weeks, they're almost stuck. They have to go look.

O'BRIEN: Can I just interject here? There is a much simpler way to settle this. Have this company train its satellite technology on a known crash site, ditching. There was a crash off of St. Croix a few years ago. There's a plane at 5,000 feet of depth near there. Why not see if they can image that known site, and if they can prove it, then they can do it then let's proceed.

BOLDUAN: Also, kind of a question right along those lines, miles, the place where they believe the wreckage is, wouldn't it have had to cross quite a lot of radar? Wouldn't it have detected by -- am I wrong about that?

O'BRIEN: No, you're not.

BOLDUAN: In the Bay of Bengal it seems that is a highly trafficked area that a lot of people are watching.

O'BRIEN: We don't know how it got to the Bay of Bengal, of course, we don't know the route. Those Inmarsat satellite pings which we've talked an awful lot about, and I would still like to see more data on them, the actual pings themselves and those circles are relatively reliable. We shouldn't stray too far away from that. There's a lot of debate about northern and southern routes. But we have to stick with credible evidence by real experts, not this company that no one has ever heard of with technology that no one has ever heard of.

BOLDUAN: Mary, quick, if this theory was right, does that mean that the Inmarsat data and the theory that they've been working in the southern corridor has to be wrong?

SCHIAVO: Well, it would presume that it would have to be wrong, although I guess it's not right on the northern arc. It's sort of similar or tangential to the northern arc. But I would think at time point it would have to be one or the other. They can't both be right.

BOLDUAN: All right, the conversation continues and the mystery continues with this new theory entering the conversation now. Mary, Miles, thanks so much. Chris?

CUOMO: We're going to take a break here now on NEW DAY. Banned for life, but will Donald sterling leave without a fight? Should he leave without a fight? Do you think the punishment fit the violation? We're going to talk to NBA great Isiah Thomas joining us to discuss. And you can weigh in as well.

And did White House staffers know much more about Benghazi than they led on? We're going to examine some interesting e-mails on INSIDE POLITICS. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. NBA commissioner Adam Silver dropped the hammer on Clippers owner Donald Sterling. He banned him for life and pushed the other owners to force him to sell, which can be done on a 3/4 vote. Sterling's only reaction so far is, quote, "The team is not for sale."

Let's bring in Isiah Thomas, NBA hall of famer, former NBA coach and owner and two-time NBA champion himself. First, happy birthday, Zeke. Isiah Thomas, it's your birthday today. Do you see this as a gift, what's been done in the league here?

ISIAH THOMAS, FMR. NBA HALL OF FAMER: It's a gift and an opportunity to move forward and have a broader discussion about race, racialization in this country.

CUOMO: It's bigger than ball.

THOMAS: It's definitely bigger than ball. It's bigger than -- as Commissioner Silver said, you know, the game is bigger than any player. It's bigger than any owner. Because this is a game where we transport our culture, we transport our values, and this is a game that we introduce kids to at a very young age. So this goes way beyond points, rebounds, and assists. This really talks about societal values, your basketball values, your team values, the way you work with one another, the way you get along with one another, on and off the playing field. So Commissioner Silver did a great job yesterday in just exemplifying what leadership can and should be in this country.

CUOMO: When this first was going on, people were saying, oh, it's too bad, this is a distraction from is a great playoffs. You're saying, no, it's not a distraction at all. Sports is always metaphor for life. This is a more important thing than just watching the games anyway.

THOMAS: Well, sports is the place where we've traditionally come in this country to have the hard conversations. Sports is a place that embraces diversity. Sports is a place where we can, you know, assemble, where we can bring different religions, creeds, cultures, races together in one environment for 2 1/2 hours and cheer for the team in blue and cheer for the team in white. It's a place where the playing field is supposedly level. And this is a place, again, where society transports its values and places its values within sport.

CUOMO: So now there will be two challenges going forward, at least. The first one, do you believe the owners will have the required vote that allows under the bylaws to compel sale? Do you think they will get the 3/4 vote?

THOMAS: I think the commissioner, I think Adam Silver will lobby for that. I do think there will be some business conversations around that. But I think, at the end of the day, again, the game is the most important thing and the uplifting of the game is the most important thing to the owners and to the players. And I do think the game will continue to be uplifted and transported globally.

CUOMO: So then the second challenge will be, with time, these situations tend to get tempered and people start to say, was it really that bad? And did he really deserve this? Is this the worst situation we've seen or was it that initial flush of passion because race was involved?

What is the case that you make for people to remember about why this was warranted, why this person, why this situation, why do you think this was the right move for this situation?

THOMAS: Well, in this country, traditionally and historically dealing with race, the weight of racism, racialization in this country, you can't ignore what it means here in America and the divisiveness that it's had socially, economically, housing, and every place else.

So what we try to do in sport, again, is we try to have a pure form of society, a place that society can really look at and say, this is the way a pure society or a true society can operate, where we do embrace diversity, we do embrace different cultures. And this is a place where it does work.

In sport traditionally, historically, has been the place where we've come to to have these really tough discussions. And, again, we find ourselves here today having this discussion of race, racism, racialization, because society has failed to handle and continue to have this discussion.

CUOMO: You're comfortable that with what you know about what you said and the man who said it, that this was deserved?

THOMAS: I think that's -- the commissioner and the owners have come to that conclusion. And I think we all are comfortable with the decision that they've made.

CUOMO: And for the game going forward, do you think this makes the league a stronger and better league?

THOMAS: Well, any time you can root out bigotry, racism, and become more inclusive, it definitely makes the game better. It makes us better as a people. It makes our country better.

CUOMO: And I know a lot of the players we've been talking to who are grates like yourself say, boy, to me, it's impressive. I don't know what would have happened when I was playing. Today, on your birthday, you get to see this happening. You're now 40 years old. Any thoughts about re-entering the league now at 40?

THOMAS: No, I'm like my mother. I'm still -- my mother, and she's passed away, but she stopped at 34. She always said she was 34. So I'm 34 and I still got game.

CUOMO: That's it? You still got game. Isiah Thomas, thank you so much. It's great to have you on the show, especially to be talking about this.

THOMAS: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: Happy birthday.

THOMAS: Thank you.

CUOMO: So what do you think about this? Did the NBA commissioner do the right thing? Did the punishment fit what's going on here? What do you think is going to happen going forward? Tweet us, use the #newday. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, could Flight 370 be thousands of miles from where crews have been searching? One group from Australia says it may be. The research and the questions ahead.

And it's one of the most closely watched political race of the year and Chris Christie was supposed to give much needed support to Florida governor Rick Scott today. So why has the trip been called off? Find out on Inside Politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's half past the hour. Let's take a look at your headlines. This morning, the state of Oklahoma is reviewing its execution procedures after a lethal injection went terribly wrong. Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack some 40 minutes after being injected with an experimental drug cocktail that was supposed to kill him. Now the state has called off a second execution for at least two weeks as it tries to figure out what happened.

The threat of severe thunderstorms and flooding is now facing millions this morning from the Gulf Coast to southern New England. Hail and damaging winds are also in the forecast. In parts of Alabama and the panhandle, 12 inches of rain triggering massive loods and shutting down highways and schools. A state of emergency has been declared in Escambia County, Florida, where the flooding is being described as historic.

Leaders in the search for Flight 370 are dismissing an Australian company's claim that it may have found wreckage in the Bay of Bengal that could be the missing plane. GeoResonance says it spotted a wreckage thousands of miles from the current search area. In the meantime, the final aircraft helping in the search are starting to leave Australia now. All will have departed the Perth Air Base by Saturday.

They held a ceremony there just sort of signing off and heading out.

BOLDUAN: Next phase begins.

PEREIRA: Next phase begins.

BOLDUAN: And transitioning over the next few weeks.

All right, let's get to Inside Politics on NEW DAY be John King right now. Hey, John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, Chris, Michaela, good morning to you. A lot of ground to cover so let's get right to it. Let's go Inside Politics.

With me this morning, this is the Associated Press Alumni Association, Ron Fournier of the "National Journal", a former AP friend of mine when I worked for the AP, and Julie Pace, the White House correspondent for the Associated Press.

Let's start. There will be a vote in the United States Senate today.