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Donald Sterling Breaks His Silence; Kidnapped Nigerian School Girl Escapes; Pro-Russian Rebels Declare Election Victory in Ukraine; Mystery of Flight 370; Pistorius on Trial

Aired May 12, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Sorry and asking for forgiveness. L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling on the record in a CNN exclusive about the team he doesn't want to lose and about the woman he believes was setting him up from the beginning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Escape from terror. A young girl kidnapped from her school by gunmen explains how she got away and why she took so much risk. We're live in Nigeria with this CNN exclusive.

ROMANS: Breaking news this morning, pro-Russian rebels declaring an election victory in eastern Ukraine, demanding independence. Will Ukraine be split into pieces now? We are live with what's happening in the streets right now.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. About 30 minutes past the hour right now on this Monday.

And this morning, we are hearing from Donald Sterling. That's right, the Los Angeles Clippers owner sitting down exclusively with CNN's Anderson Cooper and speaking out loud on the record for the first time about the racist comments that got him banned for life from the NBA.

Now, as the league moves to force him to sell, Sterling says he's sorry that what he said was a mistake, that he hopes his fellow owners will give him another chance and that V. Stiviano tricked him into saying she couldn't be seen with black people. He called himself foolish, that he was diluting himself into thinking she cared for him.

We're also hearing right now from Sterling's wife, Shelly, who owns 50 percent of the team. She tells ABC News she doesn't want to give up her share. Shelly Sterling says she plans to divorce her husband, who she says is likely suffering from early-stage dementia. But is he a racist? Shelly says no.


SHELLY STERLING, WIFE OF DONALD STERLING: I have never heard him say racial things. I don't know. It was horrible when I heard it. I mean, it was just degrading and it made me sick to hear it. But as far as a racist, I don't really think he is a racist. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The league says if fellow owners decide to force Donald Sterling to sell, Shelly Sterling will lose her share of the team, too.

Now, all of these new comments coming as the Clippers took to the court, battling the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of their semifinal series. The Clippers overcame a double-digit deficit in the final minutes. This was an extraordinary game, an extraordinary comeback. They won 101-99, and that series is now tied at two games apiece.

And you can see and hear Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with Donald Sterling coming up on "NEW DAY" at 6:00 a.m. Eastern, the full thing airing tonight on "AC360". That's 8:00 p.m. Eastern time here on CNN. Well worth it.

ROMANS: Wait until you see what he says about Magic Johnson. Really interesting stuff.

All right, in Nigeria this morning, we're getting a closer look at just what happened when armed militants took more than 270 young girls from a school. Those girls are still being held today, despite an intense international effort to find them. One of the students who escaped from her captors is now talking exclusively to CNN about the scary moments and what she did to get away.

CNN's Nima Elbagir is live in Abuja, Nigeria, this morning.

Nima, you were the first international reporter to reach this town where the kidnapping took place. Sounds like a harrowing journey for you and your team, and at the same time, sounds as if those people there, this young girl that you talked to, are still terrified about the potential that this group holds in that region. Tell us about it.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And I think that really gives you a sense of how isolated and how under threat the community in Chibok continues to be. If it was this difficult for us to get there and this difficult for us to see the reality, the daily reality, can you imagine what it's like to live it?

But the girl that we spoke to said when it came down to it, when she and her classmates were packed like cattle, as she described it, hurdling through the dark on the back of that lorry, she felt the only option was to jump.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, they say, OK -- enter this lorry, we go, I will drop down.

ELBAGIR: That was really brave of you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we would rather die than go. We ran in the bush.

ELBAGIR: You ran in the bush.


ELBAGIR: And what happened then?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We ran and ran and we were gone.


ELBAGIR: This was an extraordinarily well-equipped convoy -- all of those lories, seven in total, pick-ups, motorcycles. It was very clear that from the outset, their intention was to go in and to take these girls and to sell them on.

And one villager described it to us as almost like a shopping trip, how you or I would go into the market and choose produce. He says that's how they feel their girls were treated, Christine.

ROMANS: What are they doing now, Nima, the people in that town, to try to protect themselves?

ELBAGIR: Well, they seem to feel that they have no option available than to protect themselves. They feel that the Nigerian government hasn't come to their aid, which, how much we've been hearing from whether it's the first lady or the president or the U.K. prime minister, all these pledges of support, it's just heartbreaking to see that that's not being felt on the ground.

So, people are taking it into their own hands. The night we spent with them, we went out on patrol with just the local neighborhood watch. Everybody in every neighborhood is organizing themselves and carrying what they can, machetes, makeshift bows and arrows, old guns, and that's what they are prepared to face down Boko Haram with, because they said this can't happen again, this community cannot take any more heartbreak.

ROMANS: Nima, thank you so much for that report. Just the terror in that girl's voice and how terrified those townspeople must be, just heartbreaking. The rest of the world is watching and wants to bring back the girls, but on the ground, it is still raw fear.

BERMAN: It is, although it is reassuring at a certain point. Nima says the people there now understand that the world is watching and they're grateful for the support because it may be spurring the government, finally, to take more serious action.

Now, to Ukraine where it does appear that voters in two eastern provinces have decided they want their independence. That is, if you believe the just-released preliminary results of a weekend referendum. The voting appeared to turn violent in one town near Donetsk. Gunmen opened fire on a group gathered outside a town hall, and there are reports of fatalities this morning.

Nick Paton Walsh is live in Slaviansk this morning. And, Nick, we do understand there are real questions about just who was voting, how often they were voting in this referendum.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, you know, John, first thing to bear in mind is the big one irregularity, which is how this referendum came to be. It's not recognized by the central government in Kiev, it's not held by local officials. It's held by activists in buildings they've occupied, and in many ways, we've seen no real signs of a debate on the streets of the two different ideas presents to people on the bulletin building. The debate is happening through armed men taking over buildings, sort of violence on officials being squeezed out of their posts.

So, let's put aside the notion this was some genuine plebiscite asking people what they thought then, of course, you have irregularities, suggestions people voted twice. If they're not on the list of voters, just write a declaration saying why you should be, and that's fine, you can vote.

So, the results, no real surprise. We're hearing suggestions 80 percent, 90 percent in favor, a large turnout of 80 percent according to the mayor of the town -- a self-declared mayor, I should say -- of the town of Slaviansk, where I'm standing.

But all of that was never really going to be a surprise, John. We always expected a positive result. The big question, the big doubt is what comes next. We heard from Kiev. The interim president of Ukraine, Turchynov, saying this is a farce, that it's propaganda to hide murders and kidnapping. We've seen people detained and killed in this town, too.

But the other side of the story as well is that this is really a town that feels at war with its own government. They feel they've been ignored initially, then attacked by the Ukrainian military, and we have to see whether Moscow feels now -- they did say this referendum should be delayed -- whether Moscow feels now they can step in now that the vote suggests they should be closer to Russia, and what does Kiev do?

There is plenty of rhetoric from their interim government. There are plenty of troops around this town. I should say I was awoken 5:00 this morning by half an hour's worth of explosion, sounding like tank fire on the outskirts of town. The military are closed, threat of intervention still there. We just don't quite know how Kiev thinks they can end this -- John.

BERMAN: A tenuous situation there this morning and for the next few days, no doubt. Nick Paton Walsh in Slaviansk. Thanks for being with us.

ROMANS: All right. It was a dangerous weekend for much of the country here and this morning the threat remains from Texas all the way to the Great Lakes. There could be more severe thunderstorms. And folks, we are ripe for tornadoes.

BERMAN: Right. Take a look at this from Nebraska, a tornado on the ground near Lincoln, just one of the many reported there. This one caused serious damage. Look at these clouds in Grafton.


BERMAN: The sky just ominous, dark gray and black. Unclear if that storm caused any damage there. The damage, though, to this farm was serious. A house and barn reduced to rubble. That's in Sutton, Nebraska. The owners did manage to get away before the storm hit and they are now staying with relatives.

ROMANS: Missouri is one of many places that could see more weather trouble today, like what it experienced over the weekend, significant damage near Kansas City, the result of a tornado on the ground in the town of Orrick. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt, but those who live there say riding out that storm was scary.


DAWN REZNICEK, ORRICK RESIDENT: My son and I were holding each other and the house was shaking. You can tell that it was, like, the structure was moving because dirt was coming down.

CALEB STEGNER, ORRICK RESIDENT: I was scared. I thought, like, the whole house was going to collapse on us.


BERMAN: In the Rockies, the story is snow! Look at that. There were accidents throughout the Denver area as snow piled up on the highways. Some areas could get up to 10 inches by the time this system moves out.

ROMANS: All right, what can we expect today? Jennifer Gray tracking the weather for your Monday.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John and Christine, severe weather has moved across the country for Sunday and also Saturday. Today looks like we're going to see another round of possible severe weather.

Showers and storms setting up right around the country's heartland. We're going to look at 10:00 on Monday, a little bit later today. And then, as that will progress to the East, we could see showers and storms firing up as we go through the afternoon.

Also, Texas could see quite a bit of rain in the next day or two, so we'll be on the lookout for that as well.

Rainfall totals could be anywhere from four to six inches. Right outside of Dallas, we could see four to six inches on the north side of Chicago, maybe one to three inside the city, and then outside of Memphis could see quite a bit of rain as well.

So, a lot of rain across the country, possible severe weather. You'll be in the severe weather threat if you are in, say, Chicago all the way down to portions of Missouri and even southwest Texas in that severe threat for today as well. Look at these temperatures -- 88 in Memphis, 75 in Kansas City, 38 in Denver. What a contrast! We have that warm air and that cold air colliding. And that's one of those things that's going to spark off a lot of those showers and storms as we get through the afternoon -- John and Christine.

BERMAN: Yes, it's a dangerous combination there. We'll keep an eye on it, for sure.

ROMANS: Hello, spring.

BERMAN: Yes, hello, spring.

Forty-one minutes after the hour. New information this morning on the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The man in charge of the search sits down with CNN. We are live in Australia with what he had to say, next.


ROMANS: This morning, the man at the center of the search for Flight 370 insists they're not giving up. Angus Houston sat down with our Anna Coren to detail the next phase in the hunt for this missing jet, more than two months after it disappeared, and a day before the Bluefin-21 goes back under water to look for this jet.

Anna is live for us in Canberra, Australia, this morning.

Ana, what did he tell you about the status of this investigation and just how long this thing could go?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, air chief marshal Angus Houston is extremely measured. He's realistic about this search and he's not going to give anybody false hope, but he is confident that investigators are looking in the right area and that mh-370 is in the southern Indian Ocean.

He's not going to say anything with 100 percent certainty because of the disappointment that they've experienced over the last few months. You have to remember that early on, they thought they had detected those black boxes, like within a mile before those batteries died, but obviously, that search over the last two months has failed to find anything, but that doesn't mean it's not down there.

The area that the Bluefin-21 is looking in, as you say, the Ocean Shield, the ship that's carrying the bluefin, it's heading back out to that search area. It should be there within the next 24 hours and in the water, continuing to scour. It has reached depths of 5,000 meters. The problem is that the ocean floor that they are looking at, mapping for the very first time, is as deep as 6,000 meters.

But according to Mr. Houston, those four pings that they heard about a month ago, he is certain that they came from the black boxes on board MH370.

Let's take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGUS HOUSTON, HEAD JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: What we picked up from the ocean was something that was assessed as being from a manmade source and the characteristics of the transmission were very similar to an emergency locator beacon.


COREN: Now, as I say, Christine, the Bluefin-21 will be back in the water this time tomorrow. It will spend about a month out at sea scouring the ocean floor. They will exhaust that lead until they are certain that they can't find anything with the Bluefin. That's when the next phase of this investigation will get under way, bringing in a commercial contractor yet to be announced. They will use, you know, equipment, more sophisticated, can go deeper, can reach depths of 6,000 meters as well as can cover a much wider area.

But, you know, as far as Angus Houston is concerned, he is committed to seeing this the entire way through. He says he owes it to the families of the victims of the 239 people on board as well as the general flying public so as to restore confidence in the aviation industry, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Anna Coren for us in Canberra, thank you. Thank you, Anna.

BERMAN: Forty-seven minutes after the hour. Today, if you're so inclined, you can get your copy of "Stress Test." That's Timothy Geithner's new memoir detailing his time as treasury secretary and before that, frankly.

But at least one revelation is leading to anger from an economic expert. Glenn Hubbard says what Geithner wrote about him isn't true. Hubbard says he never endorsed raising taxes when he was a top economic adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. In fact, Hubbard says Geithner is just flat out lying.

ROMANS: Gosh, during that time, I can remember asking him, I did an interview with Tim Geithner, and I asked him, what do you do to unwind? You know, the whole world is basically falling apart. And he told me he had just watched the movie "Hurt Locker" and that he loved that movie. If you remember that movie, it was about defusing bombs. And in a way, what the economic chiefs in this country were doing and around the world, actually, were defusing bombs.

BERMAN: I wouldn't call it relaxing, though. When you said unwind.

ROMANS: That's what I mean. There's no way to unwind from that kind of a job.

BERMAN: All right. Happening right now, Oscar Pistorius' defense readies its final witnesses. The Olympic athlete accused of murdering his model girlfriend. We're live in South Africa with who is on the stand this morning. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: Happening now at the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa, a key defense witness on the stand. It's a forensic expert arguing that much of the evidence presented by the state cannot prove what really happened when Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps live in Pretoria this morning.

Kelly, tell us about this forensic expert and why this evidence is really so advantageous for the defense.

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's such important evidence, because you've got one of the most respectable ballistics experts in the country, someone who's been referred to as the godfather of ballistics in South Africa, analyzing the evidence presented by the state and simply saying that because of the fact that the door was removed from the crime scene and re-hung inaccurately, the findings that the state have drawn from that ballistics evidence are simply not reliable, and it's not possible to draw any findings of any major credibility from the ballistics evidence.

And this unsettles not only key specific claims the state have made, such as, for example, that Reeva Steenkamp was in a defensive position because there was a fight and she feared for her life, but it also unseats much of their investigation, because if their investigation has not been conducted in a reliable manner, it becomes very difficult for them to claim that they have proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. So, very critical evidence we're hearing.

BERMAN: Evidence as this trial winds down.

Kelly Phelps for us live in Pretoria -- thanks so much for being with us this morning.

ROMANS: All right, breaking news overnight. An NFL player suspended, fined and now apologizing this morning. The tweets that took him off the field, next.


BERMAN: Breaking news in Texas this morning. Fire crews are reporting some success in their fight against a huge fire that raged north of Amarillo. It is believed to have destroyed at least 100 homes. Hundreds more were evacuated, but officials say the fire is now 75 percent contained. So far, no injuries have been reported, but this morning crews plan to search the burned-out homes looking for victims.

ROMANS: Arkansas could see hundreds of same-sex couples lining up for marriage licenses this morning, joining the more than a dozen who got their paperwork completed last weekend, that after a state judge threw out Arkansas's ban on same-sex marriages and overturned a voter- approved constitutional amendment. The judge did not act on requests for a stay, so couples like Jennifer Rambo and Kristen Seton (ph), a race to get their license and get married before another court intervened. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER RAMBO, SAME SEX BRIDE: We got engaged in March, and you know, didn't expect this to happen, so it's a great surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been waiting just to have equal rights. There is nothing that can take it away from us.


ROMANS: The state attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, plans to appeal citing his obligation to defend the law, but he's said he personally believes gay couples should be allowed to marry.

BERMAN: This morning, Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones has been suspended, fined and ordered to undergo training after tweeting out what he admits were inappropriate comments about Michael Sam. Sam is the gay football player who has now been drafted by the St. Louis Rams.

When his selection was announced, Sam was shown live on ESPN kissing his boyfriend. You see it right there. Jones tweeted at the time, "OMG," and then he wrote, "horrible."

The team called the tweets unacceptable. Jones issued an apology, saying he regrets that what he tweeted took away from Michael Sam's moment.

EARLY START continues right now.