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Life Or Death?; Skilling To Testify; Storm Story; West Point Lessons; Dirty Dish On Page Six; Silence & Scientology

Aired April 10, 2006 - 07:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's the fourth time he's done it.
Emotions expected to run high at the Zacarias Moussauoi trial today. Prosecutors plan to play cockpit voice recordings from United Flight 93. That's the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. This is the final penalty phase for him.

Communities across the southeast cleaning up today after being hit by strong storms. Severe weather being blamed for the deaths of dozen in Tennessee.

And an embattled "New York Post" gossip reporter says it was a set up. Jared Paul Stern under federal investigation for allegedly trying to extort money from a billionaire to get good press.

Good morning. Welcome. I'm Miles O'Brien.


The sentencing trail of al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussauoi will resume today and, of course, so does the gut wrenching testimony. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is live for us outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Hey, Jeanne, good morning.


We are expecting another day of heart wrenching testimony as prosecutors lay out the aggravating factors that they argue warrant putting Zacarias Moussauoi to death. Last week we heard telephone calls, recordings of telephone calls of people who were on board the flight s that slammed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. We also head testimony from their family members. Today the focus is expected to shift to those who were inside the World Trade Center. Again, we'll hear recordings of telephone calls to 911, also to family members and, again, we're supposed to hear testimony from some of the survivors.

The expectation is that the prosecution will take the better part of the week to lay out its case and then it will be the turn of the defense. They, in turn, will lay out what they call mitigating factors against death penalty. They're expected to talk about Moussaoui's difficult childhood as a Muslim in France. Also to present evidence that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. The view of most legal analysts is that the defense here has a very high hill to climb.

Soledad, back to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Thank you. Jeanne Meserve is in Alexandria, Virginia, for us this morning. Where apparently they're building a building right behind you or next to you, Jeanne, with all that noise of construction behind you. Thanks, Jeanne, for the report.


MILES O'BRIEN: Crucial testimony today in the Enron trial. Former CEO of Enron, Jeffrey Skilling, expected to finally take the stand in his own defense. CNN's Ed Lavandera live outside the courthouse in Houston.

Ed, what can we expect to hear today?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, many people who have been following this trial for the last 10 weeks expect not to hear Jeffrey Skilling divert too much from what he told Congress several years ago. You know, if you remember, Skilling actually left Enron several months before it imploded. He's expected to testify that when he left, the company was in good standing. That everything was in -- was looking good for the company and that, in fact, it was the chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow, who had secretly kind of laid the groundwork for the destruction of the company.

Now those people who do not like Jeffrey Skilling will say the next couple of days of testimony will be his attempt to talk his way out of prison. But as Jeffrey Skilling sees it, it's finally his turn to tell the truth. And when he left the courthouse last week, he made a rare, public comment.


JEFFREY SKILLING, FORMER ENRON CEO: It's time to get the story out. I'm looking forward to it. I have nothing to hide. I am innocent of all of the charges that have been put forward and I think it will show that when we get on the stand.


LAVANDERA: Of course, prosecutors have spent the last 10 weeks putting on a long list of witnesses who have described Skilling as the man who led the financial fraud that caused the implosion of Enron almost four years ago. He faces more than two dozen criminal charges of conspiracy and fraud and faces many years of prison depending on what he's convicted of. He could be sent to prison for many years.


MILES O'BRIEN: Ed, how long will this testimony likely last? And I guess the question on a lot of peoples' minds, when will we hear from Ken Lay?

LAVANDERA: Of course. You know, I suspect that Jeffrey Skilling's testimony will take several days to go through. Remember, the defense will lay out its presentation of Skilling's testimony, then the prosecution, of course, is going to want his crack at him as well. So I suspect several days of his testimony. Then we understand there will be other witnesses that come on the stand and Ken Lay will testify at some point after that. So depending on the timing is when it will all shape out. But both men expected to testify here. Skilling starting today and Ken Lay perhaps the next couple of weeks.

MILES O'BRIEN: Ed Lavandera in Houston, thank you.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, officials are now confirming that the tornado that hit Sumner County, Tennessee, on Friday, had winds close to 170 miles an hour. That tornado killed 12 people, destroyed hundreds of homes. Some of the most extraordinary details though are coming from the survivors' stories. Here's CNN's Jonathan Freed.


LEN LITTLES (ph), HOMEOWNER: That's the only part of the original roof left up here.

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Oh, right up there?

LEN LITTLES: Yes. So it took all that attic away.

FREED: Len and Ruth Littles' house has stood on this hill in Gallatin, Tennessee, for 100 years. The Little's say it took just 30 seconds for Friday's tornado to do all this. They saw the twister plowing its way across their field and managed to survive by huddling in their basement.


RUTH LITTLES, HOMEOWNER: The dust was coming down from there.


RUTH LITTLES: And the ceiling tiles were falling.

FREED: The Littles' are now worried their insurance may fall short of what's needed to rebuild. So they're gathering everything that wasn't shredded and packing it into the rooms that still have a ceiling in the event they have to move out for good.

LEN LITTLES: What we've tried to do is move everything down here because it's dry here.

FREED: The Little's survival story might sound familiar, but their tornado tale has a twist.

You can see the car dealership.

RUTH LITTLES: Yes, there's the car dealership.

FREED: It turns out their home's destruction probably saved a man who works at an auto dealership just across the road over there.

CHARLES RUSSELL, TORNADO VICTIM: We seen debris, stuff flying up in the air.

FREED: From the house that was over there?

RUSSELL: That house that was over there.

FREED: Charles Russell says it looked like the Littles' house exploded, and that prompted him and his co-workers to run for cover, holding on to anything they could while the storm pulverized the dealership.

He found a really big, heavy tool box and he said he just crouched down and hugged the toolbox.

RUSSELL: It turned and started coming this way.

FREED: We had met Charles Russell a few days ago and now had a chance to tell the Littles about the role their house played in his story of survival.

LEN LITTLES: A life is worth a lot more than materialistic things. So, you know, if that -- if I can sacrifice my home for a life, that would be great.

FREED: Taking some of the sting out of a staggering loss.

Jonathan Freed, CNN, Gallatin, Tennessee.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That brings us to Chad Myers. He's at the CNN Center with the latest weather look for us.

Hey, Chad. Good morning. What are you looking at?


MILES O'BRIEN: It's graduation time. That can be a stressful moment for anyone who is facing the real work-a-day world. But imagine if your career is waging war. At West Point, they're graduating to some grave uncertainties related to the near certainty they are headed to Iraq. Here's Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Morning at West Point. Revelry. Formation. And the rush to breakfast. The war in Iraq has come to the halls of West Point.

MAJOR BRIAN WORTINGER, WEST POINT INSTRUCTOR: They ask about everything you can imagine. What are the living conditions like? What are the Iraqis like? Did you see anybody killed? Did you have to kill anybody?

STARR: Many instructors are Iraq veterans. Cadets question Major Brian Wortinger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like how often was it that you were getting shot at or receiving incoming fire?

WORTINGER: So I'll just say that it was a lot of people that, you know, unfortunately, I saw killed. So every time I rolled out the (ph) aid I was concerned about that.

STARR: Later, expect to talk of duty, honor and country. Some cadets already have served as enlisted soldiers. They tell others what to expect.

JOHN PASZTERKO, WEST POINT CADET: One of the number one questions they ask me is if I was afraid. What it's like knowing that, you know, that you're in combat. And, you know, and that you may not come back.

STARR: These cadets say military training will see them through Iraq. But the major doesn't sugar coat what he felt going into war.

WORTINGER: I'm going to combat and there are people around here who want to kill me. That was the start of a surreal experience.

BRANDON SCHRIENER, WEST POINT CADET: Definitely a scary process. Death is something that you don't wake up and look forward to your day. Just, you know, you want to do your job and you want to do your job well, but at the same time you're afraid.

STARR: These students already know what it's like to lose a friend on the battlefield.

PHILIP CASTANEDA, WEST POINT CADET: We had a member of our company, when I was a sophomore, he was a senior. He recently just passed away. The guy who lives next door to me, his squad leader, when he first came here to West Point, his squad leader passed away.

STARR: Some of the Army's youngest members of the long gray line are already back at West Point here at their final resting place, the academy's cemetery. Some were killed in combat within months of graduation, bringing home to today's cadet that the war in Iraq is very real.

Barbara Starr, CNN, at the U.S. military academy at West Point.


MILES O'BRIEN: Here's a side note to that story. It's in "The New York Times" this morning. An alarming number of West Point alumni are bailing out of active duty as soon as their obligation is up. Last year, more than a third left after their five-year commitment. The Army also having trouble retaining other young officers. To try and stem the tide, the Army is offering incentives like free grad school or choice assignments to try to keep them on board.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That's pretty interesting figures, I think.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Let's turn to business news.

Andy, what do you have for us?

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, the horror, the horror of a new cable network which specializes in -- guess what? We'll tell you all about that coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


MILES O'BRIEN: A beautiful morning in Central Park. Good morning to you.

I guess you know you can't dish the dirt without getting a little bit of it on you. "The New York Post" gossip column page six is making the front page on all the other papers in town right now. Carol Costello has a little bit more on that.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Miles, it's flat out tawdry.

For those of you who do not read "The New York Post," page six looks kind of like this. Really juicy tidbits about billionaire business people, about movie stars. And the stuff that appears on page six actually makes it across the country because it appears on "Entertainment Tonight" and what's in here is picked up by tabloids across the land. But now everything that's in page six has been called into question.


COSTELLO, (voice over): In a world of celebrity gossip, "The New York Post" page six is an institution. As a gossip column, some say it can make or break careers. Some will do anything to get in it, others to stay out of it.

MICHAEL MUSTO, THE VILLAGE VOICE: Page six is a destination read. "The New York Post" is the gossip Bible for a lot of people and page six is the first page they turn to.

COSTELLO: But now "The Post" finds itself the subject of scandal and page six has become page one news. One of its writers, Jared Paul Stern, is the target of a federal investigation, accused of trying to extort money from a California billionaire. His name is Ron Burkle.

Stern allegedly demanded a $100,000 up front payment and additional $10,000 annual payments. In exchange, Stern would not write negative stories about the billionaire. "The Post" suspended Stern pending the outcome of the probe. In a world where favors and freebies from free trips to designer handbags are often tolerated, this scandal shocks even gossip veterans.

DEBORAH SCHOENEMAN, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Or to compete in the gossip world, you have to play by a different set of rules. And that often means by not playing by the rules. However, there's all different levels and gradations of that. But I think what Jared Paul Stern did was that he crossing the line, which was already murky.

COSTELLO: Stern paints a different picture, though. He saying he was set up by Burkle and that Burkle initiated the discussion about an investment in his clothing company. Stern told CNN, "he definitely had this paranoid notion that page six was out to get him. He was out to destroy us. He'll find out it backfired on him."

In a statement to ABC, Burkle's spokesperson said the billionaire had no interest in investing in Stern's clothing company. "The Post" scandal comes in a new era of gossip, when celebrity sightings have been posted and the web within minutes. So has celebrity gossip gone too far?

MUSTO: This is going to have to lead to a total purging of the bad stuff and the bad seeds doing unethical things in the gossip world for there to be a light at the end of the tunnel and gossip to live and everyone to be able to dish more ethically and with a lot more conscience.


COSTELLO: Did you just hear him say dish more ethically? I think that shady figures in the gossip world have been around forever. Stern is now being investigated by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI. "The New York Post" has also suspended him pending the outcome of its own investigation. So we'll keep you posted.

MILES O'BRIEN: I doubt there will be a purge. That's just my -- I'm going to go out on a limb here . . .

COSTELLO: You don't thing so. Come one.

MILES O'BRIEN: I'm going to go out on a limb and the gossip industry will roll on.

COSTELLO: Yes, all those ethical gossipers out there will win.

MILES O'BRIEN: We'll be hearing about canoodling from now till eternity. Thank you very much, Carol Costello.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Lined (ph) items forever.

MILES O'BRIEN: Right. Just who was that?

Anyway, next hour, we'll hear from a colleague of Jared Paul Stern about the bare knuckle world of gossip.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the bare knuckle world of business.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Cable news.

SERWER: Oh, it is. Hit me with your best shot (ph).

We got a lot of stuff going on in the cable business and the TV world. Earlier this hour, we told you how ABC TV and other Disney channels are going to be making their programming available on the Internet for free.

What does that mean for cable networks? Well, they're struggling back because they're being -- they're under siege by the phone companies and by satellite companies as well. Big convention in Atlanta this weekend where they're going to be discussing some of their cutting edge technologies and products, including video on demand, which we've been talking about for decades.

And also this is actually kind of an interesting product. Next generation DVRs which will store shows that you've recorded not on your set top box but on a central server. And, you know, at some point we'll be able to see any and all content all the time whenever we want it. But we're not quite there yet.

MILES O'BRIEN: That building looks familiar, by the way.

SERWER: Time Warner, our parent company, is also a cable company. I should mention that.


SERWER: Another cable story to tell you about. How about this one? Horror. A horror cable network. Horror, as they say in "Silence of the Lambs." But Comcast and Sony are going to be introducing a new cable network dedicated to horror and thrillers. That's "Silence of the Lambs," which . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I think this is a good idea.

SERWER: I do too. I think that was one of the scariest movie ever.

MILES O'BRIEN: It's up there.


MILES O'BRIEN: It is up there.


SERWER: I really liked it.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) goggles on. Remember the . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: That last scene, yes. SERWER: It's not going to be seen -- yes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Night vision. Oh my gosh.

SERWER: It's not going to be rolled out for a couple of months. Guess what day they're picking to pull it out?

MILES O'BRIEN: Friday the 13th?

SERWER: No. Halloween.


MILES O'BRIEN: Halloween. Oh.

SERWER: Halloween. It's coming on Halloween.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It's one or the other. And we guessed wrong.

SERWER: Right, yes, Halloween. It's coming. And anyway, I think it could be a good idea.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That's a great idea. I mean, why not, they have everything else.

SERWER: Yes, it could be fun. Yes, Australian golf channel.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, that's important.

SERWER: Canadian tree channel.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: See, that's important, too.

Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

MILES O'BRIEN: The small mouth bass channel.

SERWER: Yes, exactly. (INAUDIBLE). Yes, that's a big one.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I'd watch that.

Ahead this morning, a congressman is under fire from former staffers. They say he forced them to babysit his kids and tutor his wife and your tax money paid for it all. We'll tell you this story just ahead.

Plus, Tom and Katie back in the tabloids. This time over their plans for the so called silent birth. I can't get though this without laughing. Silent birth of their baby. I never -- that -- well . . .

SERWER: Shh. Shh, honey.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Scientologist apparently . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: I would not dare to shush.

SERWER: Honey, please.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Scientologists apparently swear by it. But what is it? Can you actually have a silent birth? We're going to take a look at that up next on AMERICAN MORNING.

SERWER: Male Scientologists.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Katie Holmes is pregnant with Tom Cruise's baby. Well, it looks like they're going to have that baby any minute. And word is that Katie's going to give birth according to a principle of Scientology. Brooke Anderson explains just how silent birth works.


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): It will be the birth heard or not heard round the world. For months many have eagerly awaited the offspring of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Speculation has been rampant that Katie will deliver her baby by a silent birth. A tradition encouraged by Cruise's religion, Scientology. Michelle Seward is an active Scientologist. Five years ago she gave birth to son Sage following the church's guidelines and her belief.

MICHELLE SEWARD, SCIENTOLOGIST: The least amount of words said, as quiet as it can be, having the most natural childbirth as possible will create a great experience for a mother and for a baby.

ANDERSON: Seward and the Church of Scientology calls silent birth a media misnomer. They say it's really a quiet birth they strive for.

SEWARD: If a noise is made, or if a moan is done, it's OK.

ANDERSON: Church officials released this statement to CNN.

"Chatty doctors and nurses, shouts to push, push and loud or laughing remarks to encourage by attending husbands are the types of noises that are meant to be avoided. Words spoken during moments of pain and unconsciousness can have adverse effects on an individual later in life."

SEWARD: I don't want to be told, push, Michelle, push harder. Come on, push. And then we fast forward to three years later and Sage is riding a bike and I say, Sage, push. Push harder, Sage. And all of a sudden he's got a headache and he's crying and he doesn't like the bike.

ANDERSON: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has no official position on the subject and some doctors like Beverly Hills OB-GYN, Dr. Peter Weiss, question how a loud delivery room could leads to any problems. DR. PETER WEISS, BEVERLY HILLS OB-GYN: If that were the case, all the boys who've had circumcisions in this country over the last 30 years would be on a major rampage. It would be like Paris, France, right now.

ANDERSON: Of course, scientologists don't claim the benefits of quite birth as medical fact. And even Dr. Weiss, who is not a scientologist but has performed numerous quiet births over the years, sees no harm in the process.

WEISS: I think any time you're in a stressful situation that puts everyone in a more calm environment, I think only can be beneficial.

SEWARD: The moment that he was delivered, he was actually wrapped in a blanket and on my chest for a good hour.

WEISS: But while the birth of Tom and Katie's baby may be a quiet one, newborn babies tend to be the opposite.

Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Brooke's report first aired on "Paula Zahn Now," which can be seen week nights at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

I was thinking of all the things I yelled during labor and look how that's affecting my children now.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Expletive laden.

MILES O'BRIEN: Be careful what you say to your child . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh now they tell me when I'm done having kids. Thanks. Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN: Don't say push. I would say this, though, Sandy did tell me to shut up many times. So, yes, that part . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I believe in a silent birth from the father. Absolutely. He should be silent. There's no question.

MILES O'BRIEN: All that lamaze stuff, right out the window. Now breath this. No.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The mother should be able to yell her lungs out if she so desires.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That's where I stand.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: So next hour AMERICAN MORNING continues right after this short break. Stay with us.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bob Franken in Washington where hundreds of thousands are expected to protest harsher immigration laws. That story's coming up.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ed Henry at the White House where the president is facing pressure from within his own party to fully explain his role in a CIA leak case. That story coming up.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And a heartbreaking story of a little boy, his unconscious mother, and a 911 operator who would not believe him.


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