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Kansas Massacre Plot Stopped?; Priest-Nun Murder Trial; U.S.- China Meeting

Aired April 21, 2006 - 06:29   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up to half-past the hour now here in Washington as the sun begins to slowly rise. Time for a look at our top stories.
Oil prices hit another record today before falling slightly. That as parts of the East Coast see some gas shortages. The industry is phasing out a water-polluting additive, MTBE. That is what has led to the shortages as they shift over to ethanol.

Five Kansas teens due in court today. Authorities say they planned a massacre similar to the one at the Columbine High School in Colorado seven years ago, timed to coincide with yesterday's anniversary of that shooting spree, as well, perhaps, as Adolf Hitler's birthday.

And in Wellington, New Zealand, an 80th birthday greeting from schoolchildren for Queen Elizabeth. She has reigned for almost 53 years, but still 11 years shy of the record held by Queen Victoria.

And good morning to you. I'm John Roberts, in for Miles O'Brien. And there you see the sun beginning to come up, or light or dawn beginning to break.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's starting to come up, yes.

ROBERTS: Good morning to you, Betty.

NGUYEN: Good morning, John. Great to see you.

And I'm Betty Nguyen, in for Soledad today.

Five teenagers expected in court in Kansas today as early as this morning. Police say officers foiled a Columbine-style attack at the Riverton, Kansas, high school after one of the teens talked about it on a popular Web site.

We get more now live from Tara Brown of affiliate KODE in Riverton.

Tara, are the students back in school today?

TARA BROWN, REPORTER, KODE: Well, you know, Betty, we're just a couple hours. School hasn't resumed yet, but classes are expected to be as scheduled.

The problem, though, you know, we were swamped with calls from concerned, obviously pretty scared parents that really fear for their child's life. I mean, after yesterday, this community has been shocked to the core.

So, really, there's some parents that will allow their students to come to school today. But many parents we spoke with said not only will they not be sending their kids to school today, they are actually opting to change schools.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that some of them are very racial and they just had a lot of hate for certain people.

DANIEL KOUCKY, STUDENT: I guess if there were two people that were going to bring a gun to school, they might make my list.


BROWN: And now to bring you up to date on those charges, authorities have arrested once again five teenage boys, two age 16, two 17, and one 18-year-old boy. Now, no names as of yet have been released, but we are expected to get more information today as a press release is scheduled for later this morning. And we hope to bring you more then.

NGUYEN: All right. Tara Brown, of CNN affiliate KODE in Joplin, Missouri.

Thanks for bringing us up to speed on that -- John.

ROBERTS: A Catholic priest goes on trial today for the murder of a nun. It happened in Toledo, Ohio, 26 years ago, and there are still very strong emotions attached to the crime.

CNN's Keith Oppenheim in Toledo has details.


KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As opening statements get under way today, the trial of Father Gerald Robinson will raise the question: can a jury in Toledo, an area where nearly one quarter of the residents are Catholic, convict a priest of murder? Adding to the intrigue, this is a very old case.

Prosecutors charge, 26 years ago, Father Robinson strangled and stabbed a 71-year-old nun, Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, in a hospital chapel. At the time, the priest was questioned but never charged.

Skip to 2004, 24 years later, when cold case investigators believe they found a match between a blood stain at the scene of the crime and a dagger-shaped letter opener which police believe is the murder weapon and owned by Father Robinson.

Later today, jurors will get on a bus to take a look at the scene of a crime that happened 26 years ago.

Keith Oppenheim, CNN, Toledo.


ROBERTS: Chinese President Hu Jintao is wrapping up his four-day visit to the United States with a speech at Yale University this morning. He and President Bush met yesterday. The two leaders say they agreed on the need for closer relations, but there were no significant announcements that came out of that meeting. But there were a couple of significant events, including the opening ceremonies on the south lawn of the White House, when a protester started yelling at President Hu.

Let's see how the Chinese leader's trip is playing back in China. Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy joins us now live from Hong Kong.

What are they saying about it, Mike?


Well, the official Chinese press is talking about this as a major diplomatic triumph for Hu Jintao. It was important for the Chinese that their president be received with full honors in Washington, to get the full treatment which the Chinese feel as a rising power they deserve. And that's what's being highlighted in the Chinese press.

What's not being mentioned are the gaffs that marred that opening ceremony.

ROBERTS: Well, Mike, let's talk about those glitches. The official media blacked out the feed from CNN International when that protester got up there and started yelling at President Hu. But word is that it's already leaking out to the public.

How is it likely to play out? Are the Chinese going to say this was planned on the part of the White House?

CHINOY: Well, you had this episode, where a protester who is a supporter of this banned spiritual movement called the Falun Gong, which has been a target of a very tough campaign of repression by the Chinese authorities, got into the White House press corps and started screaming at President Hu. And this was, indeed, blocked out on CNN's transmission of the -- the opening -- the welcoming ceremony.

Also, right at the beginning of that ceremony, a White House announcer, announcing that they were going to play the national anthems of the two countries, talked about China as the Republic of China. That, of course, is the official name of China's archrival, Taiwan. In Beijing, it's the People's Republic of China.

Word is likely to get out about these two glitches through the Internet. Despite Chinese censorship, it's not foolproof, and the guessing is that it will irritate a lot of people who feel that the United States is trying to blunt China's rise, isn't giving China the respect that it feels it deserves. Whether or not people see conspiracy theories here, wonder whether it's deliberate or not, hard to say. But word will undoubtedly get out and many Chinese will probably be annoyed -- John.

ROBERTS: A couple -- a couple of big "oops" and egg on the face of the White House this morning.

Mike Chinoy in Hong Kong.

Thanks -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Want to get you a check of the forecast right now. Chad Myers is at the CNN Center.

OK, Chad. Earlier this week we talked about softball-size hail. Now you are talking about grapefruit-size hail?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Actually bigger than that.


NGUYEN: All right, Chad. We'll be checking in. I want to see those pictures.


NGUYEN: Really got us on that one. Got us interested.

All right. Still to come, you know one, or maybe you even are one, a distracted driver. From drowsiness to talking on your cell phone, what do you think takes your attention away the most?

ROBERTS: Also ahead, thousands stranded, flights grounded. The world's busiest airport shut down because of a computer glitch. So, what is Atlanta doing this morning to make sure it doesn't happen again?

But first, a look at what else is making news on this Friday morning.


ROBERTS: It's 41 minutes after the hour. And happening "In America" this morning, a police officer attacked, and it's caught on his dashboard camera.

It happened in McKinney, Texas. The man attacking the officer is an escaped convict from Colorado. The officer called for help on his radio while he was being beaten about the head. A person down the street ran to help the officer, and the two eventually subdued the suspect.

A verdict in the first trial of Minnesota Vikings players involved in a sex scandal. The jury found former running back Moe Williams guilty of disorderly conduct. He'll pay a fine and do community service as well. The charge stems from a boat party on a public lake last year that came complete with strippers. Two other players may face trials on similar charges.

And a group of 80 and 90-year-old women, some using walkers and canes to get around, are facing disorderly conduct charges themselves. If convicted, each could face more than two weeks in prison.

The 18 women call themselves the "Granny Peace Brigade." They were protesting the Iraq war outside a New York military recruiting station back in October when they were arrested.

And running on empty in Virginia. Gas stations in the northern part of the state are out of gasoline. Officials say it's just temporary, not an oil shortage, but refineries changing over to cleaner type of fuel with ethanol, and it takes them time to make the transition.

NGUYEN: John, we've seen them on the road, or maybe you're even one of them. I kind of am, people driving while on their cell phone, drinking coffee, on the BlackBerry, doing a number of things, except paying attention. Now a new study says those distractions are leading to even more accidents than you think.

CNN's Tara Mergener is live in Washington.

Tara, good morning to you.

Well, good morning, Betty.

TARA MERGENER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course, no surprise here. This is your number one culprit. It doesn't matter if you are dialing, talking, listening. Distraction is a distraction.


MERGENER (voice over): From talking on cell phones to fidgeting with things inside the car, it seems many drivers just can't keep their eyes on the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One hand on the wheel. One hand looking down dialing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I use my cell phone. I'll read. I'll do crossword puzzles.

MERGENER: Now a new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute confirms what most already know: distracted drivers are a menace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's eating, disciplining children, reading e-mails on BlackBerry and talking and dialing on our cell phone. All of these things are dangerous.

MERGENER: With cameras and sensors, the study tracked a hundred cars driven by 241 people for more than a year. As this driver looks down for just a moment, the car in front of her stops, causing her to swerve and hit a telephone pole.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the first study that actually link those types of behaviors to crashes and near crashes.

MERGENER: According to the report, tired drivers pose the greatest risk on the road, with more than 20 percent of crashes and 16 percent of near crashes caused by people like this man falling asleep at the wheel. Researchers hope seeing the link behind bad habits and the accidents they cause will convince drivers to change their ways.


MERGENER: In all, the cameras captured 82 crashes and more than 8,000 close calls.

Live in Washington this morning, I'm Tara Mergener.

Betty, back to you.

NGUYEN: It is really frightening. Tara, thank you for that report.

Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, nothing in or out of Atlanta, the world's busiest airport. That's because it shut down from a computer glitch. This morning, find out what they are doing about it.

Also ahead, three words: free cell phone calls. You like it? We'll tell you how coming up.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING for a Friday.


NGUYEN: Our top stories right now.

Five Kansas students will be charged with plotting a massacre at their high school on the anniversary of Columbine. One of the suspects alleged wrote about the plot on a popular myspace Web site. We'll have more on this.

And add hard to find to high priced. Gas stations from Virginia to Massachusetts are running dry. It's blamed on gasoline suppliers switching to fuel free of the pollutant MTBE.

Chinese President Hu Jintao will speak at Yale University today. His message as he travels across America is of peaceful economic expansion. No agreements came out of his meeting with President Bush yesterday -- John.

ROBERTS: Was it a huge inconvenience for travelers or a necessary evil? On Wednesday, Atlanta's super-busy airport was shut down due to a glitch in a security computer. It not only affected Atlanta, but airports and passengers all across the country.

CNN's Rusty Dornin has the story this morning.


RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Nobody flew in and nobody flew out. They shut down the Atlanta airport for more than an hour. Why? A TSA screener thought she saw an explosive device.

There was no bomb, but she definitely saw an image of one. But it was an image used to test the screeners.

WILLIE WILLIAMS, TSA SPOKESMAN: The transportation security officer properly identified it as a threat object, pressed the button on it to see whether it was a test. There was a software malfunction. It did not say this is a test.

DORNIN: You don't shut down the world's largest passenger airport without the ripple effect turning into a tidal wave. Thousands of people stuck here and planes grounded elsewhere.

Erica Wright (ph) and Dave Fondersmith (ph) were stuck in Pensacola, Florida, and had to overnight. The airline put them up, but they had to pay for meals and were out more than $50 a piece. They consider it the price of flying.

(on camera): So, even though it inconvenienced you and maybe cost you money...


DORNIN: You're OK with it?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think the precaution has to be taken, you know, to be safe. That's the world we live in now.

DORNIN: The good news is there was no explosive device. The bad news is there have been at least three incidents in the last year and a half where a software glitch has misled scanners, costing the airline industry and passengers a lot of money, not to mention grief.

(voice over): In November of 2004, the main terminal at Dulles was evacuated when an image of a gun turned out to be a test. Then four days later, the same thing happened at the Miami airport. But TSA officials say the shutdown here in Atlanta was worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is unfortunate that a lot of people's travel plans were interrupted. But from the point of view are our TSA transportation security officers able to find bombs, the answer is yes.

DORNIN: But that attitude angers Michael Boyd, an airline industry analyst. He says glitch or no, the TSA just doesn't have the right plans to deal with security problems in major airports.

MICHAEL BOYD, AIRLINE INDUSTRY ANALYST: It was total chaos. They had no plan. They saw an image and they evacuated a terminal. That's not security. That's panic. There's a big difference. DORNIN: Boyd says it disrupted 20 percent of all air traffic over the U.S. No one will say exactly how much the shutdown might have cost the airlines or the pocketbooks of passengers. But TSA officials remain steadfast it was the right thing to do.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Atlanta, Georgia.


NGUYEN: I'm glad that glitch is over because I have to head back to Atlanta today.


NGUYEN: You're going to be done with me, Andy.

SERWER: Yes. Well, I'm sorry. It was great working with you. But we didn't want to see you flying into that mess.

NGUYEN: Oh, no, not at all.

And today you're minding our business. Hopefully there's not a mess to tell us about. Or is there?

SERWER: Not at all. Well, always a little bit.

NGUYEN: A little bit.

SERWER: We'll get to that in a second.

Coming up next, Betty, the grilling of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling is over. So how did he do and what's up next in the Enron trial?

Plus, a new cell phone plan that breaks down all sorts of barriers.

We'll tell you about that next coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: A look now at some of the stories that we're working on.

Authorities arrest five teenagers in an alleged plot to shoot up their Kansas high school.

Police reveal what they found in the dorm room of one of the suspects in the Duke rape case.

Some East Coast gas stations say they are running out of fuel.

President Bush kicks off a four-state trip out West today.

And Queen Elizabeth celebrate her 80th birthday. We're live at Windsor Castle for that -- Betty. NGUYEN: It's going to be fun.

OK. Eight days Enron's Jeffrey Skilling has been testifying. He's done?

SERWER: He's done, as of yesterday. You know, that Enron trial down in Houston, Betty, slogs on. It's taken quite a while and will continue.

Jeff Skilling winding up testimony yesterday, answering hundreds of questions from prosecutors who tried to goat him at times into losing his temper. How did Skilling do? Well, you'd have to say overall pretty well.

A couple of times he got close to losing it, particularly when they were asking him about complicated financial statements. And yesterday as well, when prosecutors asked him about a woman he was dating, continued to ask him whether he had dated this woman while he was married, and he said -- Skilling said, "What does this have to do with fraud at Enron Corporation, just out of curiosity?" dripping with sarcasm. And the prosecutor said, "Well, it's a matter of ethics, sir."

And on and on it went.

Now, on Monday, it becomes Ken Lay's turn. He will testify. Of course, he was the former founder and chairman of that company, and it will be very interesting.

I mean, he has to defend himself, but at the same time, not contradict anything that Mr. Skilling says.

NGUYEN: It will be a tightrope.

SERWER: Exactly. So, very interesting stuff there. And at some point this is going to wind up.

NGUYEN: Well, I'm also interested in this cell phone plan where you can talk to other people outside of your network.

SERWER: Yes, this is a kind of revolutionary step by Alltel, which is the number five player in this business. And when you're number five, you've got to try something a little radical, Betty, to get market share going.

NGUYEN: You try harder.

SERWER: That's it.

Alltel, which has about 10.6 million customers, has a new plan. And it's called My Circle. And you're allowed to call 10 numbers, unlimited calling for free, and they don't have to be Alltel customers.

NGUYEN: That's the key. SERWER: That's the key here, because you can call people on Vernon, Sprint, T-Mobile, because the other plans you could do that but they all had to be on the same plan.

NGUYEN: You know how there's all these little regulations...

SERWER: Right.

NGUYEN: ... on the network, after a certain hour, blah, blah, blah. So this is good, any time, any network.

SERWER: Right.

NGUYEN: Unlimited minutes.

SERWER: But the one thing we should say, it's a $60 a month plan.

NGUYEN: Ah, see.

SERWER: So you have to be sort of a frequent caller for it to make sense.

NGUYEN: Exactly. There's always that, "well, except..."

SERWER: Yes, it's true.

NGUYEN: All right, Andy. Thanks for minding our business.

SERWER: Thanks, Betty.

NGUYEN: We'll see you soon.

As we approach the top of the hour, let's check on the forecast now with Chad Myers down in the CNN Center.

Chad, it's a Friday. I hope you have some good news for us.

MYERS: Not yet. Maybe around noon. Maybe it gets better.



MYERS: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.


Gas shortages in seven states. Tempers flare at one gas station. Police have to be called in.

The story coming your way in just about two minutes.

NGUYEN: Five teenagers arrested in an alleged plot to attack their school on the anniversary of Columbine. They're all expected to be in court as early as today. ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Alina Cho, in Durham, North Carolina, where there is new evidence in the Duke rape investigation. I'll tell you what police found in the dorm room of one of the suspects.

ROBERTS: Election day in New Orleans one day away, and it's anybody's guest as to who the next mayor will be. We're live in New Orleans with the latest on the much-anticipated race.

NGUYEN: And Queen Elizabeth celebrating a milestone this morning. We are live at Windsor Castle, with a peak at the big birthday bash on this AMERICAN MORNING.


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