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Texas Twisters; Nun Slaying Trial; Letter From Iran

Aired May 10, 2006 - 06:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Here's a look at what is happening this morning. It is Wednesday, May 10.

We begin in Texas where killer tornadoes have left a path of death, injury and destruction. Three are dead, six injured, at least. It happened north of Dallas last night. A half dozen homes completely destroyed.

More than a hundred wildfires still raging all across Florida at this hour. In Sun City, near Tampa, 30 homes evacuated after a power line touched a dead tree there. On the East Coast, once again authorities shut down sections of Interstate 95 shrouded by thick smoke.

S. O'BRIEN: In St. Louis, about a dozen first and second grade boys suspended for the rest of the year in connection with what they believe is a sexual assault on a second grade girl. Police say it happened at an elementary school playground. Two teachers have been disciplined for failing to notice the incident.

Sentencing day for a band manager accused of starting that deadly fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island. Daniel Biechele has pleaded guilty to 100 counts of manslaughter. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

M. O'BRIEN: President Bush making a last-minute appeal for his controversial prescription drug plan. This morning the president urging Medicare users to sign up for the plan by Monday's deadline. He'll make the case again today at two separate events. The president is resisting calls to give people more time to figure out the complicated plan.

The House expected to approve a $70 billion tax cut package. The bill calls for a two-year extension of the reduced 15 percent tax rate on dividends and capital gains. Critics say the bill favors the wealthy.

Now to that severe weather in Texas, at least one deadly tornado we know about.

Chad, what's going on this morning? CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, there were about seven tornadoes total yesterday. There will be more than that today, I'm afraid.

I've backed the radar up now about, if I kind of give you an idea, probably 12 hours or so. We'll put it into motion and let it go on by and then we'll start all over. We'll start back here and then we'll move the storm into motion.

And right north of Dallas last night at about 10:30 there was a tornado on the ground. The warning actually went out at about 10:08 p.m. Central Time. The tornado was on the ground by 10:30, hitting a very small town right here. And here's what some of the damage looked like from the town from up in Collin County. I mean, really, we're talking very, very close to Dallas.

Don't know the size of this tornado yet. The Weather Service will be out there looking at the size, looking how much damage, how far things were thrown yesterday. Up around Anna, Texas, a little bit farther than that, a little bit to the north of there another three or four miles, the storm continued. We'll actually have a live reporter on the scene in just a few minutes.

Now what do we expect for today? The storms are going to continue to move to the east and there's going to be another area of severe weather just farther to the east and to the southeast of where the severe weather was yesterday.

We still have severe thunderstorm watch boxes out this morning. No tornado watches out yet, but there will be some later on today. The whole storm system rolls to the east and in a large area. All the way from Nashville to Paducah, right on through Jackson, all the way down into Memphis and as far south as New Orleans. That's where the heaviest concentration of severe weather will be today. If you live in that area, you need to pay attention.


Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, thanks for watching it, Chad.

Let's take you back to that story we've been telling you about out of St. Louis, the group of first and second grade boys who have been suspended. They have allegedly sexually assaulted an 8-year-old girl on a playground at an elementary school. Two teachers have been disciplined for failing to notice what happened.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If teachers were out here on grounds, I feel like my kids are not safe anyway with the teachers now.


CRAIG WILLIAMS, SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: Obviously we are distraught that this has happened. And it's an unfortunate thing that is happening in this school.


S. O'BRIEN: Here's what the little girl's aunt says happened. The girl's aunt says the girl was held down and stripped. She says the second grader is now having nightmares, won't return to school this year. The boys range in age from 6 to 8 years old, and they could face first degree sexual assault charges.

In about three hours from now, closing arguments are set to begin in a grizzly and very disturbing murder trial we've been telling you about, the priest accused of stabbing and choking a nun to death 26 years ago.

Keith Oppenheim has been following that trial for us in Toledo, Ohio.


KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It's expected that right after noon today a jury of seven women and five men will begin deliberating to determine if 26 years ago a priest murdered a 71-year-old nun.

In 1980, Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was found stabbed and strangled in the chapel of Toledo's Mercy Hospital. At the time, Father Gerald Robinson, a hospital chaplain, was questioned but not charged. Nearly 24 years later, cold case investigators took another look and believe they found a match between a bloodstain at the crime scene and a dagger-shaped letter opener that police say is the murder weapon and belongs to Father Robinson.

During the three-week trial, prosecutors presented some strong evidence and had witnesses who said they saw Father Robinson near the crime scene, but prosecutors presented no DNA evidence that links the priest to the victim.

Father Robinson pleaded not guilty. And his lawyers say there is reasonable doubt, that the pieces of the puzzle in this case do not fit.

Keith Oppenheim, CNN, Toledo.


M. O'BRIEN: The president of Iran says sending a letter to President Bush was the right thing to do, even if the U.S. leader does not respond. The Bush administration saying the letter offers nothing to ease tensions over Tehran's nuclear program.

CNN's Aneesh Raman, that is, is one of the few Western journalists in Tehran. He joins us on the phone right now.

Aneesh, what do the Iranian people know of this letter or think of it?


We went out throughout the capital today. This morning was the first time that Iranians got a full glimpse of the letter. It was published in various newspapers here. And we asked them about the fact that the West, and especially the U.S., has essentially dismissed this letter for not offering specific solutions to the nuclear dispute.

Iranians say that the West is missing the point, that this letter was essentially voicing a frustration by Iran's president, a third world country, bringing to light to the U.S. president their take on global affairs. And many of them, if not all that we spoke to, said they hope that this letter would be the first step towards some sort of dialog.

One man we spoke to said this has now forced a relationship between Iran and the U.S., a historic letter. And the hope is that it will go from here somewhere forward.

No one here that we have spoken to wants war, wants sanctions. And they are hoping that this letter, if nothing else, opens that door for dialog.

But Iranians are saying there were never meant to be specific solutions offered in this letter, despite a government spokesman alluding to that perhaps before the letter was made public. And that really all this was was their country and their president voicing to the U.S. president how they take global affairs, the Iraq war, the situation between Israel and Palestine and their own nuclear ambitions -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Aneesh, the Iranian president is in Indonesia, Indonesia, with an offer to mediate this standoff. Do you make much of that?

RAMAN: Yes, Indonesia, a friendly country to Iran, has the world's largest population of Muslims. Iran's president is there. Indonesia's president, as you mentioned, has offered to mediate talks. Iran has welcomed that. But really it's not up to Indonesia or Iran, it's up to the U.S. and other Western countries as to whether they will take part. But Iranians are saying this is a sign that they are looking for dialog.

Now there is a stalemate, of course. Iran has said it will not suspend its peaceful civilian nuclear program. The West and the U.S. has said that program will lead to a nuclear weapon and that they must suspend their uranium enrichment. So what sort of diplomatic deal can be worked out remains to be seen. The hope is maybe some benefits can be offered to Iran and this whole thing can be put aside -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Aneesh Raman in Tehran, thank you very much.

Because of security concerns, President Bush's travel itinerary, as you might suspect, is on a need-to-know basis. So imagine the surprise when the White House learned a sanitation worker in Washington found specific details of the president's Tuesday travel plans to Florida. The documents were found in a trashcan.


RANDY HOPKINS, SANITATION WORKER: I seen this symbol and I just, me being nosy, I thought I should pick it up and read it. I saw locations and names and places where the president is supposed to be on this day. And I knew it was kind of important. It shouldn't have been in the trash.


M. O'BRIEN: Departure times, arrival times, the routes, passenger lists on all the aircraft and in the cars, it was all there. Secret Service says, not our documents, and they point the finger at the White House staff -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: That's kind of a mystery there, isn't it?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: The self-proclaimed "Fat Man Walking" is in New York this morning. Steve Vaught crossed the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey into Manhattan on Tuesday more than a year after he began the nearly 3,000 mile trek. Vaught left the San Diego area in April of last year. He was hoping to lose some weight, gain some control of his life. He's lost about 100 pounds and says his future is now wide open.


STEVE VAUGHT, "FAT MAN WALKING": I feel great. I mean I'm glad that I'm here. I'm glad that I made it. And I really kind of thought that I would sort of be finally crawling over the bridge, it was so far away. But now that I'm here, I feel strong. I feel like I can continue going and maybe I will. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow I'll say I'm heading back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many pairs of shoes did you go through?

VAUGHT: Fifteen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What brand was it? Was it a particular brand?

VAUGHT: You know I went to a lot of different brands. And I'm not being paid by anybody, but I came across New Balance, which I just thought were for old men, the best shoes I ever bought.


VAUGHT: I'm on my fifth pair now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which model was the best (ph)?

VAUGHT: Seven ninety-one, and there you go, 7.91, sir. Just awesome. Just incredible shoes.


VAUGHT: And I mean the other shoes were lasting about 100 miles. The New Balance are anywhere from 300 to 400.


M. O'BRIEN: OK, he's not getting paid by them.

S. O'BRIEN: Someone get the marketing folks from New Balance on the line.

M. O'BRIEN: Get paid for that.

S. O'BRIEN: We're going to be talking to Steve Vaught in our 9:00 hour this morning, although he shouldn't have said I thought they were only for old men. That's the part they might not be so crazy about.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm looking forward to talking to him, though. He has a really interesting, interesting story.

M. O'BRIEN: And old men buy shoes, too, right? Yes.

Still to come in the program, more on those -- that terrible story out of Texas, those deadly tornadoes we'll tell you about. We'll have a live look at the damage as first light occurs there.

S. O'BRIEN: And then we're going to tell you about a pretty tough prom policy at one school forcing some of the students to go it alone. Carol Costello is watching that story for us this morning.

M. O'BRIEN: And Britney Spears, is she or isn't she? What do you think? You know the story, right?

S. O'BRIEN: I do and...

M. O'BRIEN: She confesses on David Letterman to the fact...

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: ... that she might possibly -- is she pregnant? Well we'll have the answer. This is breaking new stuff for you, folks.

Also, a look at some other things happening this Wednesday morning.


M. O'BRIEN: Just north of Dallas this morning, it is a scene of death and destruction, three people are dead, at least a half dozen others are injured after at least one twister touched down in Collin County. Damage reported in the communities of Anna and Westminster.

Dan Ronan of our CNN affiliate WFAA live now from Westminster. That's about 50 miles north of Dallas.

Dan, it's still dark there, have you had a chance to assess the damage?

DAN RONAN, WFAA-TV REPORTER: Miles, we've had a chance to look at some of the damage up the road about a mile from here. It really was a tough night for residents of this community some 50 miles north of Dallas. This tornado came through about 10:30 Central Time. Alarms went off. It was a very, very tense situation as this tornado, possibly as many as two tornadoes, bounced around hitting several homes.

And about an hour and a half ago, two hours ago, we were told that three people, an elderly couple and a 14-year-old boy, died. At least seven other people have been taken to the hospital. They are waiting for the first light, for daybreak to go in and get a real close look and assess the damage and figure out just how bad the situation is here. But three people dead, as many as seven others injured.

Reporting live from Westminster, Texas, Dan Ronan for CNN.

M. O'BRIEN: Dan Ronan of our CNN affiliate WFAA, thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well it looks like the borrowing rate on loans is about to go up, at least that is what the financial market watchers are predicting. We're going to check in with Carrie Lee and have a look at the business headlines as well just ahead this morning.

Also, we want to show you some pictures a little bit later.

I'm kind of tired this morning, Miles, because I was out late last night.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: I didn't get into bed until midnight. Kind of a cool special assignment.

M. O'BRIEN: You'll go anywhere for dinner, won't you?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I will.

M. O'BRIEN: Washington. A good meal, get on the plane to Washington, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Washington, D.C. last night, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

M. O'BRIEN: It's a good cause.

S. O'BRIEN: Terrific cause. Had their annual Hope Awards and a big massive black tie dinner. CNN won the Media Award for our coverage, as you'll recall, how we gave up a big chunk. There's me in my cute dress.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, you look good.

S. O'BRIEN: We gave up a lot of our screen...

M. O'BRIEN: You look good there, girl. Yes. All right, that's very surprising to me, actually.

S. O'BRIEN: That I'm yakking.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Anyway, of course, we -- remember we showed on the split screen the children who were missing?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: And they -- we know that they have finally reconnected or tracked down the last child.

M. O'BRIEN: Everybody's been accounted for, right?

S. O'BRIEN: Absolutely everybody.

M. O'BRIEN: And...

S. O'BRIEN: It was a really wonderful event. But I had the chance to meet this little boy. Maybe we have a picture of him. Of course Colin Powell was there, too, I should mention.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: But also a little winner. The 7-year-old kid, his name is De'Monte Love, and he won the Courage Award. He was rescued.

M. O'BRIEN: What a handsome young man.

S. O'BRIEN: Remember his story?

M. O'BRIEN: Look at him. Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Everybody else had fillet mignon, he had pizza.

M. O'BRIEN: Go ahead, remind us. Remind us of this one.

S. O'BRIEN: This little boy is the boy who was taken off a rooftop...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. S. O'BRIEN: ... of an apartment complex with a bunch of other kids, seven other children. He -- seven in total. And he...

M. O'BRIEN: Look at...

S. O'BRIEN: We were running around. Yes. Running in a gown, that's hard.

M. O'BRIEN: You did well.

S. O'BRIEN: Anyway, this little kid held on to his 5-month-old baby brother, his 2-year-old cousin, his 1-year-old cousin and they were walking along the causeway after they were just dropped off in a chopper.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow!

S. O'BRIEN: And rescuers couldn't believe. They were like, you know, is no grownup with you? No, there wasn't anybody. And he took care of all these kids. Held the baby and made everybody hold hands as they walked along the highway to safety.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow!

S. O'BRIEN: I mean he was 6 years old. And you see, he's a funny little kid. I mean he is just, you know, a little...

M. O'BRIEN: A little bit of energy there.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: And so did he get reunited or they all get connected?

S. O'BRIEN: He did, thank God.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow!

S. O'BRIEN: His parents were supposed to -- were taken off the rooftop next, you know the next trip, and they were told that they were in Overleaf, Texas.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow!

S. O'BRIEN: And they got to Texas and they were like there is no Overleaf, Texas. Could you imagine the panic?

M. O'BRIEN: Wow!

S. O'BRIEN: Anyway, it was such a nice event. The kid is adorable and...

M. O'BRIEN: Worth the trip.

S. O'BRIEN: So worth the trip, and good food, too, so.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Glad you went. Glad you were there.

Carrie Lee is here right now. You want to do this?


M. O'BRIEN: Should we do this now?

LEE: Sure.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's do business now, shall we?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

LEE: Yes, let's go.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, let's...

LEE: We're ready to go.

Markets waiting for Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve meeting later today, talking about interest rates. Wall Street widely waiting for widely what's expected to be another 16th quarter-point interest rate hike. Would be the 16th in two years. The highest rate in five years, if this happens. Putting the Federal Funds Rate, that's the overnight bank lending rate, at 5 percent.

Now what happens next at the June meeting? That's the big question. And that's really what's up for debate. Some folks think that the Fed is going to stop raising rates. Others expecting a pause and perhaps some hikes later. And others think the Fed will keep going.

Ben Bernanke seems to be a little bit like his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, a little bit cryptic, a little bit hard to interpret. He did say when he spoke to Congress recently, he seemed to indicate an end to rate hikes, or at least a pause. Then he told a reporter that those comments were misinterpreted. So a lot of debate about what's going to happen next in June. So that's one thing the markets are waiting for.

Also, this being Wednesday, we get a look at weekly oil and gasoline inventories. Gas levels expected to rise for two weeks in a row, so that's good news there after about eight weeks of declines. Oil prices in focus again. We're just above $70 a barrel this morning, slightly lower from yesterday's settlement price.

Meanwhile, the Dow, after a 55-point hike yesterday, seeing some gains recently. We're just 83 points away from the Dow's all-time record. And depending on what Bernanke and team have to say today, who knows, we could possibly cross that threshold. So, we'll see. It's looking like a flat start for the markets today ahead of the Bernanke comment.

S. O'BRIEN: How are you feeling about Ben Bernanke, because you were kind of in love with...

LEE: So in love, that's a little bit of a stretch.

M. O'BRIEN: Taking emotions aside.

S. O'BRIEN: So not a stretch. You were so distraught when he retired.

M. O'BRIEN: You sound (ph) like Andrea Mitchell and him

LEE: I know, exactly, I'm going to get in trouble here.

You know I think we'll see what he has to say. I think he's trying to kind of carve out his own territory. He's trying to be a little bit more straightforward. I think he's -- it's -- he's learning the ropes a little bit. He's learning that you know one little thing you say...

M. O'BRIEN: At a party...

LEE: It's like the old EF Hutton commercial,...

M. O'BRIEN: ... to a reporter.

LEE: ... one little thing you say -- exactly --...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

LEE: ... can really be extrapolated. So he's probably going to take that in check when he speaks today a little bit.

S. O'BRIEN: All right.

Carrie, thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Carrie.

LEE: In love.

M. O'BRIEN: Careful what you say.

S. O'BRIEN: So in love. I'm not exaggerating. Am I exaggerating?

LEE: One little thing can be misinterpreted for anyone.

M. O'BRIEN: You were...

S. O'BRIEN: You were crying when Greenspan retired.

M. O'BRIEN: Misty you were.

All right, -- Carrie.

LEE: I was a fan.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. Coming up, a sneak peek at the future of video games. We'll take you to the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles and show you the games your kids will soon be driving you crazy for.

Plus, Britney Spears finally talks about whether she -- is she pregnant or isn't she? And will they -- she seat two of them in the seat in front of her as she is driving? You know stack the babies up there. We'll tell you what she said on the Letterman show last night.


S. O'BRIEN: Some of the most popular stories that we're covering for you this morning on

A lawsuit delaying plans for a massive explosive test in the Nevada desert. The test is supposed to help the military learn how to better target underground bunkers, but critics contend it could be an effort to develop new nuclear weapons.

An historic ocean liner headed for the scrap yard. In its heyday, the USS France was one of the great transatlantic cruise ships. It's supposed to be scrapped in India. And that raises concerns from environmentalists who say it's filled with toxic materials.

And the "Fat Man Walking," well, he's completed his cross-country trek. Steve Vaught crossed into New York City yesterday. He says he started the journey to lose weight, ended up dropping about 100 pounds along the way.

Twenty-three minutes past the hour, let's get a look at the forecast this morning with Chad.

Hello, -- Chad.

MYERS: Good morning, Soledad.


Only 22 days to hurricane season. Today, we want to do Hurricane 101 as we're doing throughout the entire month of May. I want to give you a couple of suggestions on what you need to watch out for when you are watching us during the hurricane season.

You want to watch out for the right front quadrant, the right front quadrant. Draw an X across the hurricane. The storm is moving this direction. This is the area that actually gets the most damage. Tornadoes, one, and also the onshore flow being added on to the storm's motion going forward.

Here's some video. Hurricane Gloria, only a Category 1 storm, not really that significant. Should not have been this much damage. But Fire Island, New York was in the right front quadrant of an 85- mile-per-hour storm moving 25 to 30 miles per hour.

And in the right quadrant, you actually have to add those two numbers together, or close, a little bit of a factor reduction there, but still close. Winds there on the right front quadrant were well over 100 miles per hour.

Where on the left side of the storm, on this quadrant, because the storm was moving this way and the winds were blowing this way, the winds were only about 65 to 70. So it really has to -- you have to watch which side of the eye you're on.

We'll keep you up to date all season long on the hurricane season here at the hurricane headquarters.

Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad, thanks.

Well Britney Spears, yes, hit me baby one more time. And that's pretty much what's happening.

M. O'BRIEN: Has some meaning, doesn't it? Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Sure does. You know she was on David Letterman last night and she answered a lot of the questions about the rumors that she's pregnant again. Here's what she told Dave.

M. O'BRIEN: She wasn't chewing gum, though, was she?


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: So we've established now that you are in fact pregnant, is that right?


LETTERMAN: Well there you go. See, Paul.

SPEARS: Don't worry, Dave, it's not yours.

LETTERMAN: Well I think that's good news for both of us.


S. O'BRIEN: I didn't know that was a maternity outfit. That little thing she had.

M. O'BRIEN: It's a cute little number from the maternity group.

S. O'BRIEN: There's been rumors, of course, for weeks that is she, isn't she, is she, isn't she? Her son, Sean Preston, I think his name is, is 8 months old. That's good. I mean she can use a little work in some of the parenting issues that they have had, but having your children close together is not a bad thing.

M. O'BRIEN: That little thing, driving in the lap while you're in the car, not a good idea.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, that was a bad idea. And then babies... M. O'BRIEN: Two kids would be twice as bad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Well not necessarily, maybe she's learned.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's hope.

I wonder if Britney could tell if Kevin Federline wanted another baby just by looking at his face, because there is a study out this morning...

S. O'BRIEN: Have you seen this guy?

M. O'BRIEN: Doesn't fit the study. OK.

But there's a study out this morning that suggests guys tell all about our child friendliness in our faces, apparently. A group of women rated photos of men's faces based on whether they thought the men liked children, and apparently they subconsciously were able to pick the faces of men considered more child friendly. They can pick the more masculine. It had something to do with testosterone and so on and so forth. But basically they can look at you and say there's a kid lover.

And Federline, I don't know if -- do we have Kevin Federline's picture? We don't have it handy. I don't know. It would be interesting to put that to the study.

S. O'BRIEN: I don't believe the study. A rounder face means you like children. Well, I mean, OK.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

S. O'BRIEN: You like children. Kind of makes no sense.


S. O'BRIEN: Who did this study?

M. O'BRIEN: We'll get some more data for you later.

Still to come in the program, hold on to your seat, hold on to your wallet, we'll tell you what's new and what's next in the gaming industry.

And check out what Border Patrol agents found in these jalapenos pepper cans. It's not spicy, but it is hot.

Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.



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