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CNN NEWSROOM

Wicked Weather; GOP's Right Of Way; Hostages Freed

Aired February 13, 2007 - 10:00   ET

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


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris. Spend a second hour in the NEWSROOM this morning and stay informed. Here's what's on the run down.

Winter plowing ahead at full throttle, but slowing a lot of us down. A big February storm spreading snow, ice and cold from Indiana to Maine.

COLLINS: Hostages no more. Twenty-four Filipinos released in Africa. Freedom just days after a CNN crews chance encounter with the men. Live from Johannesburg.

HARRIS: See Romney. See Romney run. A new presidential hopeful joins the crowd today. The 2008 slate getting longer this Tuesday, February 13th. You are in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Snow, freezing rain, apparent tornados. Wicked weather striking hard today across much of the country. Our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, with us now from the New Orleans suburb of Westwego where what's believed to have been a tornado blew through early this morning.

Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's true, Heidi, early this morning, and it certainly woke a lot of people up. We are waiting now for Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to come into this area by helicopter so that she can get a look at the damage for herself. What she's going to see is a lot of debris here and a lot of people working to restore the power.

You have the power company crews out in buckets, trying to get the power back on to about 20,000 people in the entire New Orleans area. The tornado cut the power, disrupted gas lines in this area. They have cut the gas in this area to try to stop any major gas leaks. And there is a lot of damage.

Earlier today we had the video of the motel that had the roof blown off. And just in the last hour, we've been able to gather some new video of some of the homes in this area. We found two homes side by side, Heidi.

One was a brick home, a solid brick home that had been there for about half a century. The roof was completely blown off. And then next to that a wooden home that had slid right off of its foundations.

Nobody was in the wooden home at the time of the tornado, but there was a woman in the brick home sleeping in her back bedroom. Her daughter told me that her mother is OK. They took her to her hospital. She cut her ankle on some of the debris and she has stitches in her ankle now, but it could have been a lot worse.

Here in Westwego, there are about seven people with that sort of minor injuries. One man taken to the hospital in shock with an injury to his head. But in the New Orleans area there were also injuries, also people taken to the hospital in New Orleans proper, which is just across the Mississippi River from where I'm standing, and there, there was one death, an 86-year-old woman who died of her injuries at the hospital. We don't know the circumstances, where she might have been when the tornado struck, but we do know at least one death now from this apparent tornado that came though early this morning.

Heidi.

COLLINS: Boy, I just can't imagine how incredibly scary it would be to be going through something like this. And put it in perspective for us if you could, Susan. How badly was this actual area hit by Katrina?

ROESGEN: Not that badly. There was just not that kind of wind damage here, again, below the Mississippi River. There was quite a bit of wind damage in New Orleans proper, but not right here in Westwego. This particular area has had three tornados in the past three years that the mayor told me all seem to come up this same stretch. I'm in the median between a divided highway and really the main drag between this area and takes you right across the Mississippi River into New Orleans.

And so these business, in fact, a used car dealership. I felt so sorry for the owners, Heidi. A small really mom and pop used car dealership. And I went and I saw the woman picking through the rubble. And I said, oh, I'm so sorry. And she said, we don't have insurance. And I said, I'm sorry to hear that. And she said, you know, and the same thing happened to us two years ago and we didn't have insurance then either.

So, you know, sometimes you think things won't happen again and they do. This is a part of the country that does get tornados this time of the year and we got one apparently today.

COLLINS: It's true. And, boy, as tough as it is to predict mother nature, you just sometimes have no idea. You do mention New Orleans, though. What about other areas that were damaged by this tornado?

ROESGEN: Well, we believe it was two different neighborhoods in New Orleans. If anyone is familiar with the Carrollton (ph) section, it's just past the universities, just past St. Charles Avenue. It's in the bend of the Mississippi River. There were several homes that were damaged in that area. A brick school that one man told me was simply blown out. As if the front of it had been imploded by some sort of bomb inside. That's how strong the tornado was in that area. And then in a section of town that they call mid-city. And, Heidi, that area got quite a lot of water in Hurricane Katrina. Those folks have just been starting to come back, just starting to rebuild. So it's really devastating for them to have structural damage now when so many of them were just getting to the point of gutting their homes in the mid-city area. And then the woman who was apparently killed was just in that general area, the mid-city Genteelly (ph), if people are familiar with that area, and that's where she was killed.

So this tornado, what we believe was a tornado here, sort of hopscotched around. A very narrow area of damage. Maybe four blocks wide but stretched for self miles.

COLLINS: Boy, it's just unbelievable. All right, Susan Roesgen coming to us live from Westwego today.

Thanks, Susan.

HARRIS: Now the other big weather story. All that snow. And for areas already walloped -- look at that -- get ready. There is more headed your way. CNN's Allan Chernoff with us now from Indianapolis, home of the Super Bowl champs.

Allan, what is the view from Indianapolis?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, as you can see, we've already gotten plenty of snow. Five inches of it since midnight. What we're getting right now is sleet. Ice pellets coming down.

And you can hear them really coming down hard. Of course, when snow comes down, it's pretty much silent. But here we're just getting the pounding of these ice pellets. And what's happening now is it's actually creating -- you have to dig through here and you can see, creating little pancakes right on top of the snow. That's going to make the roads very, very treacherous.

I-70, right behind me, you can see already the accumulation over there. The traffic going very slowly. Already this morning in Indianapolis, there have been 83 traffic accidents, five of them involving minor injuries. So, fortunately, no fatalities.

But this is really a very treacherous day. The city has more than 200 snow plows out on duty right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR BART PETERSON, INDIANAPOLIS: We're throwing everything we have at it. We've cancelled trash pickup for the day and we've retrofitted all of our garbage trucks that can be retrofitted with snow plows and we've called up our private contractors who are sort of the reserve troops and we're throwing every piece of apparatus that we have at it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHERNOFF: The biggest danger, though, to the city is actually the potential to pull down power lines. Because what's going to happen as we get more of this frozen rain and ice coming down, you're going to see trees and power lines way down. In fact, there already is a little coating of ice on this little tree right here. It will weigh down those lines. And Indiana Power and Light is going to have to be really on the look-out for power lines down. So far no problem yet with the power lines.

In terms of accumulation, well, the forecast calls for sleet to keep coming this morning. In then the afternoon, north of the city, more snow, potentially more than a foot. South of the city, they're talking six inches or so. So a big variation. And this is pretty much the cutoff point right here in Indianapolis.

Tony.

HARRIS: Sounded like a meteorologist there, Allan. Where's your AMS seal? Allan Chernoff for us in Indianapolis.

Allan, thank you.

COLLINS: Chad Myers standing by now in the Weather Center with more on all this.

HARRIS: With the seal.

COLLINS: The man with the seal, yes.

Hi there, Chad. Boy, it's huge and moving fast and furious.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COLLINS: Off and running. Republican Mitt Romney makes it official, becoming the latest candidate in the 2008 presidential race. The former Massachusetts governor kicked off his campaign this morning. He spoke at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn -- you saw it live here -- 20 miles from where he grew up. Romney suggested his experience in and out of government gives him the know-how to lead the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Innovation and transformation have been at the heart of America's success from the very beginning. And if there ever was a time when innovation and transformation were need in government, it is now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Romney now heads to Iowa, a crucial caucus state.

HARRIS: So where does Mitt Romney stand with Republican voters? According to a recent CNN/"WMUR poll on the New Hampshire primary, Romney was the third favorite choice for nominee. He was behind Arizona Senator John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani with 13 percent. Here's a snapshot of the national picture. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted last month puts Romney fourth, trailing former House speaker Newt Gingrich with 7 percent. COLLINS: Let's take a look now at where Mitt Romney stands on some of the issues. He supports President Bush's position on the Iraq War, including the plan to send more U.S. troops. Romney opposes a U.S. troop withdrawal. Romney also supports President Bush's tax cut package. On immigration, he favors stronger laws against illegal immigrants and the companies that employee them. And on abortion, Romney opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's life is in danger.

HARRIS: Romney joins a crowded Republican field. Even as he announces, he's already among the elite few of his party's candidates. But that's not what makes this GOP lineup different. To explain, here's CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Polls show three candidates leading the Republican field, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney. All three are essentially blue state Republicans who know how to win over Democrats and moderates. That's good, right? In a general elections, it is. But first they have to get through the Republican primaries. Giuliani was twice elected mayor of New York, the capital of blue state America as a supporter of abortion rights, gay rights and gun control. Now he seems to be modifying his views ever so slightly.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: And I would appoint judges to the court that were strict constructionists.

SCHNEIDER: Some conservatives aren't buying it.

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: I think Giuliani is unacceptable from the out-set.

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani's response, let's talk about the war on terror.

GIULIANI: We learned from Ronald Reagan that the way that you achieve peace is through strength, not weakness.

SCHNEIDER: Romney was governor of a very blue state.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My home state of Massachusetts, where I've lived for, I think, 35 years.

SCHNEIDER: Recently, letters and debate clips have surfaced showing that Romney supported gay rights and abortion rights in 1994, when he was running against Ted Kennedy.

PERKINS: You know, a lot of things coming out about him that are troubling.

SCHNEIDER: Romney's response, I have seen the light, like other converts.

ROMNEY: On abortion, I wasn't always a Ronald Reagan conserve. Neither was Ronald Reagan, by the way. SCHNEIDER: Arizona is not a blue state, but in 2000, McCain won blue state primaries in New Hampshire and Michigan. He denounced Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as agents of intolerance. McCain's response to conserves who won't forgive him, he gave the commencement address at Falwell's college. He's hired a number of former Bush campaign staffers. And he's with President Bush on the biggest issue of all, Iraq.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I'm sticking with the president in this respect. This is our last chance. The consequences of failure are catastrophic.

SCHNEIDER: It's not odd to see candidates move to the right to seek the Republican nomination. But three of them running for president at the same time, and all of them leading the field, that's unusual.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: A breakthrough on North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea agreeing to shut down its main nuclear complex and allow international inspectors back in. That deal, reached overnight during six party talks in Beijing, comes with a 60 day deadline. In exchange, North Korea would get hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid. Negotiators say it's a good starting point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER HILL, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: What's important about these initial actions that we're taking -- and I emphasize these are just initial actions at this point -- is that they begin a process aimed at complete denuclearization. If our process were to stop just on these initial actions, I think we would be open for some criticism. But we don't plan to just stop with a shut down of this reactor, we plan to go from here, to disable the reactor, eventually to dismantle it and finally abandon it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Another part of the deal calls for the U.S. and North Korea to work towards normalizing relations also within 60 days.

And this bit of information just into the CNN NEWSROOM now. We are hearing that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will brief reporters from the State Department next hour on this reported deal with North Korea. Of course, the CNN NEWSROOM will have live coverage for that for you.

HARRIS: Utah mall shooting. We talk with someone who watched a young man fire randomly at shoppers. Fright night in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Hostages freed. Twenty-four Filipinos, we showed you last week, held deep in the Niger delta, now out. The story behind their story in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Bombs ripped through commuter buses in Lebanon. The attacks and the timing. That's ahead in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: The good and bad in Iraq. One U.S. Marine now having a change of heart about which category he falls into. A CNN exclusive, ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Twenty-four Filipino hostages are free today, held for more than three weeks in Nigeria. CNN photographs the hostages in captivity as part of a story. CNN's Jeff Koinange last week reporting on violence in the oil-rich Niger delta, when a group of militants took him to their hideout. Jeff joins us now from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Jeff, the latest on this story.

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Heidi. Couldn't have been a better ending to what must have been a terrible ordeal for these 24 Filipino sailors captured for more than 25 days, held captive by a group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND. But early this morning they were released, but back on their cargo ship, sent over to the town of Worry (ph) in southern Nigeria. According to a spokesman for the cargo ship, he said the men were in good health but looking tired. Again, a very happy ending to what must have been a really, really trying time.

Heidi.

COLLINS: Jeff, was there a ransom offered for these hostages?

KOINANGE: Well, while we were there -- when we met them a few days ago, there was talk of a ransom. But today, according to wire reports, MEND, this group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, they said no ransom was paid and that they were releasing them "on humanitarian grounds."

COLLINS: But they were released pretty close to after the airing of your report?

KOINANGE: They were indeed. You know what, maybe there was pressure from the Philippine government or maybe the Nigerian government did ratchet up its pressure on these militant groups because there are several militant groups holding more hostages in the Niger delta area. More than 30 right now. In fact, there's an American being held hostage. There are three Italians. There's a Lebanese. So, again, the problem's not going to go away any time soon. But for these ones at least, these 24 who had been in captivity for the better part of three weeks, at least a happy ending.

COLLINS: Jeff Koinange reporting live for us from Johannesburg.

Jeff, thank you.

HARRIS: A U.S. Marine, accused of murdering an Iraqi civilian, now says he is not guilty and was just following orders. Jason Carroll has his story in a CNN exclusive. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Searching for answers in a Utah mall shooting. Police say an 18-year-old man walked through the Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City last night shooting at random. The rampage left six people dead, including the gunman. Four people were wounded. Terrified shoppers and mall workers hid in stairwells and storage rooms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could see he had a gun. He had a long coat on, thick coat on and a gun. He was punching and shooting around before he went into the building. Then he went into the building underneath us and we heard shots inside of the building.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: The gunman died in a shootout with police. No word yet on a motive.

COLLINS: Authorities investigating a deadly shooting in Philadelphia. Police say a man opened fire at a business meeting yesterday. It's believed the business was an investment firm and the shooter may have been an investor. Authorities say three people were killed, one wounded. The gunmen exchanged fire with police before killing himself.

HARRIS: North Korea's leader agrees to a nuclear deal. White House reaction and a briefing from the secretary of state coming up in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Snow and then more snow. When will it end? The latest winter blast in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: An apparent tornado sweeps across parts of the deep south. New Orleans in the bulls-eye. The latest in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Snow, freezing rain, apparent tornados. Winter striking hard today. And for areas already walloped by heavy snow, get ready because there's more headed your way. CNN's Keith Oppenheim with us now from Peoria, Illinois, where it is just plain white.

Keith.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is very white, Heidi. In fact, the wind is blowing pretty well right now. Traffic is moving here on main street in Peoria. And as you'll walk with me here, you can see that I'm kind of -- not too surefooted because these are fairly deepening snowdrifts as the snow is accumulating here.

The weather has been a bit unpredictable because the range of accumulation ranges from four to 10 inches in this area. But it was enough for folks to pack the grocery stores and hardware stores, including some parents a little bit concerned about being shut-in. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's always scary for me. I have teenagers and I don't like to have them driving when there's snow just because they're not as experienced as an older driver. But you hate to be caught at home when there's an emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got two kids, so I'm more worried about them, as far as getting them to school and that kind of stuff. But they don't live too far away from school, so we should be OK.

OPPENHEIM: I am literally knee-deep in snow, Heidi and this is pretty dry, powdery stuff. And with the wind blowing, you can just see that it gets all blown around, given on top of that, we're going to get some drifts up to about 30 miles-an-hour. That makes driving around here pretty tough.

This is not nearly as bad as it was here in Peoria on December 1st, when they had a terrible ice storm here which really shut down the region. That was a state disaster area back then.

But this is bad and there are schools that are shut down, the Bloomington Airport is shut down, it's making functioning like this slower and certainly there are places that are just closed. Back to you.

COLLINS: Yes, understandably so. But Keith, the gentleman in the sound byte that we had there said he was a little worried about getting his child to school. Are there schools that are open?

OPPENHEIM: Yes, there are some districts that are open today. But it's kind of a patchwork. There are definitely others that decided they didn't want to deal with having buses out in the streets today.

COLLINS: Yes, certainly understandable. All right, Keith Oppenheim, thank you.

HARRIS: So that's the view in the Midwest. Well parts of the deep south under the gun this hour from a line of powerful thunderstorms. This just about an hour ago. In the New Orleans suburb of Westwego, one person was killed and several people reportedly were injured by an apparent tornado damage also reported in the city of New Orleans, parts of Mississippi and Alabama also getting pounded right now by severe storms.

Paint that picture for us there, Chad Myers in the Severe Weather Center for us this morning. Chad, good morning.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COLLINS: Here now a story about a place that Chad is talking about. Upstate New York, can they handle any more snow? Just ask the people there. CNN's Gary Tuchman has the story from Redfield, New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No town in the U.S. has gotten more snow this month than Redfield, New York. The town looks like it's been gobbled up; 141 inches have fallen since February 3, one of the largest snowfalls from one system in New York state's recorded weather history.

CAROL YERDON, RESIDENT OF REDFIELD, NEW YORK: I will tell where you I used to get my mail. And this would be my mailbox under here.

TUCHMAN: Carol Yerdon lives in Redfield with her husband and son.

YERDON: This is our only entrance at the moment.

TUCHMAN: The front entrance and the top floor of the house have disappeared under feet of snow. There was concern the roof could collapse.

YERDON: Absolutely, we measured exactly 60 inches of snow on the roof. So, it was time to shovel.

TUCHMAN: Incredible amounts of snow have been measured throughout New York State's upper tier, east of Lake Ontario, in towns like Mexico, New York.

TERRY GRIMSHAW, MAYOR OF MEXICO, NEW YORK: We had a storm in '66, but that was a three-day storm. This has gone on for a week.

TUCHMAN: But Redfield gets the prize for the most snow. Despite that, school was open today. You would not see that if another town in this state, New York City, got 146 inches of snow. Even though they are used to huge amounts here, this one is inspiring wonder.

YERDON: Usually, we don't go too far from home, I can say that, because, once you do get cleared out, if there's another bout coming, you are liable to not be able to get back in.

TUCHMAN: Inside the Yerdons' home, it is very dark, because snow blocks the windows. But the heat is plentiful. And so are the good spirits, as the family counts down the days to spring.

YERDON: You know, we'll all be anxious for spring. There's no doubt there. But it might be about May before we see green grass.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: It is five below zero Fahrenheit, but the wind and the walls of snow make it feel colder. I want to thank the Yerdon family for letting me up to their roof to do this demonstration, something you shouldn't try at home unless you too have 141 inches of snow. But you can see, I can walk from the roof 17 feet down safely all the way to the ground. And this gives you an idea of just how much snow is here.

No big problems in this area. They're used to having a lot of snow. What they have to be careful about is making sure the snow doesn't block vents into the house, so you don't have gas problems inside the house or you don't lose your heat.

And also, they don't know what to do with all this snow. There's not enough places to put it, so it just piles up. The fact is, in addition to this record, they may set a yearly record. Ten years ago, they had 420 inches of snow in this town. Now they're up to 287 and there's a lot more snow on the way this week. This is Gary Tuchman, CNN in Redfield, New York.

HARRIS: A nuclear showdown in North Korea. Could it be in the near future? It's more like a shutdown we're reporting this morning. What any nuclear weapons? That's ahead in the NEWSROOM, including a live briefing from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

COLLINS: Also, the good and bad in Iraq, one U.S. marine now having a change of heart about which category he falls into. CNN exclusive coming up in the NEWSROOM.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Susan Lisovicz at the this New York stock exchange where we're watching shares of Alcoa. They're up nearly eight percent on reports of not one, but two interested buyers. I'll have details when NEWSROOM returns. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: An important first step. That is the reaction from the White House this morning to the overnight nuclear deal with North Korea. North Korea agreeing to shut down its main nuclear complex and allow international inspectors back in.

In exchange, North Korea would get hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid. But the White House emphasizes that if North Korea doesn't complete the necessary steps, then it won't collect the rewards. Not everyone thinks the deal is a good one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: It sends exactly the wrong signal to would be proliferaters around the world. If you hold out long enough and wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded. In this case, with massive shipments of heavy fuel oil for doing only partially what needs to be done to complete dismantling of their nuclear program.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: More reaction expected later today from President Bush. Right now we're awaiting comments from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We will bring them to you when it happens.

One of the biggest and oldest American companies is the subject of takeover talks. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with details this morning. Susan, we usually talk about Mondays as being about mergers and acquisitions. But some activity this morning. (BUSINESS HEADLINES)

COLLINS: Bombs ripped through commuter buses in Lebanon, the attacks and the timing ahead in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Strong storms battering the south this morning. Look at that radar image. The Midwest and Northeast hunkering down for the big snow. A busy day for meteorologist Chad Myers, the very latest coming up in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Back to back bombs blow up buses carrying people to work in Lebanon. It happened in a Christian area north of Beirut. At least three people were killed, seven others wounded. The attacks come just ahead of the second anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. A top politician says he believes the blast were meant to scare people away from a rally planned tomorrow to mark that anniversary.

And let's take you to Capitol Hill right now and take a look at a debate that is underway right now in the House, on a non-binding resolution that says Congress disapproves of President Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq.

The resolution also says Congress and the American people will continue to support members of the military who have served and are serving in Iraq. All members allowed five minutes to speak. Republican leaders have said they expect at least a few dozen defections when this resolution comes up for vote on Friday. We will continue to keep an eye on the debate for you.

COLLINS: A weapons pipeline into Iraq shut down. Authorities in Italy say drug investigators stumbled across a massive weapons ring, the plot, a half-dozen weapons from China to Libya, and a hundred thousand machine guns from Russia to Iraq. Also said to be in the deal, some 10 million rounds of ammunition. Investigators say only about a half-dozen assault rifles had reached Libya. and none made it to Iraq.

HARRIS: A U.S. Marine accused of murdering an Iraqi civilian now says he's not guilty, and that he was just following orders.

Jason Carroll has his story in this CNN exclusive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's still hard to say what happened that one terrible moment in Iraq. Hard to understand why a devout Christian is now forced to make this distinction.

(on camera) Which one are you?

TRENT THOMAS, CHARGED WITH MURDERING IRAQI: I'm a Marine. I'm not a hero. I'm not a murder. I'm a Marine. I will leave it at that. I'm a Marine.

CARROLL (voice-over): Trent Thomas had long dreamed of being a Marine. He grew up in East Saint Louis amid drugs and desperation. Here, violent crime is seven times the national average. But Thomas went his own way, attended church, won these awards at Christian camp. Bible college was his way out of East Saint Louis.

THOMAS: I was either at school or at work or at church. So there was really no time in between.

CARROLL: Soon Thomas joined the Marines. He would serve three tours in Iraq. During his second was shot in a firefight as he recovered a fellow Marine's body. He received a Purple Heart for his heroism.

But last April during his final tour, Thomas came face-to-face with that terrible moment. His squad was searching for an insurgent in Hamdaniya, northwest of Baghdad.

Details of what happened next come from Thomas and other Marines during the court-martial testimony that would follow. They couldn't find the insurgent at his house, and furious that yet another insurgent seemed to be getting away, they went next door.

There they found Hashim Ibrahim Awad, who was not an insurgent but a 52-year-old father of 11. Thomas and other Marines testified that they bound the Iraqi man's hands and feet. Then Thomas says, he shot Awad.

(on camera) How many times did you fire at him?

THOMAS: Maybe five or six. Seven, eight, somewhere in there. I think maybe about eight altogether.

CARROLL (voice-over): The question of Thomas' defense ultimately would come down to this: what could have driven him to abandon his judgment and his faith and to commit such a heinous crime? Thomas says he hoped killing Awad would send a message.

THOMAS: I look at the situation as, maybe we just set an example. Maybe these people are putting IEDs on the road...

CARROLL (on camera): A good example or a bad example?

THOMAS: Maybe we set an example for any future terrorist that are going to put an IED on this road.

CARROLL (voice-over): Eventually Thomas' eight-member squad was charged with offenses ranging from kidnapping to murder. At first, Thomas pleaded guilty to second degree murder, kidnapping and making false statements.

Thomas told us relentless battle turned him into a different person, not the Christian his family knows, but rather a frustrated soldier who saw violence and blood every day, one who saw his best friend die in battle. THOMAS: You heard of the battered wives syndrome. The wife comes home. Her husband beats her every day. Beats her every day. And one day she says, "I can't take it anymore," and she shoots him. Now is that justified?

Put Marines in the same situation. They're getting shot at. They're getting blown up every day. And they get mad, and they go out and do something. Is it justified?

CARROLL: And yet even as he provides that explanation, he says it's not enough for him.

THOMAS: At the time I felt that I was doing what I had to do, and now that I'm back here, I know that it was wrong what we did. And for that, I'm truly sorry.

CARROLL (on camera): Were you ordered to do what you did?

THOMAS: I really can't say.

CARROLL (voice-over): Thomas' commanding officer is also charged with murder. His attorney didn't return our calls.

Thomas' family says they believe the truth is he was following orders.

LINDA THOMAS, MOTHER OF ACCUSED MARINE: My son is not a murderer. My son was ordered to do whatever he did.

CARROLL: The day after these interviews, Thomas changed his guilty plea to not guilty, his attorney saying he killed an innocent man that day because he was ordered to do it.

THOMAS: I think your leadership plays a huge factor in what you do. That's all I can say.

CARROLL (on camera): But you understand, I think, some would argue, if you're going after someone who is identified as a bad guy, then it's justified. But if it's somebody who's just a bystander, then it's not justified.

THOMAS: A lot of people would argue that. But until you're put in the situation where everyone -- you take a face off everyone through so many bad circumstances...

CARROLL: And when you say take a face off, that means what?

THOMAS: You start -- you stop looking at people as people.

CARROLL (voice-over): What Thomas may ultimately do is take a closer look at the person he is behind the Marine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: I want to take you straight back to Louisiana. We are getting some of the first pictures now of this apparent tornado that may have gone through overnight. Remember, our correspondent, Susan Roesgen is in the area of Westwego. Once again, this is some of the video that we are just getting now upon daylight there. And boy, oh, boy, it's similar to these situations that we see with tornadoes, where one house seems to be just fine, or the house across the street or a couple of doors down is just obliterated.

So according to our reports here, that storm came through at about 3:30 in the morning. We know of one death so far, several injuries that we are continuing to follow, and we will do that, along with Chad Myers, of course, and our correspondents on the ground as this wicked weather goes across the United States today.

When you've got close to two dozen of them, what's one more? Another candidate announces a White House bid, Mitt Romney's run in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Jobs, education, health care, big political issues, and you have a personal stake. We will talk it out with talk show host and author Tavis Smiley, ahead in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: You snooze, you lose -- maybe not. A nap a day may help keep a heart attack away. Fascinating finds in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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