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CNN NEWSROOM

North Korean Tensions; No Plea Deal for James Holmes

Aired April 1, 2013 - 14:59   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: This hour in the CNN NEWSROOM, Kevin Ware walking in the hospital. He's the Louisville basketball player who broke his leg during game time. We're talking to a physical therapist to see what Ware's rehab will look like.

Plus, Caroline Kennedy asked to take a role with the Obama administration -- what job she may accept.

And a green meteorite? Think you have heard this story before? Well, guess what? This one could be first ever from mercury.

The CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Brooke Baldwin.

We begin with breaking news from the Korean Peninsula, where tensions between the North and South have been steadily on the rise and now the U.S. is stepping up its military might.

CNN has learned the U.S. Navy is moving at least one warship closer to the North Korean coastline. And other warships may be on the way. This comes just a day after the U.S. sent in two stealth bombers to take part in war games with South Korea.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live from the Pentagon now.

So, Barbara, what are we learning about this latest military maneuver and why now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, let's regroup a little bit.

What we do know is that the U.S. Navy is sending one warship and a radar off the coast of North Korea. It will stay, all of it, in international waters, ready to monitor any North Korean military moves, any North Korean ballistic missile launches.

This comes one day after we also have learned that two stealth fighters, F-22 fighters, have landed in South Korea, part of this very visible buildup by the United States. Why are they doing it? They're sending a message to North Korea that they are ready, if there is a North Korean provocation. But is there one? Listen to what the White House had to say just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would note that despite the harsh rhetoric we're hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large- scale mobilizations and positioning of forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So everybody on both sides, you know, just ratcheting up the rhetoric. What is really go on here?

What U.S. officials tell us is, you know, they are trying to be ready, if there is a North Korean provocation. They're trying to be ready, demonstrate to South Korea, Japan, the allies in the region, that the U.S., the Obama administration will stand by them, and will be ready to act if something were to happen.

They say you just can't really anticipate over the long haul what the North Koreans may be up to -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So, Barbara, reemphasis, this is a just in case, this is not necessarily U.S. offensive military action?

STARR: Oh, that's absolutely right.

You know, the problem is you don't know how the North Koreans may view it. But at this time, this is really the U.S. side of the rhetoric and the maneuvering and the messaging. Put things into place, show everybody you're ready to go if it comes to that.

WHITFIELD: All right, flexing the muscle, so to speak. All right, Barbara Starr, appreciate that from the Pentagon.

All right, other matters, the chief prosecutor in Houston, Texas, is under 24-hour protection and law enforcement officials across the state of Texas are now treading with caution today after the second recent murder of one of their own. Tough-talking prosecutor Mike McLelland was found dead Sunday morning. McLelland's wife was also slain. Their bodies were found at their home in Kaufman County.

It is the same Texas county where assistant DA Mark Hasse was shot dead in January. Hasse's murder in broad daylight prompted this challenge to the killers by the now dead McLelland.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE MCLELLAND, KAUFMAN COUNTY, TEXAS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I hope that the people that did this are watching because we're very confident that we're going to find you, we're going to pull you out of whatever hole you're in, and we're going to bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Law enforcement officials including the FBI want to know if the killings were linked and whether white supremacists may have been involved. Kaufman County officials aided in the indictment last fall of 34 members of the Texas Aryan Brotherhood.

In December, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a warning that white supremacists might retaliate. Mark Hasse was killed in January and now Mike McLelland.

CNN's George Howell is joining us now from Kaufman, Texas.

What are authorities saying about these cases being linked and whether there is any correlation with the whole Aryan group?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, they're not making any indications as to whether these murders are connected to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

And they're also not connecting these two different murders. But when you talk to people here in this county you do get the sense that people believe that it is somehow linked, that it is somehow connected. In fact, public officials that I spoke with, or we spoke with, rather, they say that, you know, these are two prosecutors who worked together very closely on similar cases and that these hits, they may be retribution, they may be revenge hits.

And even people on streets I have spoken with say it seems that one and one adds to two, because this sort of thing doesn't happen here. So people are very curious and, quite frankly, Fredricka, nervous, fearful until they get some answers in this case.

WHITFIELD: And, so, George, the courthouse, was it open today? And if it was, what was security detail like? What was the feeling of people who had to report to work there today?

HOWELL: Right. Well, let's talk about law enforcement.

First of all, I spoke with Erwin Ballarta with the Texas Police Association who describes the mood of law enforcement. We're talking about the loss of two prosecutors over the span of two months and for the law enforcement community, it is the loss of family. So, you know, it is a sad, it is a difficult situation to deal with, but you find that law enforcement officers, they are aware.

They are, you know, paying very close attention to their surroundings. At the courthouse, it is open. There is extra security there. And in fact as you mentioned, we even see a district attorney, one in Harris County, in Houston, Texas, a few hundred miles south of us, he has taken extra precautions. He's elected to take on extra security, 24-hour security to protect him and his family.

You get a sense of what people are doing given what happened here in Kaufman.

WHITFIELD: All right, George Howell, thanks so much for that update.

Joining us now from Montgomery, Alabama, Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. Heidi, back in October, when the Justice Department indicted 34 members of the Texas Aryan Brotherhood, officials called it at the time a devastating blow to the group. So now speculation that there could potentially be a link and that these also could be retaliatory killings. Would you want to connect the dots here?

HEIDI BEIRICH, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, I mean, at this point in time we don't have any evidence linking the two murders or even anything definitive to say that the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas was involved in any of them.

That said, the Texas Department of Safety had already warned prosecutor and law enforcement officials after those indictments in November that they should be concerned about violence coming from this group and this group is extremely violent. So it is always, you know -- it is very possible that's the case.

WHITFIELD: And do you know whether any of the 34 people who were indicted last fall remain at large?

BEIRICH: I think most of the folks that were involved were rounded up or were already in prison.

That's not to say -- you know, these prison gangs, they work from the inside and from the outside, and this particular outfit, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, is probably the most violent one in the nation. It is not as though their reach can't extend from outside of prison, because it certainly can.

WHITFIELD: What do you know about this group, this Texas Aryan Brotherhood as a whole? Even though officials are not necessarily making the links, but the names, the group has been brought up in terms of areas of this investigation. What more can you tell us about them?

BEIRICH: Well, what we do know about the group is it has been around since the 1980s. It is a stand-alone organization. It's not connected to the larger Aryan Brotherhood. They have about 2,600 members in the state of Texas and some in federal prisons. And we know they make a ton of money off of basically drug running. And that's what this is really about. It is a business that is also fueled by white supremacist beliefs.

WHITFIELD: All right. Heidi Beirch, thanks so much. And George Howell, also, our reporting there out of Texas, appreciate that.

All right, in another state, prosecutors today rejected a proposed guilty plea from suspected mass killer James Holmes. Holmes faces 166 counts for gunning down 70 people last July in a Colorado movie theater. And 12 of those people died. Defense attorneys last week offered a deal in which Holmes would plead guilty and spend the rest of his life in prison.

In rejecting the deal, the district attorney said -- quote -- "In this case, justice is death." Holmes' attorney planned to use some form of an insanity defense. I spoke about that with a friend of Jessica Ghawi, who died in that rampage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER BURNS, FRIEND OF VICTIM: I think that this is an act. I think this coward that shows up every single day in court with this aloof look in his eyes that he just spaced out, I can't imagine somebody pulling off something like this to be in that case. I think as soon as he knows he goes into the courtroom, he knows exactly what's going on.

WHITFIELD: You think he's putting on an act?

(CROSSTALK)

BURNS: Absolutely. Without a doubt. From day one, I thought that. The first day that that coward walked into the courtroom, I knew that he was putting on an act. Everyone knows he's putting on an act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Jim Spellman was in the courtroom this morning.

So, Jim, you know, why did the prosecutors reject this guilty plea?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What happened exact, to be precise, is the prosecutor said we don't have enough information to accept this plea.

But, of course, when they made that offer, they didn't know whether the prosecutor was going to go for the death penalty or not. I want to set the scene for you, Fredricka. It was very dramatic. The district attorney walked up to the podium, on one half of the courtroom, family members, on the other side, the journalists and amongst us James Holmes' parents.

George Brauchler, the DA, said that he's personally spoken with 60 of the victims and he had told nobody of his decision, not even the attorneys on his team, and that's when he said in this case, justice is death. They then went on to do a number of procedural things, set the court date for the trial for next February.

You could just see the shock on our side, where James Holmes' parents were, as the father puts his arm around the mother, as she was quietly sobbing. On the other hand, sort of mixed emotions from the families. Later we caught up with them. Listen to one of the friends of somebody who was killed in the theater. Listen.

Sorry. Sorry. They came out and spoke with us, Fredricka, and some people said -- they said, look, sign me up, I will be the first one to watch the execution. Other people, including a man named Marcus Weaver, himself shot in the shoulder, allegedly, by James Holmes, said they're still willing to take this deal if the prosecution will go for it, but very frustrated that at this point James Holmes is not just owning up to what they say he did. WHITFIELD: All right, incredible. Thanks so much, Jim Spellman, for that update.

Still ahead, you have seen the horrific injury in the Louisville game, a heart=breaking moment that played out in front of millions on television. Louisville's Kevin Ware coming down hard on his leg, snapping his shinbone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's dislocated some portion of his leg there, Jim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This team is in tears.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: It was painful to watch. We have the latest on his condition today and his road to recovery.

Plus, new information on the man accused of plowing into a Wal- Mart, injuring, then attacking customers. Police weigh in on what may have caused this very bizarre attack.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: We just learned an American was one of two victims attacked in Brazil. A man woman was raped, a man was beaten. Investigators however are not saying which one was American.

Police say they have arrested two men and are looking for a third after a horrifying attack involving tourists. Police say the men boarded a minibus in Rio de Janeiro and ordered everyone off except for a male and female tourist. Rio will host matches in next year's World Cup and will put on the Summer Olympic Games two years after that.

CNN has learned a key ambassadorship may be going to a member of an iconic American family.

With that story, our chief White House correspondent, CNN's Jessica Yellin.

So, Jessica, give it up. Is this a yea or a nay? I know she's certainly being vetted.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Fredricka, sources tell me that Caroline Kennedy is going through the vet process, has been asked to be the next ambassador to Japan. But this vet still has to be completed.

If she gets the post, she would be following in the Kennedy family tradition. Her grandfather Joe Kennedy was ambassador to England. Sergeant Shriver was ambassador to France. Keep in mind, Kennedy was not only an early endorser of the president, but she's also a trusted ally of this administration. She was on the president's vice presidential selection committee in 2008.

So if she goes through the vet successfully, and we expect she will, this would not be your typical old-school supporter suck-up. She's someone who can get the president and his staff on the phone and bottom line that means she would have juice in the job, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, apparently, Japan likes it when a U.S. ambassador to their country is someone who is well known, someone who really has kind of chops and worldwide respect, right?

YELLIN: Japan likes that.

Listen, any country would like that because what you want in an ambassador is somebody who is high-profile and can get the commander in chief. It's a recognition that that relationship is valued by the U.S. and putting Caroline Kennedy in that job is a sign that the president values the relationship with Japan and we know he does with his pivot to the Pacific.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jessica Yellin, thanks so much.

It looked like a kidnapping, but the police say it was something much different. Up next, the real story behind the so-called chase caught on surveillance video. Plus, let the good times roll and roll as the White House throws its annual Easter egg hunt. What a party. We will show you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. How about this for a shot? European golfer Andreas Harto of Denmark, well, apparently favors boxers over briefs. How do we know that? You'll see in just a moment. Right there. No kidding.

He hit a pretty decent shot from the water at the Euro Tour event in Morocco and then surprise, surprise, turns out he wasn't even wearing any pants. It is not uncommon to see pros remove their shoes, perhaps, when trying to wedge a ball out of the water, but this close to the full Monty?

Andreas Harto just returned to Copenhagen and he's joining us now on the phone.

So, Andreas, you got to explain this one. Usually it is taking off the shoes and the socks, rolling up the pants, but you, you took it all off.

ANDREAS HARTO, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: Yes. This water was a little bit too deep for just the shoes and socks, so I had to take my pants off.

I mean, I hit the ball in the water, and the ball was halfway above and halfway under the water. I wanted to save a shot. Obviously, this was the 14th hole in the last round, and I was doing all right in the tournament. I wanted to save a shot. And I did all right. And, you know, I know it looks quite funny, but I did what I had to and that was the main thing here.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it is very funny. Did you know that it would be broadcast all over the world and, you know, people would be looking at you in your skivvies?

(CROSSTALK)

HARTO: No, definitely not.

I saw the video camera and I realized it might be on just the Golf Channel in Europe, but now it is -- I have heard that it is in Thailand and in the States and stuff. It is has gone a little bit more crazy than I might have thought it would, but I like putting smiles on people's faces. So I'm happy with the fact that...

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: You have done just that. Are you happy with the shot? Was it worth the risk?

HARTO: It was a great shot. I saved at least a shot. So, that was the main thing. And, yes, you know, it was a good shot. It would have been a fantastic par. I made bogey, unfortunately, but, yes, I mean, I was very happy with the shot. It was a tricky shot. It is more or less a guess, what a ball like that is going to do. I was happy that I got it on the green and managed to make bogey.

WHITFIELD: Of course you would be rather -- you know, you would rather be known for your swing, but instead you're known for, you know, showing your gams.

(LAUGHTER)

HARTO: Yes. I mean, it is all right. I don't mind. Again, I'm not I'm not afraid to make a fool out of myself.

Again, as I said before, I did this to save a shot. It is not like I wanted to make a fool out of the tour or out of the golf tournament. I had to save a shot and I did just that. So, I was happy. And again people can laugh at it and I don't mind.

WHITFIELD: Something tells me they probably like the publicity. I don't think they're going to feel like you made a fool of anybody, but you're brave indeed. You know, would you do that again, you think?

HARTO: No, definitely.

Now I have proved to proven to myself I can hit a shot like that, so if I'm in a situation like that again, I guess I will do the exact same thing. But hopefully it won't happen. I will try to stay out of the water from now on.

WHITFIELD: All right, pants or no pants, Andreas Harto, thanks so much. Good thing you have nice looking legs there too.

(LAUGHTER)

HARTO: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks for being with us and being a good sport about it all too.

All right, coming up next, news on everyone and everything, including a possible game changer for the online retailer Amazon.

And quite a find. Chad Myers joins us on the meteorite found from Mercury. The power block is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, bottom of the hour. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Brooke Baldwin.

Technology, sports, business, health, science, all of it, we're hitting it right now.

Amazon is gradually losing one of the biggest advantages that gave it a competitive edge over brick-and-mortar stores. The popular online retailer has challenged efforts forcing it to charge state sales taxes.

Alison Kosik is with us now from the New York Stock Exchange.

So, Alison, Amazon just lost a big fight in New York. Could we see this thing go all the way to the Supreme Court?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's a good question, but it wouldn't be such a shocker, Fredricka, to see Amazon take this issue all the way to the Supreme Court, especially after the highest court here in New York said Amazon, yes, you have got to collect state sales taxes, something that Amazon doesn't want to do, especially since it doesn't do it at the moment in every single state.

And it's something other states like Illinois say, hey, we don't have a problem with it. With so many different opinions, it really makes this a prime candidate for Supreme Court review, especially since each state has different laws.

But, if Amazon loses this battle, it could be saying bye-bye to its pricing edge over brick-and-mortar stores, which is a huge draw for consumers. But the issue may be a moot point soon, because Congress is looking at a bill right now. There's legislation on the table getting lots of support because states are missing out on $23 billion in uncollected tax revenue from websites and catalogues that don't collect the tax, so it's getting a lot of support. That legislation has a good chance of passing. Fredricka?