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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Communicating; FBI Wants To Speak With Tsarnaev's Widow; Charged At His Hospital Bed; Challenges In Defending Terrorist Suspects; Israeli Intel: Syria Has Used Chemical Weapons; Kerry, Russia's Foreign Minister Meet; Hurry Up And Wait At The Airport; Stocks To Open Higher; Midwest Flooding; 6-Year- Old Survives Gator Attack

Aired April 23, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. He is talking. Not necessarily with spoken words, but Boston marathon terror suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is communicating at least with investigators from his hospital bed.

A government source tells CNN's Jake Tapper that Tsarnaev has informed law enforcement that his older brother Tamerlan was the driving force behind last week's terror attacks, also saying that no foreign terrorist groups were involved and also that the motivation for the bombing for the Boston marathon was to defend Islam.

Now all of these claims must be verified by investigators. They're not taking him at his word. Tsarnaev is formally charged with using a weapon of mass destruction. Also illicit destruction of property and he could be sentenced to death if found guilty.

Meantime, residents of people who work on Boylston Street, which is right behind me right here, they will be allowed back today. We just saw some business owners going across the barrier. It could be a few more days, though, before the general public is allowed back in.

Another new development this morning, the FBI wants to interview Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow. So far that has not happened but agents have spoken to Katherine Russell's attorney. He says she knew nothing about her husband's alleged role in the Boston bombings.

Katherine Russell lives with her parents now in North Kingston, Rhode Island. That's where CNN's Chris Lawrence is this morning. Good morning, Chris. What's the latest?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, basically investigators want from Katherine Russell, they want to know, "A," what she now about what her husband was doing and, if he had any other affiliations besides his younger brother.

Let's take you to some new video that we shot just in the last hour. You can see Katherine Russell's attorney arriving here at the family's home. She comes out of the home, and they leave together, followed by federal authorities. We know investigators have been to this home several times over the past couple days, but so far she is only speaking to them through her attorney. He does tell us that she does not know anything about her husband's activities.

That she was working upwards of 70 hours a week sometimes, while Tamerlan stayed home and took care of their 2 1/2-year-old daughter. He says Katherine Russell is devastated by what happened. He said she feels horrible for the victims of the Boston marathon bombing, and she's also dealing with the loss of her husband, and the father of her child -- John.

BERMAN: Chris, what are you learning about her personally and the life that she was leading with Tamerlan?

LAWRENCE: She grew up here in a suburb of Providence, Rhode Island. From all accounts a very good student, she went off to college in Boston, and that's where she met Tamerlan.

She was raised Christian, but she converted to Islam after she married Tamerlan in 2010. They had a daughter. And from all accounts, she is a devout Muslim. She wears the hijab, the traditional head scarf.

And again, investigators now want to know from them living together in that cramped little apartment what she may have seen or heard about what happened.

BERMAN: All right, Chris Lawrence standing by for us in North Kingston, Rhode Island, a key site, a key part of the future of this investigation. Thanks so much, Chris.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged really in an extraordinary way at his bedside in the hospital. Based on the court transcript, he was able to speak one word and one word only. That word, "no."

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Sanjay, we know at one point he was intubated. You have to think he is on some kind of pain medication, maybe several. Would that affect the case in any way as he talks to investigators and what exactly do we know about this throat injury?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, when you think about these types of injuries, they call it a penetrating injury to the neck. That's what we've heard. You worry about a couple of things.

One is that a major blood vessel could be a disrupted or the spinal cord could be affected. And sort of putting it all together, John, and looking what has happened over the last couple of days. It's unlikely that the injury was affecting a blood vessel or his spinal cord.

We saw him standing, for example, at the time of his capture. We've heard rumors that he might be writing. And also, the fact that he's awake and alert now suggests that it wasn't as significant of an injury. But what typically happens in these cases is that just want to show you, John, quickly this is the type of tube that might go down someone's mouth and into their trachea, their windpipe. Most likely he doesn't have one of those.

But rather has something that looks like this, which is actually just a tube that goes straight into the neck, into the windpipe and that's what allows him to breathe.

John, the reason that's significant is because with the second type of tube you often don't need as much sedation. So someone may get some pain medication because of the operation, but could otherwise be rather awake as he's been described -- John.

BERMAN: So that could explain two things. That it can explain why he doesn't need so much sedation, why he is able to communicate. It could also explain, Sanjay, why he was able to vocalize that one word, "no" that we now believe he said based on the court transcript.

GUPTA: Yes, very important, John, because first of all, it shows that the vocal chords themselves are still working. Despite the fact that you have a tube in your throat you can generate enough air or something like that to push air past the vocal chords and makes that sound.

It's not easy. Ultimately, with a tube like this, people can actually cover the tube, and that allows them to talk out more freely. And that's typically what happens in someone who has a tracheotomy tube that looks like this.

But, yes, John, you make a good point, the fact that he could speak at all. And I read the same transcript that you did, I think indicates that he should be able to speak more clearly later on.

BERMAN: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta for us at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Thanks for being with us, Sanjay. Really appreciate it.

Want to talk now about the legal road ahead. There's a lot to talk about on that subject. We have Criminal Defense Attorney Bernard Kleinman with us. His clients include Ramzi Yousef who was, of course, convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Thanks so much for being with us. I really appreciate it.

Let me start with this question. Our Jake Tapper reporting this morning that apparently there is a fair amount of information being conveyed by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to investigators, he's talking about the attack. He's talking about his brother's role in the attack.

He's saying they were radicalized by watching online videos. Without going into the detail of exactly what he's saying, let's talk about how much he's saying. As a defense attorney, does it concern you that he's conveying so much information right now?

BERNARD KLEINMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think one thing, John, to remember, now that he has counsel assigned to him, I would tend to doubt that he's still speaking to the authorities. Certainly without counsel being present, he wouldn't be speaking to them at all.

So I think at this point in time, the interrogation may well have stopped and he's meeting more importantly with his defense attorneys to determine exactly what type of defense, what type of issues can be raised in order to mitigate any penalties that might be imposed upon him.

And to determine what, if any, defense might be applied if he ends up going to trial or if he makes a decision whether to plead guilty, but these are things that will be way down the road. I know that there is under the federal rules there is required to be a probable cause hearing within 14 days.

That hearing will not take place, either the parties, the government or the defense, can agree to waive that hearing or the judge himself can agree to wave that hearing. And the likelihood is that hearing will be waived and they will at least hand down a preliminary indictment within the next two weeks.

BERMAN: You bring up a really good point. We do not know whether all this information has been reportedly conveyed by our Jake Tapper from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the investigators, we do not know if that was before or after he received his Miranda warnings or before or after he obtained counsel.

So that's an excellent point. One of the things we do know that he is saying apparently is that it was his brother Tamerlan who was the mastermind here. Is that something that could be helpful to his defense if he was merely following his brother?

KLEINMAN: Well, it will be helpful to his defense in the sense of mitigating the penalty that he might end up suffering. From what I've read and what I've seen, he's clearly as culpable as his brother.

The videos that they picked up and the statements that he made to the driver of the SUV, all would indicate that he was a willing participant in this crime, and also the fact that he fled from the scene would further indicate his willingness to participate in this crime.

However, any influence that he might have suffered from his brother, his brother's influence on him, may again go to mitigate any penalty that might be imposed upon him. Whether he ends up getting the death penalty or whether he ends up getting life in prison.

I cannot imagine under any circumstance, quite honestly, having viewed many of these cases over the last 15, 20 years that he will get anything less than life in prison even if he ends up pleading guilty.

BERMAN: You, of course, have this unique perspective into a defense like this. What is it like defending such a high profile client? In some cases such a notorious client and how much of leverage do you have with investigators? Is there a way to plea this down to life in prison rather than the death penalty?

KLEINMAN: Well, one of the first things when you have a client along these lines is you need to get the trust of that client. A lot of these individuals feel that their defense counsel is as much a part of the system as the prosecution and the judge and the jury.

And there is a long road to hoe before you can get the trust of your client before he or she will speak to you openly and honestly. You look at the trials of a lot of the prior terrorism individuals, even Ramzi Yousef and others. It was a long and difficult road for defense counsel to be able to get those individuals to trust them.

Once that goes forward, as far as mitigating the sentence, if he ends up getting life in prison, is that if he was under any influence from his brother, if he pleads guilty, things along those lines. I think it's also -- I'd like to just make the point that if he gets life in prison in the federal system life in prison means he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

There's no parole. He won't be released early under any circumstances. No provision for any type of release and the likelihood also is that he will end up being sent, if he pleads guilty and getting to sense in life in prison to ADX Florence, which is the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Supermax Facility in Florence, Colorado.

That is a solitary confinement facility and he'll end up spending the rest of his life technically in solitary confinement. To me, at least, a much greater punishment than actually ending up being executed.

BERMAN: Bernard Kleinman, defense attorney, thank you so much this morning for your truly unique insight into this case. Really appreciate it.

KLEINMAN: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Christine Romans is back in New York right now with we have some of the other headlines we're following, a lot of news going on. Christine, what's the latest?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John, new this morning, new evidence surfacing that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, likely sarin gas, on rebels. Israel's top military intelligence official saying they have photos showing victims foaming at the mouth.

That is something that indicates chemical weapons use. An American official told our Barbara Starr the U.S. has suspicions of chemical weapons use. Just yesterday Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said if Syria uses chemical weapons it would cross a red line and the Pentagon had a plan in place to deal with it.

The secretary of state in Brussels this morning meeting with Russia's foreign minister and other NATO diplomats. John Kerry is also meeting separately with the foreign minister of Russia. We could find out later if the two talked about the accused Boston bombers, and their roots in Russia's republic of Chechnya.

Back in the U.S., the president and first lady plan to attend their second big memorial service in two weeks. On Thursday, the Oamas head to Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Services will be there for victims of that massive fertilizer plant explosion in the nearby town of West, Texas. Fourteen people were killed. The first couple attended services last week for Boston bombing victims.

The flight delays you were so worried about that we warned you about, they're happening up to 90 minutes and even longer if the weather is bad. Thousands of air traffic controllers are getting furloughed because of forced budget cuts in Washington. Passengers are feeling it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we had to wait 30 minutes because there was a backlog for departure, but they didn't really say anything else. They just said because of that it's now delays. How many planes can take off at what time so, maybe I guess it's going to have the impact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The "New York Times" says U.S. Airways, JetBlue and Delta canceled some flights because of those forced spending cuts.

"Minding Your Business" this morning stock futures have turned positive thanks to optimism about the tech sector. Dow futures are up about 20 points. The NASDAQ, S&P are higher as well. But keep in mind they open for real at 9:30.

Also keep an eye on Netflix today. That stock posting huge pre-market gains after an upbeat earnings report. Also Apple results come out after the closing bell one of the most sophisticated reports of this earnings season in part because the stock is down 30 percent over the past year.

Other events we're following this morning floodwaters rising in the Midwest swallowing entire communities whole. Next we're going to take you live to a town trying to save its homes.

And then a 6-year-old boy, attacked by an alligator, and survives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: The alligator -- and grabbed my arm and I couldn't get out.

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ROMANS: He and his father join us with the terrifying encounter. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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ROMANS: The rain in today's forecast will only add to the record flooding happening all across the Midwest. A state of emergency has been declared in Missouri and in Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has declared disaster areas in more than 40 counties. CNN's Jim Spellman is live in Spring Bay, Illinois where the Illinois River has been overflowing since Sunday and residents, Jim, they are -- they're preparing for even more water.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The last thing they want to hear about here is another inch of rain coming. I'm not sure it will really make a huge difference, but I mean, take a look. Two blocks in from the water and it's inundated here a foot up at the edge, three or four feet there at the worst.

We haven't seen widespread reports of this kind of damage, but here in Spring Bay, it's having a huge impact. Take a look.

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SPELLMAN (voice-over): Last minute prep in Spring Bay, Illinois, as floodwaters inundates this riverside community.

(on camera): Where is your home?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My home is that gray and white mobile home with the black shutters on it.

SPELLMAN: You can't get to your home by foot now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

SPELLMAN: Have you ever seen this much water come up here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

SPELLMAN: Scary?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): Starlynn Winchell's home, along with about 40 others in this trailer community, began to flood Sunday and the water has continued to rise.

STARLYNN WINCHELL, FLOOD VICTIM: Yesterday I cried all day.

SPELLMAN (on camera): And today?

WINCHELL: Today, I'm not crying yet, but the more I see that water come up, the more I'll cry.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): The Red Cross is on site assessing the area as the fire chief prepares for the worse.

(on camera): This is the evacuation order?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the evacuation notice.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): Mandatory evacuations for residents in low- lying areas, his biggest fear, people ignoring the order and getting trapped in hard-to-reach parts of the community. CHIEF DENNIS PERRY, SPRING BAY FIRE DEPARTMENT: Some of these places I simply can't get to and that's going to be a real big disadvantage to us.

SPELLMAN: Jared Teegarden just moved to Spring Bay a few months ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the neighborhood.

SPELLMAN: As the river began to flood, he built his homemade levee from four dump trucks full of sand. So far, it's working.

JARED TEEGARDEN, HOMEOWNER: There would be four feet of water here if not. So we're doing all right. We're better than most.

SPELLMAN: His neighbor, Brad Lohman, among those not doing as well.

BRAD LOHMAN, BAR OWNER: It's kind of emotional to kind of see this situation and, you know, it's bad deal.

SPELLMAN: He's worked at this bar since he was a teenager eventually buying it. He says repairs will total more than $50,000. Will he reopen?

LOHMAN: No, I don't think so. I think we're going to be a total loss. I really do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPELLMAN: This water takes a lot longer to get out of here than it took to get in. Authorities here are telling us it could be a week and a half before this town is dry and they can really finish their cleanup -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Jim Spellman, thanks so much, Jim. Ahead on STARTING POINT, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat literally. A quick-thinking dad saved his 6-year-old son from the grip of an eight foot alligator. Father and son are going to tell us about that tale. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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ROMANS: A truly amazing story of survival is what the father of 6- year-old Joey Welch calls it a triple miracle. The boy was attacked by an alligator on Friday. He was with his father in a Florida wildlife refuge when he fell into the water and into the jaws of a hungry gator. Listen to Joey describe it.

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UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: The alligator, he grabbed my arm, and I couldn't get out.

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ROMANS: His dad managed to free Joey with the help of a Good Samaritan who kicked the alligator in the stomach. By his account, there are three miracles that his son survived. That he still has arm and that no bones are broken.

He joins us now along with 6-year-old Joey. Dad, I think you're about right. That's three pretty amazing miracles there that you can sit here and tell the story. Now tell me, Joe, what happened? How did he get tangled up with an eight-foot gator?

JOE WELCH, RESCUED SON FROM ALLIGATOR ATTACK: This is what happened. There was a concession stand for canoe rental place at the shoreline of this location that we were at. And I had just got done putting sun block on him, and I turned around to go pay for the canoe, and within the blink of an eye, Joey, typical high-energy kid, ran down this hill, and he fell right into the water.

And when he did, he -- the gator must have been right there, ready, because as soon as he fell in, I heard the splash and I instantly heard him start screaming, so I bolted down the hill, and I -- you know, couldn't even believe my eyes, and I -- I was in waist deep water and I had -- I had -- I didn't -- didn't want to get into a tug of war with a gator because I didn't want Joey to lose his arm.

So I had my left arm wrapped around my chest area and with the right hand, I was pounding on the snout of the gator as hard as I could. But it was like hitting a brick because the gator didn't even flinch, and then there was another client, about to rent a canoe as well.

And when he heard what was happening, he ran over, and he was just screaming at me to try -- telling me to pull my son out of the water. And I really wanted to get the gator's teeth to let go of his arm first because I was concerned if I pulled Joey away while the gator was still attached, with the weight of the gator that could pull his arm out of his socket.

ROMANS: The other guy then he came down with you and actually kicked or hit the alligator in the stomach and the jaws popped loose.

JOE WELCH: Exactly. That's when the jaws popped loose and the gator finally released.

ROMANS: Joey, you got to tell me. Did he hurt you? Did it hurt? I know, you got some scratches, can you show me a little bit about what happened?

JOEY WELCH, SURVIVED ALLIGATOR ATTACK: Well, yes. I -- I was screaming, I was in the pond, but I cried when I got out.

ROMANS: You cried when you got out. Did you have scratches on your stomach?

JOEY WELCH: Yes.

ROMANS: Now, Joey, will you go back to school today?

JOEY WELCH: Maybe. I don't know.

ROMANS: Maybe.

JOEY WELCH: I will be late.

ROMANS: I'm going to tell you, are you going to have quite a story to tell your friends and teacher. What are you going to tell them?

JOEY WELCH: Yes, my friend Ivy in my class watched the show when I was on Channel 7 and Channel 10.

ROMANS: Did they warn you there could be alligators literally right next to you?

JOE WELCH: No. There was no warning whatsoever for that.

JOEY WELCH: No signs.

JOE WELCH: No signs, there was no fence. On the web site, they did say this is the everglades and that there are many gators, but that, you know --

JOEY WELCH: I told dad, I shouldn't have gone in.

JOE WELCH: It says when are you in the canoe, if you want to observe the gators, don't bang your paddle against the canoe because that will scare them away.

ROMANS: So Joey, do you think that when you fell in the water, you might have fallen right on top of this gator?

JOEY WELCH: No. I just fell feet first and then the alligator just like swam to me and I was like just kicked it away.

ROMANS: Wow. Well, we are so glad, Joey, that -- we are so glad your dad was right there and we're so glad that other guy came running down and kicked the gator in the stomach. Would go on that canoe trip again, Joey?

JOEY WELCH: Maybe not.

ROMANS: Maybe not. Joe and Joey, thanks so much for telling us your story. We're glad that we can smile about it. That everything is OK. It must have been a terrifying moment. We hope he has a great story to tell when he goes back to kindergarten today. Thanks, guys.

He is a little famous now, John Berman, you know, Channel 7, Channel 10, and CNN, he's a little late to school. Back to you.

BERMAN: All right, thanks so much, Christine. Ahead on STARTING POINT, his words are few, but we are hearing from the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsavnaev in the hospital. What investigators are learning from him? We will talk to CNN's Jake Tapper about what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been telling law enforcement. This special edition of STARTING POINT continues right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. Our STARTING POINT today, he can barely speak, but the surviving suspect in the marathon bombings revealing key details about the attack and who may have been involved.