Return to Transcripts main page

STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Boston Bombing Investigation; Raid by Russian Special Forces; Search for a Killer; Michael Jackson Death Trial Begins; "Iron Man" Rules Worldwide Box Offices

Aired April 29, 2013 - 08:00   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: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston. This morning, our STARTING POINT, a raid overnight in Russia, why Special Forces wanted this man dead and his possible connection to one of the suspected Boston bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Plus, the U.S. and Russia working furiously to piece together Tamerlan's every move leading up to the marathon attack as his surviving brother is questioned in a 10x10 cell. We are live in Boston and in Moscow with the latest developing details.

Then a manhunt under way for the man behind the stabbing death of an 8-year-old girl, the family's desperate plea for help and the warning for their community.

Plus, opening statements expected today in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial. A preview of the courtroom drama and shocking testimony we could hear in the coming weeks.

And, live pictures as U.S. history reaches new heights. The final section of One World Trade Center goes up today. Details on the soon- to-be tallest better than in the western hemisphere.

It is Monday, April 29, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

BERMAN: We begin with brand new developments in the Boston bombings coming from the alleged bombers' parents. Their mother told our Nick Paton Walsh that she will travel to the U.S. no matter the risk as long as she's able to see her surviving son. Their father's health, Nick says, is also taking a bad turn.

Overnight, Russian special forces raiding a militant group with possible links to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, taking out this man, purportedly a key member of that militant group. And this comes as the FBI and Russian security officials try to peace together Tamerlan Tsarnaev's movements during his six-month visit to Russia. They want to know if others in the U.S. or Russia may have influenced or helped the Tsarnaev brothers. That includes Tsarnaev's mother as well as possibly Tamerlan's wife Katherine Russell, who has converted to Islam when she married him in 2010. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is now locked in a 10 by 10 foot cell in a medical facility for federal prisoners. Officials releasing new details about his detention at this facility, which is about 40 Miami miles west of Boston.

Our Pamela Brown is live there in Devens, Massachusetts. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John. According to a prison hospital official we spoke with earlier, we have learned that 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is speaking and interacting with nurses and doctors and other staff here at federal medical center in Devens. Officials won't say it if he's talking with anyone else, but this is an indication that his condition has improved significantly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Inside these federal prison hospital walls in Devens, Massachusetts, 40 miles outside of Boston, bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is living in solitude in a 10 by 10 foot cell, equip with a steel door, slot for food, and a small window where he's being observed 24 hours a day. The accommodations are spare, limited to a toilet, sink and bed. Tuck away in a restricted area reserved only for high risk inmates. There's only room for 30 offenders in this special section, and now, Tsarnaev is one of them.

As investigators figure out how and why he allegedly killed out the attacks with his brother later killed in a police shootout, the Justice Department's role in the investigation has come under intense scrutiny. Tsarnaev has stopped given substantive information to authorities since being read his Miranda rights, sources have indicated.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar at the White House Correspondents' Dinner Saturday night, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the decision.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Can you comment on the suspect being mirandized and whether that was appropriate?

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I mean, the decision to mirandize him is one that the magistrate made and that was totally consistent with the laws that we have. We had a two-day period we were able to question him under the public safety exception. So, I think everything was done appropriately and we got -- we got good leads.

BROWN: Republican Congressman Peter King strongly disagreed, saying more time to interrogate Tsarnaev could have brought forth new critical information to keep America safe.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: It's absolutely disgraceful, because that interrogation could have ended up saving many American lives. We don't know what the full consequences are going to be, who else is involved, who was involved then, who could be involved in the future, and we may not know because of Eric Holder. BROWN: Tsarnaev's brother Tamerlan and his mother had been listed in a U.S. counterterrorism database since Russia raised concerns about both of them in 2011, and intelligence officials told CNN. It was within that same year that an official with knowledge of the investigation is now saying that Russian intercepted communication between the Tamerlan's mother and one of the two sons discussing jihad, in a conversation described as vague. The information came on a wiretap of the mother that the Russians have turned over only in recent days.

Earlier in the week, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, acknowledges that the situation could have been handled better. "To my great regret," he said, "we were not able to provide our American colleagues with information that would have had operative significance."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Now, in addition to the terrorism charges he's already facing, Tsarnaev could face more charges soon. A grand jury is looking over evidence and then an indictment will be presented sometime in the next three weeks. From there we can expect to see Tsarnaev in court sometime down the road -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Pamela Brown for us live in Devens Massachusetts, following developments concerning Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

As we mentioned before, we have a lot of developments overnight from Russia. Russian special forces targeting a militant group over the weekend that may be linked to suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live from Moscow with those details. Also, Nick has just spoken to the Tsarnaev parents. What's the latest, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first let's deal with the parents. I spoke to the father and the mother in the last couple of hours. And, firstly, the father in a grave state saying, "I'm sick, I'm sick," and not much else during the phone call. It was clear he wasn't in good condition at all judging by the way he spoke.

I spoke to the mother. She said, "Look, our travel plans are changing, but at the moment given the current condition of health of the father, a journey to the United States for him seems highly unlikely." She said, however, she would go to the U.S. regardless of any outstanding arrests, warrants against her or potential threat of investigation or inquiry from prosecutors there if she was allowed to see her son, Dzhokhar.

Talked about how the husband was really, really sick in her words and I think the focus for them right now, of course, in what must be a traumatic time for them is looking of after his health, John.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Paton Walsh for us in Moscow. Nick, what are the developments concerning that raid, that special forces raid in Russia you can tell us about? WALSH: Let's piece this together slightly. What we know what these pictures show is that early hours of yesterday morning, there was a raid in a village called (INAUDIBLE) in Dagestan. Now, that raid killed a man called Shakhrudin Askhabov. He is a member of a militant group run formerly by a man called Abu Dujan.

How does it relate back to the Boston bombings? Well, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, on his YouTube page, made a link to Abu Dujan, one of the many Internet addresses he gave, setting forth his sort of so-called manifesto.

Now, we don't know if the two men met, but what is curious at this point, not only that Tamerlan had interest in Abu Dujan, but Russian authorities are hunting down the accomplices of Abu Dujan across Dagestan. Now, this particular video we know Shakhrudin Askhabov is connected to Abu Dujan because I've seen a wanted list in the Russian police station that shows him as part of Abu Dujan's team. We've also seen videos -- pictures from the police in which it's clear Askhabov is part of that particular group.

So, ongoing manhunt in Russia, which is related to the man that Tamerlan Tsarnaev linked the pictures off of his YouTube account -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Paton Walsh reporting for us this morning from Moscow. Nick, thank you so much.

As Nick just reported, there is this uptick in Russian special forces activity, a raid on a militant group with possible connections to Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

So let's talk more about that with Tom Fuentes. He's CNN law enforcement analyst, also former assistant director of the FBI.

And, Tom, you hear that, you hear a special forces raid in Russia on a militant group that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had YouTube videos of. What does that indicate to you?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: John, to me, it indicates that they have been monitoring this group all along. Obviously through 2011 when they're intercepting phone calls with the mother in Russia and then through 2012 when they actually attacked and killed Abu Dujan this past December, and their monitoring of that organization continues to this day with the recent attack over the weekend of another member or successor to Abu Dujan.

BERMAN: You're talking about the wiretaps, the intercepts of the phone calls between the Tsarnaev mother and at least one call to Tamerlan and another call to someone inside Russia. In those calls loosely we believe that she mentioned the word jihad, those are from the Russian wiretaps.

How significantly would that information have been to the FBI when they first looked into Tamerlan back in 2011?

FUENTES: Well, I think it would have significance for a number of reasons. One is that if they're wiretapping her and if they're asking the FBI to look into Tamerlan's background as a potential jihadist, that it would indicate that the Russians are probably looking at Tamerlan as someone that's going to come to Dagestan, join up with that militant group possibly, and attack Russia -- do an attack in Russia.

It doesn't seem like the Russians are indicating that, oh, should you watch this guy because he's going to attack you. They're interested in what he might do in Russia.

And when the FBI does all of the investigation that they can at that time and find no connections in the U.S. to other individuals, they would see phone calls to his mother or to his father, and that wouldn't raise a huge suspicion if you don't know that they're already monitoring the mother. If they're conducting electronic surveillance on the mother, then phone calls from the son to the mother take on newer light than just family phone calls.

BERMAN: Tom, let me quickly ask you about parents, because we've been talking about their possible travels to the U.S. which seem delayed now with the father's health and the mother says she still wants to come.

What kind of witnesses would they be? What would the FBI hope to get from them?

FUENTES: Well, if the FBI had the opportunity to interview let's say the mother here when she comes and the father, what did you do during that six months? Your son -- first of all, what did you talk about on the phone before he travels there? But in 2012, he goes and spends six months in Dagestan in the area. Are you aware of who he met with, what did he do, did he learn something that he told you about that he was taught how to make explosive devices or encouraged in some way to come back and commit an attack or maybe being encouraged to join jihad against the Russians there?

If they know more, it would be important to find out what more they may know if they're willing to say.

BERMAN: Yes, if they're willing to say, if they're willing to come to the U.S. and, of course, they are not here yet.

Tom Fuentes, thank you so much for being with us this morning to help us bring you up-to-date on the latest on the investigation.

FUENTES: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Of course, we still want to focus on the victims. There are still some two dozens in hospital here in Boston. We're at Copley Square which is the site of the memorial for all the victims of these attacks, flowers here, mementos for all the victims here.

And we've been standing here for a while and watching runners and people on their way to work stop by and there are notes from all over the world here. We saw people leaving notes from Istanbul, from Kashmir, from the Middle East. We saw a note from an Indian reservation in Nova Scotia. So very local element here, a very special place in Boston, but clearly a special place for people from all over the world.

You see that note right there from Kashmir, from Ireland. It's truly an international site of mourning and remembrance now.

Let's go back to Christine Romans in New York for more on the other top news. Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, John. Good morning.

Developing news this morning from Prague. An explosion in the heart of that city leaving nearly 60 people injured. There were also reports of people trapped in the rubble. Czech authorities say the blast brought down the first floor of a TV and film school. It shattered windows of other buildings nearby. Local reports say a glass explosion may have caused that blast.

We're following a developing story this morning in northern California, the desperate search for the person who murdered an 8- year-old girl. Leila Fowler's brother discovered her body Saturday inside their home in the rural community of Valley Springs about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento. Her mother says the family is devastated, this little girl was so full of life, and the mother is pleading for someone to turn in that killer.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Valley Springs. Police do -- Paul, do police have any leads at all?

PAUL VERCAMMEN: Well, they do believe Christine that they have fingerprints and they believe they have DNA, but that of course will take time to process. Right now, here in this community people who live here always talk about the peace and the quiet, but that tranquility shattered over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): It's a rural community on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They had the helicopters going over our house last night.

VERCAMMEN: A place where doors go often unlocked, now bolted shut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sure a lot of families last night locked all their windows and locked all their doors for the first time.

VERCAMMEN: A killer is on the loose -- the killer of an 8-year-old girl, Leila Fowler.

Police say she and her 12-year-old brother were home alone Saturday afternoon when he says he saw an intruder leaving the house. The boy called his parents who called 911. He then found his sister stabbed, severely wounded. She later died.

Since then, police have been running down leads but have no specific suspect;

CAPT. JIM MACEDO, CALAVERAS CO., CALIF. SHERRIF'S DEPT.: We're searching extensively into attics, storage sheds. It is a difficult area to search. It's rural, remote. The grasses are tall right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of empty homes and outbuildings around here. There's a lot of huge rock croppings where somebody can hide in.

VERCAMMEN: Authorities have combed the home and neighborhood for evidence.

MACEDO: We did collect some fingerprints during that search. And we also collected what we believe to be a DNA. Those prints and that DNA will hopefully be processed within the next week.

VERCAMMEN: There will be an added police presence today at schools and bus stops in the area. As one resident said, this kind of thing just does not happen here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERCAMMEN: And back here live, Leila's mother telling CNN that the Fowlers were a blended family and that Leila had five brothers and sisters here in is it area and also three out of state. She would have been 9 years old in June -- Christine.

ROMANS: Wow. Paul Vercammen -- thanks so much, Paul.

A Mississippi man is expected in court today, accused of sending letters to President Obama and two others, letters tainted with the deadly poison ricin. James Everett Dutschke, a martial arts instructor, a former political candidate as well, he was arrested over the weekend. He is charged with possession and use of a biological agent.

Dutschke allegedly sent the tainted letters to the president, to Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker and to a local Mississippi judge.

Starting tomorrow, search has planned to look for human remains near ground zero in New York. They'll be looking in an alley behind an Islamic community center where a landing gear from a Boeing 767 was found last week. Now, it's believed the gear came from one of the planes that hit the twin towers on 9/11 and somehow became lodged in a very, very narrow space between those buildings.

New this morning, in less than four hours, the spire that will sit atop one World Trade Center will be raised to the top of the freedom tower. These are live pictures this morning. Once that spire is attached, the freedom tower will officially become the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1,776 feet.

Only two buildings in the world will stand taller, the Burj Khalifa. It's in Duabai. It's the tallest at 2,717, 2,717 feet. That's followed by the Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. All right. This just in. We are hearing reports this morning that Jet's quarterback, Tim Tebow, has been released. Let's get straight to Jared Greenberg for more. And I know that Jets did pick a QB in the high round, right?

JARED GREENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They did, Christine. They traded up in the second round to pick Geno Smith out of West Virginia. Tim Tebow spending just one year on the Jets roster, acquire before last season, did not have a very successful run at all. Spending time on special teams and as the teams backup, certainly, the most heralded and talked about backup quarterback probably in the history of the NFL.

The media attention that he received, you just don't see that from a backup quarterback. But the "New York Post," the first to report that Tim Tebow has been released from the New York Jets. Prior to Tebow being released, the Jets had six quarterbacks on their roster including the guy who was getting paid a boat load of money, to be the starter in the face of the franchise, Mark Sanchez.

But once again, as you mentioned, Christine, they do pick Geno Smith out of West Virginia in the second round. So, Tim Tebow's days in green and white appear to be over.

ROMANS: Do you think all that celebrity hurt him? All that fame? All that attention?

GREENBERG: I just think from (INAUDIBLE) standpoint, he just wasn't that good of a quarterback. And, you know, he's talked about that he's gotten lighter over the offseason, that he's work on his mechanics, being prepared to be, you know, in that conversation to be the starting quarterback this year. But obviously, the Jets front office just don't believe in him at this point and where he goes from here on out, we don't know.

And obviously, the Jets releasing him says a lot because you would think that they would try to trade him and get some value in return for him, but the 31 other teams in the NFL apparently were inviting (ph).

ROMANS: Huh. All right. Jared Greenberg, thanks so much. The news just in. Reports that he is out at the Jets.

All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, opening statements expected today in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial. Criminal defense attorney, former prosecutor, Anne Bremner, is next to break down the legal showdown. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: In just a few hours, a jury of six men and six women will begin listening to what is expected to be an emotional three-month trial. Opening statements in the Michael Jackson wrongful death suit get underway today. The first witnesses could be called as early as tomorrow. Joining me now is Anne Bremner, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. And, you know, this is a case, Anne, essentially of the Jackson Family saying, look, you, AEG, you hired this doctor to keep Michael alive. Just keep him propped up so that you can make more money, right? And the company saying, no, this is Michael Jackson's hire. Is that what it boils down to?

ANNE BREMNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Exactly. You've got the issue in a nutshell, Christine. And the thing is, you know, you can argue both sides of that, but the fact of the matter is, they had a requirement. He met it. He had a contract with the doctor. And the question is, should they have known or did they know that Dr. Murray would do what he did or could do what he did?

ROMANS: So, do you think we'll see the Michael Jackson medical records unsealed during this process and would that be some sort of a game changer?

BREMNER: I do. And there are now some things kind of coming out I noticed when I got up this morning, looked at the latest, there's more coming out about things I haven't seen or didn't know about in terms of his history or allegations about him.

But this is going to be a bombshell trial all the way around, I mean, in terms of celebrities being called to testify, in terms of Michael's background, in terms of how Michael dealt with that molestation trial in California, et cetera, and in case, where, you know, that the kids have lost a dad, Katherine has lost her son, and the world lost a pop star that was a genius and beloved.

So, there may be new things, but we've always knows he's had issues with drugs and had issues probably with depression and other kinds of mental health.

ROMANS: Do you think those medical records are going to show a deeply troubled Michael Jackson and how does that play with the jury?

BREMNER: Well, it's going to again cut both ways. I hate to say it in kind of a lawyer speak, but the jury is going to feel sympathetic, you know, and they're going to feel sympathetic with his mom that, you know, here she (INAUDIBLE) sitting there, the voice for her son, you now, who died at 50. On the other hand, you can look at it and say, you know, he was headed towards his own demise.

This was inevitable. You know, the fact is nobody could have stopped this train on a track. And like Dr. Murray said, he did it to himself. That's the other side of this cutting both ways.

ROMANS: So, potential witnesses include Lisa Marie Presley, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, Prince, Spike Lee, Lou Ferrigno, I mean, how -- if you're an attorney trying to do your -- whatever side of the case you're on, how do you make sure that your jury isn't star struck?

BREMNER: I think it's almost impossible. I cover -- I was with CNN for the trial in Santa Maria, and we expect that all the celebrities will walk the red carpet in the Michael Jackson's trial. Some of them did. You know, we saw Jay Leno, Macaulay Culkin, you know, a lot of celebrities. And the fact of the matter is, the jury heard the evidence. They acquitted Michael Jackson on the evidence.

And then, in a case like this with these kinds of celebrities, it's going to be the same kind of thing. You listen to the evidence, but I'll tell you, I didn't -- I wouldn't want to cross-examine Quincy Jones or Lisa Marie Presley or anybody else in the case like this. It's tough.

ROMANS: All right. Anne Bremner, we know we'll be talking to you as this trial unfolds. Three months, we're expecting. Thanks so much.

BREMNER: Wow. Thank you.

ROMANS: I know. I know.

All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, "Iron Man 3" getting a $195 million jump on its U.S. release this weekend. The first ever blockbuster is already a global blockbuster. That's what's trending next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Trending this morning, Michael Jordan is walking on air. He got hitched over the weekend in Palm Beach. His airiness and long- time girlfriend, Yvette Prieto, said their vows in front of several hundred guests including Spike Lee, Tiger Woods. The reception was much bigger, about 2,000 people under a huge tent at a golf club near Jordan's mansion. And how is this for entertainment, Usher was one of the wedding singers.

And "Iron Man" rules the world. The super hero sequel with the colossal overseas debut "Iron Man 3" made more than $195 million at the international box office. That is a very good head start for the first summer blockbuster which makes its U.S. debut this weekend.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, the surviving Boston bombing suspect said he and his brother weren't helped, but new information has some lawmakers believing they had trainers. We'll explore the Russia connection live from Moscow. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)