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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Wintry Weather Strikes Midwest, Northeast; Interview with Rene Fielding; Man Arrested in Murder of Priest

Aired January 3, 2014 - 11:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Hi everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Welcome to a very chilly New York City. On Friday, January 3rd. We are live out on Columbus circle in the heart of New York City.

Hello, Columbus circle from our tower cam. That is one pretty picture. It's nice when you look at it from the bird's eye. Central Park couldn't look cleaner and more beautiful for a walk in the park. But trust me, the New York City skyline is lovely. It's what in between all of those buildings that is problematic. There are 1,700 plows working it.

5,000 sanitation workers working it -- trying to clear all of this with 7,000 tons of salt to try to melt all the snow.

I had to check it, 7,000 tons of salt just to try to get New York city back up and running.

But guess what? It's just not good enough, all that stuff not good to get the kids to school. So 1.1 millions kids in this city not going to school. The entire school system shut down by the brand-new mayor.

Guess what the brand-new mayor was doing this morning? He was out shoveling his walk on day three of the tenure of New York City mayor, out shoveling his walk well before he had to come in to work and deal with a semi-crisis.

But I can report, we have not got any reports of death or accidents considering six inches snow fell. Here is how Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to the storm this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY: I want to say to my fellow New Yorkers, if you want safe, clear streets, stay home and let these good folks at sanitation do their job to clear the streets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: So the city of New York is one thing. Take a look at the plows working Long Island all through the night.

The Long Island Expressway, where millions of people shuttle back and forth every day to commute into the city to work and back out to their homes, they were told don't use the expressway because it's shut down. They banned travel on the Long Island Expressway. I think you can remember back to 2010 where people had to abandon their cars or sleep in them overnight. Long Island has been very snowy.

And guess what? It's been about minus-10 with the wind chill. That's why we sent the new guy out there, my colleague, Brian Stelter.

Pam Brown is at LaGuardia airport. And Ted Rowlands is doing the job from Illinois.

I'm going to start with Brian. Brian, you can tell me the story from central Long Island. How is it looking now?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the sun is coming out and the snow has mostly stopped here. I'm kind of a weather nerd, so I thought this was cool.

We had "sound-effect" snow. That's similar to the lake-effect snow that you hear in Buffalo and upstate New York. Now the sun is coming out.

The story of the day is going to be the wind and cold. When these wind gusts come up as they did a moment ago, it is bitter out here.

I forgot my gloves so I ran over just in time to put them on. You need to have every piece covered up if you're out in the elements.

There's good news about the storm, though. Because it's so light, we haven't seen a lot of power outages.

The emergency management folks say this is just a normal day in terms of power outages. So, certainly good news even though it's bitter to be out here.

BANFIELD: Yeah, and I've only been a New Yorker for, what, about 14 years. And I've already pronounced it wrong. It's Islandia.

And it's very breezy. I can see your pant legs are --

STELTER: It feels more like Icelandia today.

BANFIELD: Yeah, I was just going to say your pant legs are blowing in the wind. It looks just awful.

I heard it's 14 degrees there, but with the wind chill, four, so that's nasty.

It's 13 degrees where I'm standing right now, no idea what the wind chill is. Very comfortable, though, dressed in a lot of layers with the hat. That's a critical element.

Let me take you to Pam Brown who got the warmer assignment, but the big hassle assignment. She's at LaGuardia Airport.

I'd love it if you could do all three airports for me. Even though you're just at LaGuardia, tell me a story about stoppages and closures and runways and flights, because that affects the whole country.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, absolutely, that's really creating a domino effect for travelers across the U.S., Ashleigh, even though the major hubs in the Midwest and Northeast are affected.

So here is what we know. Air operations are resuming on a limited basis at every airport, so we're talking JFK, Newark, Boston Logan Airport, here at LaGuardia, Chicago O'Hare Airport.

So, that's the good news there. There's only one runway open at JFK Airport. And flights are coming in and out you have the other airports I mentioned on a limited basis.

And there are still several cancellations that we're dealing with. In fact, we're closing in on the 2,000-mark of cancellations.

Just to give you a perspective, we were here at 4:00 a.m. There were 1,300 flight cancellations. Now, we're at 1,911.

Here at LaGuardia, there are around 300 cancellations. That's the same story at Newark.

But I can tell you, I just looked out the window here on the runway. There are snow plows out here trying to clear the runways, so everyone hard at work trying to get things moving again for all of these passengers, a lot of them coming back from their holiday vacations.

Also, Ashleigh, I'm going to show you a picture here of passengers who were stranded at the airport overnight, sleeping on cots.

In fact, I just spoke to some of the passengers that had to sleep on these cots. They were here since last night at 5:00 p.m. and said they won't be able to leave until tonight. So, that's at least 24 hours they're spending here in the airport.

Good news is that airlines are working with passengers and they're waiving that change fee so that they're able to be rebooked on a different flight and not have to pay any fee, so silver lining in that.

Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Yeah, but what about all those airport workers who open up the Starbucks and the donut shops and everything else, the shops and the restaurants. Are they able to actually to feed those people who got stuck there?

BROWN: Yeah, so, fortunately all the shops are open around us. I can only assume some employees stayed at the local hotel like we did in order to get to the airport this morning.

But I will say, Ashleigh, that Dunkin' Donuts opened a little bit later today, so I can only assume the employees were caught up with the weather and everything.

BANFIELD: At least they're open. That's all I can say. All right, Pamela Brown, thank you, live from LaGuardia.

I want to zip out to the other freezing-cold assignment. Ted Rowlands who normally gets up and one of the first orders of the day is to do his laundry is in Naperville, Illinois, not far from Chicago.

How did doing the laundry go this morning with that T-shit I know you were planning to wash, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ah, you want to see my shirt, Ash. Well, yes, here it is, the old shirt gag. There it is, 10-below zero here earlier this morning. Right now, we're at four-below zero.

It's freezing. Listen to this baby. It's freezing. And it's only going to get worse. We're going to have a little bit of a break tomorrow. Temperatures are going to get into the teens, low 20s.

And then on Sunday, the real frigid temperatures come. It's a double whammy, and the Midwest is bracing for it.

And it's potentially dangerous. We were down below zero this morning, considerably, at 10-degrees-below-zero. You add the wind chill, that's considerable.

But starting Sunday night into morning, we're talking about highs for the day at negative-seven, -eight degrees, and lows near minus-20. You add the wind chills to that, and it is very dangerous and that's what has people worried here in the Midwest. Next week is really what people are focusing now.

It's starting to warm up here slowly. And after two days of snow and a day of frigid temperatures, people are looking forward to tomorrow.

BANFIELD: That t-shirt trick never gets old, because it's really hard for people who didn't --

ROWLANDS: No, it's the best.

BANFIELD: -- grow up in the north - honestly, it's so illustrative, so thank you, Ted Rowlands. Go back in and get your crew warmed up. I know it's been a really rough morning.

And thanks to all of our very intrepid reporters who are braving the elements and their crew members behind the camera that you can't see who are standing out in these horrible temperatures, all night long most of the time.

There are other people who are doing fantastic work as well -- you. You iReporters have been busy filing your stories to us and your pictures.

I want to show you a couple of the pictures. This one came from Colin Ericson. I love this shot, in New York City, where you see the graffiti and you see the bikes, and everything is blanketed with snow.

It's not easy to get around New York City, and walking and the biking, which is so prevalent, really sort of comes a bit to a standstill.

And then this terrific picture, also from Colin Ericson. "The Daily News" doing its rounds, getting those newspapers out to the newspaper boxes and to the deliveries, as well, because you still want your newspapers.

So far, it looks like he was able to get through that road and it was plowed, always nice to know.

IReport.com is where we like to get your pictures of the weather. Show us your story, your nor'easter story, or you know what? Even if you're stuck at LAX because of all the cancellations, send us your pictures, folks. We do like to hear from you and we certainly do like to get them on the air.

One of the big stories that's coming out of this massive nor'easter, 10 million people in its path. And the folks in Boston are really taking it on the chin, so bad that even the salt, the salt trucks, can't help.

We'll explain why in just a moment when we come back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Those are really pretty pictures, but let me tell you something, they belie the reality of this massive nor'easter that's affecting up to 10 million people.

Up and down the coast, you're going to be feeling it in some way, shape or form. There are people in California who are stranded because the airports here are shutting down a lot of their operations and flights.

And while the snow looks pretty, it is a pain in the butt. Let me tell you this, six to 12 inches of snow expected in New York City.

And despite the fact there are 1,700 plows working the streets here, it's still real tough, and all the kids are canceled in school here, a lot of cancellations of school in other cities, as well.

And I want to take you to Indra Petersons who is live on the very, very cold ground of Boston.

You have been working outside, I'm guessing now, if I had to do the math, for about six hours straight, and I can't even see you. It looks like you're buried, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're going to up the hours, but yes, this is what we call the Indra-cam, or "Indra-Go-Seek."

Take a look at all the snow we have out here. And the reason we have so much snow is because of the winds. And it's such a fine snow that it's literally been blowing around. I'm trying not to trip as I walk into you guys.

I kind of wanted to show you what it's like for us. We call this the walk of shame. This is what we deal with, anyone who has to get out of the satellite truck and get these frigid temperatures has to go outside and deal.

Just take a look at my camera man. If you can see what Jamie (ph) is wearing right now, unbelievable. He's got an outfit that I need.

Then we have Ross, the example of what not to do, wearing open hands with no gloves, all right. So we teach you a lot of lessons here at CNN. He's going to have a little bit of frostbite on this fingers by the end of the day.

And then I want to show you my envy of the day. If I pan to the left, notice other crews have propane heaters. What do I need to do to get one of these bad boys, OK? This morning, we were dying.

The conditions right now you can tell are definitely improving out here. We're talking about just a little bit of light snow. The sun is actually out. What a concept, I may actually need sunglasses right now from the glare.

What a different picture from this morning where it was negative-20 with a wind chill out, so we were talking about temperatures that could give you frostbite in just a matter of a mere 10 minutes.

So, yes, it has improved, but not by much, but let me tell you with that wind out - without the wind out there it feels a lot better. I was showing you earlier when I came across those berms (ph) right there, kind of wanted to show you this is what we're dealing with. Even though some places only had a foot, some places as much as two feet of snow. That wind, it really whipped up all the snow and made these banks. We still have the concern with a lot of the heavy wind we could still have ground blizzards or a lot of blowing snow that continues to produce low visibility.

Don't even need to talk about the temperatures. Still cold air and another storm behind it with more arctic air still on the way too. Definitely not over yet.

BANFIELD: I remember when I was a little girl growing up in Winnipeg, Canada, the sunnier the day, the colder it was. But that's not the case here. I'm looking up at our CNN sign, we've warmed up to 14 degrees. I'm thankful for that. And I don't know if it's warming up where you are, it makes a wee bit of a difference because we started the day at about 11 degrees. So, Indra Petersons in Boston, thank you for that.

Speaking of Boston, Indra has been looking at the giant snow banks, et cetera -- oh, my goodness. That's one of the various serious issues. A very large amount of snow and ice just fell off the roof of Time Warner Center. I want to make sure you get out of the way of that. It's a problem. We've got a lot of snow.

As the sun comes out and starts to melt it, you've got to be careful of the falling ice. That's New York City. There are buildings everywhere, and they are very high. Those can be really dangerous projectiles. Just be careful of where the ice -- the ice just fell there.

Speaking of dangerous things, it's probably a good time to bring in Rene Fielding, the director of Boston's Office of Emergency Management.

Rene, I don't know if you just heard that, but we had a very large piece just fell off the buildings here. I'm going to move back a little bit. Can you get a shot of that? I'm not sure if we can see anything. It's straight up from where we are.

Renee, can you hear me? I know you're on the telephone. I wanted to ask you for at the state of the union just in terms of emergency services in the Boston area.

RENE FIELDING, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, BOSTON: Sure I can hear you.

Everything is going well. We've enacted our snow emergency plan and had our publics works crews out all night. And as you know we heard earlier, the sun is out here and it has stopped snowing, we're happy about that.

Now we're just dealing with the wind and creating a lot of drifting for us. We're concerned about that and the cold temperatures. We're keeping an eye and making people aware that if they go outside, make sure they're wearing a lot of layers. And if they're digging out their cars and their houses to make sure that they dig out their tailpipes on the cars before you start them. And of course, dig out the vents on your homes before they go back inside so there's no issue with carbon monoxide.

BANFIELD: Rene, that's excellent advice. I just wanted to ask you as well as we look at some of the pictures from your area, when the temperatures go down as low as they have been, what happens with the salt? Does it still do the job that you need to do to make the street safe?

FIELDING: What they did last night is they stopped putting salt down around 11:00, and they just went to straight plow operations. And this morning when it started to warm up, they started treating the roads again with salt.

BANFIELD: And another quick question about the high winds that we've been experiencing. Is there an issue with the high winds and frozen power lines? Is there a concern that there maybe some big power outages with this storm?

FIELDING: We were concerned about that. But thankfully, we have not seen any power outages within the city. So that's good news for us. No downed trees, no power --

BANFIELD: That's good to know. And I was concerned about it. But it looks like light, fluffy snow as opposed to that giant, chunky ice that can bring the trees down and create havoc in the power situation. Rene Fielding, thank you very much for your insight, and good luck. I hope it all works out okay for you and your friends in Boston. All of our thoughts are with you all as you try to warm up from a very, very cold storm.

I want to switch gears a little bit because we've been following a big story as well as the weather story, a big story out in California. Eureka, California, where a priest was mysteriously found dead in his rectory. An all-points bulletin went out for whomever it was responsobile. A name was named and a man was caught. How sure will the police that they've got the right guy? That's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Welcome back. We are live in New York City. There is a big weather story here on the eastern seaboard and there is a murder mystery that has been going on for the last couple of days in California.

I'm going to break from the weather story for a moment to get you up to speed on what's happened with that terrible story of the priest who was murdered in his own rectory. Police put out the "be on the lookout," the APB, looking for a suspect named Gary Lee Bullock. Late yesterday the news came in, they got him. But do they have the right guy, and if they think they do, how can they be so sure? Dan Simon on the story for us.

(BEGNI VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was Father Eric Freed being formally installed as the pastor at St. Bernard church in Eureka, California. He had been leading the congregation for three years.

JOHN CHIV, CHURCH MEMBER: He was a great teacher and mentor, and just a loving person. That's the biggest thing that I could say. A very loving man.

SIMON: But on Wednesday morning, new year's day, he was found dead inside his rectory. Police say there was clear evidence of a forced entry and struggle. And the beloved priest died from blunt force trauma.

Church members seen outside praying.

MAYOR FRANK JAGER, AUREKA, CALIFORNIA: Absolutely tremendous loss not only for the St. Bernard parish but for the community in general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was about the most charismatic man that - pastor that I've had.

SIMON: It didn't take long for authorities to name and later arrest a suspect. Forty-three-year-old Gary Lee Bullock, who in recent days had been no stranger to police. He had been arrested on new year's eve for public intoxication. Officers even had to take him to the hospital for an evaluation, where he had to be physically restrained. He was later taken to jail, but released the following day.

CHIEF ANDREW MILLS, EUREKA, CALIFORNIA POLICE: In California if you're taken to jail for a misdemeanor such as public intoxication, you're normally kept four hours and after that released. SIMON: Later that evening a security guard heard a noise in the area of the church. He reports seeing a person matching Bullock's description and says he told him to leave after a short conversation. It's now new year's day 9:00 a.m., and Father Freed is supposed to lead a service, but doesn't arrive.

CHIV: It was shock. And I think people new something wasn't quite right because a priest just doesn't not show up for mass. And I think we did what comes naturally to us, which is pray for our pastor.

SIMON: Authorities tell us they have no motive; they are calling this a crime of opportunity. They also tell us the suspect drove 45 minutes away to a family's member's house in the pastor's car. It was one of his relatives who called the police.

Dan Simon, CNN, Eureka, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: Our thanks to Dan Simon, but it certainly raises more questions. Our CNN analyst Mark O'Mara is joining me on this story. I'm mystified when they say no motive. What do you mean a crime of opportunity?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think what they're trying to say is that they don't know why he did it or why he focused on this priest. We know he was in jail and in a hospital a day or two before with psychiatric difficulties. Probably we're going to see if this case is more of a mitigation -- he did it, why did he do it is going to be the real question we need to look into.

BANFIELD: What about the liability for the hospital that released him and then he allegedly killed a priest?

O'MARA: Well, the cops took him to the hospital, the hospital gave him back to the cops. Cops released him because they have to release him after four or five hours. They can't just keep him. If he's not a danger to himself or at that point to others, they have to let him go.

BANFIELD: They gotta let him go. Jut about the crime - we don't know all the details. All we know at this point, the priest was bludgeoned, it was a violent struggle. I wondered if the heinous, atrocious, and cruel aspect of this crime may play into whether they seek the death penalty. They have that in California.

O'MARA: They do have it, but with a first-degree murder charge, normally you have previous contact between the two. I mean, it doesn't seem to be a robbery, he did seem to have psychiatric problems beforehand, and it was more like a second-degree murder charge because there was that type of heat of passion type of thing. So lots to look into.

BANFIELD: How can they come to that conclusion when we don't even know why he allegedly did it.

O'MARA: We have to wait and see, but I think this is going to be a question of trying to answer the question why did it, not did he do it.

BANFIELD: And there are so many of those cases. One quick question. The police seemed very certain they have the guy. We hear that a lot. Is there ever a danger of poisoning a jury pool when you do that?

O'MARA: You have to be careful. Certainly if you go out there and say this is the guy and they don't know, and if it leads you to ignore other potential suspects, you've got to be careful. But we do know he was on site a couple times before and was taken away by one of the custodians.

BANFIELD: I think if there's anyone who knows about jury pools, and the effect on jury pools, it would be the man who defended George Zimmerman.

O'MARA: Is this my rite of passage, by the way? My getting by in this cold weather?

BANFIELD: Yeah, well - you came to New York, buddy. Florida is never like this.

O'MARA: No!

BANFIELD: Thank you, appreciate that, and as this story continues it just seems to mystifying. We'll seek your advice on that as well.

O'MARA: Sounds great.

BANFIELD: You should go in and warm up before I --

O'MARA: Stay warm yourself.

BANFIELD: -- tap you again later on in the program. Mark O'Mara joining us on that.

This is not the only place trying to deal with the cold temperatures. Have you seen Massachusetts lately? not only are they deal with the subzero and blizzard and feet upon feet of snow. They have something weirder, something called ocean-effect snow. Want to know what that looks like? That's coming your way in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)