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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

U.S. Ship in Black Sea; OSCE Turned Away; Pistorius Ex Speaks at Trial; Oscar Pistorius Trial

Aired March 7, 2014 - 12:00   ET

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


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ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Ignoring warnings from the White House, and the West insisting sanctions will solve nothing, and threatening to cut off Ukraine's fuel supply, Moscow showing no signs of backing down or giving up that sweet little piece of land known as Crimea.

Also this hour, dramatic twists and turns in the Blade Runner murder trial. The Olympian's ex-girlfriend revealing a previous shooting incident and a security guard shocked by what he saw the night Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp.

And Massachusetts lawmakers moving really fast to put perverts on notice after the state's high court ruled men had a legal right to take pictures, photos and video, up women's skirts pretty much any time, and anywhere they saw fit.

Hello, everyone. Good to have you with us. It's Friday, March 7th. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Let's start here, shall we? We're watching some of those real dramatic comings and goings in the Ukraine crisis and a new threat that is quite literally chilling.

The Russian natural gas company known as Gazprom is warning that it may cut off the supplies to its once-friendly neighbor if Ukraine's new pro-Western government cannot pay almost $2 billion in overdue bills. Ukraine not only is a major consumer of Russian energy, but major it's a major gateway for oil and gas exports to Europe, too. Those supplies supposedly are safe. But stay tuned to this space.

Enter the Truxtun. That is one piece of metal, a U.S.-guided missile destroyer and it's taking its place in the Black Sea for some exercises on Crimea's virtual doorstep. Lest you think this is pretty aggressive action, it was actually an exercise planned long before the Russian occupation. But now, of course, because it's an American vessel, this is getting a lot more attention.

And pro-Russian Crimean lawmakers got a heroes' welcome in the Russian parliament today, which just so happened to coincide with a pro- Crimean rally just outside of the Kremlin. Moscow is cheering Crimea's call for a referendum on leaving Ukraine and rejoining Mother Russia. And back in Kiev, the Ukrainian prime minister not quite so thrilled. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARSENIY YASTENYUK, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER (via translator): I want to warn separatists and other traitors of the Ukrainian states who are trying to work against Ukraine, any of your decisions taken are unlawful, unconstitutional, and nobody in the civilized world is going to recognize the results of the so-called referendum and of the so- called Crimean authorities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: For the second day in a row, a team of European observers was turned away from the Crimean border, because there were gun-toting masked men wearing Russian-type clothing. Now Russia is claiming that that was a convoy that failed to obtain something called an official invitation. And that meant some tense moments at a checkpoint, and our Matthew Chance was there.

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MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, well, we're here at this checkpoint near the Crimean peninsula. I can tell you, the monitors, they're from the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. They have just been turned back again from this checkpoint after trying to negotiate with those pro- Russian gunmen over there, who are stopping this mission of the OSCE from entering Crimea.

Trying to negotiate with them to let them through, at least a portion of them through. That's not been permitted. And, of course, that's caused a great deal of anger amongst the crowds that have gathered here. Many of them ethnic Tartar, some of the ethnic Ukrainians, as well. But they're obviously extremely angry that the mission has not been permitted through and the mission members themselves very frustrated as well.

But again, it's underlying that situation that exists in Crimea, that it's the pro-Russian gunmen there, armed with (inaudible) assault rifles, their faces covered, that are in essentially operational control certainly at this check point, and they're not permitting these international monitors, as I say, to go through.

Matthew Chance, CNN, near the Crimea peninsula.

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BANFIELD: And our Matthew Chance and a team of CNN correspondents has been doing such an incredible job. And I've got another element to bring you on this story. As you look in your map, the USS Truxtun had a far easier time than what Matthew just saw when it tried to pass through the Bosphorus Strait. That's down near Turkey, you can see where it is, but right across the Black Sea, that's where Crimea is. And the Truxtun was on a training mission that has certainly taken on a whole new prominence.

CNN's Ivan Watson is keeping watch. He's on the water in the Black Sea.

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IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDNET: The U.S. Navy destroyer, a guided missile warship, has just been sailing up the Bosphorus Strait here through Turkey's largest city Istanbul en route to the Black Sea. Now the U.S. Navy says that was a previously scheduled journey, that the Truxtun is on its way to conduct joint naval maneuvers with two other Black Sea countries, Romania and Bulgaria.

But there is nothing normal right now about the situation in the Black Sea, and particularly in the Crimean peninsula, where the Russian military has effectively occupied what is a piece of Ukraine. The naval component is a very important part of the geopolitical crisis now under way, with Russian military forces scuttling at least two boats to effectively blockade and trap Ukrainian Navy ships in their home port on the Crimean peninsula.

At a delicate time like this, movements of U.S. warships are also seen as important messages and symbols of U.S. support amid the delicate negotiations currently taking place around the crisis in the Crimean peninsula.

Ivan Watson, CNN, reporting from the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul.

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BANFIELD: That's a great job from Ivan. He's been doing great work there in the last couple days.

And by Ukraine's count, Russia now has 30,000 troops, give or take, in the Crimean peninsula. We're continuing to watch on a regular basis. We'll update you just as soon as new news warrants.

We've got other top stories to give you as well that we're watching today. The job market in America picking up a bit in February. Not by a big leap, but certainly better than the analysts had expected. 175,000 new jobs were added last month. The biggest growing sector by far -- business services, architects, accountants and technology workers. But the awful winter weather that we've been having really across this country is partly to blame for the hiring numbers actually being down somewhat. So interesting numbers there.

Also, it is now safe to wear a skirt in Massachusetts again today. Believe it or not, just two days after a judge ruled that a subway Peeping Tom didn't break any laws by videotaping up ladies' skirts, the governor of Massachusetts said that's all changing, and just signed a bill that makes it a crime to take what is called an upskirt picture of a woman without permission.

I suppose it also applies to men too depending on what they're wearing. But this man on your screen was busted for taking cell phone pictures of women up their dresses and was set to walk free this week, because the law, as it was written, did not make that illegal, and that fella is still out there. So keep an eye on your skirt. A California state lawmaker introduced a bill today that would stop SeaWorld from using killer whales in the park's shows. Assemblyman Richard Bloom says that the orcas are just too large and too intelligent to be confined and trained for entertainment purposes. Bloom says he was driven to the act by the documentary "Blackfish" that aired here and continues to air here on CNN. And so far no comment yet from SeaWorld.

Olympian Oscar Pistorius on trial for murder, and it has been dramatic. He says he thought his girlfriend was a burglar when he fired shots through a door, killing her. The prosecutors say that wasn't the story at all. He just murdered her in cold blood. And today one of his ex-girlfriends got on the stand. What could possibly go wrong with that? We've got the details about what she said, just ahead.

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BANFIELD: An Olympic hero, a double amputee on trial for murder, and what a dramatic end to a full week of testimony in the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa today. He's charged with premeditated murder in the death of that beautiful woman on his arm. She was a model. Her name, Reeva Steenkamp.

Their romance started supposedly as he was cheating on another girlfriend. Well, that girlfriend ended up on the stand in his murder trial today. And that can't be good, especially when she broke down on the stand when testifying about their relationship, and then about a previous shooting incident in 2010. Ouch.

Robyn Curnow joins me live now from Pretoria, South Africa. So what did she say on the stand that really meant something to this case and these facts?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what was key was just how relevant her testimony was because she alleged he had cheated on her with Reeva Steenkamp. But then the defense came back under cross- examination saying, hey, we have e-mails proving that the relationship was over by the time Pistorius was dating Steenkamp, and that they alleged that she was cheating on Pistorius. So just how valuable was her testimony? How honest was it? Well, that all came into account.

But I think from the state's point of view, they put her up there because they wanted to paint some sort of picture of Oscar Pistorius' relationship with his gun in particular. Guns. This is what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERRIE NEL, PROSECUTOR: Did you know that the accused owned a gun during your relationship?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, my lady.

NEL: How did you know that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He kept it on him all the time, my lady.

NEL: If you say kept it on him all the time, what do you mean?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He carried it around with him.

NEL: If he would go to friends, what would he do? Would he visit the trains, would he carry the gun?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he would, my lady.

NEL: Now at night, do you know what he did with his firearm at night?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He placed his firearm next to his bedside -- on the bedside table or next to his legs on the floor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CURNOW: OK, and you referred to that incident which related to one of the extra gun charges where she said that he fired a shot out of a moving vehicle through the sunroof. She described that incident. However in cross-examination again, the defense saying that Oscar Pistorius will testify that that incident never happened.

So we're seeing this week a lot of witnesses painting the scene of the crime, the first responders in terms of neighbors and a security guard. That was the last testimony that we heard on Friday afternoon. And in a way, it was probably the strongest, because this was a very factual account by a man who was getting phone calls, there is a lot of phone records.

And, crucially, I think, what he said about when he called Oscar Pistorius' house, and said, Is there a problem? Is everything OK? We're getting reports of gunshots. Pistorius allegedly said to him, No, security, everything is OK. Everything is fine.

Now his testimony is not over. The defense started examining him, and, of course, that's going to be pushed a whole lot further, because did Oscar Pistorius lie to the security guard or did, as the defense alleged, perhaps that he said no, you know, I'm fine, in the sense that he was fine, but somebody else wasn't.

So, the semantics of that will definitely be explored Monday morning, no doubt.

BANFIELD: Oh, and the details matter, without question.

That's great reporting. Thank you, Robyn Curnow, live for us in South Africa.

And you would think that race is a pretty big deal here in America, what with the George Zimmerman case and all, but race is a huge deal in South Africa. It's the major reason why there are no jury trials in South Africa.

The criminal justice system there is vastly different than it is in the United States. Jury trials in South Africa were abolished in 1969, because under apartheid, there were some very serious worries that racial prejudice by white jurors against black defendants could manifest themselves in court.

So, a single judge, and as it turns out in this particular case, a black woman who is presiding, decides the verdict and will decide the Pistorius verdict. She must give clear reasons for her decision, as every other judge does there, as well.

In the high courts that look only at the most serious crimes, that judge gets a little help in the way of two people sitting at either side of her. They're called assessors.

They're experts. They're legal or medical or some other vocation who help her to sort through the evidence, and they determine the facts, not the law.

They work on the fact, and they resolve things for her in that way. She, on the other hand, the judge, she is the determiner of the law.

So, with one judge hearing all of that emotional testimony and seeing the sadness from Oscar Pistorius, who was crying in his hands and at times covering his ears, at one point nearly vomiting during some of the testimony, it makes you wonder what kind of impact that would have on someone who I guess you could say has seen it all, because this is a bit of a dime a dozen for judges. They see a lot of cases and a lot of emotion.

For the LEGAL VIEW on that, as well as more, I want to bring in CNN legal analyst and defense attorney Danny Cevallos, and CNN legal analyst and defense attorney Mark O'Mara.

And you'll remember that Mark represented George Zimmerman who was acquitted in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, which is why you're great on, this because the race issue is an issue there. It is an issue here in the United States, as well.

Stand by for a second, Mark, if you will.

Danny, I want to come to you first with this question. I've seen prior bad acts coming into this. That doesn't happen here.

I'm seeing ex-girlfriends talking about relationships. I'm hearing opinions from witnesses. That doesn't happen here.

But ultimately, so much of that is so not to be prejudicial before a jury. Here it's just a judge, so is that why they're allowed to do those things?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's interesting. In the United States, bench trials, there's a little more freedom in terms of evidence that comes in, because, after all, that same judge who hears your motion to throw out evidence, if he doesn't grant it or if he does grant it, he's already heard about the evidence.

So, there is always that element when you have a judge-only trial, but by any U.S. standards, the amount of evidence that's coming in this case is simply astounding.

You have prior character evidence, which should not come in, which is the girlfriend talking about that he cheated on her or that he was firing guns out the window. No defense attorney would ever sit down and let that come in, in the United States.

But apparently in south Africa, the rules of evidence are little more relaxed. And I think any attorney from the United States or anyone who is familiar with courtrooms watching this trial is impressed by that fact, by the sheer leeway that litigators, the attorneys, the rules of evidence. It's just much broader.

BANFIELD: I almost wonder. And, Mark, maybe you could weigh in on this, whether you would be brushing your brow and thinking, Thank God I'm not there.

But then again, this is a very professional set-up. I've often talked about professional juries, because those are real wild cards, those 12 people you're looking at. You truly, despite voir dire, don't know much about them.

Do you think it would be easier to litigate this kind of a case with just the bench, just the judge?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, if we do away with my real feeling for the jury system in America, I've got to say that what we talked about before, Ashleigh, the idea of having to look into a juror's mind, or 12 of them, and figure it out, is very difficult.

On the other, in a case like this where you have a judge who is very well-trained in the law, knows it very, very well, knows how to apply the facts, can deal with it dispassionately, then this extraneous evidence that Danny is talking about that I would be concerned about, about affairs and other gunshots out windows or in a restaurant, maybe a judge knows where to place that and where not to.

So, I've got to give them credit for the idea that they're considering a very professional judge to handle a case. The assessor is interesting to me, because it's not defense experts or prosecution experts, but literally a court expert to help the judge understand the nuances, the voice screaming leak we had in my case or other nuances of the evidence. So interesting to see how it's going to turn out.

BANFIELD: OK. Stand by, both Mark O'Mara and Danny Cevallos. I've got more to ask you about this.

The victim's family in this case has said, you know, they want to get to the truth of this.

And in the courtroom, the neighbors and witnesses who all played a part have been it testifying, one by one, about the sounds that night, the screaming through the darkness. What they saw when they arrived on the bloody scene and then saw Reeva's bullet-riddled body, what about that testimony? Sounds like it's really hurting Oscar Pistorius.

But we're only in the prosecution's case. Is it so damning after all? That story, coming up.

Also, a quick programming note for you tonight, as well, be sure to tune into the CNN "SPOTLIGHT," "The Oscar Pistorius Trial. It airs tonight at 10:00 p.m., Eastern time.

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BANFIELD: Today's testimony in Olympian Oscar Pistorius' murder trial continued with one of the most compelling witnesses so far in this case. His name is Dr. Johan Stipp.

He's Pistorius' neighbor, and he was back on the stand for a second day. Apparently, he lived so close, close enough to Pistorius, that he could see in the bathroom window, the bathroom where Reeva Steenkamp died, and he was one of the first to arrive at the scene, as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JOHAN STIPP, OSCAR PISTORIUS' NEIGHBOR: I remember the first thing he said when I got there was that he said, I shot her. I thought she was a burglar and I shot her. The next thing I did was I tried to assist her, so I tried to open the airway and to look for any signs of life.

He was telling God to please let her live, please don't let her die. He was making promises to God. He was trying to, I don't know, maybe get atonement.

But he was very, very distraught, severely so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was wanting you to help her.

STIPP: Yes. Definitely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was, in fact, upset that you could not help her, because he wanted to go to the hospital.

STIPP: He definitely wanted her to live, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Three other neighbors have also taken the stand, as well. One of them was Michelle Burger.

And she didn't want her face shown on camera. This is one of the rules. If you don't want your face shown in this trial, the cameras turn away.

But the audio of Michelle is gripping.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE BURGER, OSCAR PISTORIUS' NEIGHBOR: The fear in that woman's voice is difficult to explain to the court. She screamed terribly, and she yelled for help. Then I also heard a man screaming for help. Three times, he yelled for help. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you perhaps give us a demonstration by using bang?

BURGER: Bang. Bang, bang, bang.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: CNN legal analysts Danny Cevallos and Mark O'Mara are back with me now.

Danny, what do you think has been the most significant evidence? We just heard about the screaming. We heard about the demeanor of Oscar Pistorius.

But in a week's worth of testimony in a prosecution case -- defense hasn't had its go yet -- what's been the most damming?

CEVALLOS: OK, I'm throwing out all this girlfriend, he-cheated-on-me evidence. That shouldn't come in. It comes in South Africa, and it was sort of brought in based on the unrelated gun charges that are prior to this case.

So, the lights in the bathroom are significant for a number of reasons. First, they directly contradict Oscar Pistorius' testimony, but, secondly --

BANFIELD: Because Oscar Pistorius said it was so dark.

CEVALLOS: It's dark. It's pitch-black.

BANFIELD: And neighbors are saying, but I can see the window and there were lights on.

CEVALLOS: Exactly. So, two reasons, first, it catches him in a fib, but part two is that, if there was any ambient light, the theory that it was so dark in the bedroom that I simply couldn't see anything, any, even a speck, of light coming under that bathroom door, is going to seriously undermine his contention that I had no idea Reeva was in the bathroom.

BANFIELD: So I'm just going to play defense attorney, saying, Well, are you so certain when that light was on, as opposed to before or after the shooting?

CEVALLOS: And that's why the defense attorney is hammering each witness about exactly what time, how many shots, what did you hear and when did you hear it?

BANFIELD: Mark O'Mara, when you have a doctor on the stand, that's a very smart witness, and he was just able to pop in there that little comment about, I don't know, I think maybe he was begging for atonement when he was begging for God.

Oh, lord, my head fell in my hand. If you're a defense attorney, you just don't want to hear that thing. This is an expert. This is a doctor, saying, sounded guilty to me. O'MARA: And it's true. Although he was showing up more as a neighbor than a doctor, but he came in and sort of gave his opinion.

And I think that witness is going to be very, very important, because he was the first one on the scene, so I would place him way up on the list.

But also, you know, the overall testimony that's come out so far concerning this screaming and the yelling before the shots, I think, are going to be most significant.

And it's going to be the it toughest thing for the defense to try and explain away.

BANFIELD: And I can't wait for that, because it always looks awful as the prosecutors are wrapping up their story and their narrative and their witnesses in their case.

And then comes the defense to change it all.

Danny Cevallos, Mark O'Mara, thank you so much.

Pistorius kept a gun by his bed every single night. Was he paranoid, or was his fear of burglary justified in south Africa in the neighborhood there?

We're going to go live to Pretoria to talk about that, and a behavioral expert will weigh in, as well, on the many emotions displayed by Oscar Pistorius as he sat very lonely on that bench in that court.

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