Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Police: Suspect Claims Pot Laced With Narcotic Caused the Rampage; What Arizona Voters See at the U.S.-Mexico Border That National Politicians Don't; WSJ Journalist Evan Gershkovich Marks One Year in Russian Prison; Total Solar Eclipse Passing Over North America on April 8. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired March 29, 2024 - 07:30   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Police say the suspect in a brutal stabbing rampage that left four people dead confessed to the attack, claiming he was under the influence of marijuana that he thinks had been laced with some kind of narcotic. 22-year-old Christian Soto faces first degree murder, attempted murder and home invasion charges. And the Mayor of Rockford, Illinois, where this happened, says his heart is breaking over the lives lost.

CNN's Veronica Miracle joining us now from Chicago with more on this.

Tell us more about what you've learned.

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, as we learn more about this case, it just becomes more horrific. 22-year-old Christian Soto accused of 13 charges at this point. But investigators say that number could get bigger as they get deeper into this investigation.

They say that he was covered in blood when he was arrested and actually admitted to some of the crimes that he is accused of committing to investigators, including, as you said, going to the home of two of his friends, Jacob and Ramona Schubach and stabbing them and then going outside and telling investigators that he had taken out the mailman.

He said that he went to his friend's house to smoke marijuana, that he started to become paranoid. He thought he was laced with something and then stabbed Ramona and Jay Schubach -- excuse me, Ramona and Jacob Schubach to death.

He said that he then went outside and saw the mailman and a witness described Christian Soto beating that mailman and then stabbing him to death and running over him twice with a pickup truck. The horrors do not end there.

He is then accused of breaking into the home where three children were home alone, beating them with a baseball bat, including one to death, 15-year-old Jenna Newcomb. CNN spoke to her friends. Take a listen as they try to grapple with this loss.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She couldn't be ever mean to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's always such a nice person. I've never seen her angry once.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She put everything into softball and basketball. Those were her sports.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never really see her give up on anything. She's really a really hard worker.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our team, we really cared for her. We really loved her.


MIRACLE: And Christian Soto is then accused of breaking into two other homes and attempting to kill five other people. Again, investigators say more charges could be on the way, including federal charges, as they learn more in this investigation. He is due next in court on April 2nd. Back to you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Veronica Miracle. It's unbelievable and, quite frankly, unthinkable too, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This morning, new reporting that Donald Trump plans to increase the number of rallies and campaign events, he does. He really has had a light schedule of yet late. The focus will be on the border and crime. So how will that play with voters?

John King has been asking in a series all over the map. His latest trip, Arizona.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: A wall as far as the eye can see. This is the Tucson sector, by far the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings. Smuggling is a big problem and a big business Faith Ramon knows all too well.

FAITH RAMON, MEMBER OF THE TOHONO O'ODHAM NATION: I needed money. I needed money quick. And because of my alcohol and my addiction, I just went to a party, met some friends. They offered me some quick money. I took it. And it was so easy. It was so easy. I did it again. And I did it again. Sure enough, I was doing it for years because of it being so easy.

KING: Then you got caught.

RAMON: And then I got caught. My luck ran out. KING: A felony conviction set Ramon in search of sobriety. And a 2018 Tohono O'odham tribal ritual would again put the border front and center.

RAMON: A sweat lodge ceremony. And I walked in and that was the very first time I heard that there was a border wall that was going to be built on the reservation, separating and destroying some of our sacred sites.

KING: Ramon is now an activist who registers voters and is eligible to have her own voting rights restored. Her first choice for president would be this November in Battleground, Arizona.

RAMON: I will vote for Biden.

KING: Donald Trump is not an option.

RAMON: I don't like the fact that our reservation was destroyed by a racist wall.

KING: To win here again, Biden needs big margins here in South Central Arizona, Tucson and south to the Mexican border. Ray Flores is no fan of Biden or Trump, thinks both are too old to be president.

RAY FLORES, ARIZONA VOTER: At this juncture, they both had four years and I'm just eight years more frustrated than I was before.

KING: Flores runs El Charro, a family business for 102 years, a Tucson landmark famous for carne seca and the chimichanga. Washington's immigration paralysis hurts business.

FLORES: I mean, a clear process for work visas would be amazing. If you're a technology company, you can get an engineer and you can get them immigrated and you can get a work visa. Why shouldn't I be able to do that with a chef or with a really good waiter?

KING: The immigration conversation tends to be different in places at or near the border. More polite, more nuanced, focused on solutions, not slogans.

EVAN KORY, ARIZONA VOTER: It's a unique situation where you have two countries that create a community and actually it's mutually beneficial for both countries.

KING: Walk through the Nogales border crossing and the first business you see is Kory's bridal shop. Evan Kory is fine with the wall, but didn't like it when Trump added the razor wire. He bristles when the former president talks about the border and Mexicans.

KORY: We've always depended on our Mexican neighbors to support our local economy.

KING: Kory, a Democrat, also bristles, though, when liberals oppose more money for the border patrol and other security measures.

KORY: Yeah, I mean, that's equally frustrating, too, because you have to have a balance between all the needs and find a way to somehow work together.

KING: Handmade boots are a specialty at David's Western Wear. For 44 years, a favorite of customers on both sides of the border. David Moore says 99% of his business was for Mexico before the COVID shutdown. It's about 70% now. Moore says the wall helps stop illegal crossings. He wants more agents to cut long wait times that discourage Mexicans from making day trips to shop. And he says the asylum process is broken.

DAVID MOORE, ARIZONA VOTER: I don't know how that works, that people from Africa are coming in through Mexico up through the Mexican border. I would want them to regulate that a little more.

KING: Moore is a registered Republican, but a likely Biden voter because Trump offends him.

(On camera): He said that, you know, the immigrants are poisoning our blood. What would you say?

MOORE: I'd say my mother was born in Mexico and she came across the border legally. So, you know, that's poison I can deal with, I guess.

KING: Moore says the way Trump and allies talk about the border is exaggerated and alarmist. And he says he pays the price. Customers call and say they're worried about making the trip to Nogales.

MOORE: People from everywhere do that. Because when they see on the news that the borders are a war zone, you know, that's -- those are the images they get. They think it's unsafe.


KING: But your home is not a war zone?

MOORE: My home is not a war zone. No, we've been here for a long time.

KING: A long time at what is now a major line of America's political divide.


KING: And so, John, you remember how close Arizona was in 2020. This is where we were, these two counties right here in the southern part of the state.

Notice they're blue. These people vote Democratic. They want a conversation about immigration, not the fighting we get. But the former president, Donald Trump, will be in Michigan next week, Grand Rapids, for an event. That's Kent County right here. We won it in 20 -- Joe Biden won it in 2020, and he won Michigan.

Donald Trump won it by 10,000 votes. That was his statewide margin in Michigan in 2016. The people in Arizona we talked to want a conversation. They're not going to get it, not from Donald Trump, anyway, in this campaign. Because if you look at this Quinnipiac new poll this week, immigration for the first time, the number one issue among voters. They asked voters 10 different issues, list what's number one.

Immigration for the first time, number one. And then look at the President on this. You look at this. The President's approval rating on all of the top issues right now. Underwater, right? Underwater on the economy. Underwater on inflation. Look at that, 30%. That is a low in "Fox" polling for the President's approval rating on immigration. That's 30%. Now, 67% disapprove.

So if you're Biden, you have to fix that. If you're Trump, that's an issue.

BERMAN: I mean, this is deep underwater if you're the President.

KING: Profoundly. On all of them. But this one here, immigration. We know that this is Trump's wheelhouse. This is what he wants to talk about. Helps with the base. But it also can help in the suburbs. The question is, will it? But, you know, he's going to Michigan to talk about it, not Arizona.

BERMAN: It's a great point. Michigan to talk about the border, not in Arizona. A county that actually votes Democratic, as you were pointing out.

KING: Right. If you look along the border, these counties, a lot of them do. Even in Texas, you see a lot of this here. This is where Eagle Pass is. Maverick County, it votes blue. The people close to the border want a conversation, not a fight.

BERMAN: John King, you are having that conversation out there. Thanks so much for being here this morning. Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: It was a great piece. All right, one year, that is how long it's now been. Since "Wall Street Journal" Reporter Evan Gershkovich was wrongfully arrested and jailed by Russian authorities. He was charged with espionage. But Gershkovich, the "Wall Street Journal," and the U.S. government all denying that charge.

This morning, this is what the "Wall Street Journal's" front page looks like. It's a powerful statement marking where Gershkovich's story could have been. And it says a powerful statement. A year in Russian prison. A year of stolen stories, a year of stolen joys, stolen memories. The crime: journalism.

CNN's Matthew Chance is joining us now from St. Petersburg. Matthew, what can you tell us about the latest about Evan Gershkovich and how he's doing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, he seems to be holding up pretty well under the circumstances. We saw some pictures of him a couple of days ago. Just six seconds of video was given to us by the court, which didn't allow journalists to go inside on this occasion, as they extended Evan's, you know, pre-trial detention for another three months.

So his trial for espionage hasn't even begun yet. And we've got no idea when it will begin. We don't even know what evidence there is, because it's an issue to do with national security, espionage.

And so they don't -- under law here, have to tell us what they've got on him. But obviously, it's not going to be much, because everybody from the United States to his employees, to his friends and his family, are absolutely adamant that Evan Gershkovich is a journalist and did absolutely nothing wrong. He just was arrested while he was doing his job.

We do know, though, that talks behind the scenes have been ongoing. The Kremlin Spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said as much a couple of days ago. They're saying that certain contacts, as he phrased it, were still underway.

But just like the U.S., the Russians have categorically refused to publicly discuss exactly what the terms of that negotiation are. So we're pretty much in the dark in terms of that. We do think we know, though, what the Russians want or who the Russians want in return.

That's a Russian security services operative who killed a Chechen dissident in a park in Germany. We understand the Kremlin wants him back in exchange for Americans in Russian jails.

SIDNER: Well, Matthew Chance, thank you so much for that update there from Russia for us.

And joining me now is the Chief International Digital Editor for "The Wall Street Journal," Grainne McCarthy.

Thank you so much for joining us. I know this is a very, very, very difficult time when a colleague is in this kind of terrible predicament. This week, of course, marked a year since Evan Gershkovich was arrested and jailed in Russia for being a journalist. Are you hearing anything about him being any closer to being freed?

GRAINNE MCCARTHY, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL DIGITAL EDITOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: We genuinely don't know. As Matthew was just alluding to, there has been some coverage and some comments made by President Putin before Christmas and after Christmas, in which he did speak and appear potentially willing to do a deal to get Evan out.


But, you know, his pretrial detention was extended on Tuesday until June 30. So today marks one year. He's already passed his 32nd birthday in prison, where it's a very hard day for us all to bear. And yeah, he is there at least for another three months. And we really don't know when we will see him free.

SIDNER: Are you hearing from his parents and authorities, what kind of access do U.S. officials even have to him as he's languishing there in Russian detention?

MCCARTHY: The U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, gets in to see Evan with some regularity. There is consular access. We also have local lawyers on the ground in Moscow, and they get in to see Evan about once a week. So there is regular contact with Evan. We don't have direct contact with him, but we hear from him through letters. I mean, thousands and thousands of people around the world have written to Evan since over this past year, and it's possible to write to him using the email

There is a process that's been set up by his amazing friends through which he gets those letters. They are read by Russian authorities, but he does get them. So we hear from him that way.

We get to see him when he appears in court in that glass cage, which is really hard to see. I always think of it as heartening and heartbreaking. His parents are truly incredibly brave people.

We have an interview with them on our website today with our editor- in-chief, and they have been just incredible ambassadors for their son. And that's all the rest of us -- that's what the rest of us are trying to do as well, is to stand with them and support them.

SIDNER: That's incredible that he is able to get some of those messages. That's new to me, and I think it could be so helpful for him as he's going through all this. Do you have a sense of how he's doing?

Do you have a sense of -- because we see him in this glass cage, and he tries to smile, but he also looks exhausted, as anyone would be. It's terrifying, the ordeal he finds himself in.

MCCARTHY: I mean, he is incredibly resilient, and I am just inspired by him every single day, as I know are all of my colleagues and his family and everybody else. Evan is an extremely gregarious, outgoing, you know, person. He -- his friends describe him as a friend magnet. He has got groups of friends all around the world who've been very active on his behalf.

He's doing, I would say, as well as he could be under these difficult circumstances. He is in a notorious Stalinist-era prison in Moscow. He is in a tiny cell, which he shares with another individual. He gets one hour of exercise a day, so 23 of those 24 hours, he is in that cell.

He is reading. He is meditating. He is trying to do the exercise that he can. And he is communicating, you know, sending letters to his family and to others. So he is mentally strong and physically strong. And when we see him in that glass cage smiling, it gives us some heart. I know it gives heart to his family.

SIDNER: Grainne McCarthy, thank you so much. This is one year since Evan Gershkovich has been taken into custody in Russia. We appreciate your time.


WHITFIELD: All right. And why were new hires at the RNC asked if the 2020 election was stolen? The Trump campaign now trying to explain.


BERMAN: This morning, efforts are underway to recover the bodies of 45 people killed in a bus crash off a cliff in South Africa. An eight- year-old girl was the sole survivor. She was airlifted to the hospital with serious injuries. Officials say dozens of worshippers from Botswana were on board heading to an Easter conference. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

New this morning, the federal government is changing how it asks about race and ethnicity. It will now use a single question and include more categories. This is also going to appear on the census. It is expected to improve the way Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and North African people with those heritages are counted. This is the first time in nearly three decades a change has been made.

For the first time in 20 years, Alabama advances to the elite eight. The tide pulled off a last-minute upset over top-ranked North Carolina in the sweet 16. Now Alabama faces six-seed Clemson in Los Angeles tomorrow. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All so exciting. And this is going to be exciting, too. It's a must-see event. But will you be able to see it at all? The solar eclipse happens April 8th. And with 20 years until the next one, everyone wants to get a piece of the action.

But cloud cover could spoil the fun for some folks. CNN's Derek Van Dam joins us now from the Weather Center.

Derek, tell us about, I guess, you know, how previous weather patterns either interrupted or revealed it all.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: All right. Say it with me, Fredricka. The eclipse is still 11 days away.

VAN DAM & WHITFIELD: The eclipse is still 11 days --

WHITFIELD: -- away. Yeah.

VAN DAM: Thank you. We're not having fun. What are we doing here, right? OK. So let's take this with a huge grain of salt. But I can fill you in on what, climatologically speaking, the weather models are going to talk to us about and show us in terms of what we should expect.

We see signs that a ridge of high pressure will dominate much more of the northeastern U.S. That's good news for potential viewing conditions across New England.


VAN DAM: Now, we also see an approaching trough that could bring rain, cloud, and some overcast conditions to the southwestern portions of the totality of the eclipse. But regardless, we still have over 2,500 miles of eclipse potential with 31 million people in this path.


Now, when we look at previous April 8th, we have, climatologically speaking, the cloudiest weather in the northeast and the clearest conditions across the southwestern portion of this total eclipse path. But it looks like it may be reversed.

In fact, Climate Prediction Center highlighting that with a five-day window that does include April 8th of below average precipitation across the northeast. That's what we want to see.

Now, speaking of rainfall, we have, again, long-range models indicating some sort of movement in terms of precipitation, cloud cover and chances of rain across the Central U.S. and the southwestern parts of the eclipse.

Listen, Fredricka, I was at the super eclipse in August of 2017. I was located in Nashville. Take it from me, it is totality or nothing. If you're not in that line of totality, we're talking about the skies will not darken, even if it's 99.9% of an eclipse. It is all about the full eclipse of the sun.

I'm obviously quoting Bonnie Tyler there. And lots of people enjoying that possibility from Illinois all the way to New Hampshire and Vermont, where I'll be located.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. OK, well, we look forward to it. Even though it's 11 days away, people are making plans.

VAN DAM: 11 days.

WHITFIELD: I got friends, my friends in Arkansas who are making plans. They want to see it. So we don't need any interruptions. All right.

VAN DAM: Give it another five days to change plans. All right.

WHITFIELD: All right. Very good. Derek Van Dam, appreciate it. John.

BERMAN: Derek Van Dam lives his life in the path of totality, I have to say.

All right. This morning, a new explanation about why the Republican National Committee is asking prospective hires, the question, was the 2020 election stolen?

"Axios" reporter Sophia Cai is with us now. Sophia, CNN, you, others have all been reporting on this question. The RNC is asking people apparently in job interviews. But you've gone to officials and say, why? Why are you doing this? What are you hearing back?

SOPHIA CAI, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS: So they're trying to explain this now by saying that they want to know if job candidates are curious and can think through these complex problems. And if they're bringing them in for 2024, they want to know what these folks in the states have seen and heard and what they think about what happened in 2020. We know that this is not systematic. The job interviews have been conducted by at least four people. But they've been conducted in pairs. And only one person has been asking this question. And it has not been asked of every job candidate.

But it is a very unusual question. And it just shows that the issue of the 2020 election is not over. And it's a central role in Trump's political identity.

BERMAN: Sophia, do you happen to know what would happen if a prospective hire said when asked who won the 2020 election, if you went in and said, Joe Biden won, fair and square, would that person get hired?

CAI: I'm not sure, right? And as point blank, the Trump officials have said that it is not a litmus test. But then we had a second Trump official jump in and said, saying there is a litmus test.

And that is, do you support President Trump? And that just puts job candidates in a very tough spot where they feel like there's only one good way to answer that question.

BERMAN: Right. And that way has got to be what? That the election, they say they have to basically say it was stolen in some way?

CAI: Yeah, in some way, I think so. Yeah. And, you know, I think this is all happening in the context of a new RNC that is trying to move very quickly. They've been starting from a bare bones standpoint when it comes to staffing in the states. They're behind the DNC. And they've been all doing this within just one week. They've given job candidates less than 24 hours' notice to come show up for an interview. But that also means that they themselves have very little time to kind of get on board on the same page about what it's looking for, for job candidates, how it's going to staff up, how many people they're going to bring back. I mean, they've cut at least 20 staffers in these states. That is the backbone of the RNC's political operation in the states.

BERMAN: Sophia Cai, great to have you on this morning. Thanks so much.


SIDNER: All right. New this morning, rare and striking comments from a federal judge who says he's very concerned about Donald Trump's attacks against the New York judge overseeing his hush money case and more specifically, the judge's daughter. Trump lashed out after Judge Juan Merchan imposed a gag order on him in the case.

The former president called Merchan's daughter, quote, "a rabid Trump hater" on "Truth Social." Federal Judge Reggie Walton told CNN's Kaitlan Collins, it's extremely difficult for judges to do their jobs when their families are being threatened.


JUDGE REGGIE WALTON, U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: It's very disconcerting to have someone making comments about a judge. It's particularly problematic when those comments are in the form of a threat, especially if they're directed at one's family. I mean, we do these jobs because we're committed to the rule of law and we believe in the rule of law. And the rule of law can only function effectively when we have.