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Major Accident on Pennsylvania Turnpike; Momentary Respite from Storm for Northeast; Judge Denies Jury's Request to See Dummy of Jordan Davis; Johnny Weir Mum on Gay Rights at Sochi?; New Photos, Comments in "Blade Runner" Case

Aired February 14, 2014 - 09:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAROL COSTELLO, HOST: And good morning, again. I'm Carol Costello. It's 32 minutes past the hour.

Let's head right out to the Pennsylvania Turnpike outside of Philadelphia, because there's a terrible accident right now, 75 or more cars involved in this. And you'll see the front of this accident very soon, and what caused it was a jackknifed tractor-trailer. It's across the turnpike. And of course, that caused a major -- that caused other cars to slide into the truck, and as you can see caused many other cars to come to a complete stop.

Now, driving conditions on the turnpike were so dangerous yesterday that authorities actually had to close down parts of the turnpike. But as you can see, they did a pretty good job in clearing off all of the snow. But there is still black ice involved in -- there's still black ice on the highways this morning. And that's probably why that tractor-trailer jackknifed.

But right now, 75 cars or more on the Pennsylvania turnpike at a complete standstill. There's another accident on the turnpike not far from this. That accident involves 30 cars. So if you plan on driving today, please, please be very, very careful.

All right. Let's talk about travel by air, because air travelers take heart. Today cannot be as bad as yesterday. Today about 1,300 flights are canceled, and that's just a fraction of yesterday's tally. More than 71 hundred flights were grounded from the South to the Northeast. That made for the worst day for cancellations so far this winter.

Ashleigh Banfield has trudged into the mess. She joins us now live from New York City.

Good morning, Ashleigh.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: What a lovely day it is. I mean, what a difference a day can make. It's sunny; it's beautiful. It's 35 degrees. But you know something? That statistic you just read -- 7,100, wasn't that right? -- you know you used 7,100. So I'm just trying to remember back to Superstorm Sandy, and 7,400 was that one- day record. So we are real close in our cancellations yesterday with this storm, this massive storm, to basically besting to Hurricane Sandy's cancellation.

It's been really awful for anybody who's needed to travel really anywhere. If you're in California right now, Nevada, Washington state, this Northeast storm affects you, because a lot of those planes and the equipment you use, they come out of these hubs that have been affected.

It's statistic day. Carol, look at the statistics. You're not going to believe this. We're now at 75,000 flights canceled in 2014.

And if you want to know what that means to your pocketbook, you the viewer, somebody who actually flies or deals with all of the domino effects of these cancellations, it's just a cool $3 billion you take into your wallet, to the national wallet. Three billion to consumers' wallets.

As far as the airlines are concerned, it's not so bad. It's only $200 million in the lost flights that people didn't rebook and have refunded. So it's not so bad for them. It's pretty bad for them, make no mistake, but it's really bad for us. We really got, you know, jammed on this one.

But I just wanted to mention to you, as you're looking behind me and the sun's shining and it is that nice, warm day, I like to think of this as the morning after in New York City where we're pretty devolved into a hot mess. Because it is melting and wet and slushy. And we're -- if you can believe this, we're expecting yet another snowstorm, couple of inches anyway. But the temperatures are going to plunge to 16 degrees tomorrow and 11 degrees on Sunday, which means a lot of this can end up as black ice. So stay tuned to this space, Carol. It can get dangerous and yucky yet again.

COSTELLO: Well, all I can say is spring is right around the corner. Baseball pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training.

BANFIELD: Easy for you -- you're in Atlanta. Easy for you to say. Spring is around the corner, sister. Get your butt up here.

COSTELLO: It hasn't been so great here either, frankly. And we're dealing with our own slushy mess.

BANFIELD: That's true.

COSTELLO: So we're all in this together. I'm just trying to brighten everyone's moods. Spring is around the corner.

BANFIELD: Oh, happy Valentine's Day, beautiful.

COSTELLO: That's more like it, Ashleigh Banfield. Happy Valentine's Day. Thanks so much.

BANFIELD: See you later. COSTELLO: All right. We've got to get serious now.

Jurors return in Florida today for a third straight day of deliberations in the so-called loud music murder trial. Defendant Michael Dunn says he was afraid for his life when he fired his gun ten times on a parked SUV full of teenagers, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Three of those shots were fired while the SUV was driving away. Dunn is facing first-degree murder as well as three counts of attempted murder.

Yesterday the jury asked to see a mannequin depicting Jordan Davis's wounds, but the judge denied that request. Earlier, Dunn's attorney spoke with Chris Cuomo about that request.


CORY STROLLA, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL DUNN: The reason we were against the mannequin at the end part -- originally, we didn't object. The problem was when the state removed what they call bendy, the rods, the dowels were taken out and then were reinserted by the state attorney's own people. And then they wanted the doctor to come in and readjust it. And if you saw my cross-examination of the doctor, there was no way I was going to allow this witness to try to re-enact that dummy to go back there. So in the end result, we did object.


COSTELLO: Sunny Hostin live in Jacksonville.

Sunny, you've been following this case. And I would suppose that the jurors want to see this mannequin, because they are trying to figure out whether Jordan Davis got out of that SUV?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think that that this case is coming down to Michael Dunn's credibility, Michael Dunn's version of events. He testified, which is very rare for a defendant to do in a first-degree murder case. Really almost in any case, Carol. And so I think that they are dissecting his testimony.

If they believe that Jordan Davis -- if they believe, rather, Michael Dunn, and they believe that Jordan Davis stepped out of that car with a shotgun, tried to attack him, they may acquit in this case. And so I think this is going to be the crucial day.

Most juries do come back on a Friday. They don't want to spend the weekend in sequestration. And so I think they've got a lot of work ahead of them. But I think they're almost done. I was taking a look at them yesterday when the judge released them for the night. They don't look tired, Carol. They don't look like they're not cohesive. They look like they're just prepared to continue doing some hard work.

COSTELLO: OK, well, deliberations under way. We'll keep our eye on it. And Sunny Hostin, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, former Olympian Johnny Weir, known for those over-the-top outfits, and he's not holding back while he's in Sochi.

But some people, well, they're kind of confused about Johnny Weir. They say he's not doing enough to support gay rights. Talk about that next.


COSTELLO: The fabulous Johnny Weir isn't even competing at the Winter Olympics, but he's still putting on quite a show in Sochi with all of his fancy, chic attire. Just look at the outfits. Leather leggings, that hot pink jacket. It's a Chanel. He wears braids sometimes. Broaches and wedges.

He wears these things on television as a figure-skating analyst for NBC, and most people seem to love it. But not everyone in so in love with Johnny, in part because Johnny Weir refused to -- refused to call for a boycott of the Olympics over Russia's anti-gay laws. He explained why in an interview with Keith Olbermann.


JOHNNY WEIR, FIGURE-SKATING ANALYST, NBC: It would be a slap in the face to the people that made me who I am and gave me the opportunities to be who I am, an Olympian, first and foremost. Before -- before a gay man, before a white man, I am an Olympian. And that's what I worked for from age 12. And a boycott would negate all of that. We have to be here. We have to show Putin who we are, what we're about.

And that, you know, my main opinion about being gay is, while I'm over-the-top and fabulous and I am a figure skater, at the end of the day I'm a normal person. And that's what -- all I want to be accepted for in this world is to be a normal, equal part of society.


COSTELLO: And he said that in his Russian military outfit.

Well, that interview upset some gay rights activist who say Johnny Weir is only concerned about Johnny Weir, about his own ambition. But others say his flamboyance is a political statement in itself.

One activist who is critical of Weir joins us now. John Becker is editor in chief of the Bilerico -- of the Bilerico Project. Nicholas Benton joins us, too. He's a friend of Weir's who runs the False Church News Press, which Weir writes columns for. CNN's Don Lemon joins us, as well.

Welcome, gentlemen.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Carol.

BECKER: Good to be here.

COSTELLO: Glad you're here. So John, I want to start with you, because you've been critical of Weir. Why?

BECKER: Well, because, you know, to paraphrase my friend Dan Savage, just because you happen to be gay doesn't automatically make you an expert on LGBT rights. Yet, Johnny Weir puts himself out there. And in that very same interview with Keith Olbermann, he went on to compare the situation for LGBT people in Russia, where they're literally being hunted in the streets, to the situation for LGBT people in New Jersey.

You know, and those kind of comparisons are just so ludicrously offensive to the people who are being persecuted over there, that he's not doing our -- the LGBT movement any favors. He really needs to speak out against Vladimir Putin's laws in Russia, or else he's enabling them.

COSTELLO: Well, Nicholas, some people might say the way he dresses on national television, international television, is a statement in itself. Is it?

NICHOLAS BENTON, FRIEND OF WEIR: Absolutely. I couldn't be more proud of Johnny, both as the editor of the newspaper where he writes a column, a friend and long-time gay activist myself.

He is demonstrating, as he always has, even as a figure skater, when he won three U.S. championships and appeared in the Olympics twice, by his manner, by his behavior, by his way he carries himself and especially in these Olympics, where he's used his -- his dress to make such an important statement, I mean, just poking the Russian system right in the eye by the way he's presented himself on camera and he's going to be on camera in about 15 minutes with today's free skate and we can't wait to see what he's going to be wearing today.

COSTELLO: I'm sure a lot of people are with you. I'm sure and Don I want to pose this question to you. Is there pressure for every gay person or lesbian at the Olympics to make a strong statement against Russia's politics?

LEMON: There probably is pressure but there shouldn't be. Johnny Weir is Johnny Weir and just because he's gay, I think -- I think John is right. Just because he's gay I think he paraphrase -- it doesn't make him gay activist nor should he have to be a gay activist just because he's gay. Just because everyone who is African-American doesn't have to be a civil right or a black activist just because they are black. Johnny Weir is Johnny Weir.

And let me just say this I had this conversation with a friend about Johnny Weir and other people who have, who are out and proud. No one likes a gay minstrel show. So let's just put it and let's just put that out there.

COSTELLO: What do you mean by that?

LEMON: But -- well it's about someone who is flamboyant and over the top and all of those it seems those are the people who get the tension but they don't represent all of gay America and there's nothing bad about those people. I'm not saying anything bad about people who do that.

But the -- Johnny Weir doesn't have to represent all of gay people. Johnny Weir is fabulous. He is flamboyant. He is who he is. I've met him several times. I really like him. And I think that we should be happy that Johnny Weir is Johnny Weir and we should leave people like John Becker if they want to be gay activists to be gay activists, people who actually do a really good job at it and just let Johnny Weir be Johnny Weir.

COSTELLO: Well -- well let me --

LEMON: It takes a village, it takes all time.

COSTELLO: -- I understand though, I just want to pose this question to John. Because in that interview with Keith Olbermann , Johnny Weir said "I just want people to see me as normal." And, you know, what is normal these days? No one really knows the answer to that question. But if you want to be accepted by a white audience is there a danger that you're -- that you're sending out a stereotypical image of gay America when you're too flamboyant. And John I'll pose that difficult one to you.

LEMON: And that's what I meant by gay minstrel show, Carol.

COSTELLO: Right, right I know.

JOHN BECKER, LGBT RIGHTS ACTIVIST: It's far -- far be it for me to say that Johnny Weir should be anyone or anything less than Johnny Weir. But it's hard for me to accept the argument that just by dressing flamboyantly and being so over the top in his mannerisms that he is somehow taking some bold stand against Vladimir Putin and his government.

You know he has not spoken out about these laws.

LEMON: But I don't think he's saying that. That's not what he's saying. He's saying -- he's telling you I'm not take a bold stand. What I'm doing is going up and showing -- and going there showing up and I'm being myself and for him that's enough. And for most people that should be enough.

If he chooses not to be a gay activist he has every right as an American to do that. He has every right to come to it from his particular point of view. You have the right to criticize him.


COSTELLO: Wait, wait. Let John have his say, gentlemen. Let John have a say. Go ahead John.

BECKER: I'm not disputing his right to do and say whatever he wants. I'm appealing to his conscience. Silence in the face of that law is tacit agreement with that law. He is enabling that the whole goal of the Vladimir Putin's anti-gay propaganda law is to silence LGBT people. So just by showing up and being yourself if you're not speaking up as an LGBT person you're staying silent and you are furthering the goals of that law.

COSTELLO: Nicholas, last word. Nicholas, last word.

LEMON: Would you put that pressure on the heterosexual athletes who are over there if they are not standing up? Are they doing the same thing? That's a lot of pressure to put on every single gay athlete who already have a lot of pressure put on them to go over there and to perform.

BENTON: By the way Johnny -- Johnny's you know dress as an announcer in these Olympics the way he's dressed his costumes when he was actively figure skating, this is not just him trying to draw attention to himself. He's made it clear many times that he sees his doing this as a model for other people, for young kids around the whole country and the world to be able to look at him and look at how he's dressing and how he carries himself and say that, you know, if it's good for him, it's good for me.

That he's -- he is trying to set an example that anybody should be the way they want to be. And be accepted and judged on their merits.


BENTON: So I think Johnny says he just wants to be normal he wants to be judged on his merits. He's a fabulous announcer, by the way. He and Tara have done a terrific job at the Olympics -- brought more information and commentary and humor to their announcing than I've seen in a very long time. And he was fabulous as a figure skater.

COSTELLO: You're right -- you were right about that. I wish I could go on. This has been a fabulous conversation. And I appreciate all of your opinions. It's been really enlightening. John Becker, Nicholas Benton and Don Lemon.

BECKER: Thank you Carol.

LEMON: Happy Valentine's Day, Carol.

COSTELLO: Happy Valentine's Day to you guys too. Same to you.


BENTON: By the way, Virginia just made gay marriage legal.

COSTELLO: Virginia yes. Thank you so much.

BECKER: And we're all celebrating down here.

COSTELLO: I'm sure you are. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: This Valentine's Day also marks a somber anniversary one year ago today Oscar Pistorius shot to death his girlfriend the model Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius the so-called "Blade Runner" because he raced on prosthetics faces trial next month for premeditated murder.

He said he mistook her as an intruder and he issued this statement on his website this morning quote, "No words can adequately capture my feelings about the devastating accident that has caused such heartache for everyone who truly loved and continues to love Reeva. The pain and sadness especially for Reeva's parents, family and friends consumes me with sorrow. The loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day, I will carry with me for the rest of my life."

Also new today a CNN exclusive: newly emerging photos of the couple.

CNN's Robyn Curnow has more.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: These exclusive pictures from a source close to Oscar Pistorius appeared to show a young couple in love, intimate and personal. These would be some of the last photographs they would take together because on Valentine's Day morning, exactly one year ago it all ended.

Oscar Pistorius' agent Peet Van Zyl awoke to a phone call.

PEET VAN ZYL, OSCAR PISTORIUS' AGENT: Just had this voice of a girl frantic and nervous (inaudible) shouting, "Please, you have to rush to Pretoria to come to Oscar's house." I'm trying to make sense of what's wrong. "No, no, someone shot, someone shot." So I initially thought it was Oscar that has been shot. They said, "No, no, no, no. Reeva has been shot."

CURNOW: Paralympic and Olympic star, Oscar Pistorius has allegedly shot his girlfriend. It was a shooting that shocked South Africa. The country's golden boy Olympian had killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, an up and coming model.

He was arrested and charged with murder. Pistorius denied the murder charge. He says it was a tragic mistake, that he thought Steenkamp was an intruder.

In just a few weeks, a high court judge will hear the case.

Now Oscar Pistorius' murder trial will take place in this courtroom. It begins on the 3rd of March. Now, the state has listed 107 witnesses. Not all of them are expected to be called. But we do expect to hear testimony from Oscar Pistorius' family, some of his ex- girlfriends as well as police forensics experts.

Pistorius' team said they'll counter with their own forensic evidence.

LAURIE PIETERS-JAMES, CRIMINOLOGIST: I think the state does want to get this case over with. They have booked the court for three weeks, I believe. And they should be able to present at least the state case in those three weeks. CURNOW: After staying away from Pistorius' previous court appearances Reeva Steenkamp's mother June and other family are expected to attend the trial. After a year of waiting, her family says they are looking for closure.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, Pretoria, South Africa.


COSTELLO: Here is what's all new in the next hour of NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: As if that Barbie song wasn't enough to make every mother cringe. Now, Sports Illustrated has sparked a new backlash. Coming up, Barbie -- that sexy doll -- part of "Sports Illustrated's" new swimsuit edition -- oh my. We'll talk about that. The second hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break.