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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Oscar Pistorius in Court Today; Southwest Braces for Severe Storm; Search for Brazen Jewel Thieves; Indiana Beats Michigan State to Stay No. 1

Aired February 20, 2013 - 06:30   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Damaging testimony right now against an Olympic hero. Police telling the court there is no way Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend in self-defense.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Heavy snow headed for a big swath of the country today. We're tracking a big, brewing winter storm.

SAMBOLIN: Call it the Belgian job -- an all-out hunt for the getaway car in a jewel heist that sounds like it is straight out of Hollywood.

Welcome back to EARLY START. It's very nice to have you this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Wednesday. It's about 29 minutes after the hour.

And the big developing story right now. Oscar Pistorius is moments away of learning if he will be granted bail despite the charges of premeditated murder against him. New developments today on the second day of the bail hearing.

The first officer on the scene believes his actions were no way in self-defense. Although he did concede there were no signs of assault on Reeva Steenkamp's body or any indication that she attempted to defend herself. He also said that two boxes of testosterone and needles were found, but the defense says it was a legal herbal medication.

The officer also told the court he believes a cricket bat was used to break down the bathroom door. He also says the gunshots were deliberately aimed at the toilet, not just randomly into the bathroom door.

There is a lot to digest here. As we said, it is still going on at this very moment.

Paul Callan is a CNN legal contributor. He's also a criminal defense attorney and a former New York City homicide prosecutor.

Paul, I want to pick through the events that have really just happened in the last hour here. Let me start with this, where the investigators, prosecutions conceding essentially, no signs of assault on the body of Reeva Steenkamp.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Of course, that's other than the bullet wounds which are the clearest signs of assault.

BERMAN: Right.

CALLAN: But, of course, what we're talking about here is there's talk that he maybe had beaten her with that cricket bat. There was talk in some of the South African newspapers that there might have been blood on the cricket bat. It would appear that that is not going to be claimed to be one of the murder weapons in the case. So, that's an important development for the defense.

BERMAN: Also, prosecutors have been saying that a witnesses heard fighting as much as an hour before the shooting incident from a neighbors house, but the defense forcing the prosecution to concede that that witness lived some 2,000 feet away from Oscar Pistorius' house.

CALLAN: That's a tremendous distance. So, it's hard to believe you could hear that.

But on the other hand, it might explain why Pistorius was so intent on explaining he went out onto the balcony, and the door to the balcony was open. He closed it. Obviously, there was concern that maybe noise would be heard.

BERMAN: Another piece of witness testimony today. Prosecutors, the police on the scene, say that somehow they can tell the bullets were aimed at the toilet itself specifically. Not just haphazardly into the bathroom door.

CALLAN: I think that's very, very important. People have to understand the setup of this bathroom. This is not the bathroom where sort of the toilet is in the middle of the room and it's one big room. This is a bathroom where you enter, there's an outer area, where the shower or the bathtub is. And a door that goes into a toilet area which you can look. She locked herself inside, and four shots were fired. Now, police are saying directly at the toilet. Where he thought she was sitting.

So I think that's an important development for the prosecution's theory as to how the murder took place.

BERMAN: The idea being that if you were just firing someone he feared might be in the bathroom, it would be more random into the door, not aimed specifically at the toilet.

CALLAN: Not only random, but it would be more anticipating somebody, a burglar, would be in a standing position, certainly not sitting on the toilet as opposed to possibly a woman crying, huddling down on the toilet.

BERMAN: Other evidence we did hear from the prosecution today, a past incident of an aggressive nature of Oscar Pistorius. Apparently, once the say he fired a gun at a Johannesburg restaurant. Another time, they say, he threatened to assault someone at a racetrack.

Why might they be introducing these facts into the case?

CALLAN: This is very important. They're to show that he has a violent propensity. You know, he's got a sterling public image. And what I'm hearing from just talking to people in this country is that a lot of men are giving him the benefit of the doubt because he's such a big sports hero overcoming his own personal adversity. I find women are much less sympathetic to him. This history of violent behavior I think is really an attempt to tarnish and dent his public image.

BERMAN: But would you also say, though, that the defense has managed to raise some valid questions this morning so far?

CALLAN: Oh, they've absolutely raised some valid questions. Remember, in the end, this is a circumstantial evidence case. There are only two people alive who have come out of this encounter -- or two people who were there when it went down. Of course, the girlfriend and the defendant in the case, so everything circumstantial evidence.

BERMAN: Paul Callan, thanks for being with us this morning. I have to say, this case is getting more interesting by the minute, developing by the minute. We're still waiting to hear this morning if Oscar Pistorius will be granted bail. Paul Callan --

CALLAN: Nice talking with you, John.

BERMAN: Nice to see you.


SAMBOLIN: The search is on right now for one person still unaccounted for after a massive explosion at a popular restaurant in Kansas City. The woman is a restaurant employee. Another woman who had been missing is now accounted for. She's being treated at a local hospital, 14 others also hurt.

It's believed a natural gas blast destroyed JJ's Restaurant. Witnesses say they could smell gas well before that explosion. Police and fire investigators say it appears to be an accident.

We have a brewing storm this morning that could affect massive portions of the country. A large section of the Southeast already under a winter storm. Eight to 10 inches of snow is in the forecast for central Arizona, along with six to eight inches across Nevada and Salt Lake City area and in southern California, in the mountains, up to half a foot of snow is expected there.

And that is where we find Casey Wian this morning. How is it now? We checked in with you earlier, it wasn't so bad.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it wasn't so bad. We have a little snow flurry when we talked to you last hour. But as you can see now, the snow completely stopped. All you see is a little bit of remnants of snow on these mailboxes here. The storm seeming to produce not as much of an effect as a lot of people had feared.

We're at elevation of about 3,100 feet. There had been some talk that snow levels could be low as 2,000 feet overnight. That would be in the foothills surrounding Los Angeles. We haven't seen it get that low.

We are still seeing intermittent road closures on some of the major interstates throughout southern California. All of them open as we speak. But if you want to go to higher elevations like here, Highway 138 behind me, going up into the communities of Wrightwood and to the high desert, they are requiring vehicles to have either chains or four-wheel drive, and that's expected to last throughout this morning.

We may get one more flurry later in the day. But right now, most of the storm seems to have moved past southern California and heading eastward, expecting to intensify, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: So, maybe some treacherous driving conditions. Is it really cold there?

WIAN: It's not that cold. Probably in the low 30s last time I checked. Its maybe getting down to 27 or so right before dawn. But it's really not that bad.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I was wondering because you're not wearing a hat and, you know, that's where heat escapes. Nice to see you.


SAMBOLIN: I'm being mommy this morning. Thank you, Casey.

BERMAN: I'm on team Casey here.

Thirty-six minutes after the hour. This storm system is massive, but by this time tomorrow, it is expected to drop a foot of snow from Kansas to southern Minnesota with severe thunder and hail predicted across northern Texas, all the way into the Dallas area. It is big.

And Jennifer Delgado is tracking it all for us. Hey, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Zoraida. Hi, John. Casey has it good out there. You notice that he noticeably looks pretty warm in comparison to some of the storms we've seen in the past. But we are going to see that same storm system moving towards the East and it's going to be affecting the Central Plains in a big way. Like you said a foot of snow. Look at warnings and watches out there, this is all due to winter weather.

We're talking 16 states affected by two storm systems and the one from the west that's really going to be causing the problems, as it moves through later on this evening. Now, as we show you the radar through parts of Oklahoma City, you can see snow developing right there, maybe right now to the north of Interstate 40 to south of Interstate 70. A lot of rain coming down for areas, including Dallas, as well as into Houston. But once the other storm system comes in from the four corners, that's when the real mess is going to happen and that is going to start late tonight, as well as into tomorrow morning, as well as into the afternoon. Some of these locations picking up more than a foot of snow.

Kansas is going to be the bull's-eye. You can see for Salinas, as well as into Wichita, 12 inches snow fall. Missouri, six to eight inches of snowfall.

Now, let's talk about the freezing rain threat. Some of these locations are going to pick up a half inch to 3/4 inch rainfall -- I should say and that is going to be enough potentially to take down power lines, as well as trees. You get wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour, that's going to lead to blowing snow at times.

But, again, tomorrow morning is going to be a mess. I promise you that.

BERMAN: That much freezing ice in the Southeast. That can be really damaging, Jennifer.

DELGADO: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. Checking stories that are trending on CNN this morning.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs under fire for posting a list on its Web site describing how female students should defend themselves against sexual assault. So, it advisers them to scream loudly, run, and use passive resistance techniques like vomiting, urinating and telling the attacker that they have a disease or they are menstruating.

After an uproar, the university apologized and explained the list came from a rape defense class and was taken out of context.


TOM HUTTON, UCCS SPOKESPERSON: It was part of a really supplemental information intended for women who had completed a self-defense class on campus we call RAD.


SAMBOLIN: And RAD stands for Rape Aggression Defense.

BERMAN: So, after more than two years, Florida Atlantic University's football stadium has a name. It's about time, in more ways than one. It's named after a prison company. Get it? It's about time.

It will be called GEO Group Stadium, after the for-profit prison operator made a $6 million donation.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, that's --

BERMAN: That will buy you a stadium.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, absolutely.

All right. Vice President Joe Biden has been working hard to advance new gun control legislation, including a possible assault weapons ban. But he's not opposed to Americans keeping a shot done for protection. In fact, he recommends a 12 gauge model.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you want to protect yourself, get a double-barrel shotgun, have the shells for the 12-gauge shotgun, put the double barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house. I promise you, whoever is coming in is not going to -- you don't need an AR-15.


SAMBOLIN: In an online gun safety chat sponsored by "Parents" magazine, the vice president said he doesn't support changes to the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

BERMAN: International mystery surrounding a $15 million diamond heist. Coming up, the item detectives hope will lead to eight recent thieves.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, wide load. It's not every day you see a haunted house on the move.


BERMAN: Another morning with a lot going on.

Soledad O'Brien here with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we're following this Oscar Pistorius story. Obviously, he's back in the courtroom today? Was it self-defense?

The Olympic Blade Runner, as we've been calling him, he's back in court hearing some damning testimony against him in the death of his girlfriend. Developing details about some of the shocking evidence we'll share with you this morning in live report.

Also, while you were sleeping, Russian officials spoke out about the death of that little boy. Adopted Russian boy living in Texas. One child advocate softening his stance. But could the country still ban international adoptions? We're live from Russia this morning.

And HBO's hit show "Girls," but the men (AUDIO GAP) Alex Karpovsky, the lovely Ray is going to be taking with us. And Keith Sweat from the hit, remember, "Make It Last Forever"?

BERMAN: I'm still stuck on loser. I don't know -- O'BRIEN: Ray?


SAMBOLIN: Is there anything about that?

O'BRIEN: I'm not even sure, lovable might be too strong. We'll talk with him about that this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

BERMAN: Forty-four minutes past the hour. President Obama is looking for a new man to lead NATO forces. General John Allen, who the president nominated to be Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, is retiring over concerns about his wife 'health. Allen was the top coalition commander in Afghanistan for the last two years. You will remember, he was caught up in the David Petraeus scandal when e-mails that he wrote with a Tampa socialite were made public, but Allen was cleared of any wrongdoing.

SAMBOLIN: New York City residents with pistol permits can now request their identities be removed from public records. Under the city's new gun control law, handgun owners can now fill out a form on the state police Web site. All they have to do is explain why they want their personal information kept private, and cops say, in most cases, the requests will be granted. Are you tearing apart the set here?

BERMAN: Just dropping stuff left and right.

So there is a new kind of mobile home to tell you about this morning. This 100-ton house in Iowa was hauled five miles down the road. It had to be moved because the property was sold to one family, while the house was sold to another. This house was built in 1865 and, get this, it's said to be haunted. So the question for poltergeist fans out there: does the ghost lives on the house or the property? Moving or saying?

SAMBOLIN: We'll have to find out. The plot thickens here.

All right, 46 minutes past the hour. The search is on this morning for an Audi car in the mystery of who stole $50 million worth of diamonds from an airport. Eight diamond thieves, well-armed and well- organized, crashed through the airport fence in Brussels, Belgium, pointed guns at the plane's crew and stole the jewels from an airline cargo hold. Then, they simply vanished.

An airport spokesman says security there is as tight as anywhere else in Europe.


JAN VAN DER CRUYSSE, BRUSSELS AIRPORT SPOKESMAN: What happened here goes far beyond normal airport security; this is about armed robbery of a huge amount of diamonds, high value, and people willing to do almost anything to get their hands on that, and military style, commando style, they have really raided the airport.


SAMBOLIN: No kidding. This was so well organized. Matthew Chance is live in London. And Matthew, what do we know? What is the very latest on the case this morning?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's an amazing case, isn't it? It's the sort of thing you watch in a Hollywood movie; it's not the sort of the thing you imagine really happens in real life.

But incredible. They smashed a hole in the perimeter fence on Monday night of Brussels airport; they drove a couple of vehicles through there, a van and a car. Went right up to an aircraft stationed, being loaded and on the tarmac, they burst out of the cars, all dressed in police uniforms. The cars had flashing lights. They were heavily armed with machine guns, automatic weapons apparently; they held the crew at gunpoint. No shots fired but they held everybody at gunpoint -- there were 20 passengers on board as well -- and unloaded cargo. They knew exactly what they were looking for. All these various bags of uncut gemstones, they loaded into the van, and got into that van and whizzed back out through the hole in the fence that they came in on.

Absolutely, absolutely astonishing. You notice that spokesperson there didn't mention exactly how much was at stake here. Estimates around the $50 million mark, but it could be a lot, lot more than that. So police are anxious now, scouring the area, scouring Europe, to look for the gem thieves.

SAMBOLIN: And a lot of questions about airport security there. I know that we heard that the spokesman say that it's secure, but oh my goodness, how does that happen in broad daylight?

All right, thank you very much. Matthew Chance for us live.

BERMAN: All right, so coming up, he's a good partner if you can get one, I suppose. Teaming up with the leader of the free world, Tiger Woods gushing about the president as a golf partner.


BERMAN: Just in, we have some even more new developments from the case involving Oscar Pistorius, this bail hearing going on right now in Pretoria, South Africa. And this really surprising news just in. The lead investigator says he does not oppose bail for Olympic track star Oscar Pistorius. In other words, the lead investigator, the head cop, in this case says he's fine if Oscar Pistorius gets bail.

SAMBOLIN: Which is really surprising, because when that charge was changed to premeditated murder, a lot of people thought that that would deny him bail, so these are some really big, late-breaking developments in this case.

BERMAN: No sense of how the judge will rule on that, if the testimony from the prosecutor -- or sorry, the investigator, will influence him. But again, the lead investigator saying he has no problem if Oscar Pistorius gets bail.

SAMBOLIN: We'll continue to follow that for you and bring you all of the developments as warranted.

So finally, college basketball's top-ranked team will remain No. 1 in the polls after Indiana beat Michigan State.

BERMAN: Joe Carter here with the morning's Bleacher Report. Hey Joe.

JOE CARTER, "BLEACER REPORT": Hey, top of the morning. You know, for the past five weeks, the school that earned the right to be No. 1 in the country, but then would go out and lose that ranking by losing a game the same week. Well, No. 1 Indiana and star player Victor Oladipo finally broke that streak by beating No. 4 Michigan State on the road last night. Oladipo, who sprained his ankle in a game Saturday, carried his team to victory in the final minutes. Magic Johnson, a Michigan State grad, and someone part of the broadcast team last night, compared Oladipo to Michele Jordan and Dwyane Wade.

For the first time in 22 years, Indiana beats Michigan State on the road, 72-69.

Hey, Joe Johnson, boy, was he the hero last night for the Brooklyn Nets. He hit two clutch shots to help his team win in overtime again. That one was with two seconds left in the fourth, to force overtime. Then this one in the extra session, they go back to the hot hand. Johnson nails it. This time it's for the ball game. The Nets are 5-0 in overtime this season, an NBA best 10-0 in overtime dating back to last season.

Tiger Woods says President Obama has a pretty good golf game. Tiger gave up details yesterday about his infamous round with the president saying the commander in chief can chip, he can putt; he also has amazing touch. Tiger also addressed how one gets invited to play golf with the president.


TIGER WOODS, PRO GOLFER: Yes, he calls up and says, "Hey Tiger, you want to play?" He's an avid golfer and so am I. So we went out there and we had just a great round of golf. He was my partner and, as I said, we won.


CARTER: In Wisconsin, barstools are being used for more than just sitting and having a few. The yearly Presidents Day bar stool race drew more than 5,000 fans. The town that usually hosts this race, Drummond, Wisconsin --

SAMBOLIN: Guys came up with this.

CARTER: -- only has 500 residents, guys. It's a lot of fun, it's a fund-raiser, it pretty much drums up money for community projects around town. But it's all about the push at the start line.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

CARTER: So for all of your entertainment sports news, of course, you can check out All about the push. Back to you guys.

BERMAN: Incredible ingenuity there.

All right, so ahead on "STARTING POINT", China says they have nothing to hide, so why this reaction when CNN's crew got too close to what's said to be Shanghai's secret cyber hacking headquarters? Suspicious.


SAMBOLIN: I guess we're done. That is it for EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.