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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Soon: WSJ Journalist Evan Gershkovich Appeals Detention; White Man Allegedly Shoots Black Teen Who Went to Wrong House; FBI Arrests 2 Alleged Chinese Agents Who Ran NY Police Station; Today: Dominion-Fox News Trail Set to Begin. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, an American journalist accused of spying on Russia about to plead for freedom in a Moscow court.

Plus, the 84-year-old Kansas City man now charged with shooting a Black teen who simply went to the wrong house.

And welcome to tax day in America. Your refund if you get one probably isn't as big as it used to be.


ROMANS: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans. This is Tuesday, everybody.

Just minutes from now in Russia, "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich is set to appeal his detention. He, of course, was arrested for espionage earlier this month, a charge he and "The Wall Street Journal" strongly deny.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is live in London with the latest for us.

And, Clare, what are we expecting to see in today's proceeding.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Christine. This appeal relates to his pretrial detention, and not the espionage charges themselves, but the so-called restrictive measures against him. The fact that he is being held in Moscow's notoriously formative of prison for a period of two months. He has served about 2.5 weeks of that, so that is what we're going to hear discussed today.

It seems pretty unlikely given the severity of the charges against him, those espionage charges that he could be bailed or move to house arrest or something like that. Obviously, if politics is at play here, as well as the U.S. government, clearly strongly suspect that makes the situation even more bleak for him.

As to whether we will see him, we don't know if he will appear in person. He could appear also via video link. This will be really the first chance to see him. Publicly since that arrest. He was, though, granted his first consular access on Monday, 19 days after he was arrested. The U.S. ambassador herself, Lynne Tracy, visited him and said he was in good spirits, staying strong. We've actually just seen Lynne Tracy walk into the Moscow City court where this hearing is going to be held, as well as one of Evan Gershkovich's lawyers.

So, this hearing expected to start really in the next half hour or so, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. We know you'll be watching it for us, and so will we. Thank you so much, Clare.

White House officials say President Biden has spoken with a 16-year- old Black teenager. The teen who survived being shot, apparently, for showing up at the wrong address.

Authorities say an 84-year-old White homeowner shot the teen twice after the teen rang the doorbell to pick up his younger brothers. He was at the wrong address. The teen survived and the elderly man has now been charged with two felonies, one of which carries up to a life sentence.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov has the story for us from Kansas City.


ZACHARY THOMPSON, CLAY COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: The defendant, Andrew D. Lester, is charged with the class A felony, assault in the first degree. Dependent is charged with armed criminal action.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two felony counts filed in the shooting of a Black teenager in Kansas City, Missouri. Sixteen- year-old Ralph Yarl was struck on the left side of his head and his right arm after he went to the wrong home to pick up his younger brothers Thursday evening.

He rang the doorbell at a residence just before 10 p.m. on 115th Street instead of 115th Terrace and, according to prosecutors, was shot through a glass door by Lester, an 84-year-old White man.

THOMPSON: As the prosecutor at Clay County, I can tell you there was a racial component to the case.

BENJAMIN CRUMP, FAMILY ATTORNEY: To have Black people rang the doorbell and then have a White citizen shoot him in the head first and then shoot him a second time. I mean, there is no way you can justify this.

KAFANOV: A neighbor called 911 after Yarl showed up on her doorstep, bleeding but alert.

The suspect in the shooting was taken into custody just before midnight, placed on a 24-hour hold, then released less than two hours later. Police initially saying they were working to get a victim statement and additional forensic evidence before making a decision about referring the case for prosecution.

Then, today, they charged the gunmen and issued a warrant for his arrest.

THOMPSON: In Missouri, charges have to be filed within 24 hours of arrest or the defendant or suspect is released. In this case, it was clear that additional investigation needed to be done so that the case could be built on a solid foundation.

KAFANOV: Yarl was hospitalized and released Sunday.

FAITH SPOONMORE, RALPH YARL'S AUNT: My nephew is alive is healing. It is not the story that that individual intended for us to tell.


KAFANOV: Yarl's family says he's an honor student, a leader in the marching band at his high school and hopes to attend Texas A&M University, to study chemical engineering when he graduates high school.

While protesters pray, march and demand justice, Yarl's family also asks for hope and healing.

SPOONMORE: We have a lot to be thankful for. That right there is a lot of hate. There's right here is a lot of love.


KAFANOV (on camera): The prosecuting attorney said there was no evidence that Ralph Yarl ever crossed the threshold into the home behind me. He also said no words were apparently exchanged and that Andrew Lester shot the teenager through a glass door with a 32 caliber revolver. Although the teenager is lucky to have survived the shooting, relatives say that life is understandably going to look a lot different now. The physical recovery is just one aspect. There is also the emotional and mental trauma.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Kansas City, Missouri.

ROMANS: What a story. All right, Lucy, thank you.

A 20-year-old woman is dead after she and some friends made a wrong turn in Upstate New York, and then she was shot by a homeowner. Police in Hebron, near the Vermont border, say the group accidentally drove into the wrong driveway while looking for a friend's house. Sixty- five-year-old Kevin Monahan has been charged with second degree murder after police say he opened fire on the car in the driveway. A GoFundMe page has been set up to pay for Kaylin Gillis' funeral.

A special grand jury has declined to indict the Akron police officers who shot and killed a 25-year-old Black man last year.


ROMANS: Jayland Walker was shot following a traffic stop last June. Police say Walker fired a gunshot from his car as he drove away and the car chase became a foot chase. Officers tried unsuccessfully to bring Walker down with Tasers. Then officials say he reached for his waistband and raised his hand. Officers fired hitting Walker 46 times.

Walker had no gun on him, although one was found in his car. The grand jury concluded yesterday the officers were justified in their use of force. The attorney for Walker's family says they will file a civil suit.

All right. The FBI arresting two men it says are Chinese agents who operated an undeclared police station for Beijing in New York City. The men are U.S. citizens who federal prosecutors say worked with dozens of others to silence and harassed Chinese dissidents within the U.S. Two men appeared in court Monday and were released on bond. Neither entered a plea.

CNN's Steven Jiang is live in Beijing and some of the details surrounding the story, just amazing.

What is China saying about all of this?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Christine, unsurprisingly, just a short while ago, a Chinese foreign ministry official condemn these indictments and some of what he said. We have heard before, as saying this is part of an anti-China smear campaign, denying the existence of these police stations, insisting they were service enters, staffed by volunteers helping Chinese citizens living overseas renew their government documents such as driver's license.

But I think because these indictments cover Chinese national police officers, the rhetoric this time appears to be hardened with this official even try to turn the tables on the U.S., accusing the U.S. of being the biggest offender in transnational surveillance and repression.

Now, we haven't covering this issue for quite some time, human rights groups have shared with us Chinese government documents showing the maintain more than 100 such facilities across the globe, often in the guise of restaurants and community centers, not only monitoring, pressuring dissidents but also propagating Beijing's ideology.

But I think what's different here is the timing. These indictments came at a time when hostilities already so high in Washington towards China. This is certainly going to cement this notion about increasingly provocative Chinese behavior, even encroaching on U.S. sovereignty, especially on the heels and the following that balloon incident. So this is undoubtedly going to trigger more anti-U.S. rhetoric and policy here.

So this kind of downward spiral, Christine, making so much more difficult for the White House, for President Biden to defuse tensions and to manage this very critically important relationship.

And just to add one word here, Christine, as you started introducing the story, the Chinese censors blocked CNN signal in China, just showing how sensitive they are towards the issue and so CNN viewers in China right now seeing color bars on their TV screens, Christine.

ROMANS: Yeah. So your reports seeing all around the world, except for actually in China.

All right, Steven Jiang, thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy trekking to the New York Stock Exchange, asking Wall Street to get behind Republican demands in a deal to lift the debt ceiling.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Here's our plan: In the coming weeks, the House will vote on a bill to lift the debt ceiling into the next year, save taxpayers trillions of dollars, make us less dependent upon China, curve our high inflation, all without touching Social Security and Medicare.



ROMANS: The GOP plan calls for just a one-year debt limit increase, and then the idea would be to roll back domestic nondefense spending to 2022 levels. McCarthy says Republicans will try to, uh, you know, finalize and passed their plan through the House in the next few weeks. It is expected to be dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats say it actually lacks the specifics to even be called a plan.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The bottom line is we're waiting to see McCarthy's plan. That's the next step. He's the one who's holding up us avoiding default, because he says he wants cuts. Show us your plan.


ROMANS: It is unclear whether McCarthy can get enough Republicans behind this plan to pass it in the House. If he does, White House officials say Biden would be open to meeting with him on the debt ceiling.

All right. Coming up, a jury said to be seated today for the historic Fox News defamation trial.

Plus, the pizza delivery guy who literally helped trip up a man running from police.

And it's tax day, everyone. We'll break down what to expect in refund checks.


[05:15:16] ROMANS: The Fox News defamation trial starts just hours from now, the $1.6 billion lawsuit by Dominion voting system was supposed to start yesterday. You know, the judge announced a delay moving into today without any kind of explanation. Opening statements are expected this morning, and if there is time, the court could hear testimony from potential witnesses.

I want to bring in CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson.

Joey, this is really -- you know, what a show, what a show. I heard somebody say it's the biggest show that Fox has not produced. You know, CNN learned that Dominion brought more than 40 boxes of evidence into the courtroom ahead of today's trial, all lined up on the -- on the benches, below the benches, along the wall.

What could those boxes contained to make a strong case for Dominion?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, Christine, good to be with you. I think the case ended up itself, at least not even looking into the boxes from an evidentiary perspective is strong already. You'd have to imagine that those boxes contain voluminous information that speaks to a narrative of this being false, right? You cannot go on air and spin a web of lies that you and this will be in contention that you knowingly or at least recklessly believed not to be true. So understand the standard that will operating under, Christine, right?

The standard is whether you had knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard as to its true. So you have to think that any evidence, whether they're in boxes or on technology would have to really grip into that, to demonstrate that you had no belief that our software was flawed, to the extent that at least you were proclaiming you knew and had information, in fact to the contrary, but you chose politics over truth. And I think that when the evidence ultimately is revealed, it will demonstrate at least from what we know the narrative that anchor after anchor after anchor was going on and just spinning this information that just had no bearing with reality.

ROMANS: And the idea they're feeding an audience, right? They're feeding an audience what it wants to hear. They're not disseminating news. Is that illegal?

JACKSON: And that's the danger. So what happens is it it's not illegal from a criminal perspective, it's illegal from a civil perspective when we talk about the legalities and illegalities. The whole essence of defamation, when you talk about defamatory, we always talk about, hey, you can say anything you want, right? At any time, but we know they're restrictions. You can't yell fire in a movie theater can injure other people. You can't spin false statements that are injurious to someone's reputation.

And so, here, that's the argument. The fact is, is that in the event that you say something, and what you say happens to be false, as in untrue, at it impairs or affects a company, that's a problem. And so I think in this particular trial, you're going to see it bifurcated -- like every civil trial as to whether that was the case, right, whether you were saying false things and then in the event, the jury concludes you were, you pivot to the issue of, well, how much have you damaged me, as in Dominion?

ROMANS: And so, Dominion says it's going to seek, what, $1.6 billion and overall damages, all too its reputational value, instead of separately seeking $600 million of loss and contracts and profits. What do you make of this last minute shift in strategy about the damages?

JACKSON: Yeah, I make it that they're doing everything they can to really assess what the damage is specifically were, and then go on to prove what those damages were and how and when, and why, and you being the cause.

And so, again, in any trial, it's important to understand there are two real verdicts hear. The verdict as to the issue of falsity, and then you pivot to your very question as to how are you damaged? You have to prove those damages. You have to indicate the loss of reputation. Have you lost contract? Have you lost potential business? Have you lost valuation into the future?

And so, I think what they're doing, Christine is their pairing that so they can make their case, proved their case and assert their measure of damages, whether that be one billion or 1.6 billion. Boy, are those numbers astronomical.

ROMANS: Yeah, very big. This is going to be quite, quite a few weeks here, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Joey Jackson, thank you so much. Nice to see you. Hope to see you again soon.

JACKSON: Thank you, Christine. And you.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

SpaceX now targeting this Thursday for its next south Texas launch attempt. The company was forced to scrap the Starship flight test on Monday at the last minute because of a frozen pressure valve.

Embattled GOP Representative George Santos says he is running for reelection in 2024, defying calls from his district and Capitol Hill to step aside. He is still facing multiple investigations into his finances.

Police near Philadelphia crediting this pizza delivery guy for his quick thinking and helping them catch a suspect after a high speed chase.



ROMANS: All right. So this pizza superhero simply stuck out his foot, tripping the juvenile leading to his arrest.

All right, coming up, what Florida Governor Ron DeSantis plans to do in Washington today and two Ukrainian children allegedly taken by Russia now back home, sharing their stories with CNN.



ROMANS: Deadly violence escalating in Sudan, with two rival generals locked in a power struggle on the fourth day now of clashes. Intense fighting has left parts of Khartoum without power, without water. Both sides accused of targeting hospitals where doctors tell CNN they are forced to leave the dead and injured behind as they flee.

The U.N. says at least 180 people are now dead, 1,800 injured.

CNN's Larry Madowo monitoring events from Nairobi, Kenya, for us.

Larry, we're now getting word of a ceasefire. I mean, what can you tell us?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, that's right. We're hearing over ceasefire and both sides have agreed to the ceasefire in principle. A short while ago, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the Sudanese armed forces, telling CNN's Nima Elbagir that he -- we did not agree to the starts time. This is the exact quote, but we will definitely adhere to a proposal from the tripartite mechanism to be 24 hours starting at 6:00 p.m. today. That will be 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

The tripartite mechanism here refers to the United Nations, the African Union and the original body, the Intergovernmental Authority and Development. However, a short while later he was contradicted by his own spokesperson on the official Facebook page of the armed forces, and they said, we're not aware of any coordination with the mediators and the international community about the truth and the rebellion's declaration of a 24-hour truce aims to cover up the crushing defeat it will receive in a few hours.

So they're not reading from the same sheet here. But the other side, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who is better known as Hemitte, also did agree to that 24-hour ceasefire that was initially floated by the United States. This is what he said, though, at complaints already.

In a tweet, he said: Unfortunately, the Sudanese armed forces has failed to honor this ceasefire, bombing densely populated areas from the air and endangering civilian lives. These actions that are flagrant violation of the foundations and principles of international and humanitarian law.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been working the phones since this conflict broke out on Saturday. This is how this truce came up in the first place.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: If implemented successfully, a ceasefire for 24 hours can create a foundation to build upon for a more sustained halt to fighting and a return to negotiations on a durable end to the hostilities.


MADOWO: Secretary Blinken has spoken to both General Dagalo and General Burhan and it's not clear exactly when does this begin, and if they do begin with they hold fire across the nation, or will we still be seeing serious gunfights and stands of ammunition, sounds of artillery and bombardment across the nation, as we've seen since Saturday. So a lot of questions still, Christine.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right, Larry. Thank you so much. Keep us posted on what happens next.

All right. Dozens of Ukrainian children are now reunited with their families months after Ukraine says they were taken from their homes and moved to Russian occupied territories. Two Ukrainian children sat down with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Kherson, Ukraine to tell their stories.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Kherson may be free, but it's haunted by occupation. When Russian troops fled last year, blowing the bridge, it was to only just across the river from where their snipers and artillery now regularly fire. Thursday, shelling, killing a local man here and Saturday, a mother and child.

Haunted too is the homecoming here of Bogdan, age 13. We first met him in Kyiv when he'd just been rescued from occupied Crimea. He was one of thousands of children Ukraine says were forcibly deported by Russia, a charge that's led to a war crimes indictment against Putin.

But home is tough. And on this hard-hit island off of Kherson so dicey with Russian troops near this bank and shelling the water. The police won't let us over the bridge.

This is Bogdan's first time outside since he got back when we get him ice cream and pizza.

Home isn't great. A violent row there the night before left glass broken and his hand cut up. The bangs outside make it harder still.

BOGDAN, CHILD REFUGEE (translated): Explosions are heard day and night. I want to leave for Kyiv. I'm scared at night that because of these sounds the windows my shatter.

IRINA, BOGDAN'S MOTHER (translated): The windows yes, but it's important it doesn't hit the house.

WALSH (voice-over): The camp in Crimea had gentle indoctrination, daily Russian Anthems but it wasn't his thing.

BOGDAN (translated): They told us how it was a long time ago with Russia and Ukraine that once they were together.

WALSH (translated): And how did you feel hearing this?

BOGDAN (translated): It wasn't cool. In the lessons, I put my head down and looked at my phone. I didn't want to listen. I wouldn't stay in Russia.

It, firstly, isn't a pretty town there and there's trash everywhere.