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Death Penalty Expert Joins Defense; Feds Try to ID Female DNA on Bomb; Victims Face Lifetime of Medical Bills; Annual Home Prices Up; No Prime Suspect in Girl's Killing; George Zimmerman's Final Hearing

Aired April 30, 2013 - 09:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone.

We have just learned that President Obama will speak in the White House briefing room this morning at 10:15 Eastern time. He will take questions from the press so stay with CNN. We'll bring it to you live.

Obviously the bombing investigation here in Boston will be a big focus of that press conference.

That is all for STARTING POINT this morning.

Stay with CNN for continuing live coverage of the Boston bombing investigation. A special "NEWSROOM" with Chris Cuomo starts right now.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, all our viewers on the East Coast and those on the West Coast, just getting up to this special edition of NEWSROOM. I'm Chris Cuomo in New York. Carol Costello is on special assignment in Boston. We're going to check in with her in just a minute.

First, we have new developments on several fronts of the Boston bombing investigation. Federal agents have a new person of interest. This man. And they are asking if this Canadian boxer turned jihadist may have had a link to the deceased marathon bomber, the alleged bomber.

Russian troops killed the Canadian and other militants last year at about the same time the older alleged marathon bomber was visiting nearby.

The FBI is also taking a closer look at the bomber's widow. Among the items taken from her home, DNA samples. Why? To compare them to female DNA found on one of the bombs.

Meanwhile, the younger brother has a new lawyer. Judy Clarke, a death penalty expert. She helps secure life sentences for high-profile clients like the Unabomber and Eric Rudolph, who detonated backpack explosives during the 1996 Olympics.

So let's go to Boston and unpack the significance of this and other developments in the investigation with CNN's Juliette Kayyem up in Boston with us.

Juliette, great to have you there. Let's begin at the beginning now with something I haven't mentioned yet, OK? Just to close the door on this. The Miranda issue that is circling through politics right now about what was done wrong. You are an expert on these things. Let's begin with the obvious question.

Was anything done wrong here to hurt the investigation in your opinion?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. In fact, the notion that we would have held him for some period of time would have inevitably led to good defense attorneys, which he has now, bringing up that issue in court, and then that being a new cycle of litigation.

The goal here is obviously to have a strong and solid case through the U.S. criminal justice system. And get a conviction and a guilty plea, or however it's going to play out. Why we would mess with some new theories of how to do these case is sort of beyond me. It's not really a legal argument. It is actually a political argument and it should just remain in that space.

But in terms of brining a solid prosecution, they are en route and there's only one goal. They have the right person, now they want to get a guilty conviction.

CUOMO: And to close the circle on this, and then we'll move on. The speculation that well, the judge, and the judge got involved, and the judge did this, fair point. That once prosecutors filed a complaint so that they could arrest and hold the suspect there, the judge had to make sure that the defendant was now aware of the charges and their rights, including the right to remain silent. True or false?

KAYYEM: That's exactly right. And that the defendant at that stage, then the process kicks in. Remember he had -- we had close to 24 hours of interrogation of him. That was plenty of time. This is just now going through the normal process. There's almost nothing spectacular about it, and looking back about whether he would have disclosed something that would have unearthed something better if he didn't have lawyers is just speculation at this stage.

We should be pretty confident that the case is going to go forward without. What you don't want is bells and whistles at this stage. You want a solid case through the criminal justice system. We've done it 100 times before, and though this is an extraordinary situation, the criminal justice system can handle it.

So I think this debate should subside and let the prosecution go as it always does to -- in this case, you know, a very strong guilty verdict.

CUOMO: All right. Juliette, thank you very much. We'll wipe the cynicism away on that issue.

Is Susan Candiotti there? Can I bring Susan in now? Great. Great to have you there, Susan. What do we know about this search of the widow's home?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it took about an hour and a half. The FBI going in there and bringing out, you could see, cases of material and bags labeled DNA samples. Our sources tell us that in fact DNA samples were collected from the widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The widow -- the reason that they did this, Chris, is because as we've been reporting from sources, that DNA sample -- a female DNA -- remnant of the DNA was found on the pressure cooker, from one of the bombs that was used in the marathon.

So once they had that female DNA, naturally they want to look around for anyone that it might match. They took samples from the widow. It's -- now our sources tell and caution us that even if it turned out to be a match it doesn't necessarily implicate her in the construction of the bomb. Anyone could have touched that before, even down to the story clerk that might have sold this to the suspects or the bombing suspect in the case.

But it's one more step that investigators must take to try to put their case together and gather all the evidence they can. Now the lawyer representing the widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother who was killed, said that she is cooperating to the fullest extent with authorities. They have said on her behalf that she wants to get to the bottom of this as well, and they said that she knows nothing about what led up to this. That she was in the dark as much as anyone else.

Of course, the FBI will want to continue to question her about that and about what she knows of her husband, his travels, his activities as they put their case together -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Just a quick answer on this, Susan. Speculation about this Canadian boxer turned jihadist. How strong a coincidence is that at this point? What are you hearing?

CANDIOTTI: Well, they are still trying to make a link between this Canadian boxer, William Plotnikov. And the reason they're looking at him. He's a boxer. He was in Russia, in Dagestan, in the -- at the same time period when Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother, was making that visit in July of 2012.

And he was a Russian militant, Plotnikov. He was killed and just a couple days later, the older brother flew back from Dagestan, from Russia, to the United States, so investigators are looking to see whether there was any interaction between the two, whether it's possible that Tsarnaev might have been radicalized, perhaps even trained overseas and possibly by a militant including the possibility of Plotnikov -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Susan and Juliette, thanks to both of you for the perspective this morning. We'll be back to you later. Appreciate it.

Now a little bit of an update on the victims here. The bombings may be over, but the bills are just beginning for them. Medical costs are piling up for the injured, especially those who lost a limb. So the millions of dollars that's been raised already may not be nearly enough to cover it.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She has more on this.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Victims are they'll need every ounce of courage in the months to come. Adrianne Haslet-Davis is ready, though. A ballroom dance instructor who lost her foot, she is determined to dance again.

ADRIANNE HASLET-DAVIS, INJURED DANCE INSTRUCTOR: Dancing is the one thing that I do and I said -- I said this many times. But dancing is the one thing I do that when I do it, I don't feel like I should be doing anything else, ever.

COSTELLO: Technology is expensive, though. Upwards of $100,000 for the best prosthetic foot money can buy. Adrianne's friends have already started raising money. And ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" is stepping up, too.

TOM BERGERON, HOST, "DANCING WITH THE STARS": She vows to dance again, we plan to be there throughout your recovery.

COSTELLO: But not every victim is as fortunate. J.P. and Paul Norden both lost their right legs. Both are construction workers. Their uncle, Peter Brown, told the "Wall Street Journal", "When this thing is in the history books, are these guys going to be in good shape and able to fend for themselves? That's what I worry about."

Consider the cost. Insurance analysts say medical costs will total at least $50,000. That does not include rehabilitation, or lost income, or prosthetic legs, which cost between $10,000 and $100,000, and have to be replaced every three to five years.

MAYOR THOMAS MENINO, BOSTON: The sole point of that we keep those affected by this tragedy our number one priority.

COSTELLO: Boston's mayor and the Massachusetts governor have established the One Fund to help victims and donations have flooded in. In just under two weeks, they've collected $27 million from 75,000 donors. Average gift? $65.

The challenge now, deciding how much money each victim gets to get on with their lives.


COSTELLO: And, Chris, the One Fund is now up to $30 million. So you can see donations really are pouring in, but Ken Feinberg, the guy who's going to administer the One Fund and dole it out to the families in need, he fears $30 million still won't be enough, because maybe they will have enough to pay the medical bills right now, but what about five years from now, or 10 years from now, or 15 years from now, how are some of these victims going to deal with injuries that might have long-lasting effects on them? It's an open question this morning.

CUOMO: Absolutely, Carol. Thank you for raising it because we all say, we're all Boston right now, now is the time to show it. Go to the Web site, Information for the One Fund is there. Give what you can to help these people. We know they deserve it.

Very easy to get bad news about the economy. Now we hear it all the time. So how about some good news? You want some? Here it is. Home prices climb at the fastest pace since 2006. That's the headline according to a new report by Case-Shiller. The home prices actually rising 9.3 percent.

So let's go to Alison Kosik, she's on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with some perspective on this.

How big is this?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, to put it in perspective, the 9.3 percent, it is really good news, Chris. Because if you look at the February prices, yes, they are up 9.3 percent from last year. Last February. That's a great jump.

Now the sort of bad-ish news is that you're looking at home prices at 2003 levels. So, you know, it just shows that, you know, good part -- of it is that the momentum in the housing market continues to move forward but it also shows as far as the housing market goes, there's a lot of ground to make up.

That these prices of our homes right now are still at those 2003 levels, however, we are seeing the housing market recover here in the U.S., albeit slowly. But it is the bright spot right now in the U.S. economy -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, so help me out here, because you threw a lot of math at me, Alison. As you know, for those who don't know me as well as you do, you know, my head is in a fog. So 2003, 2006, now just the basic answer. This is good if you're looking for signs that the economy is getting better, right?

KOSIK: Right. And what's good about seeing improvement in the housing market is you hope that it really creates this domino effect because if builders, you know, are building new homes, let's say, and if people are moving out of their old homes and moving into new ones, that also creates consumer spending, it can create jobs, especially if you're seeing new homes being built, that's creating construction jobs, as far as the spending goes. You know, you're going to Home Depot, you're going to Lowe's to spend money.

It really gets the wheels of the economy going. The irony in this is that if the housing crisis that really caused the -- that caused the recession in the first place and it seems to be the housing recovery that is pulling the U.S. out of the doldrums -- you know, the one caveat, of course, is that this momentum really just has to continue.

And it is because we are getting report after report about the housing market that are good up. You know, new home sales up. Pre-owned home sales are up. Pending home sales, we got a great report yesterday that caused the S&P 500 to actually hit a new high, albeit by one point. Less than one point. So you're seeing a market react to some of this housing news, you're seeing the market react by hitting these new all-time highs, like the S&P 500 did yesterday -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. And that's a great headline to end on there, Alison, that you did have a record there down at the Nasdaq. We'll check in with you in a second.

I want to bring in Christine Romans, because we need to understand why this is good. First, as I know, someone very intelligent told me once, all real estate was local.


It was Christine Romans who told me that. So explain to us what the significance is beyond just the number.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: OK. So when you buy a house, right, you're buying carpeting, you're may be changing out some fixtures in the house, you're buying a couch, you're hiring a mover to move you in and moving out. So there is this radiating effect of the movement of money. You buy a house, you're spending an awful lot of money.

It shows confidence as well. Consumers that's confident enough in their job, in where they live, in their school district so that -- you know, that's a good -- it's a big-ticket item. And mortgage rates are very, very low so people are able to take advantage of that. One of the drawbacks is so much of this activity is investor driven, Chris.

That means it's people with a lot of money paying cash for things, if the investor action dries up, could you see maybe some faltering? So --

CUOMO: It's very interesting. So what you're saying is that these are big-money groups, real estate investment trusts.

ROMANS: Yes. Yes.

CUOMO: Banker types who are collecting their money and then going out and picking up large blocks of real estate, not necessarily families.

ROMANS: And this is such an opportunity for families, too. I mean, I want to be very clear. This is a really good opportunity for families, but you look in places like Las Vegas, I think maybe a quarter of some of those home sales are actually people buying five or six properties and some of those are cash, a lot of cash action from foreign buyers in big markets like Miami.

Let me show you some of the -- you said all real estate is local. Ten percent gains in more than half the markets that Case-Shiller looks at. San Francisco, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, San Diego, Tampa, here in New York, a slimmer gain year over year, just 1.9 percent. That's been something we've seen in New York and Chicago. Not the enthusiasm in terms of home price gain that you've seen in other parts of the country.

CUOMO: What does that mean? Is that because there's not as much big money speculation? The prices are already higher? What is it?

ROMANS: It means I don't think they have the big boom and the big crash that other people had. And so when you look at New York and Chicago, they haven't had quite the move that some of the other places had. And let's be honest, you're still lower than you were five years ago for home prices. There are still Americans who are underwater.

And when I talk about the housing market recovery, I get loads of hate mail from people who say it's not better where I live. Christine, it's not better where I live. And I can't get out from underneath my mortgage. So let's be clear, there still is some pain out there in housing, but it's one of the rare parts of the economy where you are seeing action again from investors and you're seeing these very, very low mortgage rates.

I mean, 3.4 percent for 30-year fixed money. That's incredible. 2.6 percent I think for a 15-year mortgage. That's incredible. If you still have a mortgage in the 5 percent or 6 percent range, you've got to run to refinance, because you're leaving money on the table. It's a real interesting convergence of events right now in housing.

CUOMO: So anyway you look at it is good because it shows that there's activity in the right direction.

ROMANS: Yes. Yes.

CUOMO: It's not good enough yet.


CUOMO: For families who we care about the most, but it's good.

ROMANS: Hey, I don't -- I don't want a bubble, this is what you want. You want slow, steady improvement.

CUOMO: Christine Romans, thank you very much.

ROMANS: Thank you.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

We're going to take a break. When we come back in this special edition of the NEWSROOM, Amanda Knox, remember her? She is opening up for the first time in years about her time in an Italian prison. The entire journey she's been on. We'll hear about it, when we come back.


CUOMO: Welcome back to all our viewers in the East Coast and those waking up in the East Coast. Amanda Knox's new memoir "Waiting To Be Heard" is on store shelves today. She's hoping that the book will convince readers she had nothing to do with the 2007 murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher. Both were exchange students in Italy.

Knox spent four years in an Italian prison before an appeals court overturned her conviction. In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, she says all the harsh names people called her were wrong.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: She-devil with an angel face, Sphinx of Perugia.

AMANDA KNOX, AUTHOR, "WAITING TO BE HEARD": I haven't heard those. I mean, I heard the gist of them. And they are wrong.

I was in the courtroom when they were calling me a devil. I mean, it's one thing to be called certain things in the media, and it's another thing to be sitting in a courtroom, fighting for your life, while people are calling you a devil.

For all intents and purposes, I was a murderer, whether I was or not. And I had to live with the idea that that would be my life.

I want the truth to come out. I -- I'd like to be reconsidered as a person.

What happened to me was surreal. But it could have happened to anyone.


CUOMO: Surreal and maybe not yet over, because the legal issues continue. An Italian court has ordered a retrial in the case. So, we'll have to stay tuned on that one.

Turning to other headlines now.

A young mother missing in Michigan. Investigators desperate for clues on 25-year-old Jessica Heeringa. She was working alone at a gas station when she was abducted Friday night. There were no signs of a struggle or robbery, and there were no security cameras, but police say, quote, "Something very bad happened that night." They are searching for this silver minivan seen here at the station at the station a few minutes before Jessica disappears. So, if you live in the area, see that, try to remember if you have seen that van anywhere else.

A tranquil northern California community remains on edge after an 8- year-old girl was killed. The girl's parents appeared at the sheriff's department news conference where authorities did not name a prime suspect.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is covering the story for us there in Valley Spring, California.

Paul, what's the latest on this?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've gone almost four full days, Chris, since the killing of young Leila Fowler and so far, they have not been able to come up with a composite of a suspect. That's because in part, one of the witnesses is her brother, a 12-year-old boy. And as each day drags on here, residents still nervous that no one yet is a prime suspect in this murder mystery.


VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Sheriff's deputies on foot and in patrol cars made their presence seen at Jenny Lind Elementary School. This is where Leila Fowler, the 8-year-old girl stabbed to death in her Valley Springs home over the weekend, attended third grade.

Some classmates held flowers for Leila. Their parents held on to fear.

WENDY CONVERSE, VALLEY SPRINGS PARENT: I'm scared for my kids and for the family. It's horrible.

He was friends with her in class, classmates. They sit together at school. It's very sad. Things like that don't happen here. So --

VERCAMMEN (on camera): And, Elijah, tell us what you have and why.

ELIJAH CONVERSE, LEILA'S CLASSMATE: I'm sad. I didn't want her to die.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Leila's mother told CNN via Facebook, "We are devastated. And she was full of life. Look at our baby girl, she didn't deserve this."

Leila's parents appeared at a news conference Monday night. They did not speak and were understandably emotional. Through police, they asked for respect and privacy.

Michael Range lives near the Fowlers and heard of Leila's deadly stabbing from a neighbor boy.

MICHAEL RANGE, VALLEY SPRINGS RESIDENT: And I took my kids in instantly and locked the doors. And waited to find out what happened. It was scary. I mean, we've been inside all weekend.

VERCAMMEN: A lot of residents here feel trapped, pinned down after the mysterious death of Leila Fowler, who would have turned 9 in June.


VERCAMMEN: And tonight, we expect an outpouring of emotion as they will have a vigil for Leila at the local school. That will start at 7:00, Pacific Time -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Paul. Thank you for that.

Happening right now in Florida -- we're going take a break, but I want to give you a live picture inside a courtroom. Soon, the entire nation's eyes will be on here. Why? Accused murderer George Zimmerman in court, down in Florida. The future of that controversial "Stand Your Ground" defense could be decided.

We'll take there after the break.


CUOMO: Welcome back to our viewers on the East Coast and those on West Coast.

Accused murderer George Zimmerman back in court today. It's his last scheduled hearing before the start of trial in just six weeks for the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

There are some critical things that could happen today. One, Zimmerman might speak. Two, the future of his controversial "Stand Your Ground" defense could be in play.

Criminal defense attorney and CNN legal analyst Mark NeJame is live in Orlando.

Mark, explain what could develop with the "Stand Your Ground" events?

MARK NEJAME, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think we're going to find some turns that nobody expected. There isn't going to be a "Stand Your Ground" hearing. We've heard a lot of talk about it. It's had a lot of controversy throughout the country -- clearly, throughout Florida, for white a while now.

But now, we're going to find out that, in fact, Mr. O'Mara, representing Mr. Zimmerman, has canceled that. I think you're going to hear a little bit later, they're going to try to integrate the "Stand Your Ground" hearing into the actual trial, not have a separate hearing.

CUOMO: That's interesting. Obviously. You're a lawyer, I'm a lawyer. But to the non-lawyers, it should be interesting, because that's kind of the whole point of "Stand Your Ground", isn't it, that it can forestall any trial. That you have a hearing, if "Stand Your Ground" applies, then there is no trial. What would be the thinking in the strategy here?

NEJAME: Well, "Stand Your Ground" hearing, there's no chance of the defense winning that if Mr. Zimmerman did not take the stand. And I think they simply opined it was better to not have him take the stand a short time before trial and then have those statements available for cross-examination, in fact, when he goes to trial.

I think they're going to be proceeding on a good old fashioned self- defense case. And they're simply not going to have a separate "Stand Your Ground" hearing. This case, as the facts have unfolded, really do seem more like a defense, will go with self-defense rather than a "Stand Your Ground", which is a burden I think to the state -- the defense would have a hard time overcoming.

CUOMO: Really? Because that was a speculation early on, that when he gave that interview, Mr. Zimmerman, right after the event, it seemed like textbook "Stand Your Ground" case, which is why there was so much energy directed toward whether or not it was a good law.

NEJAME: Yes, and things do change as you well know during the course of the case. I think you're going to find, though, that the reason they're going to try to integrate it into the trial itself is because under "Stand Your Ground", there is no civil liability if "Stand Your Ground" is granted by the court. So, they're going to try to integrate it into the trial itself. And at the conclusion, have the judge say, "Yes, I hereby find that 'Stand Your Ground' is applicable."

Why is that important? Because it then absolves Mr. Zimmerman of any civil liability. Basically gives him immunity from a civil lawsuit, which you know is coming down the line.

CUOMO: So what do you think? Will this trial still have as big of a butterfly effect across the country in terms of the states that have "Stand Your Ground" law? Or you think now, it will just become about whether or not the case could be made that he's guilty?

NEJAME: Good question. I think this was going to be the lightning rod case for "Stand Your Ground" cases, but I think that's going to be washed away somewhat, because there's not going to be a separate hearing, and if it's integrated in the trial, you're going to simply see a trial unfold and play out and then if the judge allows stand your ground to be integrated into the trial, some references to it, but that's not going to be the focus of the case. The focus of the case will be self-defense.

CUOMO: How tough going to be to pick a jury here?

NEJAME: I think we have a new definition for tough. We've never had a case in the United States where you have -- where they have not been able to pick a jury. They'll find a jury, but it's going to be difficult.

You've got a community -- a very diverse county in Seminole County, and you're going to find that really everybody knows about it, everybody has an opinion. And more than an opinion, people are very polarized on this particular -- with this particular case.

So, that's what's going to make it more challenging, but they will get a jury. It will likely take two or three weeks. I think that's the general estimate that's been bandied around, and I think that's probably their estimate.

CUOMO: All right. Mark, we'll be watching it. I'll be coming to you for counsel. I appreciate it this morning. Thank you very much.

NEJAME: My pleasure. Thanks.

CUOMO: Checking the clock right now. Just about 9:30 on the East Coast. That means stock market. It's Iron Man. There he is, actor Robert Downey, Jr. ringing the opening bell this morning.