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Pistorius' Murder Trial Resumes; OSHA Says Clamp Malfunction Caused Acrobats' Circus Fall; Pro-Russian Militants and Protesters in Slavyansk; One Year Since House of Horrors

Aired May 5, 2014 - 12:30   ET


MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Because Mr. Stander, who was testifying today, broke down on the stand as he was describing not only Pistorius reaction -- and so did his daughter who had accompanied him to the scene. And she was describing what was going on with Reeva's injuries and trying to save her.

And I think what you're seeing happen here is Pistorius took the stand and then he was pummeled on cross-examination for five days. And so what defense is trying to do with these witnesses --


ROBBINS: -- is rebuild all of the main points, which is, it was a mistake. He was sincere in his grief, that this is an enormous accident that he never meant to have happen. And I think the witnesses were effective today.

BANFIELD: So, Paul, as a prosecutor, would you come back at this notion that you're right, Oscar Pistorius was devastated because he realized he shouldn't have gotten that angry.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I absolutely would, and I will tell you. In New York, when I was a homicide prosecutor, we used to ride and go to homicide scenes.

And let me tell you, it's very emotional, whether you know the people involved or not to see the carnage at a scene like the scene in that condo.

And the fact that he's crying? Murder is frequently a crime of passion. This was a murder case involving -- a killing involving a girlfriend and Oscar Pistorius, so of course he's going to be emotional in the aftermath of it.

He knows he made a mistake and he knows his life is destroyed, so cry me a river, doesn't mean he's innocent.

BANFIELD: I say a lot of the tears are real. It's just where you place those tears, whether you are so sorry for what you did by making a mistake or so sorry for what you did by getting so mad you overreacted.

Paul Callan, Mel Robbins, stay tuned.

We're getting some brand-new information about that terrible accident at the circus over the weekend, a group of acrobats falling in the middle of a live, awe-inspiring stunt called "The Human Chandelier."

We've got the very latest details on what went wrong and how those performers are doing.


BANFIELD: Some new information this hour on the cause of that terrible circus accident over the weekend in Providence, Rhode Island, a representative from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration tells CNN a clamp malfunction caused nine acrobats to plunge to the ground.

The apparatus, called "The Human Chandelier," holding a group of female acrobats by their hair, collapsed, and it sent all them crashing to the floor during their performance.

Eleven people in total were injured. Nine of them were the performers. It's unclear. The two others must have been on the ground.

CNN has confirmed eight of them are still hospitalized this morning. Ringling Brothers has canceled its performances today in light the incident.

And CNN's Alexandra Field reports on this accident.

Now I just want to warn you that some people may find this video disturbing.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A circus act goes horribly wrong.

Eight acrobats suspended by their hair more than two stories above ground suddenly plunge when the apparatus holding them fails.

Eleven people were injured, one critically.

STEVEN PARE, PROVIDENCE PUBLIC SAFETY COMMISSIONER: At this point it doesn't appear to be life-threatening, but they are serious injuries from that height and fall.

FIELD: The fall, a frightening sight for the thousands of spectators including many children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody at first didn't realize it was an accident. They thought it might be part of the show, but soon realized it was an accident.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole metal came on top of everybody. It was scary.

FIELD: Promotional video shows what the stunt is supposed to look like, one of the highlights of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey's Legends Show.

They're working with local and national officials to make sure this doesn't happen again.

LAWRENCE LEPORE, DUNKIN DONUTS CENTER: We will do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this, to make sure that when the shows back and starts to perform again that it's safe.


FIELD: The spokesman for the circus is calling it unprecedented because of the number of performers who were hurt. And while there are some serious injuries, that circus spokesperson says that none of the acrobats is in life-threatening condition.


BANFIELD: Alexandria Field, thank you for that.

And joining me to talk about the legal fallout from this accident is CNN commentator and defense attorney Mel Robbins and CNN legal analyst and former prosecutor Paul Callan.

Two areas I'd like to cover with both of you. Either one can choose your favorite topic.

Number one, obviously if the performers feel like they were wronged by the equipment, maybe they can sue. Isn't it a dangerous thing you do to start with? That's the first question.

The second question, I'm there with my 5-year-old and my 5-year-old witnesses this, can I sue because of what we've gone through?

So pick your topic and go.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'll start with you're there with your child, OK?

Most people would think oh, my god, to have witnessed this, the child will be traumatized forever, will never want to go to a circus again, may have psychiatric problems. Lawyers call it a zone of danger action, where you witness an accident, have you been harmed by witnessing the accident?

In most states, such an action is not permitted unless, one, you're seriously injured that is, the bystander is seriously injured, and, two, a relative of the person, the bystander, was involved in the accident. If you just see a stranger get hurt, you can't bring a cause of action, so I say in this case bystanders won't have the right to bring a lawsuit.

BANFIELD: OK, Mel, I decide to hang from my hair 30-feet up and spin around, hanging with other people, as well, and something goes wrong with the gear. Don't I assume some of the responsibility when I do death-defying stuff and then give up my right --

CALLAN: Your hair's not long enough --

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: The hair didn't detach. I mean, what happened is we had an equipment failure, so I think there are certain types of accidents, maybe a sprained ankle, maybe a broken wrist if you're a tumbler, that would -- you'd presume might happen if you're in this line work, and there's workers comp to take care of that.

This is a situation where they're performing a stunt that's supposed to work, and it was an equipment failure.

If they can prove that there was something wrong with the equipment or the way it was assembled, maybe there was a union involved at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, they might have a tort action.

CALLAN: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

ROBBINS: Does workers' comp in Rhode Island preclude them from suing?

CALLAN: The way workers' comp works is you can only collect workers' comp when you get injured on the job, OK?

BANFIELD: They were definitely on the job.

CALLAN: They're on the job.


BANFIELD: Their job is very, very dangerous.

ROBBINS: But it's not to fall from the sky because of the equipment breaking.

CALLAN: If your job happens to be hanging from your hair, it's still your job, and so it's workers' comp. But if there was an equipment failure and that's a products' liability case, whoever sold to the circus, sold the defective piece of metal, they can sue the equipment manufacturer.

And you make more money in those lawsuits than you get in workers' compensation benefits.

BANFIELD: If you're one of those acrobats, you better --

ROBBINS: I'd like to see Paul try to do that. Hang from your hair up there, Paul.

CALLAN: That is very cruel of you, you know, to say --

ROBBINS: I think you look fabulous. What are you talking -- you could be the tumbler.

CALLAN: But I can handle it.

I could be the tumbler? How about a wrestler? Maybe that, huh? You know? BANFIELD: That's the best joke ever on this set.

ROBBINS: He can take it. Paul is the best. He can take it. He's smarter than me, so I got to hit below the belt.

ROBBINS: I'm always surrounded by a lot of hair on this show.

BANFIELD: Not from me, my darling. Hey, listen, both of you, thank you. I really put you to work today. You guys were terrific and nicely well research, so we'll see you again shortly.

Paul Callan, always good to have you. Mel Robbins --

CALLAN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: -- thank you for that, as well.

So I'm going to move overseas to some other news we're following today. In fact, we've seen troops, we've seen protesters clashing across Ukraine, and now there is a human toll to report.

Ambulances rushing the wounded to hospitals, people wheeled in on stretchers, and our Nick Paton Walsh crossing into a very dangerous zone with our CNN crew, we will tell you what they're witnessing, firsthand, after the break.


BANFIELD: Whether or not tens of thousands of Russian troops launch an all-out invasion of Ukraine, and so far they haven't, casualties are mounting as Ukrainian forces battle pro-Russian militias that have taken hold of several eastern cities since the fall of Crimea.

Today's flashpoint is Slavyansk, where the government today gained some ground, but apparently lost a military helicopter in the process.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is there. And, Nick, if you could just sort of give us the lay of the land.

For a lot of people it becomes very confusing when it's hard to tell the good guy from the bad guy and it's hard to tell who's in the minority and who's in the wrong.

What's happening there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as it stands, we have a lot of pro-Russian militants and protesters in the center of Slavyansk, in control of that town, it's fair to say, behind a lot of barricades. And today, we saw the Ukrainian military try and move in around that town.

As we drove in ourselves, we saw they were in fact moving down the highway. They had scouts and we were told to hurry on. We turned the corner into the town and it was clear that the pro-Russian militants had in fact gone to amass forces along one of those roads. Then, a couple of hours later, reports of heavy clashes in that particular area. We saw the armored personnel carriers that the pro- Russian militants had taken off some Ukrainian troops using the threat of force driving away from that front line. And then a procession of ambulances, one after the other coming to the hospital.

This has been what people have been worried about, Ashleigh, because there have been clashes, intermittent moments around Slavyansk over the last several days suggesting potential all-out conflict, but today it seems really that began more seriously in earnest.

I saw one woman brought into that hospital. Her husband said she'd been shot while standing on a balcony, potentially a stray bullet there. She died from her wounds. Four militants brought in too, one who looked in very bad position, two walking wounded. And really, a sense of shock amongst those people locally there. A lot of locals laying out trees as barricades, unarmed, trying to sort of defend the town in some ways. That's not to say that everybody in that town is pro-change, is pro-Russian unrest. But certainly you get a feeling that this violence is kind of galvanizing those who are pro it against the Ukrainian government.

Ukraine for its part says it lost four soldiers in this operation and a helicopter. Right now, I'm hearing a jet in the skies above us. It's quite clear things are far from over, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Just quickly, Nick, I have very little time left for this, but do you sense this is effectively a civil war on the brink or something less than that?

WALSH: Well, it's certainly edging that way. I mean, technically it takes a long time for a conflict like this to be deemed a civil war in proper but, yes, we are seeing daily clashes, daily loss of life between these different factions in Ukraine. And the feeling, as I said, heard from the self-declared mayor of Slavyansk who's pro- Russian here, is that the country's already falling apart, potentially justifying what may happen later on here, a referendum that says maybe this part of the country should join Russia. Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So I know that you and your crew have made it into that region and it is not a safe place to be so, Nick Paton Walsh, be careful. And we really appreciate this terrific reporting on your behalf. Nick Paton Walsh and his team reporting live for us.

It is hard to believe that it has been about one year since three girls were found trapped in a house of horrors. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight suffering for about a decade in that home and now one of these girls is telling the story for the somber anniversary. You'll hear it next.


BANFIELD: It's hard to believe tomorrow will be one year since Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus finally broke free of Ariel Castro's house of horrors. Michelle Knight was victim number one and she was subjected to numerous physical, psychological and sexual assaults that lasted 11 years. She talked to Anderson Cooper one on one about August 22nd, 2002, the day her life changed forever.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What did he tell you to get you inside the house?

MICHELLE KNIGHT, HELD CAPTIVE FOR 11 YEARS: In the car, he said that he had puppies. So when we got, like, a quarter down the road, he's, like, that's my van right there. And it says, Puppies for Free. So I was like, OK, I could take one home to my son because unfortunately his dog had passed away. So we get in the backyard and I really didn't think nothing of it until, you know, we got into the house fully, that's when it dawned on me that this was a mistake to get in this car.

COOPER: You knew by then this is wrong?

KNIGHT: Yes. And then I ended up being trapped in a small room, small pink room. That's where he proceed to tie me up like a fish and put me on the wall.

COOPER: You said tie you up like a fish, what do you mean?

KNIGHT: My legs and hands were bound like this. And I was that far from the floor.

COOPER: I talked to other people who had been taken and they all say that, very quickly, you start to kind of adapt to the new reality. That you start to, you know, people who haven't been through this situation think, oh, I'd try to escape, I would do this, I would do that. But in reality, very quickly, your mind starts to adapt to your new environment. Can you explain that?

KNIGHT: What happens is hard at first. You don't really want to adapt to it. You don't want to comply. You don't want to do anything at first. But then you find yourself saying, why not? I'm here. Just let him get it over with. So you slowly end up saying, OK, whatever. Just do it. Go.

COOPER: It feels like you have no power over it?

KNIGHT: Yes, that you're powerless.


BANFIELD: You can watch Anderson Cooper's two-part interview with Michelle Knight tonight and tomorrow night on his program "AC 360". It airs at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and that is exclusive, only on CNN.


BANFIELD: The Supreme Court today took the blurry line separating church and state and blurred it a little bit more. In a 5-4 decision, the Court said the town of Greece, New York, does not violate the First Amendment by opening town board meetings with a Christian prayer -- or any kind of prayer for that matter. The key, says Justice Anthony Kennedy, is that prayer that comports with our tradition and does not coerce participation. Stay tuned.

Target's CEO has resigned. Gregg Steinhafel had been with the company for 35 years but he's stepping down after Target's massive data breach last year. That wasn't the only problem for Target. The retailer opened 124 stores in Canada last year and it lost $941 million.

The next phase in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 will be more difficult and it will be more expensive, for sure. Australia estimates it will cost $60 million. Australian, Malaysian and Chinese officials will meet in Australia on Wednesday to hash out plans for the next stage of the search. One group will analyze the data and information collected so far. Another group will look at the resources need. The data audit will look at information gathered since the beginning of the search.

Defense counsel for a Florida mother who shot and killed her two teenage children says she is mentally ill and not guilty by reason of insanity. Just take a look at your pictures of Julie Schenecker shaking convulsively when she was arrested back in 2011. But here are the pictures of Julie Schenecker today. Her first degree murder trial started this morning and police say she told them she killed her son and daughter for talking back to her and for being mouthy. If she's convicted, she will face life in prison.

And some incredible video of a fire that started as a controlled burn but got quickly out of control in Logan County, Oklahoma. At least 20 homes have now been destroyed. A 56-year-old man who failed to leave his home when he was requested sadly was killed in this fire. The fire's about 75 percent contained.

That's all the time we have. Thanks so much for watching us on "LEGAL VIEW". I'm going to turn things over to my pal Wolf Blitzer. He starts now.