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Circus Disaster; Dozens Dead in Ukraine After Three Days of Violence; Judge Sentences Rapist to 45 Days Jail

Aired May 5, 2014 - 08:30   ET



MICHEALA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Time for the five things you need to know for your NEW DAY. At number one, six people injured, including crew members, after severe turbulence caused a US Airways flight to return to Philadelphia airport moments after takeoff. The FAA is now investigating that incident.

67 people have been freed by Ukrainian police after separatists stormed their headquarters. The detainees were arrested for their roles in clashes in Odessa Friday that killed almost 50 people.

Inspectors are trying to determine what caused a circus apparatus holding a team of female acrobats by their hair to collapse, plunging them to the ground during a performance in Providence, Rhode Island. Nine acrobats were injured, one critically.

The next phase in the search for missing Malaysian Airline Flight 370 is set to cover an even wider area. Officials in Malaysia, Australia and China say the key part of the next phase will be detailed ocean floor mapping.

And the CEO of Target has resigned this morning. Gregg Steinhafel is stepping down in the aftermath of that massive data breach involving as many as 110 million people. CFO John Mulligan will take over as interim chief executive.

We always update those five things to know, so be sure to visit for the latest. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Mick, let's talk some more now about this daring circus act called "the hair hang" that went horribly wrong in Rhode Island on Sunday. Got a warning for you. The footage of the accident in real-time, a little scary to watch.

Nine performers are hurt after falling as much as 40 feet. The cause of the accident under investigation. We have with us Stephen Payne, the spokesman for Ringling Brothers circus. Mr. Payne, thank you very much for joining us. Let's deal with what matters most. How are the performers? We know the injuries are serious. Are they going to make it? Are they going to be able to perform again? What do you know?

STEPHEN PAYNE, RINGLING BROTHERS SPOKESMAN: Well, right now we know that though the injuries were serious, none of them appear to be life threatening, which is a relief to everyone involved. All of the performers received medical attention in Providence, Rhode Island, promptly after the incident and have been resting comfortably. Their families are with them, as well as a large number of our circus cast and crew are at the hospital to support them.

CUOMO: The hair is a freaky thing to watch, but it's not about the hair that caused the injury here, it was about the rigging. What do you understand about what happened?

PAYNE: Well, we don't really know exactly what the cause of the accident was yet. We are cooperating with local Providence officials, as well as with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to determine what went wrong yesterday because we want to make sure that an accident like this never happens again. Not only for these performers, but for all of our performers at the three touring units of the greatest show on earth.

CUOMO: Has this ever happened before?

PAYNE: An accident of this level is unprecedented and we have never had an accident like this with this number of performers injured. It really is a testament to, you know, their physical fitness and skills, that the injuries were not more severe than they were. And again, our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families for a speedy recovery.

CUOMO: But, obviously, you can't leave it up to the performers to have it be safe. It's about what is set up around them. What is your injury rate per performance?

PAYNE: We don't really have an injury rate per performance. Safety is clearly our number one priority, not just for our cast and crew, but also our customers. Clearly yesterday was an unfortunate incident, and we're going to do everything we can to find out exactly what happened, what went wrong, so we can make sure that our cast and crew are safe and our audiences know they're going to be able to experience family-friendly entertainment when they come to see the circus.

CUOMO: That is certainly the expectation. But what does that mean, we don't have an injury rate per performance? What does that mean, you don't track it?

PAYNE: We actually have -- our performances are actually very, very safe. We have an entire safety crew that's dedicated to traveling to all of our unit to make sure that steps are taken. All of our equipment is inspected, each and every time we load into a new arena. All of the gear that most of our customers see on the performance space, the rigging above us, all the apparatus, all those materials, are traveling with the circus, and are installed by our crews and inspected by our crews, before any performance begins in a new building.

CUOMO: Not to take you down a false corridor here, and I understand what you're saying about that you are mindful of safety, but anyone who is mindful of safety tracks injury rates. Any business concerned does. You're saying you don't?

PAYNE: Again, it's really not about tracking injury rates at this point. This is really about making sure what happened yesterday, so that we can go forward and make sure something like this doesn't happen again. We're not only inspecting the are apparatus involved in yesterday's accident, but everything involved in the show and everything on all of our shows. Again, this is a redoubling of efforts to focus on safety.

CUOMO: Right, I got you and I got that you canceled the 10:30 a.m. show yesterday, and that you're thinking about the 7:00 p.m. today, because you want everything to be safe. But you have to understand, it's a little curious that you say you don't track safety. Why wouldn't you?

PAYNE: Well, again, this is not about our safety record overall. This is about this one particular incident.

CUOMO: Of course it's about your safety record.

PAYNE: And we have decided to cancel our --

CUOMO: Right.

PAYNE: We've canceled our performance this evening out of an abundance of caution, as well. As well as the fact that most of our staff and crew are clearly shaken up over an incident of this nature.

CUOMO: And well they should be. I totally understand that. And everybody is most interested in making sure that they're okay. And, again, I say false corridor, because I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt. But you do have to understand that in a business, especially like yours, it's all about risk. One would think that you would track injury rates very carefully so you know whether or not you're doing everything you need to do? Am I saying something that's unreasonable?

PAYNE: Well, again, these performers, as well as all of our performers, they spend their lives perfecting a small period of time, an act, that they can bring forward and show to our audiences. They check their rigging, they check their rigging, we do everything possible to make sure each and every performance is as safe as it can be.

CUOMO: Totally understand that. Do you understand why I'm asking you whether or not you track injury rates per performance?

PAYNE: Yes, I understand why you're asking me that. I do not have that information readily available. But I can tell you that we have an excellent safety record and that an accident like this has never happened in our history.

CUOMO: And I've looked into it. It is very difficult to find them. You have to go back to like 1998, where you find anything. But I just didn't understand why you seemed to be a little evasive about that, when it seems that if safety is your concern, it would be something that's at the tip of your fingers, what the injury rate is. PAYNE: Again, this is not about our injury rate, in our minds. It's about making sure that we get to the bottom of this incident and that everything is done for these performers who were injured yesterday, that they are taken care of and their families are supported in this time.

CUOMO: And Mr. Payne, there's no question you're a big part of the culture. I know my family enjoys it and everybody wants to know that it's going to be safe. Thank you for making best efforts on that. We'll obviously be tracking the story about what you learned about why this happened in the first place and send our best to all the performers. Thank you for joining us, have a good day.

PAYNE: Thank you very much.

CUOMO: Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up next, the situation in Ukraine is dire. Stirring renewed fears Russia is going in next, and if that's the case, what can the U.S. do about it? Our military expert weighs in.

Also, a Texas judge under fire for the sentence she gave to an admitted rapist. The judge also facing outrage for saying that the 14-year-old who was attacked, the victim here, was not, quote, "the victim she claimed to be." We talk to a legal expert about it.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Dozens dead in Ukraine after three days of violence in the southern city, Odessa. And in the eastern, pro-Russian militant groups going on there now, they're just continuing to operate with impunity, while thousands of Russian troops sit just across the border.

What is going on here? Is it going to get worse? We have a giant map to show what's going on and we have CNN military analyst and former commanding general of the U.S. army intelligence center, Major General Spider Marks. General, thank you, as always.

JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Chris, good morning again.

CUOMO: First, one big question. We have all these great things that are going to pop up for you on the map. But one thing we don't have should be a big light that says "BS" under it that should be blinking, because it seems that there is just this obvious canard going on here that Russia is making this happen for these militias, whether they're arming them or encouraging them or saying, "Don't worry, we've got your back." And the whole dynamic is Russia saying, "Hey, West, you better make sure this violence doesn't get worse."

MARKS: Pull us out of this problem.

CUOMO: That's right. The hypocrisy to me is baffling. And yet I'm not hearing anything about it. MARKS: Yes, I know. And why the United States administration is not talking vehemently about that, I just am not sure. What has to happen, it's clearly -- Putin has the authority and he has the ability. He's got the power to pull these forces out and really cut back on the violence occurring in east Ukraine. And also, and we'll talk in just a little bit, over here in Odessa, away from east Ukraine, we now have incredible violence that's taking place. And there are historical ties with Russia and the former Soviet Union in Odessa. But this is a notion of moving this violence a little further, and clearly Putin is pulling the strings in this regard.

CUOMO: And look, so you see the hot spot there. It matters. There is a lot of history there, as the general is telling us. It's also metaphorical, because it's not going on in the east, where we think all of the problems are supposed to be, because that's where the Russian sympathizers are. This is proof it's not just about Russian sympathies; it's about an incursion and a disruption of stability, right?

MARKS: Chris, it is, absolutely. Putin has forces involved in what's taking place in Ukraine.

CUOMO: Right, so let's show the tanks.

MARKS: Yes, I think there is really -- and the point that we're trying to show with the tanks here in east Ukraine is that there really is a mismatch. Ukrainian forces are a raid and they have the capability. This is sovereign territory. But what Russia has is an overmatched capability, and clearly a military that's exceptionally well-trained, for eclipsing any capability that exists in Ukraine right now.

CUOMO: All right. So look, nobody wants to get ahead of this. The reason it's so important for us to have you is to keep us in balance, you know, because the media has a tendency to hype, right? It's just the nature of the business.


CUOMO: Right, it does. Might as well be honest about ourselves. But this is my question. If they are there, not just as posturing, if something were to happen, where does it go in a scenario that does not involve NATO or the U.N., and any of those configurations, the U.S.?

MARKS: There are no scenarios where the United States, NATO, the United Nations, are not involved, unless they consciously decide this is not in national interest, it's not in our international interests -- even though the international law has already been violated and Crimea has been annexed.

If we don't care about this overt, blatant, misuse of power and the violation here in the near abroad as we call it, as Russia calls it, this is a tremendous challenge for not only the United States, but the international community. And with this military capability north of Ukraine, without a common (ph) military response, Putin would understand, he could very easily do that. I doubt he will, because this is a huge commitment. This would suck away a huge number of his forces to bring them across the border and try to occupy this.

CUOMO: And they say some good/bad news is that it would take a lot of resources, period, for him to run Ukraine. So basically, he may have an interest just in instability that he has to therefore weigh in on.

And another good piece of news here is that you have said, it's not about a military surge being brought in, but you believe in a sanctions surge. You do believe sanctions can work to help quiet this down. But they have to be done right, and that is?

MARKS: They have to scale up, there has to be some immediate pain. But I think simultaneously, you need to have the military picture that gives him a clear hesitation to do anything further.

CUOMO: The question is, did the president get from Angela Merkel what he need. Angela Merkel, you know, in charge of Germany. They're very key in terms of bringing Europe in on these sanctions. Did he get what he needed from her in their communications?

MARKS: I think not, only because these have to be teed up. Again, I don't know why they're not in place right now. There should be no more trigger events. What other trigger event do we need, other than the killing and the violation that started taking place?

CUOMO: A little bit of one last piece of scary information as we go back to U.K. It's not like Russia is not feeling the economic pain, already. The ruble is dropping, people are divesting money out of there, but it hasn't stopped this yet. The question is, what will?

BOLDUAN: Good question. And some are wondering, does Vladimir Putin at this point even care about any economic impact on his country, when his approval rating is skyrocketing at the same time.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, a Texas judge under fire, not just for the sentences she gave an admitted rapist, but also for the comments she made about the victim. Could the backlash against the judge impact the case? Our legal expert is here and weighing in.


BOLDUAN: Outrage today after a Dallas judge sentenced a young man to only 45 days in jail, and five years probation for raping a girl who was 14 years old at the time. Afterward, the judge stirred even more outrage, by defending the sentence, saying that the girl wasn't the victim that she claimed to be.

Here now, legal analyst and CNN commentator, Mel Robbins. I think we should -- there are two things we should deal with, maybe you tell me if they're one and the same or we should deal with them separately.


BOLDUAN: You deal with the sentence and also then what the judge said.


BOLDUAN: The sentence -- fair, or an outrage.

ROBBINS: You know, I don't have as much of a problem with the sentence, and I know a lot of people are going to think I'm crazy because you do have to take things on a case by case basis. And there were lots of facts around this case pertaining to the defendant that makes, I think, her sentence OK. That said, it is absolutely insane that this judge spoke to the press --

BOLDUAN: Right. This was an interview with the Dallas paper after the fact, defending the sentence. And she said in part that this is not the -- the victim wasn't who -- the victim wasn't who she claimed to be. What?

ROBBINS: I mean this is absolutely absurd. The only thing that matters in this case is what the defendant did. And what we know is, in the state of Texas, first of all, the age of consent is 17. So you already statutory rape.


BOLDUAN: Consent doesn't even matter.

ROBBINS: Doesn't even matter. And the other thing that is an issue here, you have a signed written statement by this defendant.

BOLDUAN: Let's throw that up. I think we have that. So we can see that. So consent isn't a problem, because she was 14, number one. And isn't a problem, because he admitted it. He wrote here, "She kept saying 'no' and 'stop' but I just didn't stop. Eventually I stopped, and both of us were in total. I just said sorry numerous times, because I just couldn't believe I did that." That was his voluntary statement to police.

ROBBINS: Correct. So we have a case where you have an 18-year-old that rapes a 14-year-old, admits it, admits she said no, admits that she says stop beforehand, admits that she said no and stop during the attack. And then you have a judge that then faces outrage, and defends the sentence by pointing to the victim and honestly, Kate, the mother has come out in this case of the victim to say none of this stuff is true.

She has now said that a 14-year-old girl had had prior sexual -- and was pregnant.

BOLDUAN: Had a pregnancy previously, had prior sexual partners and the mother said none of this was true. And I would even stop before then. When, if ever --


BOLDUAN: Thank you.

ROBBINS: I know where you're going with this.

BOLDUAN: When if ever should a victim's previous past sexual --

ROBBINS: It doesn't matter --

BOLDUAN: -- acts matter. It doesn't, right.

ROBBINS: Not at all. In fact, it's not even admissible in court. So for this judge to utter to the press that she was considering the victim's past in this case -- you know what she could have said? She could have said hey, this was a kid with no criminal record. This was a kid that felt horrifically horrible about this. He admitted it, he's not a serial rapist. He's got to go to counseling. He's got to show up in jail on the anniversary of this. He's going to be in jail for 45 days. But this is a justice system, not a revenge system. So we're going to try to rehabilitate this kid. And the victim is OK with it. Had she said --

BOLDUAN: And the victim's victimized twice.

ROBBINS: Twice, yes. And I also think about -- there is a case in the news right now where there is a high schooler who is accused of allegedly raping 18 girls. This is the kind of message --

BOLDUAN: When they don't report.

ROBBINS: Yes. Girls not want to come forward.

BOLDUAN: Now real quick -- because we've got to wrap. What can the victim do now? Can the victim do anything? The judge has recused herself from this case at this point. Can the victim do anything?

ROBBINS: I think the victim is going to do two things. She is probably going to cooperate with the prosecution as they go forward with the new judge. And secondly, I would hire an attorney. If what the judge said about this 14 year old isn't true, I would be suing that judge for slander.

BOLDUAN: Really unbelievable. And makes it even worse when you consider the age of the victim -- that really hits me, when you think about it. Mel, thank you for being here. Let's talk about something less of an outrage next time, if we can. Thanks.

CUOMO: All right. Coming up, we have a very different story coming out of Texas. Neighbors there have a seat for a neighbor who has trouble walking. Actually, it's dozens of seats. We're going to tell you about the chairs for Charlie.

It's "The Good Stuff".


CUOMO: Time for "The Good Stuff". Charlie George from Garden Oaks, Texas loves nothing more than to walk his dogs in his neighborhood. But the 64-year-old's battle with leukemia is making that tough.


CHARLIE GEORGE: I've recently had a setback with my leukemia treatment, and it's made it difficult to walk.


CUOMO: That sucks. So one of his neighbors came up with an idea to help Charlie on his way.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought I would put a chair in the yard for him, and then I thought, well, maybe the neighbors would want to put chairs in the yard. So I just sent an e-mail to everyone on the street.


CUOMO: That's what I'm talking about. Before you knew it, Charlie's neighborhood lined with dozens of chairs, Adirondack chairs, benches, wrought iron, rockers. They're called "Chairs for Charlie". Or others in need of a rest if you want to just have a little respite. Charlie is, of course, overwhelmed by the generosity.

GEORGE: They put these chairs out for me. I think it's incredible. I didn't expect this at all. I intend to walk to the end.


CUOMO: Isn't that beautiful? Of course, it's not medicine for the leukemia, but it's medicine for the heart and allows him to live his life. It's neighbors just stepping out, making the ordinary extraordinary. That's why it's "The Good Stuff".

PEREIRA: I was thinking that they were going to walk his dogs for him, but he gets so much joy out of walking his dogs, gives him exercise, the fresh air.

BOLDUAN: I like the idea of the chairs in the yard, anyway.

PEREIRA: I do too.

BOLDUAN: Everyone can enjoy.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Perfect definition of the little things, right?

PEREIRA: It is the little things.

CUOMO: In Texas, big front porch culture down there, too. Very nice. Hospitable people. Everything is bigger in Texas. Including their heart when it comes to their neighbors. Beautiful good stuff. Starts off the week the right way. I like it.

There's a lot of news, as well. So we have to get you to the newsroom, and Ms. Carol Costello, the human equivalent of a chair for everyone to rest while they get the news.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: OK, I'll take that. You guys have a great day. Thanks so much.

"NEWSROOM" starts now.

And good morning to all of you, I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me. We do begin this morning with breaking news. There's a horrifying turn in the case of those 200 Nigerian girls who were abducted from their school last month.

A man claiming to lead the terror group that abducted those girls from a rural school has issued a chilling warning.