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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS
Syria's VP Reportedly Flees to Jordan; Paul Ryan in Florida; Mother Pleads With California Police to Reopen Case of Murdered Son
Aired August 18, 2012 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye. It is 9:00 a.m. on the East Coast, 6:00 a.m. out west. Thanks for waking up with us.
The Syrian regime is denying rebel claims that one of the most powerful men in the government is trying to flee. A rebel spokesman tells CNN that Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa a fled Damascus more than a week ago. He's reported destination, neighboring Jordan but he apparently isn't there yet.
CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joining me now from our bureau in Abu Dhabi. Nic, what is the latest word then on the vice president's whereabouts?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest seems to be the denial from the government that they say that he hasn't gone, he's been loyal to the regime throughout this crisis, and, indeed, sort of commenting on the most recent U.N. appointment of a new U.N. representative to Syria. So, the government's trying to play the game that he's still there.
But interestingly, one of the free Syrian army spokesmen said, "Look, tomorrow is a day, the end of Ramadan tonight. Tomorrow there would be a big prayer service. You should normally expect to see Farouq Al- Sharaa a standing up there with the president." They say they don't expect to see him. Indeed, they dare the president, they dare the government to sort of show him on TV because they don't believe that the government has him. That he is on his way out of Syria, even though the Free Syrian army say they've lost contact with the commander who is helping him with that escape.
KAYE: Al-Sharaa a is really the most powerful Sunni Muslim figure in the president's minority-led regime there. So, how significant would his defection be, do you think? Would it have an impact?
ROBERTSON: It should have an impact because it sends out ripples. I mean look, the prime minister quit a couple of weeks ago. And that was proof for the free Syrian army, for others who want to defect, that now they can be, you know, helped to escape the country. You have the government today announcing a reshuffle, there's going to be a new health minister, new industry minister, a new justice minister, indications that these -- the government no longer considers these people stable or they may have even themselves tried to leave.
If he leaves and tries to get out, or even if he's just trying to leave and gets caught, it's a very big signal to those people wavering whether or not they can support Assad, where they should show their allegiance at this time of crisis in the country. Really, it just shows that he's undermined and can only weaken Bashar Al Assad's position and precipitate a more speedy demise of his regime.
KAYE: Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson reporting from Abu Dhabi. Nic, thank you.
Now a story that is turning a global spotlight onto strict anti- abortion laws. A grieving mother in the Dominican Republic says her pregnant teenage daughter died because doctors waited too long to give her chemotherapy. The 16-year-old had leukemia but was also 13 weeks pregnant. Doctors hesitated to give her chemo because it could terminate the pregnancy. That would have violated the Dominican Constitution which bans abortion. Some 20 days after the teen was admitted to the hospital, she finally started receiving treatment but it was too late. Her body rejected a blood transfusion and she died yesterday after suffering a miscarriage hours earlier.
Now to Louisiana. Four men and three women have been arrested in connection with the shooting that left two sheriff's deputies dead, two others wounded. Listen to what the sheriff told one victim's family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERIFF MIKE TREGRE, ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LOUISIANA: I tell them, their loved one, their father, was a hero. The people that they lost their lives for, that we have in custody, I believe, are some of the most violent, evil people on the planet. And they lost their lives. Their loved ones are heroes. Not us. Not the football teams, not the stars. It's the police officers that gave their lives so we all could be safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: You can see five of the suspects right there on your screen. The shootings happened 25 miles outside New Orleans on Thursday. The suspects first attacked a deputy while directing traffic and then fled to their homes in a trailer park. Later, more deputies came to their home to investigate and the suspects open fire.
This morning Paul Ryan will make his first stop in Florida of the 2012 campaign in the villages. It's a critical one. The villages is home to one of the largest retirement communities in the country. Ryan's controversial budget has been a hot-button issue, thanks in part to its steep cuts to Medicare.
Our political editor, Paul Steinhauser is at the Villages this morning, where all the action is. Paul, you spoke to some of the seniors who are gathering there. Have they picked a side yet in this fight over Medicare?
PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, this is a very, very important issue, as you can imagine here, Randi. The people in this state, especially to people here in the villages, and this is Republican country. Sarah Palin held a very, very large rally here four years ago. But as you can see Medicare is definitely coming up today.
Behind me on the stage there, protect and strength in Medicare. That's the sign you'll see behind Paul Ryan. Medicare has become a huge issue since Ryan was named one week ago as Mitt Romney's running mate, probably mostly because of Ryan's House budget plan which would dramatically alter Medicare.
Take a listen to some of the seniors I spoke to and what they said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To all the seniors and I -- I would like the Romney and Ryan to really do their job. I know they're going to do a wonderful job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney really have a handle on the Medicare issue. And if people listen to him very closely, he'll spell it out in minute detail and I think that's the way to go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's important, but I'm all for Ryan and Romney's plan. Down with Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEINHAUSER: You know, Ryan is going to be joined by another senior citizen today, his mother. She's on Medicare. She lives part time of the year down here in Florida, Ft. Lauderdale, by the sea and the rest of the year up in Wisconsin. Randi, you know the Romney campaign has been pushing back against attacks from the Obama campaign. They say the president will take money from Medicare to pay for his health care law. Randi.
KAYE: Yes, it's going to be interesting to see this debate continue. CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser. Thank you, Paul.
One of Paul Ryan's colleagues in the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, went for a few laughs late night talking to NBC's Jimmy Fallon about his selection as Mitt Romney's number two and Ryan's now famous exercise routine. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC'S "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Well, how about Romney's pick, Paul Ryan, what are your thoughts on him?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: He's a nice person.
PELOSI: I don't really know him well because I've never been to the gym.
FALLON: Have you seen him with his shirt off? It's pretty awesome. The guy is ripped. Yes, the guy is ripped.
PELOSI: It takes time.
FALLON: It does. The p90x is very tough. I got the DVDs. I made it to the first part and then I put on "Finding Nemo."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: This week we're taking a look at a murder mystery in California. Police say the case is closed but my next guest is pleading with officials to reopen the investigation into her son's death. His name is Max and he would have turned seven last month. Here he is with his mom in 2009.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You always have me in your heart, remember? And where else?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In your thinkings, thoughts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your mommy's thoughts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And in your where? In your heart, your mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean right here?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: Last July Max fell over a staircase at his father's California mansion and went into a coma. Three days later, emergency crews were called back to the home. That's when they found the lifeless body of 32-year-old Rebecca Zahau, the girlfriend of Max's father, who was home with Max the day that he fell. She was found naked and hanging from the second story balcony. Her hands and feet bound. Max died from his injuries a couple of days after that. Two tragedies at one mansion in less than a single week.
Was Max murdered? Was Rebecca? Police say, no, ruling his death an accident and Rebecca's, a suicide. Max's mother, Dina, joins me now with her attorney, Angela Hallier.
Thank you both for joining us. Dina, I'm so sorry for the loss of your son.
DINA SHACKNAI, VICTIM'S MOTHER: Thank you.
KAYE: It's heart breaking to see the two of you together in that video as well. You've conducted a private investigation into Max's death. And want the case reopened and investigated as a homicide. Tell me first about your investigation and what you found. SHACKNAI: Well, nine months ago I hired doctors (INAUDIBLE) from San Francisco and Dr. (INAUDIBLE) from (INAUDIBLE) and maybe, Angie, you can speak to the findings of the experts.
ANGELA HALLIER, DINA SHACKNAI'S ATTORNEY: The most significant findings from our experts that show this was not an accident and was, in fact, was an assault scenario was that Max fell on the top, the vertex of his head, not his front forehead. The back injuries were not the result of an impact. They were the result of scraping, pushing against the railing. His center of gravity would not have allowed him to go over the banister the way the accidental scenario said it would.
There were no dicing abrasions on his hands from having grabbed at a chandelier. And importantly, the multiple planes of injuries on his body, including in recessed body areas, like the inside of your eye and the nose and the neck, would not have happened from an accidental fall.
KAYE: Now, had you suspected that this might be a homicide before these findings, Dina?
SHACKNAI: I was perplexed with the findings of the San Diego sheriff's department and Coronado Police Department. When I was given debriefing really all I saw was the diagram they presented to me and it really didn't even look like Max. The figure looked much taller. And I didn't receive the report from their expert until three weeks later. And their report summed it up, saying it was a dog, a ball or a scooter. It wasn't really clear.
So, it didn't make sense. It didn't add up. And I didn't know what happened. I was hoping that the Coronado Police Department would have, you know, gone further than they did at the time.
KAYE: Right. We have this police animation showing how they believe your son died. They say he fell over the railing of this three-story staircase, as we're looking now, tumbled, hit the rail on his back, fell to the floor, landing on his head. Again, Angela, you say he couldn't have fallen like this.
HALLIER: That's what our experts say. These are very seasoned, respected experts. They spent nine months going over this, rebuilding staircase, looking at a scooter, doing all the work that experts do. And the only scenario they could come up with in collaboration was that this was an assault scenario, that his death was the result of the hands of someone else.
KAYE: And why do you say that the injuries to your son's face, Dina, and his head and his body, they're just not consistent with the fall, because I know you have those photos, as we showed just before of your son's back, and the hands you say are proof that his death was not an accident. What do those photos tell you?
SHACKNAI: Well, according to doctors -- Dr. Melinik (ph)really, given the fact that the injuries are in recessed corners, which are, you know, inside the eye, if someone were to fall face-first, the areas that would be injured would be your nose, your forehead, and your chin. But instead, Max had these injuries on the inside of his eye. His eyelid. And that didn't make sense. That is not something that is typical, apparently, of a typical fall but, rather, an assault scenario.
I would like to add that the back injuries he had, they were abrasions. They were superficial wounds but they were abrasions and then there were some contusions. Also Dr. Bo from (INAUDIBLE) I think did an excellent job of creating actually a video that showed, compared the photo from the ME's office to the railing and showed that those injuries matched the pattern of the staircase -- or the railing.
KAYE: You know, so often on programs we talk about how somebody died. I do want to ask you, Dina, about how your son lived and what he was like. We're going to do that in just a moment. If I can ask you both to stick around. I want to talk about your son, Max, and I also want to talk more about the investigation.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy birthday dear Maxie. Happy birthday to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: We're continuing my interview now with Attorney Angela Hallier and her client, Dina Shacknai. Dina remains certain her son's death last summer was not an accident and she even hired independent medical experts to review the case for her. You shared these personal videos of Max with us, Dina, his birthday, playing soccer.
Before we get back into the case, tell me just a bit about your son.
SHACKNAI: Thanks for asking. He was an amazing treasure for me. I was so lucky to have him. I told him that every single day. So when I saw him in the morning, I would look at him, and with his great big smile, and I would tell him and think to myself, I won the lottery, because he was such a joy.
He loved to play soccer. He played since he was two. He played -- so he was a five-year-old playing against six and seven-year-olds on his Blackhawks Club. He had a sweetie for two years. He was loyal and generous.
And one of the things I think is notable about him was, as in life, he was very generous in death. When he died, he saved three other people through his organ donation of, one, his liver, saved an 11-month-old, and with his kidneys, two adults. So he was an amazing boy, lived an amazing life. And he loved life. He loved his friends and family and we miss him very, very much.
KAYE: I'm sure you do. I'm sure this is very difficult. But he was a beautiful little boy. You can see that in this video. What exactly do you think happened to your son, Dina? SHACKNAI: I believe the experts did such a thorough job and they really -- their analysis was methodical. I believe -- I believe them and I believe that there was an accident scenario and Max, as a result, died. And I believe that (INAUDIBLE) is correct when she says there was a homicide.
I would then encourage that the Coronado Police Department reopen this case. Because they have the investigative experts to determine what actually, exactly happened. So that's sort of what we've done is we presented our scientific information, our real science. And real science doesn't lie. So from there, they can use that to start their own -- to reopen the investigation and consider things they had not considered before.
KAYE: Your experts case report says all the evidence put together does support Rebecca Zahau's direct involvement. Do you believe someone actually killed your son?
SHACKNAI: I believe that -- I believe that Max was the victim of a homicide. However, I think it's important that the Coronado Police Department -- I'm not the expert in that area. I believe it is their responsibility and their job to reopen and for them to determine that. I would like to say that I know how it is to lose a son. I can only imagine their family is grieving just as much to lose a daughter and a sister. So my heart goes out to them, certainly.
And so again, this is something the Coronado Police Department really, hopefully, will do the right thing and reopen this case and amend the disposition. And they can. They can do that.
KAYE: I do want to share with our viewers, Rebecca Zahau's family statement because they're saying that Rebecca Zahau's, "We believe the homicide conclusions are unsupported. While our family grieves Maxie's death, the thought that Rebecca would cause Max harm is preposterous." Now the Coronado Police have also said that they met with you and will review the information that you provided. Did they give you any sort of timeline in terms of a follow-up, I mean how seriously do you think they are taking this, Angela?
HALLIER: Well, you know, they did meet with us. We met with them for almost three hours. We went through the reports. We had our experts (INAUDIBLE) present, (INAUDIBLE) was on the phone from out of the country. They seemed very receptive. It's now been over three weeks. We hope that they're working on this. We hope they're meeting about it and we hope very shortly we'll get an answer but they did not give us a timeline.
KAYE: Thank you, both, Angela and Dina. Appreciate your time. And do keep us up to date on what happened in this case.
SHACKNAI: Thank you.
KAYE: We'll be right back.
KAYE: Here are some stories making news this morning.
Paul Ryan taking his pitch for Medicare to the voters who probably care the most, seniors. He's speaking today at a Florida retirement community called The Villages, one of the largest such communities in the country. Ryan will be joined by his mom, a part-time Florida resident who happens to be a Medicare recipient.
New this morning, health officials are warning people to throw out any cantaloupes from southwest Indiana because of a Salmonella outbreak. At least two people are dead, 141 people are sick from that tainted fruit.
This is effecting 20 states seen highlighted here on your screen. The outbreak began in July. Health officials are warning people, don't try to wash the fruit because both the outside and inside could actually be infected. Just last year 29 people died from a Listeria outbreak in cantaloupe.
John Lennon's killer is seeking freedom yet again. Fifty seven-year- old Mark David Chapman is up for parole for the seventh time and could face a parole board as soon as Tuesday. His last quest for freedom was denied two years ago. Chapman's currently serving a sentence of 20 years to life for gunning down John Lennon in 1980.
I'll be back at the top of hour with much more news. So keep it here on CNN. "YOUR BOTTOM LINE" starts right now.