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Killer Testimony; Senator Rand Paul's Filibuster; More Snow Headed for Eastern Seaboard; Deadly Lion Attack in California; Reeva Steenkamp's Family Speaks Out

Aired March 6, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we're following even dangerous winter weather tonight, massive new snowfall, deadly icy roads and the kind of wind you normally see in hurricanes. We will show you who got hammered and who's still in harm's way.

Also, breaking news from a place dedicated to preserving endangered animals. A woman is mauled to death by a lion she was working to save, a lion which once appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Jeff Corwin joins us.

We begin, though, tonight with "Crime & Punishment" and the Jodi Arias trial and what could be a unique preview of which way the jury is leaning. What happened today in court is only permitted in two other states, jurors actually asking questions of the witness. And they certainly had questions for the woman who shot, stabbed and slashed her boyfriend to death, who is now on her third version of what happened that night and now says her unbelievably brutal attack was self-defense and not cold-blooded murder.

More now from our Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): More than 100 questions from the jury to Jodi Arias delivered by the judge, they started with a zinger about the digital camera the couple used to take naked pictures of each to right before the killing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you put the camera in the washer?

JODI ARIAS, DEFENDANT: I don't have memory of that. I don't know why I would do that.

KAYE: Again, Arias's memory fails her, preventing her from explaining why she put the camera in Travis Alexander's washing machine after she killed him. The camera contained pictures of Alexander in the shower, including this one taken just two minutes before his death.

Photo time stamps put Arias at Alexander's house at the time of his death. And what about the gun? The state says she brought it with her to kill, but Arias says it was Alexander's gun, that she grabbed it from his closet shelf.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you get time to get the gun down if he was right behind you?

ARIAS: I don't know if he was right behind me or not. I just had the sense that he was chasing after me.

KAYE: After she killed Alexander, investigators say Arias dragged his body through the house and put it in the shower. The jury wanted to know why.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you place Travis' body back in the shower?

ARIAS: I could only speculate, because I don't remember.

KAYE: Nor could Arias remember for the jury what she did with the clothes she was wearing when she killed Alexander or what she did with the knife used to stab him nearly 30 times and practically cut his head off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is it that you have no memory of stabbing Travis?

ARIAS: I can't really explain why my mind did what it did. Maybe because it's too horrible.

KAYE: The jury also wanted to know why Arias didn't just run for help the day of the killing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard to describe the fear. It was -- it was like mortal terror. It really was. I really thought he was -- had intentions to kill me.

KAYE: Arias claims Alexander physically and sexually abused her during their relationship. She says she killed him that day in self- defense. The jury wanted to know if she ever documented past abuse she's testified about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ever take pictures of yourself after he hit you?

ARIAS: No, I did not.

KAYE (on camera): The jury had a lot of questions about the couple's sex life, which included recordings of their phone sex played in court. Jurors asked about specific events, like when Alexander tied her to his bed. Without flinching, Arias answered each and every one of those embarrassing questions, never taking her eyes off the jury.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ever voice any concern to Travis about being uncomfortable with some of his sexual fantasies?

ARIAS: Yes. There was one fantasy that he wanted to do, which was pulling off on the side of a freeway exit and having sex on the hood of a car, and I was -- I told him that that would be impossible.

KAYE: The jury also wanted to know this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would you continue to stay with someone who had sex with you while you were sleeping?

ARIAS: I was in love with Travis. I knew I was in love with him, and my only concern was that I believed from a religious and spiritual perspective that our relationship would not be blessed if we acted that way.


COOPER: Randi joins us now live from outside the courthouse in Phoenix.

About 150 questions, Randi, were asked. They're really fascinating, the level of detail that these jurors -- and clearly, they have been listening very carefully. There were also some questions about the -- basically the three versions of her story that she's given over time about what happened that night. How did she explain that?

KAYE: Well, the jury had asked why she didn't just tell police the truth from the start, and Jodi Arias said, well, that answer is -- quote -- "complicated."

She said that she didn't want people to know what was going on in their relationship. She certainly didn't want police to know that he had apparently been physically and sexually abusing her, as she said. She didn't want the dirty details of their sex life out there. She certainly didn't want to tell police about the moment she said she caught Travis Alexander masturbating to a photo of a young boy.

She says all of this was so embarrassing. But, Anderson, as you know now, because of those lies, her sex life, that couple's sex life, their dirty text messages, her recorded phone sex sessions, that's been on full display, not only here in court, but also in the media now for weeks.

COOPER: I was curious to see. I mean, we couldn't see it obviously on the camera. You were there. How did the jurors react while she was answering their questions?

KAYE: They were taking notes. They were listening intently.

But just sitting in that courtroom, it almost felt like the jury and Jodi Arias were having a one-on-one conversation, even though the judge was the one who was asking threat questions and they had been submitted anonymously. It was just so strange because they were almost spending time with her because she was answering the questions.

And some of the experts have said the more time she is on the stand, the more they get to know her and talk to her so personally like that, the less likely they will give her the death penalty.

COOPER: And that's what certainly the defense is hoping. Randi, I appreciate it.

Joining me now is Nancy Grace, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, co-author of the upcoming book "Mistrial: An Inside Look at How the Criminal Justice System Works, and Sometimes Doesn't."

Nancy, what did you make of the questions that the jurors themselves were asking today of Arias?

NANCY GRACE, HOST, "NANCY GRACE": Anderson, I have got to tell you that I was frankly very concerned when I realized the judge was not going to allow re-cross-examination, which is, you know, discretionary to the judge in this jurisdiction, after the defense had redirect.

But when I got a load of the jury questions, I could not have been happier, questions like, why did you take time to delete photos off your digital camera after you had just killed Travis Alexander? And her response was, oh, that's one of those things, I tell you, I just can't remember that.

Questions like, well, if your phone, your cell phone really died, why didn't you plug it in to a wall charger? They clearly have latched on to every minute fact that she has testified to on the stand and they're calling her on it.

COOPER: And, Mark, what about you? You had said previously you didn't like the idea of jurors asking questions. What do you make of it?

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And I don't. And it's precisely the reason unintentionally that Nancy just mentions.

It's an adversarial system, the adversarial between the defense and the prosecution. Structurally, this is supposed to be jurors who are sitting there as impartial finders of fact. Nancy is delighted because they're acting as mini-prosecutors. That is exactly why I don't like it.


GRACE: No, because they're asking truthful questions, Mark. You just don't want to hear the answers.

GERAGOS: I don't care whether -- actually, that's not true. If I'm trying the case...


GERAGOS: ... if I'm trying the case -- if I'm trying the case, I love to hear the jurors questions, even if they're not asked, because it gives you some indication of where their head is at. And you can still tailor it, because, look, they're still on. They can call an expert, an expert to deal with that.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: We have a system where jurors are asked to make literally a life-or-death decision in this case. Isn't it rational to allow them to ask questions? They're the fact finders.

I wouldn't want to make a decision without having the opportunity to ask questions.


COOPER: And only a few states have this system.


TOOBIN: Three, only three. But I think it's a good system.

GRACE: Have you guys ever had that?

TOOBIN: No, I have never had a trial, seen a trial like this.


GERAGOS: I have. In California, it's permissive.

GRACE: Where I was trying cases, they didn't have it. But Mark and Jeff and Anderson, I had this one judge I would try cases in front of. He was about 80 years old. He would just let the jury do it anyway.

And I'm telling you, both sides are shaking in their boots right now because the number one rule on questioning a witness is do not ask the question you don't know the answer to. I have done it a couple of times and I have had about an 80 percent failure rate with those questions.

And so that's exactly what's happening right now. They don't know the answer to these questions. And a very good one was -- I'm going to just throw this one at you, Anderson. They just asked a couple of hours ago, if you didn't like the sex fantasy that Travis came up with of tying you to a tree and ravishing you, why did you go scouting for just the right tree?

Now, that's a good question, Anderson.


GERAGOS: Yes, but there's also equally questions that you could spin as being defense-oriented questions as well. There was a number of those.

GRACE: Like what?


GERAGOS: Well, the ones about your dad slapping you, the ones about the Spider-Man underwear and things of that nature.

GRACE: Did you hear the answer?

GERAGOS: If they're focused on the Spider-Man underwear, that's not a great thing for the prosecution.

GRACE: That did not help the defense.

TOOBIN: But the other thing I is interesting is that...


GRACE: You have got to focus on the questions.

TOOBIN: The jurors are frustrated by the limits of the rules of evidence.

You know, they want to know the context. One of the questions I thought was so interesting from the jurors was, describe, Jodi Arias, your relationship with your parents.

Now, that's a question that if you were sort of writing a short story or a journalistic account of her life, I don't really know why it's admissible evidence. I don't know why the judge allowed it, but it shows how jurors think. I thought it was interesting.

COOPER: It was interesting, though, Nancy.


GRACE: Anderson, please call on me.

COOPER: Go ahead, Nancy.


GRACE: Anderson, please call on me.

COOPER: I'm calling on you.

GRACE: OK. I hope you heard that. I hope you heard that, Geragos and Toobin. He called on me.

Now, let's get back to what Geragos just said about the Spider- Man underwear. Now, her testimony was on direct. Now, he wanted her to dress up like a little boy and have anal sex from behind with her, to suggest that he was a pedophile.

But what the jury asked actually about those underwear, those Spider-Man underwear, hey, if you took all these pictures of you in this underwear that said Travis Alexander on the back, how come you didn't you take the pictures of the Spidey underwear you keep talking about?

TOOBIN: I also think this is a real tribute to this jury. Some of the details that they picked up, she asked -- one of the jurors asked, if you're nearsighted, how do you drive? Because she didn't wear glasses.

And she sort of has this long elaborate story of how I don't -- I don't -- I don't have trouble driving. But, you know, I just thought that was a perceptive picking up of a detail. And, frankly, most of the questions I thought were very hostile to her position, so I don't know how the defense could take much solace in that.

GERAGOS: Well, they don't take much solace.


GRACE: You make it sound so good, Toobin. Hostile to her position, like that.


GERAGOS: Well, the problem...



GERAGOS: The problem with it is that the jurors are -- I don't care what anybody says. If you have tried any number of jury trials, jurors pay attention. I mean, they really pay attention.

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

GERAGOS: That's the reason you have 12 jurors. They get back there and they act like a supercomputer.

People always I think mock the jury system. I think it's one of the greatest inventions ever in terms of a civilized society. So, I'm not saying that they're asleep at switch or anything else. I think jurors always -- there has never been a trial I have tried where they haven't come up with something nobody in that courtroom thought of.

GRACE: Call on me, call on me.

COOPER: Nancy?


GRACE: Thank you, teacher.

Jeff, you are so right about them asking about her vision, because in court -- oh, I wish I had a pair of glasses. She will actually take off the glasses to read and to look around, which makes me wonder, why do you have glasses unless you just want to look brainy like Geragos and Toobin here?


GRACE: But what she answered to that question was basically, Anderson, I have essentially seen the world fuzzy my entire life, and I just realized... (CROSSTALK)

GRACE: ... that I needed glasses

GERAGOS: Somebody want to explain to Nancy the difference between nearsighted and farsightedness?


COOPER: I don't know the difference, to be honest. I honestly couldn't...


TOOBIN: I always get confused. Mark, can you enlighten us?


GERAGOS: I only play an ophthalmologist on TV. Maybe somebody can tweet to Nancy the difference between nearsighted and farsighted.

COOPER: And, Nancy, in case you haven't noticed, I just put on my glasses so you will include me in the smart category here of people who wear glasses.

GRACE: Brainy. Brainy.


COOPER: Brainy.

We have got a digital dashboard question for you tonight from Facebook. Barbara asked -- says, "I think they have lost sight of what the trial is about. Didn't Jodi Arias kill Travis? As a person who has lived through an abusive relationship, it is insulting for her to use that as a defense when you listen to the facts. Where is there any proof of that?"


COOPER: Has there been any proof of that, of an abusive relationship?

GRACE: Well, I'm very sensitive to that question, Anderson, because while I was prosecuting, I spent 10 years volunteering at the battered women's center, and became intimately familiar with the battered women's syndrome defense.

And, frankly, when I believed it was a battered women's syndrome defense, I would see the case in a whole different light. And what's concerning me, along with Barbara is, there is no evidence of battered women's syndrome in this case at all, other than a few incidents she's testified to and has been caught in lies about.

So, if she is faking this defense, that hurts all battered women because, when they go to trial, people are going to go, hey, you remember Jodi Arias? That was a sack of lies. And it's going to hurt them. I completely understand what Barbara is saying.

GERAGOS: Well, I hate to agree with Nancy, but she's right.

I tell you, there is a -- I can hear prosecutors all over this country in the future mocking defense lawyers on battered women defenses because of this case. There is a certain degree of irony...

GRACE: Only if they're liars, Mark.

GERAGOS: ... that the violence that was done here or the extreme violence that is demonstrable was not by Travis. So, that's concerning. And having defended women who were the victims of it, it's a difficult situation.

COOPER: Well, let's leave it -- hey, Nancy, are you wearing handcuffs as a necklace?


GRACE: Yes, I am. Would you like a pair?


COOPER: Well, no. I just -- my -- I guess I'm nearsighted or farsighted.


COOPER: I wasn't...

GRACE: I did it for you, Anderson.

COOPER: I saw something shiny and then the more I looked at it, I was thinking, are those handcuffs? They really are?

GRACE: Yes, they are. And they work.


GRACE: Just in case I need to arrest somebody.


COOPER: I'm glad it didn't come to that.

GERAGOS: You subscribe to her premium channel and you will get them as a free bonus.


COOPER: Nancy Grace, always love to have you on, Mark Geragos as well. Jeff Toobin, thanks.

Let us know what you think about this idea of jurors -- do you think it's a good idea for jurors to be able to ask a defendant questions on the stand? Let's talk about it on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper.

Up next, why is this senator still talking? He's been at it for hours now, Senator Rand Paul trying to bring back the talking filibuster. We will tell you why he's doing it and whether anything is going to come of it.

Later, where the latest killer storm is heading and the epic damage it's already done -- when we continue.


COOPER: Welcome back.

Something's happening tonight straight out of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," an old-fashioned talking filibuster.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has had the floor since 11:47 this morning, trying to block a vote on President Obama's nominee for CIA director with nothing more than his vocal cords. He's keeping hydrated, he's eating candy, and voicing his objection to the administration's use of killer drones.

The odd thing is that under current Senate rules, Senator Paul doesn't have to be talking to maintain the filibuster. And he himself acknowledges that when it comes time for a vote to break the filibuster possibly on Friday, chances are he will lose.

So, what exactly is he doing? Let's talk about that and let's hope we won't be filibustering here.

Republican consultant joining us Margaret Hoover, "Newsweek" special correspondent and Daily Beast editor Peter Beinart, and chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, let me start with you. Some liberal senators almost sounded happy with what Senator Paul is doing, the bigger issue that he's pushing on the administration's policy on drones or lack of transparency is controversial with people on both sides of the aisle.


And they were happy to hear him talk about it. I mean, this filibuster, Mr. Paul goes to Washington, is all about getting attention, because he knows he's not going to stop the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. So he's trying to place attention on this issue of drones and the question of whether drones can actually be used in this country potentially on an American citizen.

I mean, he clearly believes it's unconstitutional and illegal. And he asked the attorney general for a letter about it. And the attorney general ruled it out, but not completely unequivocally.

COOPER: Right. He said hypothetically, given a 9/11-type situation, the military might be able to do that.

BORGER: That's right. And so this is a question about how far's the attorney general willing to go? How far's the president willing to go? And there's also another question here that liberals agree with Rand Paul on, and that's a question of transparency. The president has said he's going to talk about that again, which is how much do we in the American public, how much should we know about the use of drones?

COOPER: Right.

Peter, what do you make of the use of the filibuster?

PETER BEINART, THE DAILY BEAST: I think it's terrific.

You know, first of all, this is what a filibuster is supposed to be. We have defined -- we have created this kind of virtual filibuster where you just say I filibuster and then you go and have dinner. Right? A filibuster is supposed to be hard. It's supposed to have some cost to you. This is what this guy is doing.

It's on a matter of principle, not party. He says, Bush is continuing -- Obama's continuing Bush's policies, which are right, and he's doing it on the right subject, which is this is the guy who's actually nominated to head the CIA. It is not like the Republicans who threatened to filibuster Hagel because of Benghazi, which Hagel had nothing to do about.

And he's shaming liberals. I say this as a liberal. He's shaming us into saying we have to make sure we don't put our partisanship ahead of our concern about centralized government power and what the Obama administration is doing. And I think he's setting a really good example.

COOPER: He's been going at it for more than eight hours.

Just for people who have not heard, let's just hear what he's talking about, just say now randomly. Let's just drop in and listen to hear what he's saying.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: The problem is, I think once he gets into the FBI, the ludicrous nature of what he's asserting will really be, I think, paramount.

I can't imagine that he can argue at that point that we're not going to obey the Bill of Rights with the FBI, because we already do with the FBI. So many of the answers are pretty simple here and pretty easy. And I just can't imagine why he's resisting doing this.

COOPER: Right now also at the Jefferson Hotel, President Obama has been meeting with some Republican senators. I understand looks like the senators, some of them have been leaving the dinner. This appears to be over, these things both going on in different parts of Washington.

Margaret, what do you make of it? MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the filibuster, I can't believe Peter and I actually agree on it. It's a good old-fashioned filibuster. It's not Strom Thurmond reading from Webster's dictionary.

It's actually a well-prepared senator making reasoned arguments for now.

COOPER: Well, there were some tweets being read earlier while he was taking a bathroom break.

HOOVER: But for the most part, everything he is saying is substantive, thoughtful, discursive.

He is actually making his case for the point of his filibuster, which is, is there a constitutional question to the kill list that President Obama's employing abroad? Can he do that on American citizens who are not an imminent threat to American security here in the United States?

That's a real question. It's a thoughtful question.

COOPER: And not just President Obama. Can any U.S. president kill an American citizen at home using drones?


HOOVER: Unilaterally, or should there be some process of balance and checks and balances on that process?

COOPER: It is an important question. This is not -- this is obviously an important question.

BEINART: Beyond that.

I mean, the drones are an important question. Look, Obama -- President Obama has moved towards drones because they're cheap. This is what we do when we as a country don't want to expend the blood and treasure to go invading countries anymore. That's why it's attractive to him.

But when it comes really, really big concerns about this should not be -- I don't care which president you are, whether you're a president of a party that you like or -- a president should not be invested with this much power to make these decisions without oversight. And I think Ron (sic) Paul is actually -- is actually not even going far enough in the questions he's asking.


BORGER: Anderson, I think the president and the White House have sort of been caught off-guard by this.

I don't think they really understood what kind of an issue this would be for John Brennan during his confirmation fight. And I think this whole issue of transparency -- and this is sort of ironic coming from a president who, when he was a senator, always called for transparency, who's a constitutional scholar himself.

I think, in a way, they have created this problem for themselves, because they did not lift the veil for people on the Intelligence Committee about how they made the decision to use drones. And so now they're going to have to go back at it and say, you know what? We were wrong, and we need to be more transparent about it to people we trust in the Congress.

HOOVER: What you're going to start to see, too, you have Ron Wyden there, a Democrat from Oregon, who is joining the filibuster, along with other Republicans.

It's technically a bipartisan filibuster now. What happens in a second administration of a reelected president is the high water mark of President Obama's influence is right now. Eventually, the coalition on the left and the right begins to fray.

So what you see now is President Obama also concurrent to this having dinner with Republicans for the first time in a couple of years. I think that is indicative of clearly a new tack, and hopefully a recognition that President Obama knows it's in his court to try to get some sort of legacy legislation through now.

COOPER: Peter, Lindsey Graham earlier was saying, look, this is a sign of just how divided the country is that the fact that President Obama's having dinner with some Republicans is a major news story.

BEINART: Yes, right.

And it's a sign that the Obama administration has realized that just because the Republicans are losing the fight over the so-called sequester, he can be losing, too. And he has further to go down in the polls.

COOPER: Because his poll numbers are higher than the Republicans'.

BEINART: Because his poll numbers are much higher. But they have gone down.


BEINART: And so I think he realizes that his strategy of making -- of trying to force complete capitulation is not working.

BORGER: But his numbers are heading in the wrong direction.

If you look the "Washington Post"/ABC poll today, by a 2-1 margin, people say they approve the sequester generally, these forced spending cuts, while they don't approve the military cuts. And, by the way, the president has absolutely nothing to lose by having dinner with these people because, even if it doesn't work, he can tell the American public, I tried it. It didn't work. So I'm doing it. And that's what the American public wants to see.

COOPER: And he's certainly hoping just to peel away whatever Republicans he can.

He's not hoping to change...


HOOVER: And, by the way, he has got to work on Democrats, too, though.

COOPER: Right.

HOOVER: This is a president who doesn't have a great track record with Democrats in the Senate either.


BEINART: Look at the senators, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. These are blue states where Obama feels like he can put a little bit of pressure on these guys to compromise.

BORGER: But Senator Lindsey Graham came up with the invite list and the invite list is not a bunch of moderates. The invite list is...


BEINART: There are no moderates left in the Republican Party. This is what passes for moderates.

HOOVER: Susan Collins isn't invited.


BORGER: No, these are conservative Republicans, some of his biggest critics.

And what the president's going to get from them is, OK, if you want a grand bargain, here's what you need to do for us. And that's what Lindsey Graham and John McCain want...


COOPER: Well, it's already look like it's not a late dinner, because it looks like a bunch of them already left.

BORGER: Early birds.

COOPER: Yes, Gloria Borger, appreciate it, Margaret Hoover and Peter Beinart as well.

Just ahead, breaking news. An African lion hand-raised at a sanctuary devoted to saving exotic cats, an animal that actually was on the "Ellen" show a while back, has killed a 26-year-old woman. We are going to get Jeff Corwin's take on the horrific attack.

Plus, a CNN exclusive. The family of Reeva Steenkamp is speaking out for the first time since Oscar Pistorius was freed on bail. What they told our Drew Griffin in South Africa may change the way you see her killing.


COOPER: By now, tens of millions of Americans have had enough of it. They've had it up to here, literally. All the same, they are getting more of it. More snow, more icy rain, more deadly roads, and now the kind of gale-force wind that blows down trees; washes coastlines out to sea. Take a look. Swirling counterclockwise along the Eastern Seaboard, New England about to get dumped on by a storm system that's really leaving its icy mark.

More on the damage that followed from Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A state of emergency declared in Virginia as over 200,000 people are without power in sub- freezing temperatures. While many in the state heeded the warning to stay off the roads, others needed authorities to rescue them from the ice and snow. Parts of Virginia are reporting accumulations of over two feet.

The storm dumped over a foot of snow in parts of the Midwest, where it is blamed for at least one death. The driver of this truck was killed after his rig fell into the Red Cedar River in Wisconsin.

Further west in Minneapolis, the airport remained open despite snowfall of just under a foot.

On the East Coast, Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Bridge was closed because of high winds, but not before this tractor trailer overturned on one end.

Further north, the concern is for coastal flooding and beach erosion in areas that were already hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. There are predictions of waves towering up to 14 feet, prompting officials in New Jersey and Delaware to advise some residents in some coastal areas to evacuate.

And in our nation's capital, airports remained open for business. Lawmakers prepared for the worst and all government business shut down for the day. But in the end, Washington was spared the brunt of this deadly winter storm.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Let's get caught up on some other stories we're following. Isha is here with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, HLN ANCHOR: Anderson, tonight's White House dinner for 12 GOP senators has wrapped up. Senator John McCain and others have left. The rare outreach by President Obama came as both sides tried to figure out how to stop the forced federal spending cuts. No word on whether any progress was made. Syrian rebels are holding 20 U.N. peacekeepers near the Israeli- occupied Golan Heights. In a YouTube video, a rebel says they'll be held until Assad's forces withdraw from a village where fighting has been heavy. CNN cannot verify its authenticity.

The rebel says they the peacekeepers of trying to aid their enemy. The U.N. says they were on a regular supply mission and is demanding their release.

Gabby Giffords today returned to the Tucson parking lot where she was shot in the head two years ago to call for stricter gun controls. Speech is still difficult for the former congresswoman. She said less than 20 words. Other survivors of the shooting joined her at the rally.

And some spectacular images of Mt. Etna shooting lava and ash. That's right: Italy's famous active volcano is erupting again. It rarely causes damage but often inspires awe.

And now "The Connection." A special tribute to the people of Newtown, Connecticut. More than half a million sympathy cards were sent to the town after the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary last December. To share those messages of love, sadness and hope, and preserve them for future generations, "Mother Jones" has teamed up with Tumblr and put them on the Web site you see there on your screens right now. Log onto the site to see the incredible messages -- Anderson.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

Up next, breaking news. A 350-pound African lion that once appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" went on the attack at an animal sanctuary and killed an intern. We'll talk to animal expert Jeff Corwin for his take on what happened.

Also tonight, a CNN exclusive. The family of Reeva Steenkamp breaks their silence for the first time since the so-called Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius, was released on bail in her murder.


COOPER: Just ahead in a CNN exclusive, Reeva Steenkamp's uncle talks to our Drew Griffin about his hope in meeting Oscar Pistorius, the man charged with murdering his beautiful niece.


COOPER: Breaking news to report. There's been a fatal lion attack in California. Here's what we know right now.

The lion was 350 pounds named Cous Cous. It attacked and killed a 26-year-old intern at Project Survival Exotic Cat Sanctuary east of Fresno. She was apparently inside the lion's cage when the animal attacked her. She died at the scene. The founder of the sanctuary gave these details.


DALE ANDERSON, FOUNDER, PROJECT SURVIVAL EXOTIC CAT HAVEN: Female volunteer intern entered the lion's enclosure, where she was attacked and fatally injured. The lion was shot and killed per our safety protocols.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the -- our friend and family and to her family at this time, in this trying time. We'll keep you guys posted as things progress around here.


COOPER: Well, the sanctuary also said it hand-raised the African male lion from the age of 8 weeks. Here is the animal on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" when he was just 3 months old. There's Jeff Corwin there, animal expert Jeff Corwin holding him. He's going to join us in just a minute.

First, I want to talk to Kathryn Hehr (ph) of our affiliate, KGPE. Kathryn Herr.

Kathryn, you're outside the gates of the sanctuary. What's going on there? What's the latest?

KATHRYN HERR, KGPE ANCHOR (via phone): The coroner arrived here just around 20 minutes ago to pick up the body of the woman who was killed here by the lion. The gates have been locked and closed off with crime-scene tape. There are sheriff's deputies and investigators still on scene here.

COOPER: And you've been inside this cat haven in the past. What's it like? I think you even saw this animal.

HERR: I did. Last I was up here about a little over a year ago, and this is basically a sanctuary for large cats. They have lions up here, tigers, cheetahs and jaguars. They're involved in preservation efforts in Africa, as well. But this facility is open to the public.

They were not open today. No visitors on site.

But you go in, and there's a road that sort of winds through the areas, the enclosures of these large animals. Each enclosure is -- basically is closed off by reinforced fences. And the lion enclosure is towards the end of the tour that you may take through here.

And I was there and got close to this lion. The lion seemed very docile when we were up there. The founder that you heard from in that interview, that statement, Dale Anderson, had actually reached through the fence and was scratching the lion behind the ear. I was just a couple of feet away. The lion did not seem aggressive in any way. The male lion shares the enclosure with a female lion, as well. We haven't been told yet where the female lion was during all of this -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kathryn, appreciate the latest on that. Obviously, huge tragedy there. I want to bring in Jeff Corwin, host of "Ocean Mysteries" on ABC and author of the new book, "Sharks." Jeff, to look at you holding this lion when it was, I guess, just a couple of weeks old on "The Ellen Show," I mean, it's so sad what has happened now. How surprised are you by this?

JEFF CORWIN, ANIMAL EXPERT: Well, I'm incredibly surprised whenever a tragedy like this unfolds, Anderson. These are powerful creatures, and they possess incredible strength and incredible predatory skill. And I think that's what you really have to remember here.

There's a big difference between a small 3-month-old defenseless cub relying on human beings for nutriment (ph) and for care and a 350- pound creature that pretty much sits at the top of the food chain.

COOPER: And even though -- and the pictures we're seeing now are you with Ellen on the show, even though this cub was hand raised, as you said, these animals are hard-wired. It is part of their DNA. I mean, it's part of who they are that, as they grow they -- I they are hunters.

CORWIN: Well, there -- there certainly is a big difference between a lion living out in the wilds of the savannah that would look at human beings as a potential competitor or even a predator, versus a lion raised in a captive human environment. These animals clearly rely on human beings for their food, for their shelter, for their security, for their stimulation and for their life quality experience.

But these are powerful creatures, and these animals can spend a lifetime with little aggression or little examples of potential danger to human beings. But when you weigh almost 400 pounds, you really only need to have one bad moment, and it's not impossible to pay the ultimate price for that.

And that's why many zoos that keep lions, especially zoos that are part of the AZA community, have very strict -- very strict rules and regulations when it comes to working with these animals and maintaining them in a zoological environment.

COOPER: And I guess -- you know, there's a lot we don't know about the incident surrounding exactly what happened inside that cage in that moment, why the lion would have attacked. The fact that this girl was an intern, do you think that is something that's going to be looked at, that -- whether it was a mistake on the part of the sanctuary to allow, you know, an intern, not fully trained, into a potentially dangerous situation?

CORWIN: It's an interesting question, Anderson, but I wouldn't speculate on her, you know, her role or the way she worked with this institution, with this wildlife sanctuary.

Many zoos and aquariums around the world rely on interns. They're a very valuable part of their -- of the community for these institutions. And interns sometimes, you know, retired people called docents play an important role. I can tell you, for example, the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, if you want to be a volunteer, or an intern at that zoo, you're looking almost at two months of training before you actually have any contact with any animals.

COOPER: Jeff, appreciate you -- you talking to us today at this -- it's such a horrible thing in so many different ways.

I also appreciate Kathryn Herr giving us that report.

We should point out the sanctuary said that the intern got too close to the lion. Exactly what that means, we don't know the details about. Of course, we're trying to learn more.

Just ahead, a CNN exclusive: new insight on Reeva Steenkamp's relationship with Oscar Pistorius. Insight from someone who considered her a sister, her cousin. The family of Reeva Steenkamp speaking out for the first time since Pistorius was freed from jail, and what they're saying is going to surprise you, next.


COOPER: Welcome back. A "360" exclusive now. Tonight, the family of Reeva Steenkamp is breaking their silence for the first time since here killer, Oscar Pistorius, was freed on bail.

Steenkamp's uncle and cousin both agreed to talk on camera to investigative correspondent Drew Griffin in South Africa. Now Drew's been digging into Pistorius's past, and what's he's found is really very much at odds with the athlete's public image. In Drew's report last night, former friends of the track star described a man who was often drinking, angry and armed.


MARC BATCHELOR, SOUTH AFRICAN SOCCER PLAYER: He would have a trip switch and, you know, he'd get violent and angry, and he'd fight with people and cause a lot of problems. It's like, well, we were waiting for something like this happen.


COOPER: Pistorius claims he shot Reeva Steenkamp because he thought she was an intruder and says he loved her deeply. But was the love mutual? Steenkamp's cousin talked to Drew about that, and what she told him was pretty surprising. Equally surprising, what Steenkamp's uncle has to say. Here's Drew's report.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The interview took place in the home Reeva often stayed, in the back room of her cousin's, Kim Martin's. It is where we interviewed her and Reeva's uncle.

(on camera): Has -- has the family now realized emotionally what has happened?

MIKE STEENKAMP, REEVA'S UNCLE: You sort of wake up in the morning expecting Reeva still to give a phone call.

KIM MARTIN, REEVA'S COUSIN: It's easier to deal with it if you don't concentrate on anything else other than the fact that Reeva's not here and at the end of the day, she's not coming back.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): What the family says it does not want to concentrate on is just why Reeva Steenkamp is not coming back. She died in the home and at the hands of her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius. He is charged with murder, awaiting trial for what he has called an accidental shooting.

Kim Martin says she was as close to Reeva as a sister. There were no secrets. She knew the couple were dating. She also knew Reeva was not in love.

MARTIN: And I knew that in time she would chat to me about it.

GRIFFIN (on camera): but she never did?

MARTIN: No. She never did.

GRIFFIN: January 2 on Small Bay in Cape Town, Kim and her daughters finally did meet him at this seaside cafe. It was the only time she ever met Oscar Pistorius. He barely made an impact.

MARTIN: Wasn't long enough to form an opinion on his personality, you know? Reeva, her and I were chatting and the kids, and what I saw of him, it wasn't -- but he was nice. He did seem like a nice guy.

GRIFFIN: You still think that?

MARTIN: I don't really want to comment on that.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In what now seems an ominous event, we now know Reeva's own mother had met Oscar Pistorius, too, at least by phone. Oscar and Reeva were driving on a highway and Oscar, prone to fast cars, was supposedly speeding.

STEENKAMP: She phoned her mom and she told mom, "Mom, Oscar's speeding."

So June takes to the phone and says, "Let me speak to Oscar. Oscar, hey listen. That's my precious and my only daughter, my precious daughter. And that's everything. That's my angel, and you'd better slow down. Otherwise I will get the mafia onto you afterwards."

And Reeva said afterwards, "Mom, he slowed down."

GRIFFIN: Now the family, including Reeva's parents, Barry and June, are trying to come to grips with a lot of tales from the past. Former friends of Pistorius speaking out about anger, rage and guns, early signs that police may have mishandled the crime scene and the fact that Oscar Pistorius, who's admitted killing Reeva in an accidental shooting, is now free from jail awaiting trial.

MARTIN: Because the less I hear about it, all the other stuff, the better.

STEENKAMP: None of us are going to be represented at the court and the trial. None of us in family are going to go up. We won't be present. I can tell you that now. And for that reason, it's not about the court case. It's about Reeva.

MARTIN: It would be too painful, but choking back tears, Mike Steenkamp did say he one day does want to meet the man who killed his niece.

STEENKAMP: I would like to be face to face with him and forgive him, forgive him what he's done. And that way I can find more peace with the situation by telling him face to face.

GRIFFIN (on camera): You would forgive him, Mike, whether this was a tragic accident or whether this was...

STEENKAMP: Whatever, whatever the outcome. I feel with my belief and if Christ could forgive when he died on the cross, why can't I?

GRIFFIN: You must have seen the reports about things in his past that have come out. Is there any reaction to any of that?

STEENKAMP: The least I know from the outside, the better. For myself. That right or wrong, I'm still focused on the one thing is forgiveness, and I'm not going to change from that.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): As for what happens to Oscar Pistorius, it doesn't matter, says Steenkamp. Nothing will bring Reeva back.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Cape Town, South Africa.


COOPER: Family speaking out for the first time. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." Tonight, we have a story from California, where three people allegedly stole a yacht. That's right, a whole freaking yacht. We're talking about an 82-foot, multimillion-dollar yacht named "The Darling."

Now, they just took the thing, allegedly, and had a grand old time, until the joy ride was cut short when they ran the thing aground. The general manager of the local boat yard says he's never heard of this happening before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not something that big. We didn't believe it yesterday when we heard it. We followed the boat out a number of times, and I never heard of a boat that big being ripped off.


COOPER: So apparently, the alleged thieves really enjoyed themselves on the high seas in the lap of luxury. Here's a KTVU reporter with the details.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it looks like they turned this into a party boat. Investigators found the inside littered with beer cans and pizza boxes.


COOPER: Mmm. Nothing like pizza and beer in cans to really class up a stolen yacht party. Alas, it did not last long. The three were arrested right off the yacht, which is also a first for local witnesses.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a first one where I -- I've seen the -- them have to get the perpetrators off.


COOPER: Now, this really isn't the most subtle crime in the world. I mean, how did they think they would get away with this? Don't people learn anything from "30 Rock" anymore?


TRACY MORGAN, COMEDIAN: Welcome! Welcome to your fantasy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir! I need you to disembark immediately.

TINA FEY, ACTRESS/WRITER: This is not his boat. We got to get off this thing. This is not his boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disembark immediately.

FEY: Is this your boat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disembark immediately.


COOPER: I can't even say the word "yacht" without thinking of "Arrested Development" and the magical stylings of Job.


WILL ARNETT, ACTOR: Any magician can make a queen of diamonds disappear. What about a whole boat?

Once there was a yacht. Now, there is not.

JASON BATEMAN, ACTOR: All right. So how did you do it?

ARNETT: Michael, a magician never reveals his -- I sunk it. I sunk the yacht. At least I think I sunk it. I blew it up, and I don't see it anywhere.

JESSICA WALTER, ACTRESS: Nana was on that yacht.


WALTER: You killed Nana.


COOPER: It's simple. If it's not your yacht don't make it disappear, because you'll surely get caught, at least on "The RidicuList."

That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.