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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  January 19, 2014 5:30pm-6:01pm PST

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flying around. >> like they did in 1950. >> exactly. "nbc nightly news" is next. more bay area news at 6:00. we'll see you then. -in-the- on this sunday night, terror threats. just 18 days before the sochi olympics, a threat of more attacks by a group that now says it was behind recent deadly suicide bombings. why now? some are asking after a new jersey mayor comes forward to accuse aides of governor chris christie of trying to shake her down. demand for justice by those who believe a 14-year-old boy was wrongly convicted of murder and executed seven decades ago. and they're back. the bobsled team from a place with no ice. the return of the jamaicans. >> announcer: from nbc news world headquarters in new york,
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this is "nbc nightly news" with lester holt. good evening. we begin with an ominous new terror threat against next month's winter olympic games in sochi, russia. with thousands of athletes, journalists and spectators from the u.s. and around the world soon arriving in sochi, today, a well-known islamic militant group claimed responsibility for the twin suicide bombings that killed 34 people last month in the city of volgograd. and they vowed more attacks, making specific mention of the olympics and the tourists who will come for the games. our chief foreign correspondent, richard engel, is in moscow with more on this latest threat. richard, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, lester. officials insist that the olympics will be safe. that may be so. this latest threat does, at least, appear credible. the latest terror threat to the olympics comes from two suicide bombers who are already dead.
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this video is the last testimony of the calm, young men. they documented what they were about to do, step by step, how they built vests with explosives, strap them on, wires running down their arms, the trigger in easy reach. and some time later -- those men, according to the video, killed dozens of civilians at a train station in volgograd and on a bus over the new year. the video seems genuine. it was posted on a website known to be used by islamic militants. the bombers said volgograd was just the first wave. the next will be at the olympics. security in sochi is already tighter than at most airports. president putin has promised to mobilize the army, police and intelligence service if necessary. it would be difficult to get a bomb anywhere near the olympic venues.
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attackers might not have to. russia is vast, with plenty of targets. but why attack during the olympics, an ancient festival of peace? mostly revenge. russia is fighting a low-level war in the caucuses, a muslim majority territory less than 1,000 miles from sochi. the republic of daghastan is especially violent, and that's where the suicide bombers said they're from. another reason? syria. bashar al assad was provided with weapons. the olympics aren't really the target. russia is. the games, analysts say, are an opportunity to grab attention and to try to harm vladimir putin. u.s. officials tell us they expect the olympic park itself will be secure but worry there could be an attack somewhere else. lester? >> richard engel, thanks.
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meantime tonight, questions being raised in this country over whether the russian government had a hand in helping former nsa contractor, edward snowden, leak thousands of secret documents. we get more from this on white house correspondent kristen welker. >> reporter: the new allegations are stunning. today, three top lawmakers suggested nsa leaker edward snowden may have had help. on "meet the press," house intelligence chairman, mike rogers, pointed the finger at russia. >> some of the things that he did were beyond his technical capabilities. >> you think the russians helped snowden? >> i believe there's questions to be answered there. i don't think it was a gee whiz luck event that he ended up in moscow under the handling of the fsb. >> and do you agree with chairman rogers, that he may have had help from the russians? >> he may well have. we don't know at this stage. >> reporter: house homeland security chairman, mike mccal shall, wouldn't say who he thinks helped snowden but also says he doesn't think snowden acted alone.
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>> i don't think mr. snowden woke up one day and had the wherewithal to do this all by himself. i think he was helped by others. >> reporter: the white house wouldn't comment, but nbc news has reached out to government investigators who say so far, there is no indication that snowden had any outside assistance. today, "washington post" reporter barton gelman, who interviewed snowden in december, said the theory doesn't add up. >> edward snowden told me he acted alone. and as far as i know, that is the view of the u.s. government. i'm trying to imagine how it would be plausible that the russians would help edward snowden and then let him fly to hong kong. >> reporter: and today, russian president vladimir putin didn't hesitate to embrace snowden, saying he's welcome to stay in russia as long as he wants, and even travel to the olympic games. >> translator: everybody is invited. mr. snowden is subject to the treatment of provisional asylum here in russia. he has a right to travel freely
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across the country. he has no special limitation. he can just buy a ticket and come here. >> reporter: there was no specific evidence offered by any of the lawmakers today that snowden cooperated with russia. now, this all comes amidst tense relations with the united states and russia, clashing with issues such as syria, gay rights and edward snowden. lester? >> kristen, thanks. on the defensive about the timing of her accusations about governor chris christie's administration, a mayor said the funds after hurricane sandy were tied to her support of a project. we learn more from michael isikoff. >> chris christie woke up to new >> reporter: while huddling with big donors in florida, chris christie woke up this morning to do headlines, with claims about a democratic mayor of strong-arm tactics that cut her city off
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from funds to recover from hurricane sandy and democratic lawmakers are vowing to investigate. >> she's perhaps one of the first mayors to actually come forward and say, this specific thing happened. i think the committee needs to look at the facts, hear her story, look at the emails. >> reporter: mayor dawn zimmer says that unless she backed a development project, her city would lose funding for hurricane sandy. >> i will stake my life on it. i will go before anyone that asks me to come and testify and i take a lie detector test and i say to him and his administration, will you do the same? >> reporter: but zimmer faces new questions about her credibility and her timing. >> she also said she liked working with governor christie. so, i think you have to look at her current statement in light of her former statements before this became an orchestrated pile-on. >> reporter: even christie's 2013 democratic opponent,
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barbara buono, said, "good dawn zimmer came forward, but why did she wait until she smelled blood in the water?" zimmer sounded uncertain two weeks ago as to whether sandy funds were when would as political payback. >> with 20/20 hindsight, you can always look back and say, was it retribution? probably all mayors are reflecting right now and thinking about it. but, you know, i really hope that that's not the case. >> reporter: in interviews this weekend, zimmer says she didn't mention the sandy threat before because she feared nobody would believe her and she was still in the process of deciding to come forward. christie's camp called her claims categorically false. hoboken got $70 million for sandy recovery on par with other communities, and the $100 million zimmer requested was for future flood control, not sandy relief, and the amount was over one-third of all state resources
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for a city that is only two square miles. state lawmakers investigating the george washington traffic jam say they are empowered to investigate these new charges as well as any allegation of an abuse of government power. and that could allow new jersey democrats to go after christie for some time to come. lester? >> michael isikoff tonight. michael, thanks. overseas, we now know the identities of the three americans who died in that taliban attack on a restaurant in afghanistan. 21 people were killed in the bombing in kabul, including 13 foreigners. alexis camraman, university of afghanistan. the second, alexandros peterson taught political science at that university and the third, basra hassan, was a nutrition specialist for the united nations. and today, hundreds of afghans protested against violence and terrorism and they placed flowers outside that restaurant. as the bloody civil war in syria drags on, an international peace conference aimed at ending that conflict is finally set to begin this wednesday in switzerland with at least some of the rebel and opposition
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groups planning to attend, along with members of the syrian government. nbc's annabelle roberts has more on this tonight. >> reporter: in this destroyed suburb of damascus, these boxes of food may be the difference between life and death. this girl is savoring the taste of sugar and milk. people here are caught between the two sides of syria's bitter civil war and have been cut off from the rest of the city for months. the food boxes are a gesture, allowed through by the syrian government as the country's warring factions get ready to meet in switzerland later this week. some opposition groups have demanded president assad step down before talks take place. today, the interfax agency credited him saying, if we wanted to surrender, we would have surrendered from the start. this issue is not under
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discussion, though syrian state tv later described this quote as inaccurate. whatever he did or did not say, it's clear the gap between the sides preparing to meet is huge. >> both sides, including their backers in the region, iran and saudi arabia, do not believe they have to negotiate at this point and i don't expect that they will seriously until they have to. >> reporter: and so the fighting continues. one of the few real hopes for the upcoming talks, perhaps, cease fires to allow humanitarian aid to reach the vulnerable. this man was allowed out today. he needs medical treatment, embracing his daughter for the first time in nine months. but many thousands across this country remain trapped. annabelle roberts, nbc news, london. in this country, the centers for disease control report anyone six months and older who has not yet gotten a flu shot should get one now, with the flu now reported to be widespread in 40 states. we get the latest from nbc's kristen dahlgren. >> reporter: for jane turner, now in a connecticut hospital, the flu hit hard. >> i was very short of breath,
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productive cough and very tired. >> reporter: leaving her on oxygen and her family on edge. >> it was pretty scary. i was very concerned about her. >> reporter: near dallas, there are now so many cases of the flu, paramedics are being forced to wait to bring patients into the e.r. >> the flu this year is the worst it's been. i've been a paramedic for 15 years. this is the worst i've ever seen it in 15 years. >> reporter: the cdc is calling it an epidemic. widespread flu activity has now spread to 40 states. not unusual for january. but this year's h1n1 strain is infecting and killing younger patients, more than an average year. chris bascom was just 41 when he died on new year's eve. >> i never saw a man in my life like him. he was very special.
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>> reporter: in california, at least 45 people have died this year. health officials are investigating another 50. the cdc has now partnered with google to analyze flu trends before medical data comes in. searches for flu-related words are spiking, especially in these cities, places like dallas-ft. worth and sacramento, where flu activity is highest. according to cdc's statistics, less than half of americans usually get the vaccine. many still believe it will increase their likelihood of getting sick. >> i think getting the flu vaccination is exactly what you need to do, especially at this time, if you haven't gotten it already. >> reporter: a mistake friends of chris don't want anyone else to make. >> just get the flu shot, be prepared and don't end up like chris. if we can prevent this, we need to prevent this. >> reporter: a heartfelt plea from those who know just what this flu season is capable of. kristen dahlgren, nbc news, new york. when nightly news continues on this sunday, was a 14-year-old boy wrongly convicted of murder and executed 70 years ago? and later, "cool runnings." we spend some time with the
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jamaican bobsled team as they prepare for an olympic comeback.
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we're back now with a story for a demand for justice by some who believe a boy was wrongly convicted and executed 70 years ago in south carolina. at a hearing on tuesday, a judge will be asked to overturn the execution of george stinney, jr., the youngest american to be executed in the 20th century. here is nbc's mark potter. >> reporter: in the lumber mill town of south carolina, in the spring of 1944, the grisly murder of two little girls, 11-year-old betty june binnicker and 7-year-old mary emma thames, both white, shattered the community. their bludgeoned bodies were
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found in a watery ditch beneath a bicycle. >> when you moved the bicycle, their bodies came up. >> reporter: a few hours later, 14-year-old george stinney, jr. was taken into custody. he gave an oral confession, but advocates say there is no written record of that. his family was run out of town. and the south carolina governor wrote this letter, claiming stinney raped one of the girl's dead body, although the autopsy report made no claim of sexual assault. >> they wanted him to be looked upon by the white community and even some of the black community as a monster. >> reporter: advocates argue that stinney's trial in this courthouse was a travesty of justice. it lasted only about three hours. no physical evidence was presented. the defense put on no case and the all-white jury took just ten minutes to reach a guilty verdict. after stinney was sentenced to die, his court-appointed attorney never filed an appeal. wilford johnny hunter says he
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wilford johnny hunter says he stinney's cellmate and said that stinney never confessed. >> he said why would they want to kill me for something i didn't do? >> reporter: on june 16th, 1944, the 90-pound stinney, the one on the right, was executed in the electric chair. >> he didn't get due process. >> reporter: now, 70 years later, a south carolina law firm is trying to clear his name, claiming he was framed. >> i don't believe george stinney did it because of the evidence we have uncovered. >> reporter: that evidence includes statements from stinney's brother, charles, and his sister, that he was with family at the time of the murders. >> i saw the little girls in the casket. >> reporter: but among friends of murder victim benny june binnicker, some who knew them say he was a bully who threatened them. >> he said, well, if you don't get away from here and if you come back, i'm going to kill you. >> reporter: binnicker's nieces say they are convinced of his guilt. >> he committed the crime. he confessed to it.
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>> he was sentenced and he was put to death according to the laws in 1944. and i think they need to leave it alone. >> reporter: stinney is buried in an unmarked grave in this cemetery. on tuesday, a judge will be asked to revisit that past and decide if the guilty verdict still stands. mark potter, nbc news, south carolina. when we come back, the big party at the white house last night for michelle obama.
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at camp pendleton, california, this weekend, two u.s. marines were honored posthumously for their service and sacrifice in afghanistan. the families of captain matthew minuki and staff sergeant sky mote were awarded the navy cross. that's the navy's highest honor. they were killed in 2012 when an afghan police officer burst into their outpost and opened fire. president obama is making news tonight for his comments in "the new yorker" magazine about two hot-button issues in this
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country. the president, who enjoys pro football, was asked about following the sport, given recent reporting about concussions and retired players suffering from early dementia. the president said, quote, i would not let my son play pro football. but he added, "these guys know what they're doing. they know what they're buying into. it's no longer a secret." when asked about the renewed debate over marijuana after a couple states legalized it, the president said, "i don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol." but he added, "it's not something i encourage. and i've told my daughters it's a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy." a big birthday bash at the white house for michelle obama, who turned 50 on friday. the dance party featured performances by beyonce, seen here last night with the obama's
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dog, sonny. other guests included smokey robinson, samuel l. jackson, magic johnson, nbc's al roker, and billie jean king. the president's birthday speech was said to be the highlight of the evening. the party went on until 2:00 am. up next, they're back on the ice. the return of the jamaican bobsled team.
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finally tonight, the upcoming olympic games will feature a comeback for a team that seems to be everyone's favorite underdogs. they come from a place that's better known for sand and surf than snow and ice. but the jamaican bobsled team is now qualified to race in sochi. >> look at the turn. world record! >> it's home to some of the world's fastest men and women on two feet, but while jamaica has plenty of places to run, what it doesn't have is ice. which is what makes the story of the jamaican bobsled team as improbable as it is endearing. and now, after failing to qualify for the last two olympics, the jamaicans are heading back to the games. >> knowing for a fact we're still alive, the jamaican bobsled team is still alive. >> 47-year-old olympic veteran and captain, winston watts, who came out of retirement to lead this team, has, for months, pushed his squad uphill to qualify for sochi, with a group
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short on experience and sponsors. >> the thing is, we're one of the most famous teams in the world but the most poorest team ever. >> feel the rhythm. feel the ride. >> famous because of this movie. "cool runnings" was a loose account of the jamaican bobsled team's debut at the 1988 olympic teams in calgary, where they became the darling underdogs of the games. most of the team is too young to recall the calgary games, but they identify with "cool runnings." martin, do you remember the 1998 team? >> it was crazy. it is ice in a tropical country. >> they make their training headquarters in wyoming, not far from the olympic track in park city, utah. as they look forward to sochi, their hearts are back on the islands. how much joy would it bring jamaica to see a team carrying
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the flag into the stadium? >> it will be such an honor for me, plus the teammate that i'm with there, plus the president and also the whole entire country. >> and now, the jamaican bobsledders have proven to competitors and sponsors that they are no novelty act and are in it to win. >> we are no bunch of jokers. not because the movie came out. we are true athletes. we are serious contenders. >> though watts and brakeman, marvin dixon, have qualified to race in the two-man competition, he says in order to actually go to sochi, they still need to raise around $80,000 for travel and equipment expenses. and we have late word that american hurdler lolo jones found out late today that she will also be competing in bobsled events for team u.s.a. in sochi. and this reminder, coverage of the 2014 winter olympics begins in 18 days on the networks and platforms of nbc. that's "nbc nightly news" for this sunday. brian williams will be here tomorrow. i'm lester holt, reporting from new york.
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for all of us here at nbc news, good night. good evening and thanks for joining us. i'm diane dwyer. tonight police in one san jose neighborhood are calling for changes after a teenage girl was hit and killed by a light rail train right in front of her school. 14-year-old danika garcia was riding her bike to delmar high school friday morning when she was hit. nbc bay area's kimberly terry joins us from the crossing at southwest expressway with more on what neighbors say has to change there. kimberly? >> reporter: diane, you mentioned the proximity between the school and where the accident happened so we want to show you that distance. in fact, this is the field behind delmar high school, and as you can see it butts right up against the light rail tracks. currently there are