updated 11/27/2005 2:11:00 PM ET 2005-11-27T19:11:00

Guests: Wilton Dedge, Marc Simon, Herman Atkins, Jessica Sanders, Louis Freeh, Edward Dworsky, Harvey Levin

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, DNA evidence clears some wrongly convicted prisoners, even getting some off of death row.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  But what happens once they get out?  Is life actually easier behind bars?  A new film shows how tough freedom can be for them.  We talk to two men wrongfully imprisoned for years.

And my sit-down with the nation‘s former top cop Louis Freeh.  President Clinton hired him to run the FBI, but now he‘s got harsh words for his old boss.  We‘ll also talk about many of the issues facing the FBI today. 

And holiday shoppers beware.  You better like what you are buying this season.  Some major retailers now refusing to accept returned merchandise from certain customers, but is that really such a bad idea? 

The program about justice starts now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket, it‘s a fact sometimes innocent people are convicted.  For them, it is a long road to exoneration and then to regaining a life after years of wrongful imprisonment. 

A new documentary called “After Innocence” follows the lives of eight exonerated men freed with the help of The Innocence Project, a team of attorneys who used DNA evidence to get innocent people out of prison and sometimes off of death row. 

We‘ll talk to two of the people featured in the film in a moment, but first let‘s take a look back at their stories as portrayed in the film. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILTON DEDGE, WRONGFULLY IMPRISONED FOR 22 YEARS:  October 17, 1994,

Dear Mr. (INAUDIBLE), my name is Wilton Dedge and I am very interested in

the organization “The Innocence Project”.  I done know where else to turn.  I‘ve tried everything I could to prove my innocence when all this first started. 

When I found out that the police were looking for me, I turned myself in knowing that it was all a mistake and that it would be straightened out.  I could write a number of pages telling you how outlandish the case is, but I know that you are very busy, so I‘ll close for now.  I thank you in advance for your time and any help you can give, sincerely, Wilton Dedge.

I was locked up when I was 20 years old, just turned 20 years old and I‘m 42 now, so I‘ve been in a little over 22 years.  Convicted for rape and sentenced to two life sentences.  I really don‘t understand how I was even brought to court much less convicted. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  According to the description the girl gave, her assailant was over six foot tall, 180 to 200 pounds, long blond hair and receding hairline, which the only thing that matches him is long blond hair.  Anyone that‘s had children you‘ve got a gut feeling whether they‘re telling you the truth or telling you a lie, and whichever way it is, it usually comes out the way your gut feeling was.  And my gut feeling has always been that Wilton was telling me the truth about this.  There‘s just no way I believe he‘s guilty of what he‘s been accused of. 

HERMAN ATKINS, WRONGFULLY IMPRISONED FOR 12 YEARS:  My father was a highway patrol man.  He used to always tell us look, America has the best justice system.  He used to always tell us that.  What I got tried and found guilty, my whole faith, my whole belief was shattered about the justice system. 

ELMER CLARK, HERMAN ATKINS‘ FATHER:  Being trained as a law enforcement officer, there are certain things that you can‘t overlook.  And that‘s probably something that I‘m going to have to live with for the rest of my life because there was some doubt there.  I really did doubt him and it was just based on the training that I‘ve gotten over the years to go with the evidence.  And I should have gone with the love for the child rather than the evidence. 

ATKINS:  To have somebody in the family labeled as a rapist, not only are you frowned upon, but it became a serious issue where the matter was swept under the rug.

CLARK:  I did not visit him in prison.  I‘ve always felt that my job is to put people in jail, not to visit folks in jail and that‘s what I told him. 

ATKINS:  I‘m going to always be a step behind.  I shouldn‘t have to be a step behind. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Joining me now are two of the filmmakers of “After Innocence”, Jessica Sanders who wrote, directed and produced the film and producer and writer Marc Simon, who is also an attorney who worked with the Innocence Project.  I‘m also joined by Wilton Dedge.  He spent 22 years in prison in Florida for sexual battery, aggravated battery and burglary, crimes he did not commit.

He was the first Florida inmate to seek post conviction DNA testing, which proved he was innocent.  Still took him years to fight prosecutors who didn‘t want that evidence presented in court.  Next month Florida lawmakers may reconsider a plan to pay Wilton restitution for his time in prison.

And also with us is Herman Atkins, who was wrongfully imprisoned for over a decade for a rape and robbery he did not commit.  He recently graduated from college and is pursuing a graduate degree in psychology.

Thank you to all of you for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.  This is one of those very important issues and I congratulate the producers for tackling it. 

All right.  Wilton Dedge, let me start with you.  You are released from prison and you are told, OK, you‘ve now proven that you didn‘t do this and then what?  What happens in your life? 

DEDGE:  Oh basically, I just picked it up from scratch.  I had no help from any type of—or state organizations or anything.  I was basically just let go and told have a nice day. 

ABRAMS:  Were you still branded?  I mean you were cleared—you know and again, I think it is important to note we are not taking about cases here where you know we are talking about new trials based on legal technicalities.  We are talking about actual innocence here.  You are actually cleared of the time and yet did you still feel you were out in society being branded as a released criminal?

DEDGE:  Well actually my record hasn‘t been cleared yet.  I was exonerated of the charges but it‘s still on my record at this time. 

ABRAMS:  Why is that? 

DEDGE:  They—from what I understand I have to hire an attorney and go through the court systems to have it cleared.  It‘s not cleared automatically. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Simon, what is that about? 

MARC SIMON, “AFTER INNOCENCE” FILMMAKER:  That‘s about the system not being ready for this phenomenon, known as DNA exoneration.  You know 15 years ago, our criminal justice system wasn‘t prepared that people were going to be actually proven innocent.  So when someone like Wilton Dedge or another individual in our film like Vincent Moto is released, there‘s nothing in place to automatically expunge the record.  It‘s sort of like when someone has a bad day at the DMV, you know it‘s not so easy to get the relief that you seek...

ABRAMS:  But Marc, are the prosecutors still claiming that he was responsible and that‘s why they don‘t want to clear his record.

SIMON:  Absolutely not. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

SIMON:  It is just that the system is not prepared to go through the process of clearing his record, so he needs to hire an attorney to go through that process to get the record cleared...

ABRAMS:  And then it will...

SIMON:  ... very unfortunate.

ABRAMS:  It will be cleared then though, right?

SIMON:  Well I certainly hope so, but Vincent Moto, who is in our film, has been out for eight years and his record is still not cleared. 

ABRAMS:  Herman Atkins, same question to you about life—once you were released, are you—do you feel branded still? 

ATKINS:  No, it‘s not so much of feeling branded.  For me, it was more of me realizing that I was a step behind.  I would always be a step behind.  I—as far as I am concerned, you have individuals that have a 12-year head start on me.  I am still trying to cover ground. 

Having a thorough understanding of even the basic necessities of life or having basic necessities in life provided for me, as Marc stated, was never put in place, so I had to do these things for myself.  It was a hard task, but determination that I applied and surviving the outcome of being in prison is the same determination that I applied in life after exoneration.

ABRAMS:  Mr. Atkins, when you were in prison and you‘d be talking to fellow prisoners and I assume everyone in prison or not everyone, the vast majority of the people in prison claim that they didn‘t do it and they claim that they‘re innocent.  Did it frustrate you to be sitting there amongst everyone claiming I didn‘t do it, I didn‘t do it, and did you feel like everyone else‘s protestations of innocence might have been sort of obscuring your reality, which was that you were innocent?

ATKINS:  No, because see if I‘m in prison and I‘m telling everybody that I‘m innocent and what happened to me, as far as I was concerned, you know being framed and what have you, then it was—I could believe someone who other than myself saying hey I‘m an innocent man as well. 

ABRAMS:  See Marc Simon, this has always been my concern is that everyone claims that they are innocent.  And I think that the sort of cacophonous noise of everyone yelling I‘m innocent, I‘m innocent, I‘m innocent when the vast majority of them are guilty hurts so much people like Wilton Dedge and Herman Atkins.

SIMON:  We‘ll that‘s true, but I think one of the things that I learned, my education in making this film was learning from many of these exonerees.  I think Herman told me this, certainly other individuals in the film told me this.  That it‘s almost a myth that in prison everyone is claiming their innocence. 

In fact, there‘s only a small minority of individuals that after the years, after they have been in prison many years still claim that they are actually innocent.  Many people come to prison saying that, but after a time, the truly guilty start to admit their guilt.

ABRAMS:  That‘s a fair point.  It‘s an interesting point too...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Jessica...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Yes, go ahead, Jessica.  Go ahead. 

JESSICA SANDERS, “AFTER INNOCENCE” FILMMAKER:  I was just going to add to that because of the fact that most of these men if they actually do admit remorse, they go up parole, they can actually get off earlier and none of these innocent guys, whatever admit to crimes that they would do, so they would have no chance of ever getting out early.

ABRAMS:  Right.  Let me ask you in terms of picking and choosing your subject for this movie, what kind of process did you go through to make sure that you weren‘t going to be following people who you know let‘s say got a bad trial or there were mistakes made at trial, and instead, you were following people who were factually and actually innocent? 

SANDERS:  Well we worked closely with The Innocence Project and at the time there were 127 DNA exonerees and we wanted to get a diversity of people who had been, you know released and people like what they‘re facing once they are released and reasons for their convictions.  So all of the men, seven of them, were already proven significantly to be innocent through DNA. 

The most interesting character was finding Wilton, who was actually still in prison and Wilton at the time had fought for 15 years for a DNA test.  It had proven his innocence and it took them three years to get to the hearing that we filmed him where we thought he was coming home.  And it took prosecutors still fighting his release (INAUDIBLE) getting out.  So you know we worked with The Innocence Project really to find these men (INAUDIBLE) tell their stories...

ABRAMS:  And what struck you about sort of their post prison life?

SANDERS:  Well what really amazed me was how positive all the exonerees are that you know despite spending decades in prison.  I thought what Herman just eluded to was the fact that what kept him going through prison to persevere is actually the same qualities that helps him persevere on the outside. 

And I was just really struck by that, but they aren‘t angry and bitter in the way that you know you‘d really would expect.  And they‘re really positive and they also want to prevent what happened to them from happening to other people.  I know that Wilton right now is part of a whole campaign because Florida right now is trying to destroy all DNA evidence or all evidence in old cases. 

And that really should not be happening.  And you know Wilton is on a campaign to help prevent that and I know Herman, you know, knows other innocent people that he knows who are in prison, so they are all fighting for this.  And I think—believe that they survived this for a reason and that telling their story and being a part of this film can really help others. 

ABRAMS:  Herman—Mr. Atkins, how do you know?  I mean when you say that you know that there are people who are innocent who are in prison based on what? 

ATKINS:  Well based on you know evidence, based on circumstances surrounding the case.  Based on the person that you got a chance to know who he is and what have you.  Most importantly, based on the fact of that person‘s action, addressing the legal matters in prison with the court system to obtain his freedom. 

Somebody that has been wrongfully convicted or somebody that‘s incarcerated for something that they didn‘t do these are your fighters.  These are the ones that are always in the prison law library.  These are the ones that‘s always soliciting legal representation from legal defense teams. 

ABRAMS:  Marc Simon finally, do you—you agree with me, right, that it is important and it‘s essential to differentiate between those who are actually innocent as we are talking about here and some of those who The Innocence Project has helped to get released who it‘s not clear whether they are innocent or they‘re not innocent, but they simply didn‘t get a fair trial? 

SIMON:  Well I certainly think it‘s important to define those who are actually innocent from those who may not be.  But The Innocence Project, what‘s so special about this project and which what led to the film is these are cases where scientific evidence, DNA, proved without a doubt that these individuals, over 160 in the United States, are actually innocent. 

And it‘s society‘s obligation to help these people readjust in society.  And not only that, when we are proving these people innocent we are allowing ourselves to catch the real perpetrator...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SIMON:  ... to put that incriminating DNA back into the system and find out who really committed these crimes...

ABRAMS:  You know what?  If we get it wrong, we got to fess up.  We got to just say look, we got it wrong and we‘ve got to offer these people a chance because the bottom line is these aren‘t people who deserve to be behind bars. 

Jessica Sanders, Marc Simon, Herman Atkins and William—and Wilton Dedge, particularly to Wilton Dedge and Herman Atkins, good luck to both of you with your lives as you continue to take the next step.  Good luck.

SIMON:  Thank you very much.

DEDGE:  Thank you.

SANDERS:  Thank you.

ATKINS:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, I go one on one with the former FBI director, Louis Freeh.  President Clinton appointed him to his job.  He doesn‘t have so many nice things to say about his former boss now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Former FBI Director Louis Freeh in the hot seat after his book, “My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton and Fighting the War on Terror” came out.  Freeh details his years of investigating the Clinton White House, a White House he says cared more about politics than about law enforcement.

I sat down with Freeh to discuss the fallout from his controversial book and whether September 11 even could have been presented. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  In the book you pride yourself on never being accused of partisanship.  You were a director of the FBI, a judge, a former U.S.  attorney.  Are you concerned that the legacy of this book is going to be political?  That people are going to look back on it and say you know, he‘s a Republican and that‘s what the book is about. 

LOUIS FREEH, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR:  Well I hope not.  I think if you read the whole book it‘s pretty clear that that‘s not the case.  You know in terms of being a Republican, you know I was Independent for all the years I was in public service, 26 years.  I have supported Republican candidates since I left the government.

I‘ve supported Democratic governors and senators.  I‘ve held fundraisers for them.  So I think you know in terms of the facts, I‘m not concerned about that, but I think there is obviously a lot of attention, a lot of interest in a very small part of the book. 

ABRAMS:  But there is something particularly sort of vicious about saying, for example, I couldn‘t leave, I wouldn‘t leave because I didn‘t want to give President Clinton an opportunity to appoint someone else in my position because I so didn‘t trust him.

FREEH:  Well I wouldn‘t call that vicious.  I would call it responsible for the following reason.  As the director—and this was not my choice by the way—you know we were investigating a number of matters where the president of the United States was the subject of the investigations.  And then of course independent counsels and later the Congress itself was investigating the same president. 

I think it would have been very irresponsible for me to leave—you know this was a president who publicly attacked the sitting director of the FBI, which is quite extraordinary and I‘m sort of surprised that nobody has focused on that.  He didn‘t understand the process. 

He didn‘t respect the process.  That‘s what got him into difficulty with Judge Wright down in Arkansas.  It wasn‘t the FBI director personally trying to investigate and harm the president.  It was the FBI director together with the attorney general, by the way, and independent counsels fulfilling their statutory responsibility.

ABRAMS:  John Podesta wrote this and I know you‘ve read what he wrote. 

Under Mr. Freeh‘s leadership, the FBI stumbled from one blunder to the next with little or no accountability.  Freeh‘s claim moreover that no one including White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke told him that radical Islamic terrorism was a major threat is totally disingenuous.  There were countless memos circulating in the bureaucracy and numerous meetings that Freeh refused to attend.

They are basically saying, they being many of the Clinton administration officials that you‘ve been passing the buck.  That you‘ve been blaming the Clinton administration and that this is just your effort to try to get back at them.

FREEH:  Well that‘s not true.  Look, you know we‘ve heard from this very durable spin machine now for about two weeks.  Interestingly enough, we really haven‘t heard from the president.  You know if I did such a bad job as the president‘s spokespersons have said, he should have fired me.  You know why did he tolerate me as FBI director?

ABRAMS:  One of the things that you describe in your book having to do is go get a DNA sample in context of the Monica Lewinsky case and you sort of describe how uncomfortable that made you feel. 

FREEH:  It was horrible.  I mean it was embarrassing.  It was embarrassing for me.  I know it was embarrassing for Ken Starr.  I think it was embarrassing for the country.  It was embarrassing for those agents who had to go over to the White House and do that.  And it just you know brought to mind what a ridiculous situation the whole country had been put in by his conduct. 

ABRAMS:  Without the sort of finger pointing that has gone on a lot of levels with regard to 9/11, could 9/11, should 9/11 have been prevented? 

FREEH:  Well I don‘t think that it could have been prevented.  And again, I will rely there on the 9/11 Commission‘s conclusion.  No information that was known at the time, which if reasonably acted upon, could have prevented the hijackings on September 11.  That‘s what we would call tactical intelligence.

In other words, Mohamed Atta is getting on a plane in Boston at 4:00 this afternoon and he‘s going to fly it down to New York City after he hijacks it.  We didn‘t have that and I think that‘s the conclusion...

ABRAMS:  Were you convinced when you saw the planes hitting the Trade Center, that‘s bin Laden...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Did you say that‘s al Qaeda?

FREEH:  Yes, I did.  You know we should not have been surprised about al Qaeda taking the war to the United States.

ABRAMS:  The attorney general has asked that the FBI create a unit or enhance a unit to focus on adult porn.  Does that seem to you like a waste of precious resources right now?  We are not talking about child porn.  We‘re not talking about protecting children.  We‘re talking about you know smut.

FREEH:  Well I mean every political administration has priorities.  You know and I was FBI director and they passed the statute and they said I had to assign FBI agents to going after dead-beat dads.  I maybe didn‘t think that was the best use of our FBI resources.  We didn‘t have the kinds of resources that we should have had to be expending people you know in a matter that didn‘t have the priority obviously that terrorism and civil rights and public corruption had. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Since my interview, Freeh has continued to get some very good reviews and other tough criticism for his book particularly for its portrayal of President Clinton.  As one paper put it, the release of Freeh‘s book allowed the Clinton folk to—quote—“trot out their well worn scandal reflection playbook one more time.”

Coming up, if you‘re one of those people who likes to shop until you drop and then go back and return much of what you bought, beware.  Many stores are on to you and they may not let you keep on returning. 

And remember this guy before he turned into this guy?  Well we take a look back at what happened to Pee-Wee and some of the other infamous people who have had a run in with the law.  It‘s a legal where are they now.

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to help find missing sex offenders before they strike.  Our search today concludes in Iowa. 

The authorities would like your help finding Stephen Dodson.  He‘s 52, 5‘7”, 170, was convicted of sodomy and raping a boy under 13 and a male between the ages of 14 and 17.  He‘s yet to register properly with the state.

If you have got any information on his whereabouts, please call the Iowa Sex Offender Registry, 515-281-4976.

Be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It is one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year, but

before you head out to the mall, you better check your list twice because

returning your gifts may be a lot harder this year.  The details coming up

first the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  The three days after Thanksgiving some of the biggest shopping days of the year, but before you go out to the mall this weekend, you might want to carefully consider everything you buy because returning items could be a lot harder.  A lot of stores now starting to keep track of what you buy and what you return and some of them are starting to refuse a shopper‘s right to return.

Joining me now Edgar Dworsky from Consumerworld.org.  He‘s a consumer advocate and also an attorney.  Mr. Dworsky thanks for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

All right...

EDGAR DWORSKY, CONSUMER ADVOCATE:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  Look, here‘s my take on this, all right.  I don‘t know why this is such a controversial proposition.  If there are people out there who are purchasing enormous numbers of items and regularly returning them, I don‘t want to have to pay for them, me not being one of them.  Why should the rest of us have to pay for the expense of people who enjoy borrowing clothes from stores? 

DWORSKY:  Well we shouldn‘t have to pay, but the issue is it comes as a surprise to most shoppers.  Most states allow you to set any type of return policy you want if you‘re a retail store, but it has to be disclosed to the consumer up front before you plump down your money. 

If the policy said you can buy six items and return them no—you

know no more than six weeks period of time, fine.  Everybody knows the

rules.  But they are keeping it a secret.  The most they will say is we use

we want your I.D. when you come in to return something to the store.  So consumers are shocked when they are handed a little slip that says you can‘t return this.  How about some advanced warning?

ABRAMS:  All right.  So but you agree with me, do you not, that—I mean because I‘ve heard a lot of people complain, consumer advocates view returning as some sort of inherent right and that you know we—everyone should be able to purchase as many items as they want and return as many items as they want, but that is an expense, is it not, for each and every store. 

DWORSKY:  It‘s an expense and there are certainly the abusive consumers.  The woman who gets the fancy dress on Friday night or the guy who buys the camcorder and they‘re both going to a wedding over the weekend and Monday morning they try to return it. 

But there are other ways to stop that from happening.  You know J.C.  Penney‘s just came up with this clever way of putting a return tag on special occasion dresses. 

ABRAMS:  (INAUDIBLE)

DWORSKY:  Presumably it‘s in a very conspicuous spot...

(LAUGHTER)

DWORSKY:  It must be in that spot when you bring back the garment.  So no woman is going to wear something that says J.C. Penney...

ABRAMS:  Right.

DWORSKY:  ... return tag right on her dress. 

ABRAMS:  And you don‘t have a problem with that, right?  I mean you‘re not saying that you have a problem with stores trying to combat borrowers or serial returners, right? 

DWORSKY:  I think they should target the abusers, the shoplifters who come in steal stuff...

ABRAMS:  Right, but shoplifters is something else...

DWORSKY:  ... bring it back.  But this is...

ABRAMS:  Oh.

DWORSKY:  ... one of the reasons they are doing it. 

(CROSSTALK)

DWORSKY:  Shoplifters steal the stuff...

ABRAMS:  You‘re saying it is shoplifting...

DWORSKY:  ... and bring it back. 

ABRAMS:  You‘re saying it is shoplifting effectively to take—to buy it with the purpose of returning it two days later and wearing it? 

DWORSKY:  No, I‘m not saying it‘s shoplifting.  I‘m saying for real shoplifters who steal merchandise, bring it back to the store claiming it‘s a gift and trying to get a merchandise credit.  That‘s one of the reasons they are using the return exchange, this database of tracking people who bring back things without slips is to get at shoplifters as well as those abusive consumers who rent goods for the weekend. 

ABRAMS:  Here—this is—these are some of the statistics that we have.  Shoppers return an average of $200 million worth of merchandise a year.  The most commonly returned items are auto parts, women‘s apparel and electronics.  Department stores process the most returns.

Why do you think that auto parts—that‘s sort of an interesting one

to be one of the most commonly returned items? 

DWORSKY:  You know you really wonder if someone is trying to pull a switch-a-roo, taking a new spark plug, sticking it in the car, taking the old one out and putting it in the box and returning it.  One interesting way to go after it, Sears has just begun restocking fees, 15 percent restocking fee not just on electronics, but on home improvement goods...

(CROSSTALK)

DWORSKY:  ... auto parts. 

ABRAMS:  If you return, you have to pay a $15 -- 15 percent restocking fee. 

DWORSKY:  Right.  If the package has been opened or you‘ve not, you know, returned everything that you should...

ABRAMS:  And as a consumer advocate, what do you think of that? 

DWORSKY:  I personally don‘t like to shop at a store that has a restocking fee.  If I buy a digital camera, for example, and I find out it doesn‘t work, doesn‘t take pictures to my satisfaction, I want the ability to go back.  But if I paid $200 and will lose 30 bucks just because it didn‘t take great pictures, I‘m going to shop somewhere where there‘s no restocking fee. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Edward Dworsky thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

DWORSKY:  Thanks Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, how many times have you heard on this show someone say we should put sex offenders on an island and let them live there.  Well guess what?  It‘s happening in Washington State. 

And later from Kato Kaelin to Amy Fisher, a look back at people who had their brushes with legal infamy, what are they doing now?  Our pal Harvey Levin has got the answers coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, convicted sex offenders in Washington State are living on an island together, separated from the public.  A controversial approach to a growing problem, we‘ll take you to that island after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  When we report on horrifying crimes like the alleged kidnapping of 18-year-old Shasta Groene and murder of her 9-year-old brother Dylan by a released sex offender, many of you write in and ask why do states release violent sex offenders into the community.  Why not lock them all up together on an island? 

Well earlier this year we were surprised to find out that one state does just that.  Now living on an island off the coast of the Pacific Northwest might sound idyllic, but it‘s anything but. 

Here‘s the exclusive look we got at McNeil Island for sex offenders only. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  It is an environmental marvel nestled in the Puget Sound off of Washington State.  A wild life preserve reachable only by an occasional ferry, but think less Maui, more Alcatraz.  Two hundred and twenty-five of Washington‘s most violent sexual predators confined on this remote island after a jury deemed them too dangerous to be released. 

DR. HENRY RICHARDS, MCNEIL ISLAND SUPERINTENDENT:  Being on an island sounds like part of the magical solution to dealing with this severe category of offenders. 

DOUGLAS MELTON, MCNEIL ISLAND SECURITY SUPERVISOR:  We have 192 cameras within the facility that we can monitor at any given time, nine Pan/Tilt/Zoom cameras where we can actually panoramic, we can zoom in on things.

ABRAMS:  But the special commitment center on McNeil Island isn‘t a prison. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Really very important for us to keep in mind for all of our staff that people are not here for any form of punishment. 

ABRAMS:  They are called residents.  They have already served their prison time, sent here for treatment.  Superintendent Dr. Henry Richards says they allow the residents to make it feel as—quote—“homey as possible.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it‘s really very important for us to keep in mind, for all of our staff that people are not here for any form of punishment.  They are here for treatment and we try to make it as pleasant an environment as we can. 

ABRAMS:  But critics say it is just another round of punishment. 

Attorney Dennis Carroll represents more than 60 of the residents. 

DENNIS CARROLL, ATTORNEY FOR COMMITTED SEX OFFENDERS:  The reality is nobody leaves.  There are very, very few people who leave.  No one‘s graduated, been unconditionally released.

ABRAMS:  That makes it unique.  Fifteen other states allow for the confinement of violent sex offenders even after they are released from prison.  McNeil is the oldest and the only one on an island. 

CARROLL:  We‘re locking people up under this law, not because of what they did, not because we think they are definitely going to reoffend.  Because we think that they might reoffend.

ABRAMS:  Convicted pedophile Richard Scott has been at McNeil for two and a half years.

RICHARD SCOTT, MCNEIL ISLAND RESIDENT:  We have a whole bunch of guys that are actually incapable of chasing someone that committed a violent offense because they are bedridden or they‘re in a wheelchair.  We have a treatment program that 75 percent of the population are not in, so they‘re really just doing time here, again, for the same crime they already did time for.

ABRAMS:  The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that argument in 1997 ruling that states could keep dangerous sex offenders with mental abnormalities off the streets even after they served their sentences. 

RICHARDS:  The nature of the offense too have to be predatory, so they involve strangers or they involve relationships established solely for the purpose of sexual exploitation and most sex offenses don‘t occur necessarily under those situations.  So we‘re already talking about a really small group of people. 

ABRAMS:  In 2001 a federal jungle ordered the state to create a halfway house, an all file-in facility that would allow the lowest risk offenders an opportunity to blend back into society.  But even that institution, which opens next month in Seattle, is hard to distinguish from a prison. 

MARK DAVIS, SEX OFFENDER HALFWAY HOUSE MANAGER:  They are on a GPS system, in which acts essentially as a house arrest monitor when they‘re physically here.  If they were to leave the facility, it would notify us immediately.  But they‘re also contained within a—the grounds which are secured.  They are secured using you know magnetic locks on doors, strong doors, safety glass and secure fencing. 

ABRAMS:  (INAUDIBLE) who fought to help create the McNeil facility after her 29-year-old daughter, Diane, was raped and killed by a released sex offender, prison like conditions are exactly what they deserve. 

IDA BALLASIOTES, DAUGHTER MURDERED BY SEX OFFENDER:  I‘ve heard people say oh well let‘s get them treatment.  You know they‘ll never get their lives together if we don‘t.  Well I‘ll tell you they‘re not going to get their lives together.  It‘s just not going to happen.  People don‘t want sex offenders in their neighborhood.  It‘s just that simple. 

ABRAMS:  A seemingly simple thought with a seemingly simple but controversial solution. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Though Washington State still remains the only state confining sex offenders to their own island, more and more states are trying to find ways to keep sex offenders confined even after they‘ve served their prison sentences.  Just last week New York Governor George Pataki was told by a state judge that unless the state passes a law, he can‘t try to detain sex offenders after they have done their time. 

Pataki says he‘s not deterred and still plans to—quote—“do everything in my power as governor to keep these predators away from our children and away from society.”  Other states have passed those types of laws.

Coming up, Joey Buttafuoco, the man who dated a 16-year-old who shot his wife in the face, what the heck is he doing on the “Desperate Housewives” set?  Our legal look back at where are they now.

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to help find missing sex offenders before they strike again.  We finish in Iowa this week.

Searching for Larry Hanley, 48, 5‘9”, 160, convicted of molesting a boy under 13, hasn‘t registered with the authorities.  If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please call the Iowa Sex Offender Registry, 515-281-4976.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  You‘ve heard the phrase everyone‘s got their 15 minutes of fame.  How about their 15 minutes of infamy?  We ask where are they now?  Where are those people we have come to love and hate who were touched by the legal system? 

People we all felt we came to know in some bizarre way from Tonya Harding to Kato Kaelin to Pee-Wee Herman.  Harvey Levin is the managing editor for TMZ.com.  He‘s been keeping track of all of these legal celebrities so to speak and joins me now to take a look back at what they‘re all up to now.

Harv, good to see you. 

HARVEY LEVIN, MANAGING EDITOR, TMZ.COM:  Hey Dan.

ABRAMS:  All right, my favorite, I got to tell you, not as a person, but in terms of what he‘s doing now is Joey Buttafuoco.  This is the gay...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... who dated Amy Fisher.  She was 16, later shot his wife in the face, pleaded guilty to one count of statutory rape and served four months in jail.  He‘s back in the biz so to speak. 

LEVIN:  In a big way on “Desperate Housewives”, well kind of on “Desperate Housewives”.  He‘s actually selling ice cream in the craft services department on the lot where “Desperate Housewives” is shot.  And it‘s really kind of incredible.

I mean he‘s extended his 15 minutes by many years.  But Joey still has legal problems, Dan.  He has been charged with auto insurance fraud, illegal possession of ammunition.  And I have to tell you the funniest thing, two days ago my Web site, TMZ.com, we got Joey outside of court with his famed lawyer, Tony Brooklier and Tony actually held the microphone so Joey could answer questions after his court appearance and Joey said I can‘t answer because my lawyer told me not to and his lawyer was holding the microphone. 

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well (INAUDIBLE), you know you‘ve got to wonder like you can just see Teri Hatcher walking up and being like hey wait a second, you...

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  Wait a second.  How do I know you? 

All right.  Amy Fisher, his little 16-year-old girlfriend who shot his then wife, convicted of the non—a non fatal shooting of Mary Jo Buttafuoco, served seven years in prison for attempted murder.  She‘s really tried to turn her life around (INAUDIBLE). 

LEVIN:  Hey, she‘s in the biz right now, Dan, although your biz more really.  She is writing news articles.  She actually won a media award from the Society of Professional Journalists last year. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

LEVIN:  And you know she is writing an autobiography.  She‘s kind of back in the news writing the news. 

ABRAMS:  And well she‘s also been accused by—there was a “Chicago Tribune” I think reporter, saying who accused her of plagiarism, but you know...

LEVIN:  In the article that she currently writes.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Brian Kato Kaelin, O.J.‘s houseguest, the most famous -

arguably the most famous witness in the Simpson case.  What is he doing? 

LEVIN:  Well he is now kind of in my business now because one of the things I do is “The People‘s Court.”  Kato is a competitor right now because he is now hosting a show called “An Eye for an Eye”, which is called a cross between “Judge Judy” and “Jerry Springer”.  I‘ve actually seen one of these things and it‘s unbelievable.  But is—you know Kato has always wanted to be in television and he is. 

ABRAMS:  Kato is a nice guy I got to tell you. Al...

LEVIN:  He is a nice guy.

ABRAMS:  Al Cowlings, O.J.‘s teammate on the Buffalo Bills who led police on a low-speed chase.  What‘s he doing?

LEVIN:  Well Al Cowlings is still friends with O.J. Simpson from what we‘re hearing.  He‘s helping him with autograph signings, but the funny story with Al Cowlings that I heard a few years back was that when the Monica Lewinsky scandal hit, one of Monica‘s parents was actually moving from Brentwood, California to another area of Los Angeles and the moving van shown up—showed up, and what I was told was the mover who took the sofa out was Al Cowlings.

ABRAMS:  No way.

LEVIN:  How crazy is that? 

(CROSSTALK)

LEVIN:  That‘s what I heard. 

ABRAMS:  Really? 

LEVIN:  (INAUDIBLE)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Pee-Wee...

LEVIN:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  Pee-Wee, you know he was in Pee-Wee‘s Playhouse (INAUDIBLE) forget how he used to do that whatever—you know arrested for allegedly masturbating in an adult theater. 

LEVIN:  Well he actually had some more recent legal troubles about a

year and a half, two years ago in Los Angeles where there was a raid on his

where they seized some questionable pictures.  There‘s really an issue on whether this was pornography or not.  There were pictures of under aged kids. 

He said they were vintage pictures.  He ended up pleading guilty to obscenity, but he‘s still back in the game.  They are doing a new Pee-Wee movie.  And he is also the voice on an animated TV show called “Hopeless Pictures”, so Pee-Wee is still in the business. 

ABRAMS:  All right and we‘re out of time.  I should say you know we teased Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. 

LEVIN:  Tonya is a mess.  Nancy isn‘t. 

ABRAMS:  Yes...

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  I guess that‘s the best way to summarize it.  All right, we‘ll leave it at that.

Harvey Levin...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... thanks.  Good to see you. 

LEVIN:  Good to see you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, this Thanksgiving weekend I want to give thanks to the men and woman serving our nation whether you like the war or not.  It‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  This Thanksgiving marks the third that America celebrates with our troops overseas in Iraq.  It seems these days, Iraq has become such a political football that we can‘t even truly appreciate our troops or remember those who died without being accused of politics.  Enough is enough. 

I get a lot of e-mails from viewers asking you know cover what‘s happening to our troops more.  It‘s a fair request.  I think about the troops each and every day.  Unfortunately, more so on those days that bad news trickles out of Iraq.  Whether it‘s news that one soldier has been killed in a traffic accident or that nine have been killed by a roadside bomb. 

I think the troops, both those who died and those still fighting, deserve more coverage.  The problem the media is accused of politicizing the war either way.  We focus on those who died from one side and accused of the same thing from the other side when we report on the success and heroism of those doing the hard work as well.

The circle of political slander needs to stop.  Two years ago, “Nightline” read the names of those who had died aloud on the air.  They were excoriated.  The White House has continued to prevent us from having access to photos of flag covered coffins of service members killed in Iraq, arriving back in the U.S.  The Pentagon even issued a directive stating that there would be no news coverage of—quote—“deceased military personnel” returning to or departing from air bases. 

That does make it hard to remember.  But on this Thanksgiving weekend, I‘m going to do it anyway.  First let me say thanks on this Thanksgiving weekend to those who are abroad away from their families doing the nation‘s work.  I know some of you watch the program.  I appreciate it.  We appreciate it. 

And then we want to remember at least a few of those who have passed away in recent months in no particular order without regard to rank or branch of service.  Again, thank you. 

(MUSIC)

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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