updated 12/29/2005 10:21:58 AM ET 2005-12-29T15:21:58

Guest: Steve Cooper, McGregor Scott, Juan Quinton, William Fallon, Jonna

Spilbor, Mickey Sherman, Chandra Thomas, Juannessa Bennett, B.J. Bernstein,

Patricia Santangelo

LISA DANIELS, GUEST HOST:   Coming up, dozens of people accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Red Cross. 


DANIELS (voice-over):  The money was supposed to go to Hurricane Katrina victims.  Instead, prosecutors say it ended up in the pockets of people working at a Red Cross call center. 

And a mother charged with illegally downloading music says she doesn't even know how to download.  Now she's fighting back, taking on the recording industry in court without a lawyer.  We talk to her. 

Plus, the big legal stories of 2005 from Saddam Hussein and Terri Schiavo to Michael Jackson and the runaway bride.  We look back with our legal team.

The program about justice starts right now.  


DANIELS:  Hi, everyone.  I'm Lisa Daniels.  Dan is off tonight. 

First up on the docket, the red flags are flying high above the American Red Cross where almost 50 people have been indicted in a fraud scheme that swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  How did it happen? 

Well an unusually large number of evacuees applied for aid 2,000 miles away in Bakersfield, California but they weren't evacuees.  They were actually the people manning the Bakersfield call center hired to help speed along the money distribution process.  And once word got out at the call center that the computer system security could be bypassed employees allegedly began taking advantage of the loophole, setting up false accounts and siphoning the funds to themselves, picking up the cash at a nearby Western Union. 

Prosecutors now investigating the other call centers involved in distributing the $1.4 billion of relief money to Hurricane Katrina's victims.  Of course news of the scandal has left many wondering if the checks that they wrote out in the wake of Hurricane Katrina went to somebody needy or instead to somebody greedy. 

And joining me now McGregor Scott, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California who's actually filing the charges and American Red Cross senior vice president and chief information officer Steve Cooper.  A big thanks to both of you for being here. 



DANIELS:  Steve, let me ask you, how did you find out it happened? 

STEVE COOPER, AMERICAN RED CROSS SENIOR V.P.:  Well when we first set up the financial assistance call center in Bakersfield we built some checks and balances into the system specifically because we understood that there might be unfortunately some attempts at fraud.  And when we began to see suspicious activity, we reached out and notified the FBI, pulled them in immediately and they then guided us in further investigation. 

DANIELS:  McGregor, give us a brief outline of how the scheme actually worked. 

MCGREGOR SCOTT, U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well the way the process was supposed to work is that if you were a legitimate Katrina victim, you could call in to the call center in Bakersfield, you would be asked some identifying questions such as a street address, zip code, that kind of thing to help determine whether or not you were a legitimate Katrina victim. 

If you met the threshold on that information, you would be provided with a pin number by the center—the call center worker.  You then would gone to the local Western Union store where when you presented the pin number the Red Cross would wire the money to you based on the amount that you were entitled to.

That's how the system was supposed to work.  What happened here, unfortunately, is that a number of workers at the call center figured out that they could cheat the system.  And what they did instead was call friends and relatives who had no connection whatsoever to Katrina, provide them with these pin numbers.  These friends and relatives would then go down to the local Western Union and present the pin number and fraudulently collect the money. 

DANIELS:  So has Western Union cooperated?  I suspect that maybe they saw some of the same faces showing up time and time again. 

SCOTT:  Western Union has been very cooperative in this investigation.  In fact, they sort of figured out something was going on shortly after the FBI got on the ground and began snooping around a little bit independent of any official action.  So like the Red Cross, the Western Union has been fully cooperative and very instrumental in the course of this investigation. 

DANIELS:  Steve, I think the most important message, of course, is telling people who did donate money that their money is being used for legitimate purposes.  Get across that message and say again the appeal for the Red Cross and why that money is so necessary. 

COOPER:  OK, you're absolutely correct.  We take very, very seriously the trust placed in the American Red Cross when the American public donates money to our cause and for the victims of any disaster, be it natural or man-made.  We treat every single dollar as a very important dollar.  And we will work with law enforcement officials and with the Katrina task force, with Mr. Scott to aggressively prosecute and basically obtain court-ordered restitution of any funds that have been fraudulently obtained. 

DANIELS:  And are you worried that this might be happening at other call centers? 

COOPER:  Well we are working with law enforcement officials and with the appropriate court officials and we are taking a look at data related to every case of assistance provided by the American Red Cross.  And if that does indeed that other fraud has taken place, we will vigorously work with the appropriate law enforcement officials and court officials to prosecute. 

DANIELS:  And again I just want to emphasize it was the Red Cross that actually made the discovery of the fraud.  Is that correct? 

COOPER:  Yes ma'am, it is correct. 

DANIELS:  McGregor, let me ask you, 49 indictments so far.  How many more, if any, are you expecting? 

SCOTT:  I cannot give you a precise number but what I can tell you is that in the coming weeks we anticipate we will be indicting several more people, perhaps as large as doubling the number that we presently have. 

DANIELS:  McGregor Scott and Steve Cooper, a big thank you to both of you for coming on the show.  Glad you caught the alleged fraud.  Hopefully you guys can move on from there for the Red Cross. 

COOPER:  Thank you very much.

SCOTT:  Thank you. 

DANIELS:  And more now on that police incident in New Orleans all caught on videotape earlier this week.  You'll remember this video caught more than a dozen police officers circling a man who was waving a knife wildly and threatening them.  Police tried to get him to stop.  They even tried pepper spray, but he wouldn't put down the knife.

Eventually they shot him and killed him.  And many are now questioning whether they needed to use such deadly force.  The New Orleans Police Department is now speaking out about that incident.  And I'm joined now by Captain Juan Quinton, commander of the Public Affairs Division for the New Orleans P.D.  Thanks so much for being here Captain.

CPT. JUAN QUINTON, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPT.:  Thank you for inviting me. 

DANIELS:  Look, I don't have to tell you that people are questioning what the police did here.  Was there any other way to subdue this man? 

QUINTON:  This was a very difficult and unfortunate situation.  The subject in this matter, Mr. Hayes, he had entered a local drugstore, he had attempted to make a purchase when his card failed.  The manager stepped over, began to discuss it with him and Mr. Hayes struck him in the face.  He left the store. 

An off duty police officer from another jurisdiction witnessed what had had taken place and flagged down a New Orleans police car.  The officers immediately approached Mr. Hayes.  And as quickly as they approached he became argumentative and eventually drew his knife.  He had actually balled up his fist at one point and was prepared to fight, but then he drew his weapon, his knife.

And we're not talking a small knife.  We're dealing with a large, three-inch blade hunting type knife.  The officers continued to speak to him while they called for assistance.  That assistance came very quickly.  Bear in mind that what you are looking at on that videotape, this whole incident lasted less than four minutes. 

And in that less than four-minute period, they began walking with him, trying to calm him down, trying to address this and other officers arrived.  And as you pointed out, other officers did arrive and there were a large number.  But take note, they were forming a perimeter around Mr. Hayes...


QUINTON:  ... gathering around him at first in a crescent...


QUINTON:  ... and they were doing this to protect other customers. 

DANIELS:  And I understand there is a background here and I understand that it's police policy...


DANIELS:  ... to shoot and kill.  But looking at it, the 16 or so police officers here, is the policy so rigid that there is no room for flexibility? 

QUINTON:  I don't think this was a matter of a policy issue.  You can't

write a policy on life and death matters.  You have to address each

individual case on a case-by-case basis.  That number of officers were

there to protect other individuals that might have been captured, hostage -

·         taken hostage by Mr. Hayes had he fled, had he run off.  They were very careful to keep him constantly in—I guess you could say in a closed area. 

The decision was made to try and calm him down.  Pepper spray was used, only for him to draw a cloth and wipe his face, from what I understand, continuing he brandished that weapon.  But the officers continued to try and speak to him, always talking to him and again, three minutes time, the officer that first approached him and got the closest at the time of the shooting was within seven feet of Mr. Hayes.  Mr. Hayes raised his arm and at that time three other officers fired in defense of their brother officer. 

DANIELS:  But...

QUINTON:  There wasn't much option here.

DANIELS:  You—I hope you respect that I'm asking you some tough questions here but...

QUINTON:  I understand.

DANIELS:  ... there are reports that the man was schizophrenic.  Are your officers trained to deal with mental illness? 

QUINTON:  Our officers have training in the academy and they are constantly receiving new training, but in three minutes time we don't have the opportunity to learn his medical history.  We learned that only because another agency reported it. 

We don't have any official acknowledgment of his mental condition.  But the officers were dealing with a rapidly moving and a rapidly changing situation and I think they dealt with it very well. 

DANIELS:  And I know it is easy to go back and pick apart a video like that.  I know that your officers do not carry Taser guns.  They don't have stun guns.  Should they? 

QUINTON:  This is a matter that's being reviewed not from a department level but I could say on a national level.  The international chiefs of police are reviewing a number of studies on the use of Tasers.  There have been quite a few people across the country that have died following the use of Tasers, not to say that the Taser was the cause of the actual death. 

Maybe it was their health.  Maybe it was prescription medication they were taking.  There are any number of complications that could have led to their death, but until we are certain and feel comfortable with the use of Tasers we're not going to issue them to our officers. 

DANIELS:  So bottom line, you think your officers did the right thing here? 

QUINTON:  The officers used the resources available in an ever-changing situation and I'm glad that no officer was killed or seriously injured.  I believe that if an officer had been stabbed in this situation we would be looking at it completely different. 

DANIELS:  Yes.  Captain Juan Quinton, thanks so much for coming on the show.  Really appreciate it. 

QUINTON:  Thank you very much for inviting me again. 

DANIELS:  Coming up, from Saddam Hussein to Terri Schiavo, we're going to take a look back at this year's big legal stories with some of our favorite lawyers and don't worry that many of our more memorable moments didn't look quite so serious to us watching from the outside.

And a 17-year-old high school student is sentenced to 10 years in prison and labeled a child molester for having oral sex with a 15-year-old.  Question is was justice served? 

And your e-mails send them to abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Remember to include your name and where you're writing from.  We'll respond at the end of the show. 


DANIELS:  And we're back with a look at some of the headlines grabbing legal stories that went through the courts this year.  We did see a number of cases resolved, but it isn't always what happened inside the courtroom that grabbed our attention.

Take the Michael Jackson trial.  His frequent hospital visits and late arrivals kept all of us on our toes.  The most memorable moment for many being the day Jackson showed up in his pajamas, remember that one, after the judge threatened to revoke his bail and re-arrest him because he was so often late for court.  Jackson of course cleared of all criminal charges as so was former “Baretta” star Robert Blake.  After being acquitted of his wife's murder, Blake told us about his plans for the future. 


ROBERT BLAKE, ACQUITTED OF WIFE'S MURDER:  I'm going to go out and do a little cowboying.  Do you know what that is?  No, you don't know what that is.


BLAKE:  Cowboying is when you get in a motor home or a van or something like that and you just let the air blow in your hair and you wind up in some little bar in Arizona someplace.  And you shoot one-handed nine ball with some 90-year-old Portuguese woman that beats the hell out of you and the next day you wind up in a park someplace playing chess with somebody and you go see a high school play where they're doing “West Side Story” and you just roam around and get some revitalization that there are human beings in the world, that there are people living their lives that have no agenda. 



DANIELS:  Little did he know that a civil jury would find him liable for his wife's murder and order him to pay 30 million bucks.  Here's a sampling of Blake's antics that jurors saw in a videotaped deposition played during that trial.


BLAKE:  Don't get cute with me.  Now I'm not going to tell you again. 

Now let's stick with the facts. 


BLAKE:  It's not three hours between each question.  You just heard me say that.  I don't care if you made a mistake.  I'm not allowed to make mistakes and neither is he.  Did you hear that? 


BLAKE:  OK.  Thank you.  I beg your pardon.  Are you unhappy about something?  That's a filthy stinking lie.  What is it based on?  Nothing but your own personal nonsense. 


DANIELS:  OK.  Another one who ended up paying who could forget of course the runaway bride?  Jennifer Wilbanks disappeared just days before her wedding.  Days later she called her fiance, telling him she'd been kidnapped and then she called 911. 


911 DISPATCHER:   What happened? 

JENNIFER WILBANKS, RUNAWAY BRIDE:  I was kidnapped from Atlanta, Georgia.  I don't know—my fiance has been on the news.  I just don't know.  I just need them to fly here and get me.

911 DISPATCHER:  And the person that did this to you, was it a he or a she?

WILBANKS:  It was a Hispanic man and a Caucasian woman.  It happened in Duluth.


DANIELS:  Well it had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein.  But Wilbanks did plea no contest to felony charges.  As part of her sentence she was ordered to pay restitution and to do community service.  Remember this shot, her mowing lawns and cleaning toilets in government buildings.

Well we also watched this year as Scott Peterson was sent to death row for murdering his wife Laci and unborn child Conner back in December of 2002 and listened to the chilling confession of Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer whose identity remained a mystery for more than three decades. 

We also witnessed history unfold as Iraqi's former dictator was put on trial for crimes against humanity and we watched as a family feuded over the life of Terri Schiavo as it made its way through the court system and dominated the headlines. 

And so joining me right now former prosecutor Bill Fallon and criminal defense attorneys Jonna Spilbor and Mickey Sherman.  Thanks so much for being here. 



DANIELS:  You know there's so many cases that had a significant legal impact this year, so how about we go one by one with all of you.  Bill, which case would you say got lawyers talking the most? 

WILLIAM FALLON, FORMER ESSEX COUNTY MA PROSECUTOR:  Probably “jama” Jackson.  Because I mean anybody knows that you want to shoot your client if they show up in any kind of pajama or outrageousness.  And I think that that—not that the case deserved the most, but that got people saying, can you believe it?  What do you do with a client like that? 

DANIELS:  It doesn't happen often, right?


FALLON:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Absolutely not. 

DANIELS:  You never had a client that showed up...

FALLON:  Always take clothes with you, Lisa. 

DANIELS:  Always take clothes with you.  Great advice from Bill Fallon.  Jonna, what do you think?  What was the case that got people talking, especially lawyers the most? 

JONNA SPILBOR, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  I think it was the Terri Schiavo case.  Because that was a case that was legally sound but morally how  heart wrenching was that when you put husband against parent and the life of a person stands in the balance and that was really heart wrenching for me..  I don't know how her husband was able to literally pull the plug when the people who gave birth to her were pleading with him not to.  He did.  He was legally entitled to and that still has people talking.

DANIELS:  Yes, I was on the ground for that one.  I was down in Tampa and it really was grueling.  I think both sides had a tough time on that one. 

Mickey, what do you think?

MICKEY SHERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well first of all, on Jackson, I gave it my own award as the most pissed off D.A. who thought he had a slam-dunk. 


SHERMAN:  Tom Sneddon and talking about Peterson, the award that I gave Peterson, which is relevant to nothing you're asking, by the way, Lisa, is most books generated by peripheral characters who—peripheral characters who made a ton of money on the big case and that's in the Scott Peterson case, from an ex-lawyer to the sister, the brother, of course Amber, just phenomenal. 

But Terri Schiavo, if I can just throw something legitimate in there, to me that's a case that showed that we don't really need to be involved in every life situation.  I don't think that that should have been in the courts and certainly not in politics. 

DANIELS:  You know we should call it the Sherman Awards.  Those are actually very interesting. 

SHERMAN:  I have more.  Don't worry...

DANIELS:  Oh you have more?  OK, good.  Bill, what about some of the more lighthearted moments?  Is there any moment that stands out for you besides the P.J.'s?

FALLON:  You know I think actually just any time Michael Jackson appears or whoever that person is portraying to be Michael Jackson.  I mean just for one minute I think that the Schiavo case, as we said, I don't think that that got lawyers talking.  I actually think that got people talking and I disagree with Mickey on this. 

I think more of these cases will be in courts.  We really have to decide who has what rights, who is the person who is the enforcer of those.  And it's going to have an impact on children pulling the plug.  It's done every day, but I don't really think as a country we have come to grips with what is life, when should it end and who decides. 

The fun moments, really the runaway bride, she looked—remember that picture of her bugeyeness (ph)?  I mean she looked like the goober of the year.  I mean it was just the funniest, oddest thing and how that ever captured our imagination I really never know.  It was a slow news day...

SHERMAN:  By the way, the Sherman award is the most attractive smarter (ph) worn by a perpetrator during a walk. 

DANIELS:  Is that it...

SHERMAN:  Yes...

DANIELS:  ... or is it Martha Stewart?


SHERMAN:  ... legitimate smarter (ph) by the...

DANIELS:  Oh, OK.  Jonna, what do you think?  Should Jennifer Wilbanks have been prosecuted? 

SPILBOR:   Absolutely not.  This was just a really sad case.  Prosecutors didn't need to waste their time, money and resources prosecuting this poor girl who just got cold feet.  There wasn't a lot of money spent by the government looking for her when she called 911 and we didn't need to hear about it over and over again for months either.  So no, that one was for the civil court or no court at all.

DANIELS:  Mickey, let me ask you this one.  The BTK Killer killed 10 people, he's a serial killer but he's not getting the death penalty.  Fair?  Unfair? 

SHERMAN:  Well you know sometimes those decisions are made on economics, which is amazing.  I think the Green River killer was that situation.  They just—the communities don't want to spend the money on the litigation to fight the death penalty.  And also there's the hopes that he'll tell who the—other people who were murdered and give some families some closure. 

And I got to tell you, that BTK elocution was by far the scariest moment on television, fact or fiction.  When that guy stood up there and so matter of factly, like a vacuum cleaner salesman, rattled off the details of his evil deeds, I mean your bones rattled. 

DANIELS:  It really did...


DANIELS:  ... and he went over all these details saying oh no, you actually got this detail wrong, police officers.  It really was an eye-opening moment.  Bill, what do you think of that whole case? 

FALLON:  Well Lisa, actually I think one of the themselves is when you have serial killers like this who seem to enjoy the limelight, if there is one time that I might think we shouldn't be covering those cases it is for the serial killer who says this is way too much fun, as he might say, and he is still capturing us and captivating us.  And I think that becomes the difficulty because in a sense he still is the star of the show and not the victim. 

SHERMAN:  It was his finest moment.

FALLON:  For that reason I have concerns.


FALLON:  Absolutely.

SHERMAN:  It was his finest moment and we all fed into it and we couldn't help but do it.  It was really sickening.

FALLON:  No, you have to but it is the balancing that you really want to be careful of.  Are we really aiding him to be more of the star than the victimization, which is the tragedy.

DANIELS:  And what about Blake, Jonna?  What do you think of both the criminal trial and then the civil trial afterwards? 


DANIELS:  Any last 2005 thoughts on that? 

SPILBOR:   I think the verdict was correct in the criminal trial and I can't believe one of my fellow lawyers even brought a civil case and then got lucky enough to win a $30-million judgment that they will never see a dime of.  But it goes to show that you can aggravate a jury enough to award what you're asking for.  And I think the civil case was a joke. 


SHERMAN:  Can I say something about the...

DANIELS:  Yes, go ahead.  Go ahead.

SHERMAN:  The criminal case was really, in reality, aside from the fact that Blake is kind of a cartoon character, but the civil case is one of the most legally significant issues involved because we had a window into the jury's thought process in the CSI generation.  When that jury came out, the foreperson of the jury stood up and said we couldn't put the gun in his hand, there was no GSR.  He was like reading from the script of “CSI Miami”. 


SHERMAN:  It's telling us what jurors want to hear from now on. 

DANIELS:  And do you think that's part...

FALLON:  But they came back really quickly...

DANIELS:  They...

FALLON:  They came back really quickly on the civil case, which is really amazing.  And as Jonna said, it's kind of surprising, but guess what, the jury said he's responsible.  And they thought that this victim was victimized. 

SPILBOR:   Yes, we still don't know who actually pulled the trigger and we never will. 

DANIELS:  You know you guys...

FALLON:  But he's responsible. 

DANIELS:  You guys mentioned the fact that the BTK killer had a forum to talk to the United States audience about what he did, how the police got it wrong, how his mind worked.  Of course, Saddam Hussein is doing that in a very different arena.  Do you see a difference between the BTK killer having his day on national TV and Saddam having his day in the national limelight? 

SHERMAN:  We don't care. 


SHERMAN:  We don't care about Saddam Hussein. 

FALLON:  Lisa...


FALLON:  I would shut him up. 

DANIELS:  Let's start with Mickey.  Go ahead.

SHERMAN:  We don't care about Saddam Hussein's trial.  We should and it's certainly legally significant but it's just too big, it's too encompassing.  It's like the holocaust.  There's too many people who died.  It's easier to deal with the BTK killer.  It's much more romantic.  You know it's just we—to our discredit, our being the American public, we don't seem to give a damn about the Saddam Hussein trial.

DANIELS:  Bill, you agree?

FALLON:  Lisa, I think the real problem is, is that whether we say we as the American public, it's not sexy like Michael Jackson's case or these other stories, but internationally it's very important and I think the judge has to start taking control. 

As Arlen Specter said, it seems as though we're letting—unlike the

BTK  killer who's doing his little closing and it really doesn't matter

much other than to those people.  This has a huge impact nationally that we

·         internationally that we can have someone like Saddam Hussein, have his forum and everyday seem to bash the United States, take control, the new Iraqi government. 

I think that judge should say put up, shut up.  Sit down.  And at least when he's going after him, there's no jury there.  Say we're not going to let you in charge.  You are the person on trial.  Because I don't like how this becomes fodder for the people who are for his kind of murderous ways. 


FALLON:  And I think we have to take a little control.

DANIELS:  Let's leave it there.  Bill Fallon, Jonna Spilbor, Mike—

Mickey Sherman, thanks so much.  Love the Sherman awards.  Might do that next year. 

SPILBOR:   Thanks. 

DANIELS:  Thanks so much guys.

Coming up, a 17-year-old high school student says he thought he was engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl.  She didn't want to press charges against him, but now he is serving 10 years, 10 years in prison because of that. 

And a mom who says she can barely figure out how to check her e-mail fighting back after the recording industry takes her to court for downloading music.  She's even representing herself in court. 

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike again.  This week we're helping Kentucky.

Authorities are looking for this guy.  Mark Bedwell, 44 years old, six-foot-two, 165 pounds.  He's convicted of fondling and lewd and lascivious acts against a child younger than 14.  He has not reported his current address to authorities. 

Look at his face.  If you've got some info on his whereabouts, there's the number, 502-227-8781.

We'll be right back.

DANIELS:  Coming up a high school senior sentenced to 10 years in prison for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl, even though she doesn't want to press charges against him.  His lawyer and mother join us next, but first the headlines.


DANIELS:  We have covered a number of stories on this program about convicted child molesters and the laws put in place to keep them in prison and keep a record of their whereabouts once they leave.  But a law in Georgia seems to complicate efforts like Jessica's Law in Florida and elsewhere.  It leaves no room to make a distinction between policing sex between an adult and a child and sex between two teens. 

Last February 17-year-old Genarlow Wilson was convicted of having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a party, the incident all caught on videotape.  Wilson was sentenced to the mandatory sentence in Georgia of 10 years because a 15-year-old is classified as a child there, even though the person who involved in the sexual act in this case only two years her senior. 

Now, the fact that oral sex was involved in the encounter actually made the sentence worse than if the two teens had just had intercourse.  And you may remember the Marcus Dixon case.  It questioned the same Georgia law when 18-year-old Dixon was convicted of a felony for sex with a fellow student who was 15.  He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but his conviction was overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court last year. 

Now we're going to talk to Genarlow Wilson's mom and their attorney in just a moment.  But first, Chandra Thomas, staff writer at “Atlanta” magazine researched the case and others like it in Georgia for an article in the January issue of the magazine and she joins us now. 

It's such an interesting article.  Can you give us a brief outline of the case?  I know that's hard to do in a short amount of time, but give us a brief outline if you could. 

CHANDRA THOMAS, “ATLANTA” MAGAZINE STAFF WRITER:  Essentially, as you mentioned earlier it was a New Year's Eve party, a group of young people getting together, having a party at a hotel.  There was some drinking.  There was some marijuana and some sexual activity took place.  There was a 17-year-old who engaged in intercourse with at least five of the young men at the party. 

And then there was a 15-year-old who we must note had no alcohol, had no drugs and voluntarily performed oral sex on five of the young men there.  And later the 17-year-old came back and said that she felt that she had been raped.  The 15-year-old was on videotape performing the sex acts and because of the Georgia law that you mentioned, the young men were charged with many charges, but they were in particular charged with aggravated child molestation, which is a felony and has a mandatory 10-year sentence in Georgia. 

DANIELS:  So how does a 17-year-old get labeled a sex offender by having sex with a 15-year-old? 

THOMAS:  Essentially, as you mentioned, it's the law in Georgia that a 15-year-old cannot consent to any type of sex.  And although the mother of the 15-year-old at question here testified in court that her daughter told her that everything was consensual, the jurors in this case felt like because there was a videotape showing her that they had no choice but to convict him because the law states that the 15-year-old had no rights. 

DANIELS:  So in your research, do you feel like the prosecutor went too far or do you feel like the prosecutor is just following the law here? 

THOMAS:  Well, I had an opportunity to speak with the Douglasville D.A., which is David McDade and I think there is a sentiment in the community, metro Atlanta, and Douglasville that there was an overzealous prosecutor here.  But also when you speak with McDade, he basically says that there is a videotape. 

It proves that a crime was committed and he felt he could not turn his head to that.  And I think that really depends on how you look at it.  I just think that at the heart of this issue is that I think most people, including the D.A. and the prosecutor, who is Eddie Barker (ph), they all agree that 10 years is a very stiff sentence for someone of that age engaging in sex—oral sex with someone who is a peer. 


THOMAS:  And I think that the issue here is that this law needs to be looked at and it needs to be adjusted for age. 

DANIELS:  OK, Chandra, just stay with me for a second because I want to bring in Genarlow Wilson's mom, Juannessa Bennett and their attorney and ABRAMS REPORT regular B.J. Bernstein who is working on appealing Genarlow convicted.  She also worked on the Marcus Dixon case.  Let me start with you, Juannessa.  How is your son doing? 

JUANNESSA BENNETT, GENARLOW WILSON'S MOTHER:  He's doing OK.  He's holding up.  He looks good. 

DANIELS:  Has he come to grips with his sentence? 

BENNETT:  He's battling with it every day.  We've been supporting him in every way we can.  A lot of friends been supporting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) family has been supporting him a lot. 

DANIELS:  Does he seem optimistic, though?  Are his spirits up or is he pretty miserable being in jail? 

BENNETT:  Right now he is in prison and he is pretty miserable being in prison.  He looks at some of the people who he played ball with that's being you know pretty successful at University of Georgia and Georgia Tech and you know he just wishes that he was in the same predicament. 

DANIELS:  Well let me ask you, does he wish that he had taken that plea deal? 

BENNETT:  No, he doesn't want to be labeled like that.  If it could have been a lesser sentence or even first time offender's act or something like that, then I think he would have considered it a little bit more.  But he wouldn't—still would not have had a future if he had taken that plea. 

DANIELS:  And that's why he didn't take the plea, because he didn't want to be labeled a child molester, but at the same time it seems like he's in an even worse predicament.  Do you feel like the legal advice wasn't good? 

BENNETT:  Well it's not that the legal advice was not good, but I mean if you feel like you haven't done anything wrong, then why should you take the plea for something?  This is something that they're making him do.  This is not something that we agreed upon.  We're not going to agree upon doing something that's not right or that we feel like is not right in our hearts. 

DANIELS:  B.J., you worked on the Marcus Dixon case.  It was overturned of course last year.  Do you think it's going to happen with this case? 

B.J. BERNSTEIN, GEORGIA DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  We're trying desperately to do so.  There is a distinction in Georgia law, unfortunately, between intercourse and oral sex.  It's based on a law that was written a long time ago when feelings and ideas about sodomy were very different than they were today. 

And so we're in this very strange position that had this young man had intercourse with this 15-year-old, which could result in pregnancy, which would have been far worse, he would have only been convicted of a misdemeanor.  So not only are we fighting in the courts but we're really stressing to everyone at www.wilsonappeal.com to let the Georgia legislature know.  They start in session in January and the time to fix this law is now. 

DANIELS:  Now I'm willing to bet that most people listening to this case are going to think that the 10-year sentence is too harsh, but I'm curious what sentence you would think is appropriate for somebody to have sex, you know a 17-year-old is having sex with a 15-year-old regardless if it's oral sex or just regular intercourse.  What should the punishment be? 

BERNSTEIN:  It should have been a misdemeanor that carried about 12 months probation.  You know you got to look at this in light of other cases in the country even.  I mean in the Debra Lafave case you have a school teacher who is getting involved with a child and gets three years home confinement and here you got a young man, 17, 3.2 GPA, never been in trouble, arrested the very day he was about to sit for the SAT exam and might very well be on scholarship now playing football and in school.  And at most it should have been probation. 

He—Genarlow acknowledges that it's not right what he did, but there is a distinction or should be a distinction between moral wrong versus an act that's just not violent.  That child does not have a violent bone in his body and rather, you know, unfortunately he had testosterone ruling him that night as opposed to thinking carefully with what his mother taught him. 

DANIELS:  All right.  Just once again, reminding our readers that that article is in the “Atlanta” magazine.  Chandra Thomas, thanks so much for being here.  Also a big thanks...

THOMAS:  Thank you.

DANIELS:  ... to Juannessa Bennett and...

BENNETT:  Thank you so much.

DANIELS:  ... B.J. Bernstein.  We'll have to see what happens on this one. 

Thanks again for being on the show.


DANIELS:  Coming up, the recording industry is going after thousands for illegally downloading music.  But one mom says she has done nothing wrong.  She's going to court acting as her own attorney to try to clear her name. 

She's going to join us next.

And Dick Clark and ABC coming under fire for superimposing his picture alongside his New Year's Eve co-host in this photo.  I say leave the guy alone.  That's my “Closing Argument”.

And your e-mails, send them to abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Remember to include your name and where you are writing from.  I'll respond at the end of the show.


DANIELS:  Coming up, she's computer illiterate but is she still legally responsible for the music she says her kids' friends illegally downloaded to her computer?


DANIELS:  Patricia Santangelo, 43 years old, a resident of peaceful Wappingers Falls,  New York, single mom to five kids, property manager for a real estate company and thief?  Well that's what a lawsuit filed by the Record Industry Association of America is claiming, accusing Santangelo of illegally downloading music from the peer-to-peer network Kazaa. 


JENNI ENGEBRETSEN, RECORDING INDUSTRY SPOKESPERSON:  When you go online and illegally download music, you are stealing. 


DANIELS:  But in the words of a federal judge, Santangelo does not know Kazaa from kazoo and can barely retrieve her e-mail.  So shy is Santangelo the subject of the federal lawsuit?  Because somebody, she says probably one of the friends of her kids used her computer to illegally download the music of groups like Incubus, Godsmack, the Third Eye Blind, among others. 

Santangelo had hoped to get the case against her dismissed, but a federal judge found there was a legal issue to be resolved whether an Internet illiterate parent like Santangelo can be held liable for his kids' downloads, so now she is representing herself in court even though she has had no legal training because her legal bills simply are out of control. 

And joining us now Patricia Santangelo and thanks so much for being here. 


DANIELS:  You know they said you could settle for 7,500.  I understand that you've spent about 24,000 right now.  Do you have any regrets looking back on this? 

SANTANGELO:  No, I don't. 

DANIELS:  Well why are you fighting it? 

SANTANGELO:  I'm fighting it because the lawsuits I don't agree with.  We are being sued for something that we don't understand.  I mean even the children that are being sued, they don't understand these programs.  I'm a lot less illiterate now than I was a year ago. 

DANIELS:  I bet you are.

SANTANGELO:  I understand peer-to-peer networking.  I understand I.P.  addresses and I understand the ins and outs of uploading and downloading.  So I have studied it and I realize that there's no possible way that a child could understand what they were doing when using that peer-to-peer network. 

DANIELS:  So you know the difference between Kazaa and kazoo at this point, I guess, right?


DANIELS:  But what about the basis of the lawsuit?  Do you know who did the downloading on your computer? 

SANTANGELO:  I do know that there—I have five children; three of which used the computer at that time.  This happened back in '04, early '04.  And they had a lot of friends and they all sat in front of the computer and they all listen to music.  As far as I know there was no illegal downloading going on.  And I'm not quite sure where the Kazaa peer-to-peer network came from on the computer. 

DANIELS:  You know you're smiling.  I'm just wondering...


DANIELS:  I mean this is illegal.  If it could be proved that your kids did it, do you think it's fair that you should pay? 

SANTANGELO:  I don't think the whole thing is fair because every child that I've spoken to in the last year about Kazaa and all the other programs is under the assumption that this is a legal downloading service. 

DANIELS:  Yes...

SANTANGELO:  It says free when they look it up.  And you can still go today and look up free music and it's going to say thousands of free downloads. 

DANIELS:  I'm just curious because you're representing yourself. 


DANIELS:  It's difficult to do that when you just don't know a lot about the subject matter.  Now you do.  You don't know the legal system.  What has that been like? 

SANTANGELO:  Actually it's only been two weeks since I started defending myself.  The court in White Plains assigned me a prose clerk to help me with the paperwork and I'm just studying real hard. 

DANIELS:  Do you think you can do it?  You think you can last?

SANTANGELO:  I think I can do it.  Yes. 

DANIELS:  All right, we're going to have to wait and see.  I hope you come back and tell us what happens.  I'm sure we're going to read about it.

SANTANGELO:  I hope so. 

DANIELS:  All right, Patricia Santangelo, thanks so much for coming on the show. 

SANTANGELO:  You're welcome.

DANIELS:  And coming up, it happens all the time, superimposing people into pictures, but for some reason, nobody is letting Dick Clark get away with it.  I say give the guy a break already.

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike again.  We continue our search in Kentucky.

Authorities looking for this man, Larry Coots, 39-year-old, Caucasian male, blue eyes, brown hair, five-foot-eight, 155 pounds.  He's convicted of raping a victim younger than 16.  He hasn't registered his address. 

There is the number.  Let's put it up—Kentucky State Police, 502-227-8781. 

We'll be right back.


DANIELS:  To my “Closing Argument” NOW—leave poor Dick Clark alone.  A bit too much of a brouhaha is brewing over the fact that Dick Clark didn't actually pose for this publicity photo ABC released yesterday to promote its New Year's Rockin' Eve celebration.  That's actually a photo of Dick Clark before he suffered a minor stroke back in December of 2004. 

Well ABC superimposed the photo into a recent photo of Ryan Seacrest and Hilary Duff will also be appearing in the broadcast and now ABC is being criticized for portraying Clark as fully recovered from his medical problems despite recent photos showing Clark using a cane.  My point is, so what?  Who cares?  He's still Dick Clark.  He's still that ageless former “American Bandstand” host who personifies what it means to ring in the New Year in America.  Does it really matter if the promotional photos are a few years old?  And ABC certainly isn't the first one to use Photoshop to its advantage. 

That's not breaking news.  Back in April “Us” weekly magazine scored a serious scoop with the first photos of Brad and Angelina vacationing together on an African beach.  Remember this?  “Star” magazine did a little liberal photo shopping, taking a picture of Brad alone and superimposing it next to Angelina.  Well suddenly “Star” had photos of the Hollywood couple together as well.

And the Internet is a treasure trove of photo shopping experts.  Actress Nicollette Sheridan's face recently superimposed into a strange naked body for dissemination on the Internet.  She wasn't really angry about the photo shopping.  She said she was more upset that the naked body wasn't as shapely as her own. 

Perhaps the most famous example of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) photo doctoring came before Photoshop was even created.  Back in 1983, “Hustler” magazine superimposed Preacher Jerry Falwell's face into a parity of a liquor ad and entitled it “Jerry Falwell tells and talks about his first high”.  Well Falwell sued for libel and invasion of privacy and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.  Of course he lost. 

Look, I for one don't believe that half of the photos I seen in most magazines haven't benefited from a little bit of airbrushing, so why shouldn't a legend like Dick Clark benefit too?  I think lay off of him.  The man is 76 years old.  He has provided us with us a lifetime of entertainment, helping us when we were down. 

Now he's braving the New York City cold to ring in the New Year for all of us.  I mean he shouldn't even have to stand around for those boring photo shoots anyway.  He shouldn't have to listen to all of us certainly complain about what photo was used in a silly promotional picture.  It's ridiculous. 

All right.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) back.  Coming up, Governor Schwarzenegger caught a lot of criticism for not granting clemency to Tookie Williams from American citizens of his Austrian hometown, even some of you.  We'll have your e-mails next.


DANIELS:  And welcome back.  I've had my say.  Time now for “Your Rebuttal”.  Tuesday in my “Closing Argument” I said that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's hometown in Austria is wrong to criticize him because he wouldn't commute the death sentence of convicted murderer Tookie Williams.  Well a lot of you are writing in, but we have time for just one. 

Peter Schaefer from Dallas—quote—“As governor, it is Arnold Schwarzenegger's prerogative to commute the sentence of a convicted felon.  His decision may be based on his personal judgment in the situation.  He is not a slave to the courts as you would suggest.  Arnold's comments on his decision just show his lack of any leadership ability and that he is just another hack mollifying voters to further his political career.  As to the people of Austria, they have every right to voice their opinion.”

Let's leave it at that.  Send your e-mails.  Don't forget that. 

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Norah O'Donnell in today. 

Have a great night.



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