updated 12/29/2005 10:34:21 AM ET 2005-12-29T15:34:21

RITA COSBY, HOST:  Happy holidays, and good evening, everybody.  We have covered dramatic and dynamic stories that year right here on LIVE AND DIRECT, reporting news both here and abroad, and in some very remote places.  I've had the privilege of interviewing some of the top newsmakers of the day and have met some fascinating people along the way.

Tonight, as we head into the new year, we want to share some of our best and most memorable moments with all of you.

But first things first, the interview that had everybody talking, an exclusive interview with two jurors in the Michael Jackson case.  They told me they voted to acquit the pop star, even though they thought that he was guilty.  What we heard from them put the Jackson case in a whole new light.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY (voice-over):  It was a spectacle that Michael Jackson began with a confident swagger and signature step.  But at the end of the trial, even with a not guilty verdict in his pocket, Jackson looked like anything but a winner.  He was acquitted on all 10 counts.  The jury was unanimous.

ELLIE COOK, JACKSON JUROR NUMBER FIVE:  We certainly have formed lasting friendships.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I made 19 new friends, you know?

COSBY:  But now that united front has been shattered.

RAY HULTMAN, JACKSON JUROR NUMBER ONE:  Yes, I believe that they did let a guilty man go free.

COOK:  They're the ones that let a pedophile go.

COSBY:  Ray Hultman, juror number one, and Ellie Cook, juror number five.  Tonight, they speak out, an exclusive behind-the-scenes account of the trial, the jury and Michael Jackson himself.

(on camera):  How did you feel when you got picked for the Michael Jackson jury?

HULTMAN:  I was totally shocked, Rita.  I had never been on a jury before, much less than a high-profile case like this one.  It's like your whole world changes, and now you're somebody that you weren't before.

COOK:  I tried to get off.

COSBY:  Right away?

COOK:  Right away.  I stood up and told them that I was opinionated and that I didn't like child—people that mistreated children.

COSBY:  What did you think of Michael Jackson?  Were you starstruck?

COOK:  Not at all am I starstruck by anyone like that.  And I wasn't -

·         I'm just not a fan of Mr. Jackson's.

COSBY:  Do you think some of the other jurors were starstruck early on?

COOK:  Oh, you betcha.  From the word—from the get-go, they were starstruck, a couple of them, I know.  It just—it just—this one lady I sat next to on the other side of me was just, Oh, Michael!  You know?  She just really—starstruck.  And...

COSBY:  Which juror was that?

COOK:  That was the one that we refer as “Barbie doll.”

COSBY:  Juror number?

COOK:  Six.

COSBY:  Do you think she was so starstruck so early on that she could never even consider guilty?

HULTMAN:  I think so.

COSBY (voice-over):  Juror number six, 23-year-old  Tammy Bolton of Lompoc (ph), California.  Bolton says she felt the pressure of public attention during the trial but denies being starstruck and says she judged the trial fairly.

(on camera):  In the videotape that was played in court, Michael Jackson said he would never molest boys, that that wasn't him.  Did you believe him?

HULTMAN:  Well, Michael Jackson also says he's never had plastic surgery.  Do I believe that?  No, I don't believe that.

COSBY (voice-over):  Jackson actually has acknowledged two surgeries, though an expert consulted by NBC News believes the number is higher.

(on camera):  When the young accuser finally took the stand, what did you think?  Did you believe him?

COOK:  I did not believe everything he had to say.  I believe he was molested, but I also think that—that his mother put him up to some of this.

COSBY:  You believe the boy was molested?

COOK:  Yes, ma'am.

COSBY:  No doubt in your mind?

COOK:  No doubt in my mind whatsoever.  That boy was molested.  And I also think he enjoyed, to some degree, of being Michael Jackson's toy and all the goodies that came with being Michael Jackson's toy.

COSBY:  Do you also believe that boy was molested?

HULTMAN:  In the end, I did, yes.

COSBY:  You believe 100 percent this boy was molested?

HULTMAN:  Yes, I do.

COSBY:  To this day, you do?

HULTMAN:  Absolutely.

COSBY (voice-over):  The boy's mother proved to be a central figure in the trial.  The jurors questioned her credibility and her behavior.

COOK:  And she takes the stand, and instead of answering the questions

to the attorney, she would get the question, turn to us and snarl her

answers, and give it this a couple of times.  And then she kept snapping

her fingers at me.  And I kept thinking, You snap your fingers at me, lady

·         I was really getting very angry because she was not making points.

COSBY (on camera):  Thus the phrase that now has become famous.

COOK:  Don't snap your fingers at me, lady.

(LAUGHTER)

HULTMAN:  You know, there are certain witnesses you believe and certain ones you don't believe.  I don't believe Macaulay Culkin when he's saying, I was never molested by Michael Jackson.  I don't believe Brett Barnes.  I don't believe Wade Robson.  I think they all have something to lose if they admit to that.

COSBY (voice-over):  Culkin, Barnes and Robson, witnesses the prosecution claimed were molested by Jackson.  They all denied it.  Ray and Ellie suspect that other witnesses may have been paid off.

HULTMAN:  And you say, OK, why don't I believe this witness?  And why don't I believe what they're saying?  Maybe it's because someone has paid them to say what they're saying.

COSBY (on camera):  Are you suggesting that some of the witnesses in the case were bought off?

HULTMAN:  Yes.

COSBY:  You believe that?

HULTMAN:  I believe so.  And I believe one of the biggest ones was Debbie Rowe.

COOK:  Oh, yes!

COSBY:  His ex-wife.

(CROSSTALK)

HULTMAN:  She had—OK, it may not have been money.  Maybe Debbie Rowe's got enough money the way it is, but it was through promises, promises that she was going to be able to see her children more often.

COOK:  Right.

HULTMAN:  I think she was going through some sort of court proceeding to get her custody restored or something on the children.

(CROSSTALK)

COOK:  Child visits.

HULTMAN:  She had some reasons for saying what she did.

COOK:  And she looked at Michael Jackson, and the adoration and the love absolutely poured from every pore in her body.  She looked at him with adoring...

COSBY:  But that's different than being paid off.

COOK:  Well, she sure did a back two-step.  She didn't come up with anything that the prosecutor said she was going to tell us.

COSBY:  You believe something happened, someone got to Debbie Rowe?

COOK:  Yes.

HULTMAN:  She had something to gain.

COSBY (voice-over):  Despite their suspicions, Ray and Ellie offered no evidence of payoffs to anyone involved in the Jackson trial.  There was another woman in the courtroom who caught the attention of these jurors, not a witness, but Michael Jackson's mother.

COOK:  I look at Mrs. Jackson like a wonderful mother because all good mothers, no matter what our kids do, no matter how they hurt us, no matter how ashamed we are, if they're our kids, we stick by them.  And that's what Mrs. Jackson did.

I prayed every night for that lady because I think she needs all the prayers because she has a very sick son.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And Mrs. Jackson stuck by her son through and through.  Meantime, Debbie Rowe's attorney told us that she would not dignify the allegations in our report with a response.  Michael Jackson's attorney said that the allegations by these jurors about payoffs were outrageous and an embarrassment to the judicial system.

So what would motivate these two people who set the pop star free to speak out now and tell the world that they think he is a pedophile?  Here now is more of my controversial interview with jurors Ellie Cook and Ray Hultman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

What kind of a person is Michael Jackson?

COOK:  He's a sick person.  He's really sick.  He's got issues that I wouldn't want on my worst enemy.  And he needs to get help.  If he really loves children, he needs to get help.

COSBY:  What would you say to him?

HULTMAN:  Michael, come on, get in tune with the rest of the world.  Change your behavior.  Don't sleep with boys.  I think I even mentioned it in the deliberation room, that if he's not convicted for these crimes now, that it's going to happen five years from now.

COSBY:  Are you saying that Michael Jackson is a serial child molester?

HULTMAN:  Yes.  I think he is.

COSBY:  So why didn't you come up with a compromise verdict, push them to find him guilty on the alcohol or the conspiracy, but not on the molestation?

HULTMAN:  We tried.  We tried.

COOK:  You couldn't get them to compromise on anything.  Not one thing did they compromise.  But no one ever threatened to have them removed and alternates come in.

COSBY:  But people at home are going to say you two have no backbone, that you caved.

HULTMAN:  You know, you have to be there.

COOK:  Yes.

HULTMAN:  Yes, walk in our shoes or whatever.

COOK:  Yes.  You have to be there.  Walk in our shoes.

HULTMAN:  And we were trying to keep this from becoming a mistrial.

COSBY (voice-over):  Ray and Ellie both expressed doubts about the impartiality of some of their fellow jurors.

HULTMAN:  It was—it was unbelievable to me when I found out that one of the jurors had actually attended the victory party for Michael Jackson after the trial.  I mean, it was—that was inconceivable to me.

COSBY (voice-over):  He was talking about juror number 10, 45-year-old Pauline Coccoz, who said after the trial that she could relate to the stress Jackson was feeling because she felt it, too.  Coccoz did not respond to our request for an interview.

(on camera):  The other jurors, who are going to be watching this, are going to be angry at you.  Are you ready for the onslaught?

HULTMAN:  Yes, I'm ready.  I...

COOK:  They can be as angry as they want to.  They ought to be ashamed.  They're the ones that let a pedophile go.

HULTMAN:  I would say they made the wrong decision.

COSBY:  Some of your words may come back to haunt you, Ray.  You said a day after the verdict...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HULTMAN:  I'm not uncomfortable with the decision that we made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  Very different than what you're saying today.

HULTMAN:  Like I said, I'm not uncomfortable with it because I felt I did my job.  I did my job as a deliberator, in trying to bring the issues to the table and to make sure that everything was looked at.

COSBY:  But you're telling me that you let someone you believe is a child molester go free.  You should feel bad about that, if that's the case.

HULTMAN:  I think that Michael Jackson is going to be back in court again if he doesn't change his behavior, if he doesn't wake up to what's going on.

COSBY:  Do you regret letting Michael Jackson walk?

COOK:  Yes.  I do regret letting him walk, but I don't think I could have done anything different.

COSBY:  Do you believe Michael Jackson is a danger to young boys?

HULTMAN:  I...

COOK:  Boy, I do.  I don't have to hesitate on that one, Ray.

HULTMAN:  Yes.  I think...

COOK:  I just really think he's a danger to young boys.  And I—I—it breaks my heart to even think about him being around young boys.

COSBY:  But you both let him...

COOK:  Go.

COSBY:  ... back on the street.

COOK:  Because we had no choice.

COSBY:  Why are you coming out now and speaking?

HULTMAN:  It's because there were a lot of people that were interested in this case from day one.  People expect to know what's going on with their justice system and how things work.

COOK:  I'm speaking out now because I believe it's never too late to tell the truth.

COSBY (voice-over):  Ray and Ellie are writing books about their experience, as are several other members of the Jackson jury.

(on camera):  People watching this at home are going to hear “book,” they're going to hear “movie deal.”  They're going say you're motivated by money now to talk.  Are you motivated by money?

HULTMAN:  No, I'm not motivated by money at all.

COOK:  No.  No.

COSBY:  I see you and I think, this is a woman feels guilty, who is at home at night.  You probably cry about what you did.

COOK:  Sure.  I sure do.  But God has forgiven me, and now I'm going to have to forgive myself.  And I will.

COSBY:  If the boy is watching right now, what would you want to say to him?

COOK:  What would I want to say to him right now?COSBY:  Do you feel you let him down?

COOK:  No, I did the best I could with—in my surroundings.  And I have prayed for that young man every night, as I have prayed for Mrs.  Jackson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And since that interview, Ray Hultman has opted not to pursue writing that book.  But a book and movie by Ellie Cook is still in development with Silver Creek Entertainment.  Also, most recently, it was reported that Michael Jackson's ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, has filed legal papers pursuing custody of the two children she had with Michael Jackson.  She's alleging that they were abducted by the pop star, who is now living overseas.

And still ahead on the best of LIVE AND DIRECT, the disappearance of Natalee Holloway and how her mother, Beth, has courageously carried out without any idea of how her daughter disappeared.

And the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and one family's shock of returning home.  We saw it firsthand.

But coming up next: Americans are being murdered and kidnapped on the U.S./Mexican border by dangerous drug terrorists.  You will not believe the dangers that are coming across the line.  They're headed our way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TED POE ®, TEXAS:  We know that the next terrorist attack will be probably because somebody came through the southern Texas border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And one of the more shocking stories that we discovered this year had to do with hundreds of Americans caught in the middle of a war being fueled mainly by drug money.  It is an extraordinary situation on our border, yet nobody seems to be able to put a stop to it.  I toured some of the most dangerous areas of the U.S./Mexican border in the middle of the night, along with members of the Zapata County Sheriff's Department.  What I saw with my own eyes was truly incredible.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  The drug wars raging along America's borders are out of control and getting worse by the day.  Rival drug cartels operating just minutes away from the U.S. border have turned a once thriving Mexican city, Nuevo Laredo, into a battlefield.  And as soon as the sun goes down, the region turns into the Wild West.  Traffickers smuggling drugs, illegal immigrants and terrorists are waging a vicious campaign to stay one step ahead of law enforcement.

I rode along with Texas sheriff Sigi Gonzalez and his men as they risked their lives to keep this war from bleeding over into the United States.

(on camera):  How bad has the situation gotten for you?

SHERIFF SIGIFREDO GONZALEZ, JR., ZAPATA COUNTY, TEXAS:  It's gotten worse.  It's gotten a lot worse.

COSBY:  As you drive along, Sheriff, what kind of security do you have with you?

GONZALEZ:  Right now, I've got one pistol and I've got one automatic weapon.  You know, I always carry a weapon with me, but now it's a weapon that's visible.  I want to make sure that people know that I am, in fact, carrying a weapon.

COSBY:  As we're driving along, what are you looking for?

GONZALEZ:  Right now, I'm just seeing what vehicles may be next to us in our rearview mirrors.  And when we're making a stop at a traffic light, I want to make sure that I know who is around me or what type of a situation I can see.  I know right now, (INAUDIBLE) safe because I got—I know the person that's behind me (INAUDIBLE)  But other than that, I would be more cautious.  I would be looking in the mirrors more often and see who's behind me.

COSBY (voice-over):  We are traveling from Laredo to Zapata, a 50-mile journey along this dark and perilous border.  Amazingly, we see no other law enforcement our whole night other than Gonzalez's men.  That's because they have to patrol nearly 1,000 square miles.  At any given time, only five deputies are actually on duty to cover that much terrain.

Texas congressman Ted Poe spearheaded our border journey and was also stunned to see it for himself.

(on camera):  You know, as we're driving along tonight, are you surprised how bad it is here?

REP. TED POE ®, TEXAS:  I think most Americans are really unaware of the war zone here in the Texas/Mexican border, especially this location.

COSBY:  Are you surprised when you see it firsthand?

POE:  Oh, you're always amazed how much activity there really is.

COSBY (voice-over):  We arrive at our first destination, the broken-down fence that's supposed to keep illegal immigrants and drug smugglers out.  Clearly, it's not working.  These makeshift paths are heavily traveled and wide open for anyone to enter.

(on camera):  What is this?

GONZALEZ:  This here is an area that is used for—by human and drug smugglers.  This is a footpath here which (INAUDIBLE) use so much by human and drug smugglers bring their loads across, as you can see.  It's so used so much, you can actually see some here, where they dumped their water bottles.  Look at that.  That's from Mexico.  That's not a U.S. brand, it's Mexican.

COSBY:  So they're literally walking from where, down here and coming in?

GONZALEZ:  They're walking from here, human smugglers again or drug smugglers.  There's supposed to be a fence here, and the fence is really actually all tore down already.  The wires on here—there's one strand left of a fence that's supposed to be here.

POE:  How long has this fence been broken?  Does it get replaced?

GONZALEZ:  No, it never gets replaced anymore.  (INAUDIBLE) replacement.  What for?  It's going to be torn again—not even 24 hours later, it'll be down again.

COSBY (voice-over):  As we sneak through the brush, we quickly learn the dangers these men face every night.

GONZALEZ:  The reason we're (INAUDIBLE) is that somebody could be behind us.

COSBY:  We're now told to wear bullet-proof vests because deadly traffickers could be hiding anywhere and aren't afraid to shoot anything that gets in their way, especially law enforcement.

(on camera):  You're always armed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, yes.  Yes.  When you come here, you got to be armed.  You have to be armed.  You know, just imagine coming over here and meeting just 10, 15 guys bringing down—bringing 3,000 pounds (INAUDIBLE) across the river.  They're going to be armed.

COSBY:  What are you carrying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It's an AR-15.

COSBY:  And is this even a match for what you're up against?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  This is not a fully automatic weapon, and they have fully automatic weapons.  We'd like to carry fully automatic weapons, but the department doesn't always have enough funds.

COSBY (voice-over):  Sadly, police say they're overwhelmed, easily outmanned and outgunned.  Narco-terrorists are loaded with cash, drug money which enables them to buy the most sophisticated weapons, shoulder-fired missiles and even GPS devices, which they use to track down cops.

At this point in our dangerous journey, we're told to turn off our camera lights and use only the night vision that we at MSNBC brought along.  The sheriff fears we could become the next targets.

(on camera):  You were told basically what you guys have is child's play.

GONZALEZ:  Oh, yes.

COSBY:  How so?

GONZALEZ:  Well, I mean, we're dealing with people with automatic weapons, grenade launchers, all kinds of equipment that can locate us and know where we're at, night vision.  We don't have any of these things.

COSBY:  It's now 2:00 o'clock in the morning, and at this hour, it's easy to see why this border is so porous.  Where those lights are right over my shoulder is Mexico.  It's less than half a mile away.  It's believed that on any given week, about 20,000 people enter the United States through Mexico illegally.  More than half of those are not Mexicans.  They originally come from other countries, and those are the ones that law enforcement fear the most.

GONZALEZ:  You walk in here blind.  One time I was in a place like this, just doing this stuff with the flashlight, just doing like this, and then I heard somebody running.  Of course, I hit the ground.  I hit the ground and grabbed my pistol and just waited to see what's coming.

COSBY:  Congressman, why are we worried about the non-Mexicans coming through?

POE:  It's a great concern mainly because two of reasons.  One, drug trafficking.  These borders bring in lots of drugs, especially right here in Laredo area, the number one port, inland port in the United States.  And the second most important reason is we know that the next terrorist attack will be probably because somebody came through the southern Texas border...

COSBY:  When you look here at the lack of deputies, lack of border patrol agents, just because of a lack of staffing, it is shameful.  How are we going to prevent another 9/11 attack?

POE:  As we learned this morning and tonight, the drug dealers have better equipment than our own police officers do.  And it's time that we understand that this is a major national issue and we have to deal with it on a national basis.

COSBY:  These guys are extraordinarily dangerous.  What are some of the things you've heard that some of the drug lords have done?

GONZALEZ:  Put people through grinders (INAUDIBLE) and then the feed the meat to dogs.  We've also heard that they've got vats with acid, filled with acid, and they dump bodies in that acid.

COSBY:  These are the kind of people that your guys, just a few of you, are up against.

GONZALEZ:  Yes.  It's dangerous.  It is dangerous on the border.  (INAUDIBLE) we're all watching out for.  You have a deputy sheriff working out in the street or on the highway, 20 miles or, you know, 30 miles from backup, by himself or by herself.  And you make a traffic stop (INAUDIBLE) people, who knows what'll happen.  It's dangerous.

COSBY (voice-over):  Law enforcement say the odds are way against them.  It's unlikely they'll actually catch smugglers as they cross, since there are so few officers to man this massive stretch of land.  On this night, all we found were these unsuspecting partiers caught on our night vision.  But soon after, at this very same spot, called Paradise Point, sheriffs seized a quarter ton of marijuana in broad daylight.

Mexicans I spoke with say day or night, it's no secret how easy it is to cross into America, especially since at some points, the Rio Grande is only 75 yards wide, shorter than a football field.

(on camera):  Why is it so easy to enter illegally?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator):  There's very little law enforcement.  The river is shallow, and there are parts people can cross through easily.

COSBY:  Can they enter all the time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator):  Yes, all the time.  Anytime. 

People get caught, but they'll try again.

COSBY:  How do they enter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator):  The majority pass through the river.  The river is long and has shallow parts, so it's easy to pass through.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And just two weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to a border protection and anti-terrorism bill.  That would extend border fencing 1,500 miles from San Diego down along our nation's southern border with Mexico.  The bill awaits consideration now by the full House.

And when we return, the mysterious disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, and my first face-to-face interview with her mother, Beth Holloway Twitty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETH HOLLOWAY TWITTY, NATALEE HOLLOWAY'S MOTHER:  If a judge could release three rapists on their island, you know, nothing—nothing surprises me coming out of the judges or out of the prosecuting's attorney's office of Aruba.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And welcome back.  Tonight, we have been showing some amazing interviews that we aired in 2005 right here on LIVE & DIRECT.  Often in human interest news stories, a person arises who becomes a frequent guest on all of the news cable networks because of his or her compassion for justice or search for answers. 

After her daughter, Natalee Holloway, mysteriously vanished while vacationing in Aruba on May 30th, Beth Holloway Twitty has been driven in her quest for the truth about her daughter.  After interviewing her by satellite on countless shows, I finally got to meet her in our studio. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  How are you holding up? 

BETH HOLLOWAY TWITTY, NATALEE HOLLOWAY'S MOTHER:  Oh, some days are so hard, Rita, but, you know, we just feel like, if we just keep pressing forward that we will have answers.

COSBY:  Well, we're really glad that you're with us.  I know there's some new developments, and I want to bring in right now, if I could, with the phone right now, is Julia Renfro.  She's with the newspaper “Aruba Today.” 

Julia, you've got some late-breaking developments surrounding Joran Van Der Sloot's father, Paul?

JULIA RENFRO, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, “ARUBA TODAY”:  Yes, actually very surprising information.  A judge flew in this morning to Aruba and heard the case between Paul Van Der Sloot and the prosecutor, and he made the decision to set Paul Van Der Sloot free of suspicion in the Natalee Holloway case.

COSBY:  Is that a final decision, Julia?  Is that something that's permanent?

RENFRO:  No.  Actually, the prosecutor does have the right to appeal the case, which would bring in the three panel of judges.  And, of course, then, after that, it could go all the way to the superior court.

COSBY:  And, real quick, I mean, that doesn't exclude if there's new evidence that comes forward later, right?

RENFRO:  Oh, no.  Absolutely not.  Right now, basically, what this means is he is no longer a suspect.  But, if evidence is brought forward, he could be rearrested.

COSBY:  And, Julia, real quick, is there something—I heard also that you told one of our producers earlier that possibly the court has to pay him, that the government actually might have to pay Paul Van Der Sloot?

RENFRO:  Yes.  That was one of the reasons for releasing him from suspicion, is he now has until December 1st to basically put a list on paper of the damages that he's received as a result of his arrest in June. 

And then, after that, the prosecutor will have until the 15th of June to counter it.  And then the judge will, in the beginning of January, make a decision on whether or not he will receive damages.

COSBY:  Julia, thank you very much.

You know, Beth, when you hear this, first of all, how surprised are you that they've cleared him, at least at this point?

TWITTY:  You know, Rita, when I hear that, it doesn't even phase me.  Not surprised at all because, I mean, I think back, if the judge would release three rapists on their island, you know, nothing surprises me coming out of the judges or out of the prosecuting attorney's office of Aruba. 

COSBY:  Dr. Phil came out not too long ago and talked about this theory of sex slave.  What he said apparently on his show that was taped a few days ago, some tip from Curacao, the island not too far from Aruba, as you know, leading to maybe Venezuela.  Have you heard anything about any of these tips? 

TWITTY:  You know, there's been a lot of different leads that we've followed.  And, you know, and one I think want to make sure everyone knows is, in the beginning, even for the first few weeks, we followed so many live sightings of Natalee.  It's not new to us to have some of these sightings to where we're searching for Natalee alive instead of not alive.  So, you know, we just have to take each one and either rule it out or in, Rita. 

COSBY:  Is there anything that gives this any credence, this new sort of theory that's come out from Dr. Phil?  Is there anything that's reliable here?

TWITTY:  Well, you know, I just think we just have to take each one and just carefully rule it in or out, you know?  We just have to take one step at a time with each tip.

COSBY:  I want to read a quote from the Philadelphia City Council.

TWITTY:  OK.

COSBY:  Of course, Joe Mammana, who has been supporting you, some of the other folks who are up there—that we had some city council members.  It says that a boycott is needed, quote, “until such time that the government of Aruba has clearly demonstrated that they have explored all pertinent avenues.” 

Another, also, I want to read a comment, too.  This is from Senator Shelby of Alabama.  He came on our show and first announced that he was supporting Governor Riley and the boycott.  He also wrote a letter today—

I don't know if you know this—to the American Society of Travel Agents.  And it says, in part, “For the safety, security and wellbeing of our citizens, I do not believe that we can trust that we will be protected while in Aruba.”

That's a strong statement.  How do you feel to get that kind of support?

TWITTY:  It's just huge, Rita.  And, you know, I want people to know that Senator Shelby, Senator Sessions, Governor Riley, Congressman Bachus, these men have been with me since the beginning.  They have communicated with the family.  They have been there.  “What can we do?” 

You know, they have just been supportive all along.  And we just kept telling them, you know, “We can handle this.  We're working with the Dutch law, and we can do this.”  But, you know, they knew early on that we were going to be in trouble, and I am so glad that they've stayed with us.  And now they are taking over, and we are just so grateful for their support and...

COSBY:  And, you know, there's a lot of Americans—we've been getting e-mails and letters and calls from folks who said, “Look, I'm not going to go Aruba now.  I heard about this boycott.”  What do you want to say to other Americans, just average citizens, who are saying, “I support Beth”?

TWITTY:  Well, we appreciate all their support.  And you know, Rita, we're really looking at it from a safety standpoint.  And, you know, I know that—you know, whether the economic—you know, the sanctions are placed, you know, that's not something that we want, but what we have to remember is, I mean, it's a safety concern. 

And until their lack of law enforcement practices are evaluated, you know, it's not safe for tourists and it's not safe for the citizens of Aruba. 

COSBY:  It's so great to have you in person.  And I know I gave you a big hug, when we saw each other in Aruba.  So many folks just look at and say, “How do you get through all of these barriers and keep going everyday, here it has been so many months?” 

TWITTY:  Look at these men that are coming forward.  You know, it's just incredible everyone that is helping us.  I mean, we've got Clint Van Zandt and Harold Copus in with us.  I mean, it's just overwhelming the amount of support that we are getting in this. 

And you know, we can't do it by ourselves, I mean, just, you know, the family and I.  We can't.  And we haven't been.  It's been people like this that have been keeping us going, Rita.  And they'll continue to keep us going. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And our prayers, of course, are with Beth Holloway Twitty.  Incidentally, three states are now involved in the boycott, Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas. 

And is it expected that the three suspects in the case, Joran Van Der Sloot, Satish and Deepak Kalpoe, will be brought in for re-questioning by Aruba authorities.  Van Der Sloot has been attending school in the Netherlands since his release from jail in September.  But he has now voluntarily returned to the island to be interrogated by police. 

And when we come back, my exclusive interview with Pam Smart.  Her school love affair with a 16-year-old led to her husband's murder and a life sentence.  My interview with her from her jail cell. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAM SMART, IN PRISON FOR LIFE FOR CONSPIRACY TO KILL HUSBAND:  I

didn't ask them to kill my husband.  I didn't want him to kill my husband. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And welcome back to our best of RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT, a look back at some of the most intriguing stories and fascinating interviews that we had in 2005. 

Several teacher-student sex scandals have gripped the country lately.  But perhaps the first one that sparked the nation's and the media's attention was when Pam Smart was caught having sex with a teenage student.  Here's the background to that story and my exclusive interview behind bars with Pam Smart.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY (voice-over):  Pam Smart was a big-city girl who is now living in a small New Hampshire town, married to a good-looking young insurance agent, enjoying what seemed to be the perfect suburban life, until she had a deadly affair with a 16-year-old student. 

She's now serving life in prison for plotting the murder of her husband, Greg Smart.  At first, the brutal slaying looked like a robbery.  But as more clues were uncovered, it appeared that Greg Smart was actually murdered over love.  At the time, Pam Smart was having an affair with high school student Billy Flynn, who admits to shooting Pam's husband in the head. 

BILLY FLYNN, ADMITTED TO KILLING GREG SMART:  I pulled the trigger. 

COSBY:  The case was a media frenzy.  The murder and details of sex, betrayal and infidelity made headlines worldwide.  When the investigation and trial finally ended, Pam, her teenage lover, and three of his friends were in jail for the murder. 

But the boys all struck a deal.  Two are already out on the streets.  The other two will be out in 2018.  But Pam Smart, who was not even at the murder scene, was given the maximum. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am required and do hereby sentence you to the New Hampshire state prison for women for the remainder of your life without the possibility of parole. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  How did you meet him? 

SMART:  I was a facilitator for a project that he was also a facilitator.  They had student facilitators and adult facilitators.

COSBY:  What attracted you to a 16-year-old boy?

SMART:  I feel like I was attracted probably to the fact that he was just a very nice person.  He seemed like a very gentle person and someone who was—I don't know.  He paid a lot of attention to me.  And I wasn't feeling too good about myself at that time.

COSBY:  Did you ever say to yourself, “This is wrong”?

SMART:  I said it all the time.

COSBY:  “I'm 21.  He's 16.”

SMART:  All the time.  All the time.  I said it over and over to myself.  I said it, you know, at least every day, more than once.

COSBY:  Where did you have your trysts, if you will?

SMART:  I saw him where I worked, at the building where I worked at, or I want to his house, or—I think he was at my house twice, once or twice.

COSBY:  And you became physical?

SMART:  Once, I think—yes, it became physical.

COSBY:  Bill Flynn testified that you seduced him.

SMART:  Right.

COSBY:  Is that true?

SMART:  Did I seduce him?  No, I didn't seduce him.  I think that it was just like—our lives just crossed at that moment.

COSBY:  Let's talk about the night of the murder.  You come home, and you see your husband's body.

SMART:  Yes.

COSBY:  What did you think?

SMART:  Well, initially, I didn't know that he was dead.

COSBY:  Was there a pool of blood?

SMART:  No.  And that's when my eyes went around and came down.  So initially, I thought that—obviously the house was robbed, that something happened to the house.  When I saw him, I yelled for his name.  He didn't respond.

COSBY:  How did you feel about your husband?

SMART:  I loved him.  I loved him a lot.  And we were together for years before we actually got married.

COSBY:  Were you in love?

SMART:  Yes, I was.

COSBY:  With the student, the 16-year-old student?

SMART:  No.  No.  I felt like I loved him, but I wasn't in love with him, which is a different thing.

COSBY:  Did you ask the student and his friends to kill your husband?

SMART:  No, I did not.  I didn't ask them to kill my husband.  I didn't want them to kill my husband.

COSBY:  Is it possible, even unintentionally, that he got the wrong message from you, and that was enough to inspire him to kill your husband?

SMART:  It's possible that that happened.  You know, obviously, I've thought about this for years.  I know that what I did say to him when I ended the relationship was that I want to be with my husband.  And it's possible that, in his mind, that he turned that into—if he wasn't here, then that means—then that means I'd be available to Bill.

I don't know.  There's a possibility that that was misconstrued.

COSBY:  Why do you think the student, Bill Flynn, and the others say you drove them to do this?

SMART:  Because they don't want to be in prison for the rest of their lives. 

COSBY:  And he was the fall guy?

SMART:  That was the deal.  That was the deal.  They committed a first-degree cold-blooded murder.  They actually could have faced the death penalty in New Hampshire.

COSBY:  Do you feel the student, Bill Flynn, is responsible for putting you here?

SMART:  Yes, he is, absolutely.

COSBY:  You've said that, even though you didn't pull the trigger, your bad choices essentially loaded the gun?

SMART:  Right.

COSBY:  How so?

SMART:  Because I feel like that I know that, if I didn't have a relationship with Bill Flynn, my husband would still be alive.  And I feel like I knew better.  I knew that it was wrong and I did it anyways.  And I really feel a sense of responsibility for the fact that he's no longer here. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And as you just heard, of the four boys who were involved in the killing, two have gotten out on parole and two are going to get out in 2018.  Pam Smart says that is totally unfair, knowing that she'll be incarcerated for the rest of her life. 

And when we come back, the gut-wrenching story that took a nation's heart, Hurricane Katrina.  We experience the devastation through the eyes of one family as they went back to their home for the first time and discovered they lost it all. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast back in September, many people tried to return home only to find their houses destroyed and their most prized possessions lost forever.  I witnessed a very incredible and emotional moment when homeowners Joe and Paula Licciardi saw their home for the first time.  And then we went back with them again three months later. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  I mean, this is incredible.  But how high was the water at one point when you were told?

JOE LICCIARDI, ST. BERNARD PARISH RESIDENT:  It was 12 feet deep.  I passed this house with a boat.

COSBY:  In your home?

JOE LICCIARDI:  In my home.

COSBY:  So this is the good news?

JOE LICCIARDI:  This is the good news.

COSBY:  That we're walking through.

JOE LICCIARDI:  The good news is my house is still standing, and there are other houses around here collapsed.  (INAUDIBLE) I don't know if they could ever rebuild.

COSBY:  Whose truck is that over there?

JOE LICCIARDI:  I don't know.

COSBY:  And then there's a boat, too?

JOE LICCIARDI:  A couple of boats, tanks.

COSBY:  These are not your...

PAULA LICCIARDI, ST. BERNARD PARISH RESIDENT:  No.

COSBY:  ... not your trucks and not your boats?

PAULA LICCIARDI:  NO.

COSBY:  So somebody else's boats and trucks ended up in your home.

PAULA LICCIARDI:  Right.

JOE LICCIARDI:  Yes.

PAULA LICCIARDI:  This was the champagne glasses that was given to us as a gift.  And we toasted the year 2000 in the millennium.

COSBY:  And this was your dining room here.

PAULA LICCIARDI:  Yes.

COSBY:  Where were the chairs before?

PAULA LICCIARDI:  They were—this table was this way, and the chairs were, you know, up against the table.

COSBY:  Now here's one of your chairs right here.

PAULA LICCIARDI:  Yes.

COSBY:  It's incredible to see.

PAULA LICCIARDI:  Oh, yes.  You can see the water lines.  It's unbelievable.

COSBY:  Yes, the water came up, boy, about—up to the second floor.

PAULA LICCIARDI:  I've never seen anything like this.

This was outside.  This was part of our patio set outside.

COSBY:  What's the toughest thing to see here for you?

PAULA LICCIARDI:  Toughest thing I think is my children's graduation pictures that used to line that wall.  I had four graduation pictures, and now I have none.

COSBY:  You can't replace those.  No insurance replaces those.

PAULA LICCIARDI:  No.  But we'll just have to make more memories, you know, and we'll have the memories that we have, and we'll have to go on.   There's nothing else we can do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And joining us now are Joe and Paula Licciardi.  Both of you, it's great to see you back.  You both look like you took a shower, got some clean clothes on...

(LAUGHTER)

COSBY:  ... since we last saw each other.  We also went back to the house, and I want to show some pictures of what your house looks like now.  How does it feel to go back?  It's completely empty.

PAULA LICCIARDI:  It's an empty feeling, and it's very emotional still to go back, especially to see the house with everything out of it and to still see all the debris in the driveway.  And it's very emotional still to go back to see that.

COSBY:  You know, Joe, how long is it going to take to rebuild?  And you're planning on going back there, right?

JOE LICCIARDI:  I'm going back.

COSBY:  You both are determined.  I know you said that, but you're sticking to your guns.

JOE LICCIARDI:  It's going to be a while before we can get back. 

It'll probably be about another year or two.  But we're going to try.  We're trying hard to get back because, you know, it's just—it's tough on us right now, you know?

COSBY:  You know, when I went in there with you, I know how tough it was, some of the wedding pictures, some of your kids' pictures...

PAULA LICCIARDI:  Yes.

COSBY:  Were you able to recover any of those items?

PAULA LICCIARDI:  No.  No.

COSBY:  Those are all gone?

PAULA LICCIARDI:  Yes, yes.  We weren't able to salvage much from the house.  The water and just the surge and the mud on top of it all—just, we weren't really able to save anything, really, from the house.  But we just—you know, we want to redo our house.  We want to go back home.  And I'm sure a lot of people from St. Bernard Parish feel the same way.

But we need answers.  We need to find out, you know, are they going to reconstruct the levees strong enough to help protect us?  And we know that it was a natural disaster, that nobody probably really could have predicted to this degree, but we want to know if we're going to be protected. 

If we take our insurance money, put it back into our homes, are we going to be safe there?  Are we going to have grocery stores?  Are we going to have businesses to go to, people to have jobs?  And you cannot go back at this point because we have nothing.  We have no housing.

COSBY:  Where are you living?

JOE LICCIARDI:  I'm staying there in the St. Bernard part.  We're staying in a trailer.

COSBY:  You're staying in a trailer all this time?

JOE LICCIARDI:  Right.

COSBY:  And you're probably going to be there, what, another year?

JOE LICCIARDI:  At least two years.

COSBY:  Well, both you have been in my prayers, and I'm glad you're both safe and sound.  I'm glad your family's safe and sound because that's not replaceable, of course.  Thank you so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

COSBY:  And we spoke with them right before Thanksgiving. 

We're going to be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And what an amazing year it has been!  In addition to the stories that you've just seen, I will never forget talking to some people who just got out of prison, like Martha Stewart, and plenty of people who are still behind bars, like Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who swore to us that he'd never perform another illegal assisted suicide again. 

And then there's Erik Menendez, who says he lives every day with the guilt of killing his own parents.  And there's Tookie Williams, who swore he was innocent of four murders, right until his execution, even though he was leader of the deadly Crips gang for many years. 

In my mind, I will remember 2005 by the stories of hope and courage that we were able to show you firsthand, from the brave young soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan, who we visited while we were with the WWE wrestlers, to those incredible rescue workers looking for the last survivors right after Hurricane Katrina.  Those people are real heroes who inspire me every day. 

As we close tonight, I want to thank all of you and wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2006.  We hope that you're going to continue to tune in to LIVE & DIRECT for more intriguing and memorable stories.  We promise we will not let you down.

Happy new year, everybody.

               

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

END   

Content and programming copyright 2005 NBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon NBC and Voxant, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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