updated 1/16/2006 10:42:15 PM ET 2006-01-17T03:42:15

Guests: Tommy Boswell, Michael Gregory, Karlee Weinmann, Matt Murphy, Marisa Riley, Chantel Leonhart, Dennis Vacco, Davidson Goldin, David Schwartz, Daniel Horowitz

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, police in Alabama and Georgia on a massive manhunt for two suspected murderers who overpowered guards, one guard stabbed, three others injured.  The two men are now on the loose. 

And Florida police track down two teens they say are on this tape beating a homeless man.  They allegedly beat another man to death that same night. 

And more questions about why a 7-year-old New York girl was not saved from her own parents.  Little Nixzmary Brown was allegedly starved and beaten, eventually to death.  Her school and city officials had an idea something was wrong, so wasn‘t her death avoidable?  Do laws need to change? 

Plus, he shows up at a high school and claims to be a young English aristocrat, until some enterprising high school journalists hit the Internet and discover he‘s really a convicted sex offender.  Now he‘s back behind bars.  We talk to the young reporters. 

The program about justice starts now.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket, a massive manhunt on the Georgia/Alabama border.  Seventeen-year-old Johnny Earl Jones, accused of killing a 2-year-old girl, and 19-year-old Lamar Lon (ph) Benton, charged with the murder and rape of a 39-year-old mother, broke out of the Russell County Alabama jail just after midnight Saturday.  Four guards were hurt in the escape, one stabbed in the back, apparently 15 times with a wire weapon.  A third escapee, Brent Martin, was captured Saturday.  Local and state police need help from the public.

Sheriff Tommy Boswell joins us now from the Russell County Sheriff‘s Office in Phenix City, Alabama.  Sheriff, thanks very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it.  Let‘s start with the most important issue, and that is where and when were they last seen? 

SHERIFF TOMMY BOSWELL, RUSSELL COUNTY ALABAMA (via phone):  We have them in the woods in the Phenix City area Saturday morning.  We have indications that they crossed the bridge into Columbus around daylight on Saturday, and we have not had a positive sighting of them since then. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So take us back for a moment.  How does something like this happen?  How do a group of three overpower guards in a jail like that?

BOSWELL:  Well what we‘re doing is we‘re conducting an investigation of all of the circumstances surrounding that.  I think it requires several errors made, a combination of errors for—and a particular circumstance for something like that to happen.  And we will investigate and get to the bottom of exactly what did happen. 

ABRAMS:  Because one of them had some sort of handmade weapon, right? 

They had made something into a knifelike object? 

BOSWELL:  That‘s correct.  We often find those kinds of weapons in a correctional setting.  They can take the most inanimate object that—you know, the things that are available to them and create weapons with them.  And you have to be constantly on the vigil with inmates to get those weapons out of the jail. 

ABRAMS:  How is that guard doing? 

BOSWELL:  He‘s OK.  He‘s back at home.  He was stabbed 15 times.  We had another one that they tried to stab in the neck, and he was able to over—to fight them enough that they weren‘t able to stab him in the neck. 

ABRAMS:  And what about the two others? 

BOSWELL:  The two others are at home, recuperating.  They all four were the victims of a very serious assault. 

ABRAMS:  And do we know what went wrong?  When you say errors were made, do you know what the errors were? 

BOSWELL:  We‘re working on that and we‘re conducting an investigation this week, and we will get to the bottom of it. 

ABRAMS:  Because I‘m reading—you know I‘m reading articles in preparation for this, I‘m hearing about overcrowding, et cetera, but I can‘t imagine that‘s really an explanation. 

BOSWELL:  No, this particular circumstance was not the result of overcrowding or short staffed.  There were some errors made. 

ABRAMS:  And in terms of exactly what happened, you don‘t want to go beyond that. 

BOSWELL:  That‘s correct. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  All right.  Now, again, the reason you‘re on the show is we show these pictures so people can put out the word.  Do we know anything about whether they have any weapons with them? 

BOSWELL:  Well considering you know their backgrounds, I think they need to be considered armed and dangerous.  However, there‘s no indication or evidence that either one of them has a weapon with them at this time. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Sheriff.  Good luck.  We‘ve been putting up the number, 334-298-6535.  If you‘ve got any information, please make sure you give a call.  Appreciate it.

BOSWELL:  Thank you.  That‘s correct. 

ABRAMS:  Thanks, Sheriff. 

Now to two teenage suspects who turned themselves into authorities in Florida after the brutal beatings of at least three homeless men early Thursday morning.  One of them is dead.  Eighteen-year-old Brian Hooks faces aggravated battery charges for the beating of Jacques Pierre and for a similar beating of a homeless man nearby, but he also faces a first-degree murder charge for the killing of a third homeless man, Norris Gaynor, beaten to death just blocks away.

The second suspect believed to be in the surveillance tape is a 17-year-old who also turned himself in over the weekend.  He appeared in court wearing shackles and was ordered held without bond for 21 days at a juvenile detention facility.  Still no final decision on whether he‘ll be charged as a juvenile or an adult. 

Joining us now is Captain Michael Gregory of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.  Captain, thanks for taking the time.  We appreciate it.  So tell me how it all went down.  These guys just called up and they said we‘re ready to come in? 

CAPT. MICHAEL GREGORY, FORT LAUDERDALE POLICE DEPT.:  No, it wasn‘t quite that simple.  Actually we received a number of tips and leads from the public on our Crimestoppers‘ line and faxes as well that led us back to the identity of the suspects, in which we contacted the families and of course they had secured attorneys and we arranged their return. 

ABRAMS:  I understand there was some negotiation that went on between the families and your office, as to how and when they would turn themselves in. 

GREGORY:  I don‘t know if I would describe it so much as a negotiation.  The teens had actually left the Fort Lauderdale area and were some distance away at the time in which we were able to contact the families.  So the delays are what people might describe as negotiation was actually awaiting their return to the area. 

ABRAMS:  And are there more people who are suspected of having been involved? 

GREGORY:  Our investigation‘s ongoing.  We do—we are viewing our

previous reports of assaults in the area, and we haven‘t excluded any other

the possibility that there was any other suspects involved in those, no. 

ABRAMS:  But right now it‘s two, and you‘re convinced that they were involved in at least three attacks or three attacks? 

GREGORY:  We‘re convinced they were involved in at least the three attacks that‘s been discussed and possibly others. 

ABRAMS:  Let me read you a statement from an attorney for the 18-year-old, Brian Hooks, who‘s been charged as an adult, been charged with murder. 

We believe the current charges do not appropriately reflect Brian‘s responsibility and that when all the facts come to light it will be evident that Brian‘s involvement is far more limited than has been speculated.

Were you speculating? 

GREGORY:  Not hardly.  We gathered the evidence that was available to us, and has been presented further charges. 

ABRAMS:  And has the D.A. actually filed the official charges? 

GREGORY:  No, we expect this case to go before the grand jury.  So all the evidence will be reviewed again by them and a final filing decision will come out of that. 

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you, the one we see there, with the bat, pounding on that innocent civilian there, is that Brian Hooks? 

GREGORY:  I believe that‘s going to be Thomas Daugherty. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  All right.  So the other—right, the other one is the one seen running away.  But you are convinced you‘re going to be able to make a murder case against the 18-year-old, as well, correct? 

GREGORY:  I believe that‘s what the evidence is going to prove in court. 

ABRAMS:  Have they made any comments since you arrested them, since they turned...

GREGORY:  No, they have invoked their right to remain silent.  They have cooperated with the booking process and obviously provided information that‘s required for that. 

ABRAMS:  And is there any more to that tape than what we‘re seeing? 

GREGORY:  I don‘t see exactly what you‘re...

ABRAMS:  All right.  We‘re seeing a little clip of the tape, where you just see the older—young man, the 18-year-old running out of the shot and you see the 17-year-old striking blows against a homeless man.  Is it longer and broader than what we‘re seeing? 

GREGORY:  We believe the attack lasted longer than what you see—what we released to the media earlier as the video, but I still don‘t know exactly how much you‘re playing there, so...

ABRAMS:  I understand.  Any sense of a motive?  I mean I—there can‘t be a motive, right?  I mean this is just one of those horribly senseless crimes...

GREGORY:  They haven‘t provided us one at this time and you pretty much described it.

ABRAMS:  All right.  And final question, do you have any sense of whether the 17-year-old will be charged as an adult or a juvenile?

GREGORY:  From past cases I think it‘s likely that he‘ll be charged as an adult filing, but that will be up to the State Attorney‘s Office in Broward County. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Captain, thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

Appreciate it.

GREGORY:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, why couldn‘t this little girl‘s life be saved?  Authorities knew something was wrong with her at home.  Her stepfather is now charged with beating her to death, after beating her daily and basically starving her.  Her mother said she didn‘t stop it, because she was concerned about getting hit.  We‘ve got to fix the laws to prevent something like this from happening or at least the regulations when it comes to Child Services. 

And next, this kid said he was British royalty when he showed up at the Minnesota high school.  Some intrepid school reporters thought this doesn‘t make sense.  They were right; he was a convicted sex offender.  The student reporters join us.

Plus, our friend Daniel Horowitz is here.  We thought he‘d be back defending accused murderer Susan Polk, but she is asking to fire him saying she thinks he may have had something to do with the murder of his wife.  Will he be able to defend murderers again?  He‘s going to tell us.

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  When Caspian James Chrichton Stuart IV arrived at a Minnesota high school he looked like a typical senior, his story far from typical.  He had a British accent, handed out business cards that said he was a member of Britain‘s royal family and told the other students he hung out with a number of American celebrities.

But the Fifth Duke of Cleveland, as he called himself, wasn‘t well connected enough to close off the Internet.  Some suspicious student reporters found he was not duke.  He wasn‘t even British, but he was a convicted sex offender. 

Before we talk to the students, NBC‘s Lisa Daniels has the story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA DANIELS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  His real name is Joshua Adam Gardner, behind bars for violating his probation as a convicted sex offender, a conviction he says he didn‘t deserve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I had a 15-year-old girlfriend at the time and I was 18 and didn‘t realize it was against the law. 

DANIELS:  No matter, now 22 Gardner is under arrest for using the Internet and hanging out with minors in a plot that‘s hard to believe.  Gardner went on campus at the high school in Stillwater, Minnesota last month posing as a 17-year-old perspective student and member of Britain‘s royal family. 

MATT MURPHY, “PONY EXPRESS” EDITOR IN CHIEF:  When he first came to the school, we were blindsided by him.  As the story progressed, we were completely shocked. 

DANIELS:  Gardner told high school kids, including these journalism students that his name was Caspian James Chrichton Stuart IV, the Fifth Duke of Cleveland and he even had business cards to prove his identity. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Becoming Caspian, you know you get that respect and people just look at you.  They don‘t look at you in that way they would look at a sex offender. 

DANIELS:  As the Fifth Duke of Cleveland, Gardner assumed an English accent and claimed to hang out with British royals and American celebrities like Josh Hartnett and Hilary Duff.

KARLEE WEINMANN, “PONY EXPRESS” EDITOR IN CHIEF:  We initially thought some of his claims seemed a little bit outlandish and farfetched, things he would say about partying with American celebrities or fencing with Prince Harry or Queen Elizabeth herself telling him to clean his room in his palace.

DANIELS:  So student reporters started investigating the duke on the Internet. 

MARISA RILEY, “PONY EXPRESS” MANAGING EDITOR:  And we looked it up and his castle was—he spelled it wrong. 

DANIELS:  It wasn‘t long before the young journalists made a disturbing discovery. 

CHANTEL LEONHART, “PONY EXPRESS” MANAGING EDITOR:  We finally searched him in a sex offender database, and his name and mug shot came up and it was just weird, just kind of blown away.

DANIELS:  The students reported their findings to authorities who arrested Gardner for violating terms of his supervised release.  Yet Gardner is still willing to demonstrate that fake accent that got him in so much trouble. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) of the situation, you know being in jail and everything are really bad, you know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If we had not pursued the story, who knows what else this guy would have done.

DANIELS:  A big break for budding journalists, but a bad break for a troubled young man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m just sorry.  I didn‘t mean to hurt anybody. 

You know that‘s the one thing I can‘t emphasize enough.

DANIELS:  Lisa Daniels, NBC News. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Listen to this guy faking the British accent still.  All right.  School paper is the “Pony Express” and the student journalists are here with us.  Editors in chief Matt Murphy and Karlee Weinmann and managing editors Marisa Riley and Chantel Leonhart.  Thanks a lot to all of you, appreciate it. 

All right.  Karlee, let me start with you, what is the first that you heard of this guy on campus? 

WEINMANN:  Well, actually one of our staff reporters had heard from her German teacher that this purported royal duke was going to be at our school for the day, so we just thought that it might make a fun feature story to write because people generally are enamored with the whole idea of royalty.

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, Matt, you hear about this supposed royalty is going to be on campus and then what happens? 

MURPHY:  Well, his initial claims of interactions with celebrities and his suggestions pertaining to the British royal family and British pedigree, they didn‘t add up with us.  So subsequently we researched the subject, which led us to the discovery that he was not a duke, but rather a sex offender. 

ABRAMS:  But—and Marisa, let me take—go to you on this one—was there a sense amongst all of you, or did one of you say wait a second, this guy‘s claiming that he‘s hanging out with Hilary Duff and he‘s hanging out with Josh Hartnett.  He‘s claiming the Fifth Duke of Cleveland or did all of you hear about this together and say this just doesn‘t make any sense? 

RILEY:  I think we were all a little skeptical at first, just because the stories were so farfetched.  But Matt initially had the skepticism with the British pedigree about how the kings and queens lined up in his family history and it just didn‘t line up. 

ABRAMS:  So Matt, what was it about the kings and queens that didn‘t line up? 

MURPHY:  Well, I was reading a book concurrently with the investigation, which was a really—it was a ridiculous coincidence, but what I was reading in the book by Winston Churchill didn‘t exactly line up with what this kid was saying.

ABRAMS:  So you just read this book and he‘s talking about the history of the British monarchy and you‘re saying, wait a sec, that‘s not what I just read? 

MURPHY:  Yes.  And which you know subsequently, it put some doubt into Karlee and Chantel and Marisa as well and they pursued it, as well as I did, which led to the discovery. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So Chantel now—there‘s the suspicion now.  Everyone is saying (INAUDIBLE) wait a second.  This doesn‘t add up.  That doesn‘t add up.  You guys start an Internet search.  Who decides, you know what, let‘s check the sex offender registry?

LEONHART:  Well, we started with a lot of Web sites, but we—when we found his actual name, the Joshua Adam Gardner name, we just started putting his name into you know national databases of any sort, just legal capacities really and eventually we came upon the sex offender Web site and that‘s when his mug shot popped up that we saw. 

ABRAMS:  And what did you think at that point?  Were you thinking oh my, hello? 

LEONHART:  Yes, we really were.  Karlee and Marisa and I were the ones that saw it and we printed it off and ran to get Matt out of class to show him and it was really just kind of a breakthrough on what we had been working so hard for.

ABRAMS:  Karlee, how long did you have to look on the Internet to find who he really was? 

WEINMANN:  It was over the period of a weekend that we kind of had all these breakthroughs and found all this information.  But we spent hours and hours and you know the efforts of one person compounded with the efforts of many led to this breakthrough that we discovered.

ABRAMS:  How did you fine his real name? 

WEINMANN:  It was actually on a Wikepedia site.  Wikepedia is sort of an online encyclopedia where users submit information.  So it‘s basically a pool of knowledge that users submit.  And we found an entry submitted for deletion actually for Caspian James Chrichton Stuart IV and the user who submitted it for deletion coincidentally submitted it because he suspected it was—quote—“largely nonsense” and next to the name Caspian James Chrichton Stuart IV was the name Joshua Adam Gardner in parentheses.  So that‘s how we found his real name and that‘s what ultimately led us down the final stretch of our investigation. 

ABRAMS:  And Marisa, he kind of minimizes his sex offender status, right? 

RILEY:  Yes, he did. 

ABRAMS:  What was he convicted of? 

RILEY:  He was convicted of level our sex offender, which is forced or coerced.  And that was in Florida, because the levels are different in each state.  But due to Florida‘s standards, which they post any level sex offender, we found him.  Because Minnesota only posted level three, which is the highest.

ABRAMS:  He says he was 18 and having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend at the time.  Matt, is that consistent with what your investigation has turned up? 

MURPHY:  Yes.  I mean initially that wasn‘t a part of what we were looking at, but after subsequent research that is what we had found out.  And you know of course you‘re going to get bogus claims out of people that they‘re going to minimize their sex offender status, but luckily for us the justice system goes with the facts rather than the bogus claims of sex offenders.

ABRAMS:  You‘ve already become a widely jaded journalist, I see, but you‘re smart to look at it that way.  All right...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... here‘s more of the interview with Josh Gardner in—number two—in prison, talking about why he did it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSHUA ADAM GARDNER, CONVICTED SEX OFFENDER:  I just kind of didn‘t have any worries, you know and there‘s people that actually—not that I‘m saying that you know there‘s people out there that don‘t care about me now you know as Joshua, you know but I was really close to my mom, you know and when she died, you know I kind of took that hard.  You know and so there‘s nobody there.  And so as Caspian, you know more people you know enjoy to be around me, you know I guess that they didn‘t look at me as a sex offender.  They looked at me as a normal person. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you.  Do any of you feel sorry for him now, looking back on it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not at all. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Not at all. 

ABRAMS:  Why the uniform—you just don‘t buy his story?  You think he‘s just trying to snooker people again?

WEINMANN:  Well, we don‘t feel that your own personal escape is excuse enough for you to impact so many other people in a potentially dangerous manner.  We don‘t find any excuse for that at all in his claims. 

ABRAMS:  I agree with you.  What was he doing, Chantel, on campus? 

LEONHART:  He was visiting the school.  I know the last time he visited, he spoke of wanting to become a prospective student to come back as what he said was a senior, he would have been at our high school, which of course you know when we found that his birth year was 1983, which made him 22, it wouldn‘t have been possible at all for him to come as a senior at our high school. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, I apologize for laughing because I mean this story is kind of funny...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... but you guys did old-fashioned good journalism.  You should all be real proud of yourselves and by me laughing about this, I‘m in no way mocking the situation because this is a fascinating story, and you guys broke it.  And you all deserve a lot of credit.  I think you all have big futures.  Matt Murphy, Karlee Weinmann—these are all names they‘re going to remember and write these down for when the applications are coming in—Matt Murphy, Karlee Weinmann, and Marisa Riley and Chantel Leonhart, thanks a lot for coming on the program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, new questions about why a little 7-year-old girl is not alive today.  Her stepfather charged with starving and beating her to death.  City officials knew something was wrong.  We‘re going to figure out what needs to be done to prevent this from happening.

And murder suspect Susan Polk fires her attorney, Daniel Horowitz, saying she now suspects that Daniel was involved in killing his wife, based on things he said to her.  Remember a neighbor has been charged, Daniel‘s been cleared.  Daniel joins us.

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike.  This week our search is in Massachusetts. 

Authorities are trying to locate Juan Enriquez.  He‘s 47, five-two, 160.  He was convicted of raping a child, indecent assault and battery on a child younger than 14.  He‘s a level three-sex offender and has not registered his address with the state.  If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry, 978-740-6400. 

Be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a horrible case of child abuse in New York City.  A little girl is now dead.  City and school officials under fire for what it seems could have been a preventable death.  Details up next, first the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Now to a horrible story out of New York, 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown allegedly beaten daily and eventually to death by her stepfather Cesar Rodriguez last week.  Her crime, the nearly starving girl took some yogurt from the refrigerator, so he allegedly beat her with a belt and his bare hands and threw her into a tub of cold water and banged her head against the wall or faucet.

The little girl‘s mother Nixzaliz Santiago allegedly ignored her cries and moans for help.  She now says she watched some of it, but didn‘t intervene out of fear that her husband would hit her.  But a timeline shows all of this could have been stopped. 

Last May, a guidance counselor at Nixzmary‘s school filed a report with the Administration for Children Services that Nixzmary missed 46 days of school.  In a report she made note of bruises on the little girl.  Caseworkers visited her home.  Her mother simply said she had trouble getting Nixzmary to school because she had five other children to take care of. 

Then this past December, a school worker filed a report after noticing Nixzmary had a bruised eye.  A doctor examined her and said the injury was consistent with her mother‘s story she had fallen down the stairs.  Caseworkers attempted follow-up visits, but Nixzmary‘s stepfather wouldn‘t let them in.

Officials thought about getting a family court warrant to get into the house, but never followed through.  So the question, is it time to take discretion away from Child Protective Services? 

Joining me now “New York Sun” columnist Davidson Goldin, who will be writing about this for tomorrow‘s paper, Dennis Vacco, attorney and former New York State attorney general, works in the office, and criminal defense attorney David Schwartz.  Thanks to all of you for coming on the program. 

All right.  Mr. Vacco, let me start with you.  As a former New York State attorney general, do you think that we need to be taking some of the discretion away and say you know what, if the kid doesn‘t show up for school for let‘s say two weeks, they automatically go into the house and they have to get a warrant, for example, if the parents aren‘t helping? 

DENNIS VACCO, FORMER NY STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Absolutely.  I think that this is just a tragic example of how the system has failed.  As you just indicated, last May there were certainly signals that there was something wrong in the household where this little girl lived.  Forty-six days of missing school is unconscionable and that should have been a big red flag to Child Protective Service workers, school officials and eventually even the New York City Police Department and unfortunately they just missed that altogether. 

And I think that what needs to happen here is we really need to give the CPS, the Child Protective Service workers more discretion.  When they knock on the door and the would-be abuser won‘t let them in, I think that they need the ability to take that door down and go into that house. 

ABRAMS:  But is it more discretion or less discretion?  Meaning, I‘m thinking that maybe—because here they had the discretion to decide are we going to pursue a warrant.  They decided you know what, in this case we‘re not going to do it.  I mean should we basically be saying in this kind of case and we can figure out that structure of the law later, but in this kind of case they shouldn‘t even be able to choose not to go for a warrant to get into the house.

VACCO:  Yes, this is a complex problem and there are many facets that need to be fixed.  One of them, and I think it‘s important to point out here that these people, the CPS workers are just simply overworked.  Their caseloads are enormous. 

So they are accustomed to working what I refer to as the incremental approach, to take the cases a step at a time.  So they‘re just by nature the system doesn‘t afford them the ability to be more aggressive.  They need to be more aggressive.

ABRAMS:  See you know that is the problem that we face, David in a lot of these cases, but it seems to me in this case it may have been more than just being overworked.

DAVIDSON GOLDIN, “NEW YORK SUN” COLUMNIST:  I don‘t think there‘s anything complex about this whatsoever.  There were all these signs that this girl was being abused.  She was missing school.  What greater signal can there be?  The only place where anybody‘s trained to notice on small children if there‘s a problem is in school...

ABRAMS:  And they did the...

GOLDIN:  The girl is not in school they should be going to her house.

ABRAMS:  They did the right thing initially, right, 46 days, they go, they—oh the mother says oh you know I‘ve got five kids and it‘s really hard when you‘ve got five kids to get your kid to school for 46 days. 

GOLDIN:  Everybody else does it, but somehow she couldn‘t.

VACCO:  Dan, pardon me for interrupting...

ABRAMS:  Yes, go ahead...

VACCO:  But I really think that that in and of itself, is child abuse and...

ABRAMS:  Of course it is.

VACCO:  ... that‘s where we need to change the law in New York State.  When I was attorney general I could recall a very similar incident.  We proposed legislation to the New York State legislature making it a crime for a parent to be—to allow their kids to be chronic truants.  We suggested at some—at the earliest levels a misdemeanor offense for parents or those that—children are in their care, up to a felony prosecution.  But the fact that this kid missed 46 days of school, in itself, is child abuse. 

ABRAMS:  David Schwartz, look, we obviously brought you on as the sort of pinata here, to hit you, depending on what you‘re going to say.  But are you‘re going to suggest that the system should remain the way it is?

DAVID SCHWARTZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Absolutely not, Dan.  But I don‘t suggest changing the law, either.  You have to start hiring competent caseworkers.  Now Dennis is right.  They are over worked, but they‘re also incompetent.  There are many incompetent caseworkers out there.  You have to look at the system from the inside out, Dan. 

And when you look at the system it is horrible.  You have very low-paying jobs.  They need to pay these people more money to hire a better quality work force.  The family courts of New York City is a black hole.  If you‘re in there, like I‘ve tried cases in there, it‘s a disaster.  The judges are—many of the judges are political hacks.  They don‘t know what they‘re doing.  They‘re overworked and I think the whole system needs to be reformed, but the last thing you need to do is start changing the law.  The law...

ABRAMS:  But if you‘re right...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  So wait, David, if you‘re right - let‘s assume for a moment there‘s some problems with the people involved in there, why not take away their discretion?  Because then you‘re reducing the number of choices that they get to make. 

SCHWARTZ:  Yes, but the last thing we need to do is give the government more power to now enter the homes of our families...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s not our families. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ:  An overwhelming majority of families are good, lawful people...

ABRAMS:  That‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ:  And they don‘t have to worry about anything. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ:  However, the writing was on the wall in this case, Dan.  Of course the child missed 45 days of school.  There was probable cause to go and get the warrant from the...

ABRAMS:  Right.  I‘m not suggesting to go without a warrant.

SCHWARTZ:  If the caseworker only did that, this whole thing could have been avoided. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Go ahead David...

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDIN:  This is so typical.  You‘ve got the defense lawyer saying everything‘s fine.  You‘ve got the former politician...

SCHWARTZ:  I didn‘t say that.

GOLDIN:  ... perhaps future politician saying we need new laws.  They don‘t need new laws and everything isn‘t fine.  All they have got to do is enforce the current laws they have and be more aggressive about it.  When a kid isn‘t in school, when there are these signs that there‘s abuse, all they‘ve got to do is automatically ask for a warrant. 

It should be in the regulations these caseworkers follow, which is if a kid‘s not in school, you suggested two weeks, maybe it‘s six days, 18 days—I don‘t know—some expert can decide—when a kid‘s not in school, it‘s an automatic warrant application, 1.1 million school kids in New York.  Surely New York State can find one judge to assign (INAUDIBLE) courthouse where the Board of Education is based, have that judge consider these applications. 

SCHWARTZ:  Dan, we need to abide by the probable cause standard.  I wasn‘t standing here saying that everything is fine.  Obviously, everything is not fine.  I was just mocking the entire system.  We need to keep the probable cause standard, hire competent caseworkers that when probable cause arises...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ:  ... to enter the home, that‘s when...

ABRAMS:  The problem is, Dennis Vacco...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... every time there‘s a problem we always hear oh it‘s the incompetence of an individual, nothing needs to change, everything can stay the same, it was this person‘s fault.  But at some point you have to say that the system is broken. 

VACCO:  And I think the system is broken.  I think that this is just yet another example—and we‘re going to see more, just as we saw examples 10 years ago, we‘ve seen examples since then.  Just within the past three or four months, there‘s been other victims.  And you know I‘m a little concerned about this conversation focusing on probable cause and traditional criminal justice principles when we‘re talking about the life of a kid.  We‘re not talking about those CPS workers going into the apartment or into a home to secure evidence.  We‘re talking...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

VACCO:  ... about them being able to get in to save a kid‘s life. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Fair point.  Davidson Goldin, Dennis Vacco, David Schwartz...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  ... thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, our friend Daniel Horowitz is here with the latest news of his most recent case.  Accused murderer Susan Polk trying to fire Daniel because she‘s saying he had something to do with his wife‘s murder and she now wants to represent herself.

And later, author James Frey‘s book causing a national debate.  I don‘t get it.  His book is not all real memories of his real life, so it‘s not a memoir.  What is the debate?  And don‘t get me started on the ridiculous lawsuits that have been filed.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Daniel Horowitz joins us to tell us why a suspected murderer and client of his is now saying that Horowitz may have had something to do with his wife‘s own murder.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL HOROWITZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Can I be a defense

attorney again?  Well I think I said some things that are fair towards

people accused of a crime.  But could I stand next to somebody who I knew

committed a murder like this?  I don‘t know.  It‘s—you know, it‘s pretty

right now, it would—I guess I‘d have to say it would a pretty hard thing to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well Daniel Horowitz did go back to work even representing an accused murderer shortly after his own wife Pamela Vitale was brutally killed in their home, but now one of his clients, Susan Polk, awaiting trial for killing her husband, is moving to fire Horowitz and his co-counsel saying—quote—“I have fired defense counsel Daniel Horowitz and Ivan Golde because I‘ve come to suspect that Horowitz may have been involved in the murder of his wife based on statements he made to me.”

Of course, his 17-year-old neighbor, Scott Dyleski, has been arrested and charged with Vitale‘s murder.  Horowitz has been cleared as a possible suspect.  So back with us is our friend criminal defense attorney Daniel Horowitz.  Daniel, thanks for coming back on the program.  Appreciate it.  How are you doing? 

HOROWITZ:  I‘m all right, Dan.

ABRAMS:  What do you make of this?  What is Susan Polk up to here? 

HOROWITZ:  Well, Dan, in my experience as a defense attorney we often have clients who lash out at us, particularly just before trial.  Now, her particular way of doing it is very personal.  It could be hurtful, if I let it be hurtful.  But if I think about what‘s going on with her, if I say what would Pamela want me to be thinking about or what does my profession demand, the answer is compassion. 

I took on a person who, innocent as she may be, still had a very hard life, Dan.  She didn‘t get in this position by having a good life.  So I have to dig deep and think to myself, how does she feel being locked up, facing trial, where she could go to jail the rest of her life.  And I have to have understanding.  I have to have that...

(CROSSTALK)

HOROWITZ:  ... because otherwise where do I go. 

ABRAMS:  You‘ve got to dig so deep, though.  I mean because this is not just saying oh he‘s—you know she‘s making other allegations.  I mean there‘s one—says he has not been focusing on my case.  He has not spent any substantial time with me since his wife‘s death.

I would have liked to be represented by competent counsel.  I don‘t think Dan is competent.  All right.  That‘s the usual stuff we hear from criminal defendants who want to get rid of their lawyers.  Oh, he‘s not this.  He‘s not that.

All right, fine, but this is personal, as you point out.  I mean she is saying that you said things to her which suggests that you may have actually killed your wife.  I mean there‘s nothing more insulting that somebody could say. 

HOROWITZ:  Well first of all, I think everybody knows that I would never talk to any client about Pamela or anything about her case.  And there‘s a gag order...

ABRAMS:  Right.

HOROWITZ:  ... on the case, as well.  So, it just...

ABRAMS:  Look, I‘m viewing here as a nut job, all right.  I‘m assuming here that she‘s a nut job.  She wants to represent herself now.  Every client that wants to represent themselves in a murder case in my view is generally a nut job.  So you have another case of someone who you know is doing something very, very stupid and saying things very, very stupid.  But I‘m just asking how you can be so forgiving of her, based on the kind of allegations she‘s making.  I mean is she that sort of out of her mind that you can just sort of distance yourself from it?

HOROWITZ:  Well here‘s what it is, Dan.  I have to just decide who I am as a person.  It has nothing to do with Susan Polk.  It has to do with me.  If I can‘t hold up to this type of attack and this barrage and you know whatever comes from this, if I can‘t do it, then I can‘t be a defense attorney.  Because this happens to defense attorneys all the time, only it doesn‘t get played out in national television. 

So now it‘s getting played out on me and this is a measure of who I am.  And it‘s a great test, Dan.  It‘s a great way of saying Dan Horowitz after all you‘ve been through, have you lost your compassion, or has it grown.  And I hope the answer is—and so far it is—that I feel compassion, so I‘m just glad about that.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Look, she makes a lot of other allegations.  I‘m not going to even go through them because I think that that just begins to give it a certain level of credence.  Let me switch topics for a moment.

You heard the quote at the beginning of the segment, you back in October saying you‘d have a tough time representing people accused of the kind of crime that was committed on your wife.  How do you feel about that today?  Do you think you‘ll be able to go back into courtrooms and defend accused murderers? 

HOROWITZ:  You know, Dan, so far I have been able to do that.  Now...

ABRAMS:  How do you do it?

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  How do you do it?

HOROWITZ:  Well, you could just say I‘m defending the Constitution and everybody has a right to a defense.  But there‘s more to it than that.  Somehow, even with what I‘ve been through and what Pamela went through, I still believe there‘s a certain sense of goodness in all people, that there‘s God or humanity that keeps us alive.  And somehow I‘m able to find that in everyone.  And I guess as long as I have that, I can still do my job. 

ABRAMS:  But knowing what‘s happened to you personally, you can stand up there and defend people who most of the time are going to be guilty, many of them guilty of crimes as heinous as the one committed upon your wife.

HOROWITZ:  I have to do it in an honest way.  Maybe sense what happened to Pamela and to me, I can do it in a more compassionate way, be kinder towards the victims, more sensitive to their feelings, and still honest to the jury, and just ask people to look at the facts of the case.  So maybe this makes me a better lawyer in the total global sense.  That‘s what I‘m hoping has happened Dan.  Time will tell. 

ABRAMS:  Well if you can represent murderers, you can certainly come back on this program and represent the defense view as you have so many times and so well over the years and we look forward to having you back on a regular capacity, Daniel.  It‘s good to see you.  You look good.  You sound good.  Thanks a lot.

HOROWITZ:  Thank you, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a million little lawsuits over James Frey‘s book, well at least a few.  Come on, lawsuits over this book?  I just want the truth.  No money?  It‘s my “Closing Argument”. 

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike.  Today the search is in Massachusetts.  We‘re trying to help authorities locate level three-sex offender Russell Cory.

He‘s 61, five-nine, 210, was convicted of rape and indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.  He has not registered his address with the state.  If you‘ve got any information, that‘s the number, 978-740-6400. 

Be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—I must admit, I don‘t quite understand why learning that author James Frey made up details for his best selling memoir “A Million Little Pieces” has stirred up a national debate.  Over what?  In just the past few days “The New York Times”, “TIME”, “USA Today” to name a few have published articles about memoirs and truth.  But if he made up many details, is there any debate that it‘s wrong, misleading, dishonest?  What‘s the issue?  There are questions now not just about his supposed criminal past, but about what happened at a rehab center which serves as the book‘s foundation. 

His publisher claims—quote—“Memoir is personal recollection. 

It‘s not absolute fact.  It‘s how one remembers what happened.”

(INAUDIBLE) So if many of the facts were made up, that‘s OK because that‘s how he‘s chosen to remember his life.  If O.J. has convinced himself he didn‘t kill his wife and Ron Goldman and then writes a factually inaccurate memoir about his loving life with Nicole, they‘d stand behind the memoir because that‘s now how O.J. would like to remember it?  Frey says—quote—“the emotional truth is there.”

What does that mean?  The feelings are real, but the details are invented?  Talk about devil and the details.  Readers have a right to expect that these were memories of a real life, not the life he thinks would have been neat or cool or interesting.  That‘s called fiction.

Many novels are based on real life events.  His unsuccessful efforts at shopping the book as a novel shouldn‘t allow him to then pretend it really happened.  Others have compared it to movies based on true stories, but then we know ahead of time it‘s based on a true story.  People can ask after the movie, was this part true?  Did this really happen?  In addition to misleading readers and for that matter possibly the publisher I‘m told by an insider that he—quote—“conned us all”.  Frey also may have lied when promoting the book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But did you take any poetic license with some of the stories of what happened to you in that clinic? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  I cut out all the boring stuff.  But I didn‘t invent anything.  Everything I wrote about happened.  And I didn‘t want to write a book that would bore people, so I took out everything you know the days where we just sat there and smoked cigarettes.  Nobody wants to read about that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  With that said, none of this justifies ridiculous class action lawsuits that have been filed against him and the publishers.  So far one in Illinois, another in California.  Yes, we have a right to be angry, to boycott him or even the publisher if appropriate action isn‘t taken.  But the lawyers in Illinois claim compensatory and punitive damages are warranted as well as expenses and attorneys‘ fees. 

The damage—quote—“consumer relied upon these untrue assertions as basis for an emotional investment interest and empathy for the central character.”  Come on, is therefore we‘re entitled to money?  We‘re entitled to the truth, nothing more and nothing less. 

Coming up, last week I said it‘s time to end the charade of Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees.  Some of you disagree.  Your e-mails are next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  In my “Closing Argument” Friday I said it‘s time to end the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Supreme Court nominees, as we know them. 

Sue Collins from St. Paul, “Whether these hearings are useful for evaluating the candidate may be in question.  Whether these hearings are useful for evaluating the senators is not.”

I asked what we learned from the hearings that wasn‘t in the nominee‘s past writings or comments.  John O‘Connor, “For the life of me I cannot understand how you can say that the Alito hearings were a waste of time.  We found out that Alito favors a president establishing his own legislative intent when he signs a proposed statute, that in case involving civil rights he exceeds most court of appeals judges by favoring the government‘s position 90 percent of the time.  Your adoption of the current conventional wisdom (oh, what is the point of these hearings) is less than rigorously considered.”

John, I‘m sorry.  Which of those partisan conclusions were you only able to draw from the hearings?  Come on.  You‘re regurgitating the Talking Points, rightly or wrongly, that existed before the hearings. 

Deb Wood from Wimberley, Texas, “I respect the Democrats for the job that they tried to do despite all the complaining from the neo cons.  The Republicans did nothing but grease the way for Alito.”

From Sugar Land, Texas, Doris Kallina, “I think we learned that we have accepted a Supreme Court justice who exhibits no intellectual curiosity.  I lost count of how many times he said that he hadn‘t thought of the subject or some similar remark.”

Finally, Bonnie from Houston.  “When watching the character witness part of Alito‘s confirmation, I noticed that most of the senators were not present.  Rude, isn‘t it?  Can the senators just get up and leave?”

Yes, they can, Bonnie, and you know they do.  Long hearings.  I‘m not justifying it, but both parties, they get up, they walk around.  Remember during the senator‘s questioning they wanted to insult one of the other senators; some of them weren‘t even there to insult them.  Arlen Specter said wait until they get back.

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show.

“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews up next.  See you tomorrow.

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