updated 3/20/2006 11:52:04 AM ET 2006-03-20T16:52:04

Guests: Tom Gainey, Henry McMaster, Susan Filan, Carol Pogash, Jonna Spilbor, Steven Clark, Bridget Murphy, Clint Van Zandt, Gerald Curry, Vernell Crittendon

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, breaking news.  A convicted sex offender accused of raping two teenager girls in an underground dungeon has just been caught. 

We have got breaking news to report on a manhunt for convicted sex offender Kenneth Hinson, wanted for sexually assaulting two 17-year-old girls earlier this week in a makeshift dungeon outside his South Carolina home.  He has just been captured and joining me now by phone is Darlington County Sheriff Chief Deputy Tom Gainey.  Thanks a lot for coming back on the program.  We appreciate it.  What happened? 

CHIEF DEP. TOM GAINEY, DARLINGTON CO. SHERIFF’S OFFICE (via phone): 

Oh, at around six minutes after 5:00 Eastern Standard Time we received a phone call from a resident at 2853 Whitehall Lane in Hartsville that the suspect was in her backyard.  We had units that were at his residents, which was only approximately maybe three quarters of a mile away respond.  When they responded, they went around the house and apprehended the suspect in the backyard. 

ABRAMS:  He was in somebody’s backyard.  Did this person know him? 

GAINEY:  Yes, this person was a relative.  We had started our search with our own ATV’s at the perimeter of our search area with the idea and the hopes that we would force him to us or to someone he would know in the area.  That appears to be exactly what did occur, that he appeared very tired and he wanted something to drink as water—such as water and we were able to apprehend him with no resistance.

ABRAMS:  So he didn’t fight back.  He didn’t deny that he was the man you were looking for, et cetera?

GAINEY:  No, he had I.D. on him that identified him, plus we knew who he was and he also admitted who he was. 

ABRAMS:  Did he say anything about the crimes?

GAINEY:  No.  He did not mention anything about the crimes.

ABRAMS:  All right, can you tell us, again, remind our viewers what this man is accused of doing. 

GAINEY:  He is being charged with kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct, first degree in regards to his taking two, 17-year-old victims out of their residence on Monday evening, carried them to a room he had in a secret compartment under a storage building behind the residence and there leaving them bound where they escaped later that  -- or next morning they escaped and were able to flee to a resident’s house and call us. 

ABRAMS:  And how did he get them into the dungeon? 

GAINEY:  He kidnapped them out of their residence one at a time and carried them to it.

ABRAMS:  So, what, he would kidnap one of them and then tie her up and then brought the other one there? 

GAINEY:  Yes, I—from the statements that was provided, he kidnapped one, carried her to the room under the building, sexually assaulted her and then left her there bound, went back to the residence, kidnapped the other one, brought her to the same area, carried her into the room under the ground and there sexually assaulted her and left both of them bound with duct tape with the trapped door secured and left them there overnight.

ABRAMS:  And when he was captured, again, this is only moments ago now, he provided no additional information about what happened.  He provided no confession, et cetera, but he did give up, it seems.  Did the person who was at the home call immediately upon seeing him?

GAINEY:  Yes.  They saw him.  He approached them trying to apparently get some water from them and they were obviously very excited in the sense of scared for their safety, but he never made any entrance into the home.  He had approached them from the rear, apparently trying to talk them through a window in the house.  As I said, he was apprehended with no resistance in the backyard.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Chief Deputy Gainey, this is very good news. 

Thank you very much for coming back on the program.  We appreciate it.

GAINEY:  All right.  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Now Hinson was convicted of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl at knifepoint in 1991.  He served nine years of a 20-year sentence and was evaluated for long-term civil commitment as a sexually violent predator.  Two separate review teams determined he was likely to strike again. 

The judge decided there wasn’t probable cause to believe that and let him go.  Joining me now is South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster who fought to have Hinson civilly committed.  Thank you very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.  Before I ask you about that, let me just ask you this, why did he only serve nine of 20 years? 

HENRY MCMASTER, SOUTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well that’s the first part of the system failure in this whole thing, is under our state system like a lot of other states, we have parole, we have early release, we have a max outdate and so when a judge sentences somebody, they very often don’t know themselves how long he’s going to stay in jail.  This was one such case.

This man was sentenced to 18 years and served a maximum 20, he could have served—was sentenced to 18 years and actually served just over nine and at that time he was scheduled to get out, that’s when he went through the procedure to see if we could keep him in on a civil commitment for being a sexual violent predator, so this system failed these two teenage girls and everybody else twice.  Once when this man served less than half of his—or just over half of his sentence...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MCMASTER:  ... and the other time when we had a chance to keep him in civil...

ABRAMS:  Well that’s what I want to...

MCMASTER:  ... commitment. 

ABRAMS:  Now I want to ask you about the civil commitment.  First of all, I should point out the Supreme Court has ruled that this kind of civil commitment is constitutional for anyone...

MCMASTER:  That’s correct.

ABRAMS:  ... who’s wondering out there, you know, how can you hold someone after they’ve served their time.  Well the Supreme Court has reviewed this issue and determined that this is constitutional.  So with that in mind...

MCMASTER:  That’s correct, but also technically, they’re in the custody of the Department of Mental Health...

ABRAMS:  Right.

MCMASTER:  ... not in the custody of the prison. 

ABRAMS:  Well and that’s right and that’s where the—that’s where the issue comes in, right?  I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... you don’t just have to show this person is dangerous, you also have to show that there are issues related to their mental health that make them dangerous. 

MCMASTER:  Well, that’s right and some folks would argue anybody who would do something like this is crazy and got serious problems and most people would agree with that.  This man, as you described, had had a knife on a 12-year-old girl’s throat back in 1991, took her in a van out in the woods and raped her and threatened to kill her and so then when he got out of jail nine years later after serving half his term, the attorney general at the time sought to have him civilly committed.

Two different review panels, as you mentioned, said he was likely to reoffend.  The judge heard the evidence, said the evidence was not strong enough and at that point that effort was ceased.  The man got out and five years later here we are again. 

ABRAMS:  What’s the evidence that was presented to the judge at that time? 

MCMASTER:  It would have been his entire record, as well as the evidence concerning the offense in 1991, the rape of the 12-year-old girl.  He was also charged with kidnapping, but he was not convicted of that.  He was simply convicted of the assault and the rape, but also he had other crimes prior to that.  One of them was trafficking cocaine, possession of marijuana, also there’s assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.  He was convicted of all of those things and been charged with a variety of other things. 

ABRAMS:  So what was the judge’s reasoning for letting him go? 

MCMASTER:  Well the judge said there was not—probable cause was not established, that he would be likely to do it again.  That is he thought that there was not sufficient evidence to show the man was—had a psychological abnormality that would cause him to do it again.  Now we—the attorney general at the time disagreed with that, we—I disagree with it vehemently now and of course the circumstances of this case show that those of us who wanted to keep him in civil commitment then were right and he should have been kept in, so the system failed these girls and it’s failing people all the time. 

We need to change this system.  We need to abolish parole, all that early release.  If that man had been serving 18 years, he’d still be in jail now and those girls would just be getting out of school now. 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

MCMASTER:  They’d be happy.

ABRAMS:  Here’s how it works.  A multi—because I think it’s important to understand the system, because there’s going to be a lot of criticism of this judge in the days to come and it sounds like you’re telling us you think that it’s warranted in this particular case, but let me lay out how it works. 

A team determines if a person satisfies the definition of sexually violent predator.  A multidisciplinary team does it.  A prosecutor’s review committee then decides all right, does probable cause exist to believe the person is sexually a violent predator?  In this case, they determined back then, yes. 

The attorney general then asks the court to make a probable cause determination as to whether the person is a violent predator.  They said yes.  So you’ve already gone through three levels with people saying keep this—this guy is dangerous, this guy is dangerous, this guy is dangerous, and then you get to the last level where it goes to the court, the court determined that there was not probable cause.  Is that accurate? 

MCMASTER:  That is accurate, and it’s the exact same question that is asked and answered each time.  There is one more step.  If this judge and the other judges who hear these cases had decided that there was probable cause, then the defendant would be able to go to a regular jury trial with the judge and 12 jurors, and the jury that would then make the decision as whether he would be kept in, so there’s one more step, but in the history of the program since 1998, the jury has only let one person out and by the way, that person re-offended. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Attorney General McMaster thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

MCMASTER:  Thank you, sir.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Joining me now by phone, South Carolina criminal defense attorney Joe McCullough and former prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst Susan Filan joins us as well.

All right.  Mr. McCullough, let me start with you.  Can you explain to us how to defend what the judge did here? 

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY (via phone):  Well yes, I can do that very easily, Dan.  The problem here is that my good friend Henry McMaster is trying to politicize and criticize a process that is well thought out.  There are a number of steps that the courts and prosecutors must go through, and here apparently there was a failure by Mr. McMaster’s office to demonstrate sufficient probable cause, so directly the criticism at the judge is—when we really should be looking at what was presented and what according to Henry had just related, were all old crimes, crimes for which this fellow had paid his debt to society and apparently had done very well based on what I read in the newspapers in prison.  So apparently the system failed to demonstrate to the judge that there was any reason to believe that he was a repeat offender. 

ABRAMS:  That...

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY:  Unfortunately, the tragedy is he was.  And so, if there is to be criticism leveled and analysis of this thing, scrutiny of the process, they need to look at what was presented to the judge, not what the judge did with what he was presented. 

ABRAMS:  But doesn’t that presume that judge gets it right?  I mean it sounds like you’re presuming the judge must have gotten it right and then trying to figure out how it happened. 

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY:  Well I’ve practiced in this state as a prosecutor and defense lawyer for 30 years.  I’ve known this judge and know him, and I know he is not exactly what you’d call a liberal judge.  He is tough on crime and I can tell you, as you know Dan, being a lawyer, and Susan, I don’t know you, but you both know what probable cause means.  We’re talking about a standard of proof that is a hiccup.  It doesn’t take much to satisfy that standard and apparently the attorney general’s office simply failed to do that in the courtroom. 

ABRAMS:  But it sounds to me, Susan, like what the attorney general is saying is that the system is the problem now and that maybe there needs to be new standards in place. 

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:   Well that may be, but in this case alone, Dan, I don’t see how you can say that there’s any other reasonable conclusion to draw.  This judge dropped the ball.  If the standard of proof is probable cause, and that’s a hiccup, what you’re looking at—you’re looking at a scale. 

You put a feather on that scale and it’s going to tip it for probable cause, so if you’ve got a review committee, a multidisciplinary review committee saying this guy is going to reoffend, you’ve got the prosecutor’s office saying this guy is going to reoffend, you put it to a judge, that judge had to have held a hearing and then see afterward whether they’ve met their burden of proof, but to not even give a probable cause hearing to this case I think is a clear failure on the judge’s part and the tragedy is, look what’s happened. 

Now the problem is are you punishing this guy twice by civilly committing him?  No.  And does the judge have to have a crystal ball to see what he’s going to do in the future?  No.  You’ve got trained people in a team, you’ve got prosecutor’s office reviewing this...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FILAN:  ... and the other thing, remember Dan that I think only 108 people have ever been civilly committed out of thousands of people, so there’s clearly no rubber-stamping here.  There’s clearly no abuse of their authority.  These are people...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FILAN:  ... who are trying to protect us from guys...

(CROSSTALK)

FILAN:  ... from a creep, from a criminal like this. 

ABRAMS:  Three thousand, two hundred and thirty-two candidates screened, 817 referred to the prosecutor’s review committee, 103 eventually committed to the program.  Mr. McCullough (ph), do you want to respond to what Susan was saying?

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY:  Well yes.  What I think you need to understand, again, there was a probable cause hearing and there was a failure of evidence.  That’s not the judge’s fault.  It may be someone else’s fault, but what Mr. McMaster indicated to us just a moment ago is that the only evidence that was presented to this judge was his past criminal record, and that—it does not support under the law that sexually valid predator law, it requires that you be able to demonstrate the potential, the danger...

ABRAMS:  Susan...

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY:  ... the very real possibility of recidivism, of repeating those type of crimes and apparently there was a failure to demonstrate...

ABRAMS:  All right.

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY:  ... but the conviction that had already occurred...

ABRAMS:  In the past, right.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Susan Filan, final 15 seconds.  I got to wrap it up. 

FILAN:  That cannot be where the failure is.  It has to be that if this multidisciplinary team says he’s likely to offend, the prosecutor reviews it says he’s likely to offend, it has to be the judge that dropped the ball.  That has to be... 

ABRAMS:  Joe McCullough...

FILAN:  ... the problem here.

ABRAMS:  ... Susan Filan, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.   

Coming up, a California housewife on trial for the murder of her husband.  She claims it was self-defense.  She’s representing herself, cross-examining her own son.

And remember this tape?  The shooter sentenced today and the victim you see on the tape joins us, tell us how he feels about the sentence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)  

ABRAMS:  Now to a trial where a California housewife accused of killing her husband is representing herself.  One of her sons supports her and is her star witness.  The other two kids are witnesses for the prosecution.  It doesn’t stop there.  Susan Polk is now complaining at the leg shackles she has to wear on her ride from the prison to the courthouse are tearing her stockings, saying—quote—“Your Honor, when I need to wear shackles it cuts holes in my nylons, which means I can’t wear suits to court.  I have to wear pants and that’s not fair.”

Polk’s star witness, her son Eli, was arrested twice in less than a week, once on March 9 and again just this past Tuesday.  The arrests stem from accusations of abusing his ex-girlfriend and a probation violation.  He was denied bail.  He will be transferred to the courthouse to testify next week if need be.  On top of it all, Polk is popping Tylenols in the courtroom for her sore throat.  A juror is sick and one of her other sons, Adam, wanted to be put on the stand earlier so that he could make it back to school in time for exams and a trip to South Africa. 

What a mess.  Joining me now Carol Pogash, who’s writing a book about the trial and has been in the courtroom every day and speaks to Susan Polk regularly, former prosecutor Steven Clark and defense attorney Jonna Spilbor.  Thanks to all of you for coming on the program. 

Carol, is this as zany a trial as it sounds? 

CAROL POGASH, WRITING BOOK ABOUT SUSAN POLK TRIAL:  The D.A. said it was the most unusual case ever in history, that may be an exaggeration, but there’s—you know, there have been pro per witnesses before, but usually they’re you know guys who’ve spent most of their lives in jail.  They’re not educated, intelligent suburban moms...

ABRAMS:  Who are representing themselves. 

POGASH:  ... who are representing themselves.

ABRAMS:  And what’s it been like to watch her questioning her kids? 

POGASH:  Excruciating.  I mean so far she’s only cross-examined one, Gabriel, and it’s lasted for several days...

ABRAMS:  How was it? 

POGASH:  ... and at times she says don’t you know that I love you and that I’ve always loved you.  Well, that doesn’t really have anything to do with the murder itself.  But you know she is having a conversation with her son that she has never had in the last three years.  She hasn’t seen him in three years, so it’s very moving, very sad, but most of the negative material, most of the critical things have been said in court have come out from Gabriel during cross-examination, not during direct.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Here’s Susan Polk in an interview with “Dateline” laying it out what she now claims happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN POLK, ACCUSED OF MURDERING HER HUSBAND:  He smeared the pepper spray into my face.  What I saw through the blur and the burning was him stabbing at me, and I saw the knife go into my pants.  And so I thought, he stabbed me.  I thought, he’s going to kill me; I’m going to die here, unless I do something right now. 

And I just kicked him as hard as I could with the heel of my foot in his groin and at the same time I went for his hand and his hand loosened just as I kicked him and I just grabbed the knife out of his hand and I said stop I have the knife, and he didn’t stop.  He just came over me, grabbing at the knife, punched me in the face and I stabbed him in the side and he was trying to grab it out of my hand and so I squeezed my hand as tight as I could and I stabbed him again. 

I think I stabbed him five times.  At one point, I waved it back and forth like this and I said get off, get off, get off, get off and he stood up and it was over. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He said something. 

POLK:  He said oh my God, I think I’m dead. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Before I go to the lawyers, why is she representing herself? 

I mean has she just lost it? 

POGASH:  No, she has had four, possibly five depending on how you count it, attorneys and... 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but that says to me there’s something wrong with her. 

POGASH:  Well, she has—my take on it is she’s never had a sense of control over her life.  She went to see him when she was 15 years old; she was always under his...

ABRAMS:  The defendant.  I’m sorry, the person who—her husband, yes...

POGASH:  Susan Polk.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

POGASH:  Right, was always under his control.  This time she feels at least she is in control of her story.  Do I think it’s the best defense?  No, not at all, but...

ABRAMS:  And Jonna, how significant does that become as part of her defense?  Meaning, does she get an advantage representing herself because she had this horrible past with him, because she went to him as a patient when she was 15, because her mother suggested that she go to him as a patient when she was 15 and they started having this sexual relationship and then get married, et cetera. 

JONNA SPILBOR, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  I think it will work to her advantage.  It will help her garner some sympathy with the jury, but here’s where I think it’s also going to screw her up.  This is not a true self-defense case in my opinion, Dan.  She’s got a defensible case, but I think it’s an imperfect self-defense in the sense that—Daniel Horowitz said it best and too bad he’s not still representing her—that you really have to look back 32 years. 

It’s not about the 32 seconds that precipitated the killing.  You have to look at the years of abuse.  And she probably had an honest but mistaken belief that this guy was going to hurt her and then she killed him.  That’s not a true self-defense case. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, Steven, I think there’s an argument as to whether she had an honest view.  I mean this—you know the killing occurs right after she loses a big ruling in court with regard to custody of the kids. 

STEVEN CLARK, FORMER CA PROSECUTOR:  That’s right.  And what has happened here with the prosecution’s first witness, who is her own son, Gabriel, they have completely gutted Susan’s theory of self-defense.  Gabriel testified it was his mother Susan that was the violent one, that she was the one that was threatening to kill him and that the motive of the case is the loss in the divorce and what you’ve seen in the cross-examination so far is that she cannot lose an argument. 

So she continues to argue with Gabriel about the most trivial of things, but what—the impression she’s giving to the jury is I can’t let anything go, I never lose an argument, I’m always right, and now that’s starting to hit the jury wait a minute, she was angry about the divorce and that’s why she killed him.  And that’s what’s playing right into the prosecution’s hands at this point.

He is giving her all the rope she needs to hang herself by allowing her to continue with this tedious abusive frankly to watch her essentially abuse her own son in this way.  I mean this young man was 15 when his father was killed.  It’s very tedious and abusive to watch... 

ABRAMS:  And let’s remember she was denying in the first interview she did with the police, she’s basically saying...

CLARK:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... and let’s listen, she’s saying oh, is he—really, he’s dead?  I don’t know what happened to him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POLK:  I don’t have enough information to speculate about what happened.

(CROSSTALK)

POLK:  I don’t even know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Was he seeing any other...

POLK:  I don’t even know that he’s dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... ladies?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Was he seeing other women? 

POLK:  I mean do I know that he’s dead?  I mean who has identified him?  Did my son find his body? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

POLK:  Oh my God. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes, a little problem for her Jonna?

SPILBOR:  Yes, but if she called the right expert, she might be able to get around that.  She could say I—this was posttraumatic stress disorder.  I don’t know what happened, I—you know I couldn’t admit it to the police.  That’s the only shot she’s got to get around that if that tape comes in before the jury.  I mean that’s, yes...

ABRAMS:  Real quick, is that tape coming in as far as you know? 

POGASH:  It’s my understanding, yes...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

POGASH:  Certainly, part of the prosecution. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, she’s in trouble.  You know you can say that the trial is a mess and it sure sounds like it, but Susan Polk is in big, big trouble is my prediction.  We shall see.  Carol Pogash, thanks a lot for coming in.

POGASH:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Steven Clark and Jonna Spilbor, appreciate it.

SPILBOR:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, scary developments in the mysterious death of a Jacksonville, Florida nursing student.  Police are now warning residents to be aware of a fake police officer who might want to get access to their homes. 

And later, Scott Peterson has been on death row for a year now.  Who knew?  And apparently someone has it out for—quote—“Scottie the hottie”.  We talk to someone from inside the prison.

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

Authorities need your help finding Jeffrey Gordon.  He’s 45, six-two, 165, was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.  Has not registered his address with the state.  If you’ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact New Jersey State Police, 609-882-2000.  Be right back.

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We’re back.  Authorities in Jacksonville, Florida now fear a killer made his way into his victim’s home by impersonating a police officer.  Twenty-three-year-old nursing student Sarah Whitlock was found stabbed to death in her apartment on Saturday.  One of her neighbors may have even seen the man police are calling a person of interest. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

“MELISSA”, MAY HAVE SPOKEN WITH PERSON OF INTEREST:  He was tall.  He had blonde hair.  He had on a t-shirt that was advertising a plumbing company. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The woman also a nursing student was approached by the man as he tried to get her to look at his foot, which he said was bothering him.  She refused.  She says he followed her until she got into her car and drove away.

Joining me now on the phone with the latest is Bridget Murphy, a reporter with the “Florida Times-Union” and MSNBC analyst and former FBI investigator Clint Van Zandt.  Thanks to both of you. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Bridget Murphy, let me start with you.  When—this woman is saying that this guy approached her, how certain are the authorities that this is the same man? 

BRIDGET MURPHY, “FLORIDA TIMES-UNION” (via phone):  I haven’t actually spoken to this woman myself and the authorities are being pretty tight lipped in this case.  The most information that they’ve given us is that a man about six-foot tall with sandy hair, who may have an injury, was seen in the area around the time of the killing.  They’ve also told us that they believe the perpetrator may have gotten into Sarah’s apartment by pretending that he was a law enforcement officer. 

ABRAMS:  What are they basing that on, do you know? 

MURPHY:  You know what, they have not really said and I’ve spent some time with Sarah’s parents today and I don’t believe that they know either.  I think authorities are trying to keep this as close to the cuff as possible, so when they do have the person, they have as much intelligence as possible to prove that it is indeed the suspect. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Clint, based on what we know, what do you make of it? 

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  Well first of all, Dan, I would guess that someone else saw this guy.  He probably tried to pass himself off as a police officer, either that same night or some other night.  The scary thing is you get on the Internet, you go to a gun show, you can guy these lousy badges for five or 10 bucks.  They say special investigator or something and you know you reach in a pocket and you pull that up and you show it to somebody, they—especially at night, they can’t tell the difference. 

They trust you are who you say you are.  Now what’s going to be important is the victimology.  Was the killer specifically targeting this woman...

ABRAMS:  Right.

VAN ZANDT:  ... or was he looking for any victim? 

ABRAMS:  Well that’s what I was going to ask you about.  Let me ask, real quick Bridget, do you know anything about that, about whether the authorities believe that this was a targeted killing or if it was random? 

MURPHY:  I’m not sure about that, but I can tell you that Sarah’s family is convinced that there’s no one—there’s no way she would open the door for a stranger, so they say this is an explanation for, you know, how this guy might have gotten into her place.  Now she had just gotten home from work a short time before they believe she was attacked, so we’re not sure if it’s someone who knew her schedule perhaps or had just seen her go into her apartment a short time before. 

She was a very strong athletic girl.  The family is not surprised that the police are saying that this perpetrator may be injured because they believe that she would have fought for her life. 

ABRAMS:  And the method of the killing, Clint, relevant here, right?

VAN ZANDT:  Yes, it really is.  I mean a knife is a close, personal—that’s—you know you’re really into somebody’s face when you do something like that, so—and you know the purpose of killing her is going to be the challenge for law enforcement, but you know what your listeners need to know, Dan, I mean any woman, any man out there, somebody knocks on your door and says police officer, they’re in plainclothes, they throw a badge up, say what department are you with, stay outside the door, I’m going to call.  Dial 911 and say there’s a guy, says he’s a detective, he flashed a badge.  Is he real or not?

ABRAMS:  All right.  Good advice.  Bridget Murphy and Clint Van Zandt, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

VAN ZANDT:  Thank you.

MURPHY:  Thanks.

ABRAMS:  Remember this video outside of Van Nuys, California courthouse in October 2003?  William Strier stalked and then fired his handgun at attorney Gerald Curry, hit him in the neck, arms and shoulder as Curry bobbed and weaved behind a tree.  In January, Strier was convicted of attempted murder with special circumstances.  Today he was sentenced to life in prison plus 25 years. 

He attended court on a hospital gurney due to back problems.  He testified during his trial that he couldn’t remember shooting Curry, saying he had taken pain medication, a diet pill and two shots of whiskey earlier that day.  Throughout the trial he said he had trouble following the judge’s instructions.  He made a 20-minute statement complaining about his treatment in jail.  Today the judge told him he could speak but wouldn’t let him ramble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can make a statement.  It’s not going to be a rambling statement complaining about everything, like you did last time you were here.  Under those parameters, do you want to make a statement? 

WILLIAM STRIER, CONVICTED OF ATTEMPTED MURDER:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go ahead. 

STRIER:  I have to talk about what I think and I should have a right to do so. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, you can talk about what you think to the court of appeal. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Gerald Curry, the man who survived the attack, joins me now on the phone.  Mr. Curry, thanks for coming back on the program.  We appreciate it.  I think...

GERALD CURRY, SURVIVED GUN ATTACK OUTSIDE COURTHOUSE (via phone): 

You’re welcome.  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  I think the first thing people are going to want to know is how you’re doing? 

CURRY:  I’m doing fine physically.  I’m completely recovered and I’m pretty much 100 percent, so I’m doing very well. 

ABRAMS:  What do you make of the proceedings, the sentence, what he said, et cetera? 

CURRY:  I was very satisfied with the sentence.  I’m told by the detective in the case that Mr. Strier will serve at least 29 years in prison and my main concern is my safety and my family’s safety so I was very satisfied with the sentence, and you know I think that Mr. Strier had difficulty accepting the fact that he was going to go to prison for a long time so he was trying to delay the inevitable today. 

ABRAMS:  Do you think that he was just making excuses, et cetera?  I mean it sounds like basically he’s saying oh I don’t remember what happened, I was taking these drugs, et cetera. 

CURRY:  Yes, I think he was making excuses unfortunately.  As it turned out today, he had actually shot a man back in 1969 four times, so this is not the first time he shot someone. 

ABRAMS:  Let’s be clear.  You had—you were not his lawyer, just so people will remember. 

CURRY:  That’s correct.  I was an attorney for a professional trustee who administered a trust (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  I had never seen Mr. Strier before he shot me. 

ABRAMS:  And are you satisfied with the way the proceedings have taken place here? 

CURRY:  Absolutely.  I think they were done very well and I think Jim Falco, the deputy D.A. did an excellent job in prosecuting the case.  I was very satisfied.

ABRAMS:  Anything you want to say to him?

CURRY:  To Mr. Strier? 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

CURRY:  Well you know I hold no hostility or you know anger toward him and I’m going to move on with my life.  I think he’s a troubled man and my main concern is that he will be in prison and my safety is pretty much ensured as a result of that.  I’m pleased with that. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well Mr. Curry, I have to tell you, every time I watch that videotape, I’m just amazed because we see you weaving and bobbing and then you walk out on to the street, and you look OK, but you were not OK at that time, right?

CURRY:  Yes.  No, he had shot me in the neck, on the right side of my neck, and he hit me in the right forearm and he hit me three times in the left shoulder and the bullet to the neck was the one that almost killed me.  That was—the doctors said if it had been like a half an inch further in, it would have hit my carotid artery and I would have bled to death in a couple of minutes, so that’s the one that came very close to killing me. 

ABRAMS:  Well we’re so glad to here you’re doing well and you’re back practicing and thank you again for taking the time to come back.

CURRY:  You’re welcome.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Scott Peterson has been on death row for a year today.  Now word that someone has got it out for him on death row.  A prison representative joins us next with the details. 

And many of you have it out for Rusty Yates, he’s getting married this weekend.  Remember the husband of Andrea, drowned her five kids.  I said yesterday I’ve got no problem.  I wish him well.  The guy has gone through enough.  No surprise, a lot of you angry at me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, is someone after Scott Peterson on death row? 

Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT PETERSON, IN PRISON FOR MURDERING HIS WIFE:  We had friends that evening.  Mom—Laci’s mom, over at her house, cooking there as well.  My day was open to either play golf or go fishing and I chose fishing that day. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We the jury in the above entitled cause find the defendant Scott Lee Peterson guilty of the crime of murder of Laci Denise Peterson. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We the jury in the above entitled cause fix the penalty at death. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Scott Peterson was moved from the Redwood City jail to San Quentin prison to death row into what is likely to be his final home.  When he first arrived, he got lots of fan mail, dozens of women proposing to him in letters, but now we’re hearing a report that someone is actually after him on the inside.

Joining me now once again is Vernell Crittendon, spokesperson for San Quentin Prison, who always keeps us up-to-date on what is happening there.  Vernell, thanks for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.  Is someone after Scott Peterson? 

VERNELL CRITTENDON, SAN QUENTIN PRISON SPOKESMAN:  Well it’s good to be talking to you Dan.  And well we have identified an individual that we will classify as an enemy to Scott Peterson, but he is also on death row, so he really doesn’t have direct access, but we’re going to ensure that they don’t come in contact with one another while they’re here on death row. 

ABRAMS:  Has he threatened Peterson? 

CRITTENDON:  Well, it’s in reports that staff have received regarding his feelings toward Scott Peterson that led us to believe that we are going to classify him as an enemy of Scott Peterson’s. 

ABRAMS:  Has he said something about wanting to—can you tell us anything more about what he said to the staff about wanting to get Scott Peterson?

CRITTENDON:  Oh he indicated that he would be willing to do harm to Scott Peterson here on death row, so based on that, we are keeping him separate and have listed him as an enemy so they will not ever be allowed to be in the same environment together. 

ABRAMS:  Did he say why? 

CRITTENDON:  No, I did not get any of the details why.  We have at the investigation had concluded that much of that was contributed to the publicity that Scott Peterson had received. 

ABRAMS:  I was going to ask you about that.  I mean do other inmates resent Peterson for all the attention he gets? 

CRITTENDON:  Actually, our investigation, which went on for a rather lengthy period, close to 22 weeks that we had him under investigation while we kept him in the adjustment center to determine the compatible group of death row inmates and we found none that were resisting him other than this one individual, but actually the others were actually encouraging us to allow him to be in their yard groups. 

ABRAMS:  What does that mean?  They wanted to hang out with him? 

CRITTENDON:  They felt very comfortable socializing with Scott Peterson.  I think many of the death row inmates are actually here trying to serve their time and fighting their cases, as opposed to thinking of ways to harm other death row inmates. 

ABRAMS:  Are there people who you would classify as friends that he’s developed there? 

CRITTENDON:  I think that he has been able to establish some relationships with some of the men that are on his assigned exercise yard, that will be relationships that he will maintain for many decades to come. 

ABRAMS:  I understand that he suffered an injury playing basketball? 

CRITTENDON:  Well, we did investigate it.  He was discovered to have a laceration to his upper left thigh.  The investigation had concluded that that had occurred while he was engaged in a basketball game on the death row exercise yard with a compatible group of death row inmates. 

ABRAMS:  And—but it wasn’t someone who had tried to harm him, it was merely just an accident? 

CRITTENDON:  It appears that it was a result of a physical contact involved in the game of basketball. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Are women still writing in wanting to marry him? 

CRITTENDON:  You know, actually his mail has stabilized.  He’s probably averaging somewhere around 25 to 30 pieces of mail that come in per week for Scott Peterson.  Much of that material though is from family and supporters that were supporting him when he was in San Mateo County jail.  When reviewing his visiting card, I did not find any female visitors that he has been authorized to visit him that were not already supporters of his prior to his arrival on St. Patrick’s Day 2005.

ABRAMS:  Does he still have Laci’s picture up in the cell? 

CRITTENDON:  When I went by his cell a few days ago, he did in fact have one photograph up and it was of Laci and it was—she was the only person in the picture. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Vernell, always good to have you on the program. 

We appreciate you coming back. 

CRITTENDON:  Hey, Dan, it’s always good talking with you.  Happy St.

Patty’s Day.

ABRAMS:  Thank you. 

Coming up, in the state of Mississippi you can buy all sorts of weapons without a background check.  But even a clean background can’t get you a sex toy.  Talk about comparative threats to society.  It’s my “Closing Argument”.

And later, Rusty Yates heading to the altar this weekend.  On Monday, his ex-wife stands trial for the murder of their five kids.  I wished him well.  Many of you wished him something very different.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—a landmark legal battle of constitutional proportions being fought down in Mississippi.  It involves fundamental rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, not to mention the rights of certain small business owners to satisfy their customers.  This week, another court refused to recognize Mississippians right to find companionship for 29.99 and so a law outlawing the sale of sex toys will stand. 

Quote—“A person commits the offense of distributing unlawful sexual devices when he knowingly sells, advertises, publishes or exhibits to any person any three-dimensional device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs or offers to do so or possesses such devices with the intent to do so.”

Well, I am glad to see that the local legislators are focusing on the most pressing issues of the day.  I’ve long believed that a three dimensional, possibly battery operated object is far more menacing than a handgun.  In Mississippi, people can guy guns at a gun show with no background check and certain weapons can be carried almost anywhere. 

Sure, guns and toys can bring joy and a sense of comfort to the user, but apparently the legislators concluded that a genital replica is a far greater threat to society.  This from a state that levies only an 18-cent tax on cigarettes, 55 cents below the national average and where 62 percent of residents are overweight, making it the fattest state in the country and yet still the public schools don’t make gym class compulsory.  Mississippi’s laws would make you believe sex is the single greatest threat to public safety and well being.  After all, it’s illegal in Mississippi to have sex with someone you’re not married to or to live with someone other than your spouse. 

Both can result in a $500 fine and six months in jail.  And men are not permitted to be aroused in public, but at least good people are protected from the disfigurement that could result from an accidental electrical overload from a defective toy.  Georgia and Texas have passed similar bans and courts have repeatedly ruled the legislators can do it.  I guess the Second Amendment doesn’t saying anything about the right to bear a stimulation device. 

But the sex cells are not closing up shop in the South Pole just yet.  They formed a lobbying group based in Florida called the National Alliance of Adult Trade Organizations or NATO.  Not of course to be confused with the other NATO, which is based in Brussels.  I don’t mean to pick on Mississippi.  I love the state and the people, but I just don’t get why the legislators are fighting so hard for this law. 

We’re talking about adults here.  It’s not that I really care about ensuring that these toys are ready accessible.  Really.  It’s just that you have to wonder, is one of these toys really a greater threat to the community than what real live people do to each other every day?

Coming up, Rusty Yates getting married this weekend.  His ex-wife Andrea goes on trial on Monday for drowning their five kids.  I say congratulations, Rusty.  Many of you say it is totally inappropriate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  I’ve had my say, now it’s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night Rusty Yates, the ex-husband of Andrea, killed her five children by drowning them in the bathtub, is getting remarried this weekend.  I say congratulations.  He deserves to move on with his life.  He was the victim I said, but others were outraged. 

Linda Shoub in Lake Katrine, New York, “You favor Rusty remarrying and having more babies?  Rusty is an irresponsible narcissist who looks and talks like a little boy.  How many more children do you think Rusty should have, Dan?” 

Linda, as many as he wants.  She killed those kids, not him. 

Penny Hoffman in Connecticut, “I believe any woman would be proud to have had a husband that continued to support her after taking the lives of his five children.  I personally wish him a happier future.”

From Tabernacle, New Jersey, Alice Miceli, “You are so wrong about Mr.  Rusty.  Dan, do me a favor.  Please.  Find someone who will allow you to baby-sit, just for the weekend with five children all by yourself.  Not even a week.  Tell me how you are on Sunday night and if your normal brain isn’t fizzled.”

OK, Alice, so that means that anyone who has five kids or more should be held responsible if a caretaker or the other spouse or someone kills the kids, right?

Carolyn Bodine in Florida, “Despite knowing his wife was severely mentally ill, he continued to impregnate her five times and could he have chosen a more insensitive time to remarry just when his former wife is scheduled to go on trial again?  Until death do us part (UNINTELLIGIBLE).”

She kills his kids and now he should postpone his wedding to accommodate her trial.  Look, he’s been nothing but supportive of her.  Come on.

Mary Beth Stilwell in New Castle, Delaware, “Mr. Yates has no more responsibility for Andrea Yates’ actions any more than he would if she had suffered from cancer.  Andrea Yates suffers from mental illness or psychological disorder and to blame Mr. Yates is honestly very cruel.”

Catherine Hayes, “The wedding date was set way before the trial date. 

Give him a break.  I had my fourth child seven days before the drownings.  I had postpartum depression.  No one could have forced me to take medicine if I hadn’t wanted to.  I did.  But it took months before I saw a doctor.  It could have been anyone else in his shoes.”

Finally, in my “Closing Argument” last night, my advice to the future husband of former middle school teacher turned statutory rapist Debra Lafave who is now engaged.  I said there have got to be better, safer options for him and asked if he’s really meeting so few other women that he had to go back and marry her. 

Marc Wallis in El Paso, Texas, “Come on, Dan.  To land a babe like Lafave, sometimes we have to overlook a few imperfections.  And anyway, who are you of all people to be giving advice on finding the right woman?”  Thank you, Marc.

Send your emails to abramsreport@msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show.

Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 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 MSNBC 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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