updated 3/30/2006 10:44:10 AM ET 2006-03-30T15:44:10

Guest: James Gordon Meek, Michael Zeldin, Seyward Darby, Rony Camille,

Larry Kobilinsky, Leslie Crocker Snyder, David Schwartz, Julia Renfro,

Clint Van Zandt, Susan Filan

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, breaking news, closing arguments are over now.  A jury will decide whether al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui will be put to death for his role in the 9/11 attacks. 

The program about justice starts now. 

Hi everyone.  First up on the docket.  The evidence is in.  A jury of 12 now decides the fate of Zacarias Moussaoui, the confessed al Qaeda terrorist, who may get the death penalty, thanks to his own words.  He even said he wanted to be a witness against himself. 

In closing arguments today, prosecutor David Raskin used Moussaoui's words against him, telling the jury—quote—“Zacarias Moussaoui came to this country to kill as many Americans as he could.  He was supposed to fly the fifth plane into the White House.  Instead, he killed people by lying and concealing the plot.  That resulted in the worst terrorist attack in this country's history.”

But Moussaoui's attorney, Ed MacMahon, who Moussaoui has repeatedly distanced himself from, called Moussaoui an al Qaeda hanger-on with no connection to 9/11, that he was—quote—“never involved other than in his dreams”, insisting—quote—“the government cannot prove a hypothetical.  What would have happened if Moussaoui had not lied?  We will never know what could have happened in the 25 days between Moussaoui's arrest and September 11.”

James Gordon Meek is a reporter with the “New York Daily News” and he joins us now from the courthouse.  Michael Zeldin is a former federal prosecutor, and he joins us as well.  Thanks to both you. 

James, has Moussaoui said to these jurors, he wants to die? 

JAMES GORDON MEEK, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS” REPORTER:  Well, he hasn't said that exactly.  He has talked about the possibility that, you know, it could be considered martyrdom, in his world, if he's executed.  If he is, you know, fought the good fight, but no, he has not said that.

ABRAMS:  But his own words are the best evidence against him, and his lawyers said don't testify, don't testify, and yet then he sat down and said oh yes, I was going to fly the fifth plane on 9/11. 

MEEK:  Yes, which is kind of an absurd claim.  I mean you know, the closing arguments you heard today, you know, you heard the defense saying that this guy is not part of 9/11, that he is a dreamer, he was an al Qaeda hanger on, he was ignorant, he was prejudiced, but he was not part of 9/11 no matter what he says and the government is saying, well, you should really believe this guy because he's the most honest man in this courtroom. 

When he took the stand, he was telling the truth that he was involved in 9/11, and yet, you know at the beginning of this case, up until the end of this case, the government has been saying Zacarias Moussaoui lied to the FBI when he was arrested.  He's a liar.  He's an al Qaeda member.  He's a liar, but now they're saying believe every word he said...

ABRAMS:  Right.

MEEK:  ... on the stand. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Jurors, 17 in total, five are going to be alternates, 10 men, seven women, three work in government, two have connections with 9/11 first responders, two have family connections with the CIA, two served in the military.  Michael Zeldin, do you think it's possible that these jurors will give him life because they may think to themselves he'll suffer more if he gets life?  They may think to themselves, this guy seems to want to die. 

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  That's right.  In fact, Agent Fitzgerald said that he didn't want to die in prison, that it was a better death to die as a martyr, and so if the jurors first believe his testimony that he was involved in 9/11 and believe that the government would have but for the lie found out that he—about the plot, then the meanest possible penalty may be to keep him in jail for the rest of his life.  That may be the result of his testifying.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I mean you know look, you've had a lot of experience in big cases, do you think that the jurors are going to go back into the jury room and have this discussion?

ZELDIN:  Yes.  I think so.  I think that they've got to do two things.  They've got to assess whether or not Moussaoui essentially is sane, not in a legal sense, but is his testimony believable, is he credible, was he what he says he is, or was he what his lawyer said he is, which is a dreamer and a hanger on and a fantasizer, and then two I think they have to overcome the miscues of the FBI, who the FBI really had a lot of this information before them and failed to act on it quite independent of Moussaoui's lies.  So I think they've got to do both of those things in the jury room and I think they'll do that with seriousness because it's a serious case. 

ABRAMS:  Here's...

MEEK:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  Yes, you want to respond to that.  Go ahead, James.

MEEK:  I just wanted to jump in.  Look, there's something else that I think the jury is going to probably take into consideration, and that is that we have this extraordinary testimony, which are statements drawn from CIA interrogation reports, from six al Qaeda—senior al Qaeda leaders in custody.  Now these guys are all in presumably separate CIA black sites around the world.

They're not hanging out in the yard at Gitmo getting their story straight and the story that they all tell consistently, at least six of these men, is that Zacarias Moussaoui was supposed to be part of a follow-on plot, but that he was so inept and he was such a blabbermouth throughout his career, short career in al Qaeda, that they were—they had tried to cut him loose several times...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MEEK:  ... so he was not only not part of 9/11, but he was—he was cut loose...

(CROSSTALK)

MEEK:  ... of the second (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ABRAMS:  Correct me if I'm wrong, I think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who you know theoretically...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... is the mastermind behind 9/11 said about Moussaoui that he never was part of the 9/11 attack plan, that he didn't know about 9/11 in advance, that he didn't know lead hijacker Mohammed Atta, that the plan to fly into the White House was never settled and that actually Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said that they tried to dump Moussaoui from the second wave of attacks for violating some sort of security. 

MEEK:  That's it.  And other al Qaeda leaders were dumping him even before then and Osama bin Laden kept reinstating him...

ABRAMS:  So then the defense...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... the defense has a point, though, James, right?  That he's kind of a hanger on.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEK:  Exactly.  They have—look, he showed up in the U.S. and he e-mailed somebody and literally Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said, we looked around at each other in effect and how did he get there.  They didn't expect him to show up in the United States.  He also trained on 747 flight simulators.  Dan, when was the last time you flew a 747 inside the continental United States?  These are international air carriers and the...

ABRAMS:  So he's...

MEEK:  ... involve hijacking U.S. bound planes in Asia.

ABRAMS:  Bottom line is you're telling us this guy was just a terrorist boob?

MEEK:  He was a wannabe.  Very clearly, the evidence backs it up. 

ABRAMS:  All right...

MEEK:  The evidence does not back up the government's position.

ABRAMS:  But Michael Zeldin, even if that's the case, that doesn't necessarily mean he can't get the death penalty. 

ZELDIN:  Well that's right.  But first, there is this zealot aspect of his testimony and the reality of the circumstances he is faced with and secondly, in order to get the death penalty, the government has to prove essentially that but for his lie, people wouldn't have died, or rather because of his lie, someone died.  And independent of all of this...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

ZELDIN:  ... disclaiming testimony of his involvement, they still have to overcome their own witnesses and their own failures in order to establish that the government's case would have been made but for this lie and I think that's a hard case for them to make.

ABRAMS:  Real quickly, Michael, I got to just follow up with one question.  As a technical matter, the jurors are only deciding one question now, right?  They're going to first decide essentially do they even get to the question of whether he should get death? 

ZELDIN:  Right.  And then there would be a second phase.

ABRAMS:  Right.  All right.  James Gordon Meek and Michael Zeldin, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

ZELDIN:  Thank you.

MEEK:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Now to my alma mater Duke University where the captains of the school's lacrosse team are saying rape allegations against them are a lie.  They apologize for having a party two weeks ago where a woman hired to perform alleges she was raped, but they proclaim their innocence.

Quote—“We express sincere regret over the lapse in judgment in having the party on March 13, which has caused so much anguish for the Duke community and shame to our families and ourselves.  Any allegation that a sexual assault or rape occurred is totally and transparently false.  The team has cooperated with the police in their investigation.  The DNA results will demonstrate that these allegations are absolutely false.”

Nevertheless, the school announced, it is suspending all games for the rest of the season until the situation is resolved and the authorities have said that members of the team have not been cooperating.  The woman working as an exotic dancer alleges that she was raped and beaten by three men at the March 13 party. 

She said she and another dancer expected they would be performing for a handful of men as part of a bachelor party, but according to a statement she gave to police, two men pulled her into the bathroom.  Someone closed the door to the bathroom where she was and said sweetheart you can't leave.  The victim stated she tried to leave and the three males forcefully held her legs and arms and sexually assaulted her anally, vaginally and orally.  The victim stated she was hit, kicked and strangled during the assault.  She attempted to defend herself, was overpowered.  The victim reported she was sexually assaulted for an approximate 30-minute time period by three males.

DNA samples from 46 of the 47 members of the team have been taken.  One was omitted because he's African American and the woman says that the three men who attacked her were all white. 

Joining me on the phone now is Seyward Darby, is the editor of Duke University's school paper “The Chronicle” and Rony Camille, assistant editor for “The Campus Echo,” the school paper at North Carolina Central University where the alleged victim is a student.  Thanks to both of you for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

Let me start with you Seyward.  The response from the Duke University administration has been this party was unacceptable.  If this happened, it's unacceptable.  Is the—are the Duke University students supporting the administration?  Are they angry at the administration?  How are people reacting? 

SEYWARD DARBY, EDITOR OF DUKE UNIV. STUDENT PAPER (via phone):  Well, I think that there isn't a hard fast line or united front of student opinion.  You certainly have heard on the news and seen pictures of protests of students who are out there saying that the administration isn't doing enough, that they didn't do enough to begin with in informing the community about the alleged incident, but you also have people protesting the protesters and saying that people are innocent until proven guilty, and that at this point, we just have to wait for the legal proceedings to go through, so there's various opinions on this entire matter right now and there's just not a united front.  Students are—it's consuming campus discourse right now, but there are lots of different opinions...

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you, the student, these lacrosse players, I assume that they are going back to classes, et cetera.  There were reports that some of them were being harassed, et cetera.  True as far as you know? 

DARBY:  I haven't had any direct reports of any harassment.  I do know—it's been confirmed that the three players who lived in the house where the alleged incident took place are not there anymore because of the protests.  They were taking place in front of the house, but I haven't heard any direct reports about any harassment on campus or anything like that. 

ABRAMS:  Here is Duke University president Richard Brodhead last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BRODHEAD, DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT:  In this painful period of uncertainty, it's clear to me, as it was to the players, that it would be inappropriate to resume the normal schedule of play.  Sports have their time and place, but when issues of this gravity are in question, it's not the time to be playing games.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Rony Camille, what is the reaction over at North Carolina Central? 

RONY CAMILLE, ASST. EDITOR, “THE CAMPUS ECHO” (via phone):  Well, Dan, basically, most of the students are—it's now—now the word is getting on to the campus, the news media here in this area has been saying that it's just been an exotic dancer, and basically, as of now, now they're making the connection that the rape occurred and now that the student was an actual N.C. Central student. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and look, N.C. Central is primarily an African American school, correct? 

CAMILLE:  Yes, is a historically black college. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  So is there, you know, is there a sense, is there talk on campus about the racial issues? 

CAMILLE:  It's very—I mean, again, it's—the news is getting on the campus and people are actually starting to make the connection between the rape and the student itself.  I know the Raleigh “News and Observer” just - - was the only outlet that reported that the student was from Central.  So as far as the racial, I don't think that has been brought up yet.  Many students have been outraged, but it's you know very limited students. 

DARBY:  If I could jump if here...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

DARBY:  ... I just wanted to point out that we have said that she was allegedly a North Carolina Central student and several sources have said to my reporters that this is really the convergence of several issues.  Some people that protested today called it the perfect storm, saying that this is a convergence of issues related to race, to class, to Duke-Durham relations and I mean I suppose even to Duke-NCCU relations, so I think that the racial aspect is definitely a part of this. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Rony Camille and Seyward Darby thank you very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

DARBY:  Absolutely.

CAMILLE:  Thank you, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, we're going to play the two 911 calls that were received the night that this rape allegedly took place, that's coming up.

And major developments in the search for Natalee Holloway.  Dutch forensic specialists are now on the island with tracker dogs, searching sand dunes where police now believe Natalee may be buried.  I ask, what took them so long? 

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)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNY HEFFERNAN, DUKE UNIVERSITY SOPHOMORE:  We have to deal with the allegations by considering them to be very serious.  However, nothing has been proven, so I think suspension of the players is appropriate until we find out what really happened. 

JAZMYN SINGLETON, DUKE UNIVERSITY SOPHOMORE:  Right now, I think people just need to understand that Duke is not just Duke basketball and this glorified place where everyone feels great and safe.  There are a lot of issues on this campus that come up in the paper, that come up in classes, that come up in discussions that kind of get swept under the rug. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Some Duke students reacting to the allegations that members of the lacrosse team raped and beat a woman two weeks ago at a party and this is a 911 call and this is kind of—extremely disturbing and kind of amazing that this happened right before -- 911 call, the woman walking by the house where the party was held.  This is an hour before the alleged attack. 

(BEGIN 911 CALL)

911 DISPATCHER:   Durham 911.  Where is your emergency?

CALLER:  I don't know if this is an emergency, but I'm in Durham and I was driving down near Duke's campus and it's me and my black girlfriend and the guy, there's like a white guy by the Duke wall and he just hollered out (BEEP) to me and I'm just so angry.  I saw them all come out like a big frat house and me and my black girlfriend are walking by and they called us (BEEP).  I'm not going to press the issue I guess, but I live in a neighborhood where they wrote KKK on the side of a white station wagon and that's near right where I'm at.  They didn't harm me in any way, but I just feel so completely offended.

(END 911 CALL)

ABRAMS:  We've just gotten a statement from the Duke University president about that.  It is disgusting.  Racism and its hateful language have no place in this community.  I'm sorry the woman and her friend were subjected to such abuse. 

Joining me now, DNA expert and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Larry Kobilinsky, retired New York State Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder, and criminal defense attorney David Schwartz.  All right, Larry, look, these students are coming out and saying that the DNA is going to clear them. 

I mean—let me read—this is number six.  Because the intense emotions surrounding these allegations, we feel it would be in the best interest of the university, the community and our families that the team should not play competitively until the DNA results verify our unequivocal denial of these allegations.  How—the DNA results, how are they going to verify the denial?

LARRY KOBILINSKY, DNA EXPERT:  Well, to be honest, Dan, this is not a simple matter, because we're dealing with three assailants and a victim and what that means is that the evidence, the vaginal swabs, when DNA analysis is performed, you're going to get a mixture of various contributors, and it's a very complex situation.  And I think what they will attempt to do, is try to exclude individuals whose genes are not present and include those whose genes are present. 

ABRAMS:  Right, but see—but, Leslie, when they say that the DNA results will verify our unequivocal denial of these allegations, it seems to me the only way the DNA verifies their denial of these allegations is if none of their DNA is there.

LESLIE CROCKER SNYDER, FORMER NY STATE JUDGE:   Well exactly.  As Larry just said, if they're excluded genetically in a very complex DNA situation, then it does verify their denials.  But let's also remember this is hyperbole.  I mean this is defendants or potential defendants who are claiming that they didn't do it.  How often have you heard that?  I'm not saying that they did or didn't, but this is an obvious thing for them to say and...

ABRAMS:  But it's not.  But see, to me it's not obvious, Leslie, because I would think that some of their position might be well you know this woman comes over to perform and yes, some guys may have had sex with her, it sounds like they're saying nobody had sex with her. 

SNYDER:  Well, either that or they're saying perhaps that they had protected sex with her and you're not going to find our DNA.

(CROSSTALK)

SNYDER:  I mean there are a number of possibilities, so...

ABRAMS:  But regardless, I mean, if they don't find their DNA, right, I mean, that is David Schwartz, extremely helpful.  I mean, if that were to be the case that would be very, very helpful to these young men. 

DAVID SCHWARTZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well, that will exonerate, them, Dan, but getting back to whether or not - even if they find DNA there, you just laid out the defense, that the defense will be that there was some sort of consensual sexual situation going on there, and I think they'll have...

ABRAMS:  But that's not what they told the authorities up to now.  We talked to the...

SCHWARTZ:  Well...

ABRAMS:  ... D.A. on the show last night and he's saying that so far they've been saying simply nothing happened. 

SCHWARTZ:  Well, I don't think they're saying anything at all, Dan.  I could be mistaken, but I think their attorneys have gotten into this case very early on, and have advised their clients not to speak at all to the police, so I don't think they have any statements out there. 

(CROSSTALK)

SNYDER:  The captain of the team did issue a statement without signing it, as I understand it...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SNYDER:  ... and that did say that it didn't happen, but you know, then if the DNA is inconclusive, we move to a standard potential rape case, in which there are various defenses.

SCHWARTZ:  Well, Leslie, it didn't happen could mean a whole load of things...

ABRAMS:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  David is right on this—the statement said that there was no rape or sexual assault...

SCHWARTZ:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... and then they go on to say that the DNA results will verify our unequivocal denial.  Here's what the D.A., Mike Nifong, said on this show last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE NIFONG, DURHAM, N.C. DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  I am convinced that there was a rape, yes, sir. 

ABRAMS:  And why are you so convinced of that? 

NIFONG:  The circumstances of the case are not suggestive of the alternate explanation that has been suggested by some of the members of the situation.  There is evidence of trauma in the victim's vaginal area, that was noted when she was examined by a nurse at the hospital, and her general demeanor was suggestive of the fact that she had been through a traumatic situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Larry Kobilinsky, how certain can one be from doing the sort of examination that the D.A. is talking about that someone has been raped?

KOBILINSKY:  Well, you know, there have been people that claim they had very aggressive sex, but I think that the emergency room physicians have seen women who have been raped and, you know, the nature of the tearing, bruising, ripping, is a pretty clear sign of sexual assault.  I think they should be able to reach that conclusion just based upon the visual examination. 

ABRAMS:  David, would you concede that? 

SCHWARTZ:  No, I would not, Larry, and you know I don't know the last time you've been in an emergency room, but there is so much incompetence in emergency rooms all over this country, it's scary, so I would have to see who did that examination, what it is they actually found, and yes, a lot of ripping and tearing could be evidence of aggressive sex. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ:  So you know...

ABRAMS:  See, I got to tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... I think—Leslie, I think that these guys have a tough time turning around and then claiming, you know, after they say, all they're apologizing for in this statement, right, is having the party.  That's it.  They're saying, look, we had a party, and you know, that was a bad idea.  But none of this happened.  The DNA is going to prove that we're innocent and for them to then turn around and change their tune—again, we don't know that they're going to do this, but if they were to do that, I would think that would be somewhat problematic.

SNYDER:  I think it would be extremely difficult for them to do credibly at a trial, because then they will have switched totally what their defense is and I think they lose all their credibility, but it does happen from time to time. 

ABRAMS:  And how important is that first 911-call, Leslie?  Because you hear—you know there's a woman calling an hour before the alleged assault, a black woman saying there are guys in a house, same address, who were yelling racial slurs at me.

SNYDER:  Well I think that only supports the surrounding circumstance of the victim and so it's a kind of a loose corroboration, but it doesn't in any way verify her claim, but I think if it's a full jury trial, the jurors—the right jury will be very negatively impressed with what was going on. 

ABRAMS:  Because, David, I guess one of the defenses possibly could be that oh, you know they did yell racial slurs at her, and she got angry and decided, you know, I'm going to try somehow to get back at them or something like that.

SCHWARTZ:  Yes, but Dan, in order for this to be a hate crime, whether slurs were made or not, it would be such a horrible thing if slurs were made, but in order for it to be a hate crime under the North Carolina statute...

ABRAMS:  Forget about hate crime.  Forget about hate crime.  I'm asking you as a defense, because there's a next-door neighbor...

SCHWARTZ:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... who heard someone in that house apparently yelling at one of these women, hey, tell your grandpa, thank you for my cotton shirt.

SCHWARTZ:  Right.  But you have to remember, Dan, there—I don't know.  There are 30, 40 people at this party and the only people that have to defend themselves are going to be the three guys that were in that bathroom. 

ABRAMS:  No, not necessarily.  The D.A. made it quite clear that if there were other people there who had knowledge of what was going on, he may charge them with aiding and abetting. 

SCHWARTZ:  Well he can charge them all he wants, but I don't understand how somebody outside the bathroom, if they're sitting on the porch knows—could possibly know what's going on in the bathroom. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but the person who is standing outside the bathroom theoretically—again, we're doing a lot...

SCHWARTZ:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... of speculating here...

SCHWARTZ:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... but the person who's standing outside the bathroom guarding the bathroom certainly could be charged. 

SCHWARTZ:  Well and that's why the...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ:  ... and that's why the captain's statement stating that nothing happened, it was just a party, he—the captain doesn't know what was going on in the bathroom, so those three guys in the bathroom can claim...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SCHWARTZ:  ... that there was consensual sex. 

ABRAMS:  Well, yes, all right.  Here's the 911-call that was made after the attack by a security guard at a convenience store where the alleged victim apparently was sitting in a parked car.  Here it is.

(BEGIN 911 CALL)

911 DISPATCHER:   Durham 911.  Where is your emergency?

CALLER:  Yes, I'm at Hillsborough Road at the Kroger Store.  I'm the security guard.

911 DISPATCHER:   What's the problem?

CALLER:  It's a lady in somebody else's car and she will not get out of their car.  She's like, she's like intoxicated, drunk or something.  She's—I mean she won't get out of the car period.

911 DISPATCHER:   Does she have any weapons or anything?

CALLER:  Does she have any what?

911 DISPATCHER:   Weapons or anything?

CALLER:  No ma'am.  She's barely talking.

THIRD PARTY:  And she's fairly drunk.  She's got no weapons, nothing. 

911 DISPATCHER:   And where's the owner of the car?

CALLER:  The owner of the car is standing right here now...

THIRD PARTY:  And I can explain what happened.

CALLER:  And she says she can explain what happened.  Do you want to talk to her?

911 DISPATCHER:   Just let her know we'll send someone out there to help  her. 

(END 911 CALL)

ABRAMS:  And then you know, eventually, she was picked up.  Oh.  All right, Leslie, bottom line, do you think...

SNYDER:  Well, if in fact she was intoxicated, unless they're claiming a date rape drug, that's not going to help her, but I don't really...

ABRAMS:  She could have gone and gotten drunk afterwards.  I mean, right?

SNYDER:  You know we're so speculating here. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, I know.  I know.  I know.

SNYDER:  I really want to know more facts... 

ABRAMS:  Yes...

SNYDER:  ... you know to make an intelligent analysis...

ABRAMS:  ... me too.  I was just going to ask you a final question about the way Duke has been reacting.  Look, you know P.R. as well as anybody, as a former political candidate, et cetera, but do you think that the university—you know again, this is my alma mater, they are walking a very difficult line here between trying to retain the presumption of innocence and also saying we're taking this real serious. 

SNYDER:  I think they've taken a good position, because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at places like Duke and Harvard and all are very, very testy all the time and I think they're being fair.  They're not presuming these kids to be guilty or they aren't kids, but...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SNYDER:  ... young men to be guilty, but at the same time they have to do something and a lacrosse game in my view is just not that important and it is punishing them in a way...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SNYDER:  ... because they were number two, so...

ABRAMS:  Yes, look, I mean I think that they have dealt with it well.  I think they were smart to announce that the season would be cancelled...

SNYDER:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... until and unless there was some change in the status or they were able to demonstrate...

SNYDER:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... that somehow it didn't happen.  They're in a tough position. 

I think so far, I've been impressed with what they have done.

SNYDER:  Me too. 

ABRAMS:  Larry Kobilinsky, Leslie Crocker Snyder, David Schwartz, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.  David is going to actually stick around.

Coming up, the lacrosse players apparently not cooperating with police.  The question, could they be possibly taking a tip from the growing no-snitch campaign that's been styming (ph) police and prosecutors across the nation?  It's my “Closing Argument”. 

And next, a new search is on for Natalee Holloway.  It's in Aruba, forensic experts have just been flown in from Holland.  We have got the latest coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  These pictures just in from Aruba where Dutch authorities are digging in sand dunes near the north part of the island, based on what could be a crucial new tip about missing Alabama teen Natalee Holloway.  A new witness who police say they're taking seriously claims to know where her body is and has pointed police there. 

Joining me with the latest is editor-in-chief of “Aruba Today” newspaper, Julia Renfro.  Julia, thank you for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.  What do we know about the search? 

JULIA RENFRO, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, “ARUBA TODAY” (via phone):  Well, two days ago, we had a group of four individuals from the Dutch Forensic Institute who have come in with a cadaver dogs and special equipment to search in a specific area that has been pointed out by a witness that came forward, actually several months ago.

ABRAMS:  So why now?  I mean you know you have Chief Dompig talking about this weeks ago.  Why did it take them so long to start doing this? 

RENFRO:  Well actually, you know there's been thousands of tips that have come in and you know the police have sorted through them and taken in what is relative and what is not, and right after they received a tip, the Aruban authorities did, together with 50 to approximately 80 officers searched that particular area that was pointed out by this individual, and they were not able to come up with anything, but they didn't give up and they asked an American group to come in who also searched areas in and around there, and they were unable to come up with anything. 

During that point, Commissioner Dompig, he flew over to Holland with the information from the witness, I would imagine a taped interview, I really don't know, and it was studied by the Dutch Forensic Institute and it was decided that yes they were going to help and they did come in with equipment necessary to search for the remains of this young lady. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So Dompig—here's what Dompig said on “48 Hours”.  The witness wanted to talk about the fact that he knew more about the whereabouts of Natalee concerning a specific burial location.  The information this person gave was too specific to just be a story that was just made up by someone.  What you're telling us is that after they got the information from the witness, they went to the exact location that the person was talking about and they found nothing?

RENFRO:  Right.  That is correct. 

ABRAMS:  Dompig also said when he was asked, do you believe Natalee Holloway's body is recoverable?  He said yes.  You do.  You believe Natalee Holloway is somewhere on this island?  He again said I do.  So when we ask the question you know what took so long, what you're saying is they actually did it immediately, they then did a follow-up, and now they're just doing effectively what is a third follow-up? 

RENFRO:  Absolutely.  From the way I understand it, the Aruban authorities did not have the proper equipment, nor the cadaver dogs to do this search thoroughly.  They did do it themselves, thinking that, you know, this was going to be an easy task, but they later found out it wasn't. 

ABRAMS:  Julia, if you could stay with me for a minute.  Let me bring in the rest of my team, former FBI profiler, MSNBC analyst Clint Van Zandt, former prosecutor Susan Filan, MSNBC analyst as well, and criminal defense attorney David Schwartz.

Clint, what do you make of this?

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  Well as you say Dan, this is the third, fourth, or fifth wave of searchers that have been in there.  As you remember, cadaver dogs were there from day one.  The FBI offered GPR, ground-penetrating radar, that can go down at least 100 feet into the sand.  It can see down into the sand.  The FBI offered that day one.  That capability has been brought in a couple of different times.  So, you know, I mean, it's—pretty soon, every pound of sand on that island is going to be sifted through, but...

ABRAMS:  So why, Susan, is Dompig referring to this as the last critical phase, the critical last phase and he's saying that this case is going to be solved?

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:   Well I found his remarks bizarre from the start and here's the difficulty, Dan.  Let's say this time they are lucky, and I certainly hope they are and they do recover her body, it's 10 months now.  So what are they going to be able to tell by her physical remains?  It's basically going to be you know forgive me, bones. 

So are we going to be able to find out whether Dompig...

(CROSSTALK)

FILAN:  ... yes, she's going to be very, very badly decomposed.  It's going to be difficult to tell whether she was sexually assaulted, what the manner of death was, and worse Dan, Dompig has made these I think kind of reckless remarks that he thinks that she was drugged and it was an overdose.  How are we going to tell that from the remains?  He's I think exonerating himself and his investigation with his remarks. 

ABRAMS:  Julia, what do you make of that? 

RENFRO:  Well, I really couldn't say that at all.  My understanding is, is this particular witness as well as other witnesses, as I mentioned earlier, thousands of tipsters have called in, and they've come to the conclusion, based on information that they received from statements that Natalee had drugs in her possession.

FILAN:  But drugs in her possession doesn't mean that they were in her system and it doesn't mean it caused her death. 

ABRAMS:  And here's what Dompig said—we have statements claiming that she had drugs.  We do not have proof that Natalee used drugs, but the witnesses saw her with drugs in her possession.  That's the exact quote.  Again, you know I said that—my point at the time was unless they have somehow proof that this was related to her death, I'm not really confident how—or not certain how relevant it is.  But...

RENFRO:  Dan, if I can interrupt for just a second. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Go ahead.  Yes.

RENFRO:  We don't know what this tipster/witness has actually said.  We don't know his involvement whatsoever in this, so to judge what Dompig says, it's a little hard to do, because we don't know how involved this particular person was in her disappearance. 

ABRAMS:  Well, we do know though—we do know that if what you just said is true and that is that they went and they dug and they found nothing in the exact area where this person claims that the body was specifically buried, then the person is not providing as much quality information as the person claimed. 

RENFRO:  I'll agree with you there, and it's my understanding they just didn't have either the equipment/personnel/technology to search this area in its entirety, and I've been up there—maybe Clint Van Zandt has been up there as well, and it's just a bunch of white sand for...

VAN ZANDT:  Yes.

RENFRO:  ... a long time. 

(CROSSTALK)

RENFRO:  And if this burial happened in the middle of the night, the exact pinpoint would be very difficult for anyone to say. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, Dan...

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you one—but Clint, isn't it—I mean Dompig is saying we're going to go back and we're going to search some more...

VAN ZANDT:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  ... in these dunes where the person says the body was. 

VAN ZANDT:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  One of my producers pointed out before, you know doesn't that then sort of tip off the person who may have buried the body there to go back and get rid of it?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, of course, you'd like somebody to come wandering back, wouldn't you?  Now remember Dompig said she was buried hastily and then dug up and reburied, so is this tipster taking us to the first gravesite or the second gravesite?

ABRAMS:  All right.  Everyone is going to stick around.  Coming up, Aruban prosecutors announce that they're going to use a Dutch television program to recreate the night Natalee disappeared in the hope they're going to get some tips.  I ask, is there really anyone on that island who does not know Natalee Holloway is missing?  I'm going to ask Julia Renfro about that. 

And later, I sure hope they are not facing the same problem American cops have been facing.  A nationwide—quote—“no snitching” campaign to try to convince people who witness crimes not to talk to police.  It's my “Closing Argument” coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Aruban prosecutors announce they're going to be working with a Dutch TV program, a lot like “America's Most Wanted”, hoping a recreation of the night Natalee disappeared will convince witnesses to come forward.  Is there really anyone in Aruba who doesn't know she's missing?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We're back with the news that authorities are in a new search for missing Alabama teen Natalee Holloway.  We learned just hours ago that prosecutors and police in Aruba are also going to use a Dutch crime show, sort of like Holland's version of “America's Most Wanted” to help gather more clues about what might have happened to Natalee.  The show will reenact her last day in Aruba.

They're asking for callers who may know more about what happened to her, to call in promising they'll remain anonymous.  The show is going to air in April in both Holland and Aruba.  All right.  Julia Renfro, editor-in-chief of “Aruba Today”, I've got to ask you this question, is there anyone on the island of Aruba who doesn't know that Natalee Holloway has disappeared? 

RENFRO:  No I'm 100 percent confident that everyone from young to old knows that Natalee has disappeared on the island of Aruba.  I believe that the reason why the prosecutor together with the police department are working together with this show is they are going to show very specific details of, you know, Natalee where she was, what she did, what Joran and the other boys, where they were, what they've done, and right down to the point of what they were wearing to the exact same shoes that they both had on.  And I think the reason why they're doing that is maybe it will trigger something. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  This is what the press release from the show says.  The investigative team in charge of the investigation into the disappearance of Ms. Holloway is of the opinion that there are people who have important information about the case but who have not yet come forward with this investigation.  One crucial tip may be enough to give the investigation an impulse.  But again, Susan Filan, you have to ask the question, you know isn't this a little bit late? 

FILAN:  Well not only that, Dan, but what does it say about the state of the prosecution's case in terms of the evidence they have?  (A), a prosecutor doesn't typically want to reveal that the evidence they have, an (B), do you want to reveal your hand to the defense that you don't have any?  So I find it to be a little bit of a mixed bag. 

The other thing is that your other guest from Aruba said that they've gotten so many thousands of tips that it took them months to be able to figure out where to start to dig.  Well, are they going to now get millions of tips and how are they going to sift through those and will it be another two year...

ABRAMS:  They're not...

FILAN:  ... before we have our next shot at this.

ABRAMS:  David Schwartz, my guess is that—you know look, I don't blame them for doing this.  It's, you know, more power to them, it might help.  The question of course is you know why now after everyone kind of knows, I think, whatever it is they're going to know?  I don't know.

SCHWARTZ:  I think that's the operative word, Dan, when analyzing this case.  Why?  You know I'm about to fall off my chair because I agree with everything that Susan has had to say so far. 

(CROSSTALK)

FILAN:  Oh no.

SCHWARTZ:  It's the first time and it may be the last time.  You know, this investigation has been a horror show from the very beginning.  I mean what was he doing?  He got the tip three months ago that the body may be buried there.  What did he go out with a plastic shovel and a little pail the type that my kids play with on the beach?  This is an insane investigation.  He never did the search warrant two weeks into the case, just—I mean, it's laughable from the very beginning...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ:  ... this investigation...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ:  And also, I agree with Susan.  I just have to say this one thing.  You know to put the victim, to say the victim overdosed from drugs without having any proof whatsoever, that she took any drugs, except for the fact that she may have been seen with it, it is...

ABRAMS:  All right...

SCHWARTZ:  ... unconscionable...

ABRAMS:  I want to let Julia have the final word on this.  Go ahead, Julia.

RENFRO:  Yes.  What I would like to add there is on the 14th of June, they did go in with the Dutch Forensic Institute, as well as dogs, as well as the FBI, and the detectives, and to the van der Sloot home, as well as the Kalpoe home and searched the area thoroughly. 

ABRAMS:  All right.

RENFRO:  I was there...

ABRAMS:  Clint, 15 seconds. 

RENFRO:  The Twittys were there...

VAN ZANDT:  Yes.  This is—we all want to see—Dan, we all want to see this case solved.  This is Aruba's last dog and pony show to say they've done everything that can be done...

ABRAMS:  They're saying it's going to get solved, Clint. 

VAN ZANDT:  ... and then they're going to move on.

ABRAMS:  Dompig is on TV saying it's going to be solved. 

VAN ZANDT:  Dompig...

ABRAMS:  He says the case is going to be solved. 

VAN ZANDT:  And we all want to see that happen, and we'll give him a high five if he can pull it off...

ABRAMS:  All right.

VAN ZANDT:  You know, talk about a rabbit out of a hat. 

ABRAMS:  Julia Renfro, Clint Van Zandt, Susan Filan, David Schwartz, thank you very much.  Appreciate it.

RENFRO:  Good-bye.  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Milwaukee police searching for two missing boys, having trouble finding them in part because no one wants to talk.  A so-called anti-snitching movement trying to get people to keep quiet.  I say it's reprehensible.  It's my “Closing Argument”. 

Our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, it's our effort to find missing offenders before they strike.  We're in New York.  Police are looking for Howard James Nodine.

He's 49, five-nine, 250, convicted of raping a 13-month-old baby, has failed to register his address with the state.  If you've got any information on his whereabouts, please contact New York's 100 Most Wanted tip line, 800-262-4321.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—yesterday in our segment about two young boys missing in Milwaukee, it became clear one of the reasons the police are having such a hard time cracking the case is a stigma associated with helping the authorities.  It's reprehensible.  Apparently across the country, a stop snitching campaign has gone mainstream from t-shirts to music to DVDs, those who agree to help can quickly being pariahs in their communities.  Hip-hop music stars like Busta Rhymes, Lil' Kim and Jamal Shyne Barrow now considered more credible because they wouldn't—quote—

“snitch”.  Some in the media don't help when they refer to those who do cooperate with authorities as rats or skunks or even snitches, particularly in mob cases. 

I guess they believe it would have been better to have allowed mob bosses like Al Capone and John Gotti to reign over their criminal enterprises rather than go to prison.  And yet some don't seem to get it.  That is as long as the victims are not their own kids or parents or wife or husband.  Supporters of a Pennsylvania drug dealer wore t-shirts with a photo of the primary witness in the case with the slogan “stop snitching” underneath.  A U.S. attorney told “USA Today” that one informant in a case had a $100,000 price on his head.  A homicide case in Pittsburgh was thrown out after a key witness showed up in a stop snitching t-shirt. 

It's hard to accept that this ridiculous no-snitching mentality might be the reason these little two boys haven't been found in Milwaukee.  Just a few months ago, police there weren't able to figure out who had beaten a 50-year-old man almost to death because none of the witnesses would come forward.  The mayor attributed it to the no-snitching movement.  In a recent article in Milwaukee's “Journal Sentinel” called the no snitching t-shirts one of the hottest new fashion trends.  Assistant district attorney told the paper the t-shirts were evidence of a trend that threatened to destabilize the whole criminal justice system.  I don't want to hear people complaining about the police or their relationship with the community, not now.  You can have that discussion after these two innocent little boys are found. 

Coming up, one of you says he understands why many go along with the no snitching campaign in Milwaukee.  Your e-mails, my response up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  I've had my say, now it's time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Authorities have taken DNA samples from 46 of the 47 members of the Duke Lacrosse team in an attempt to find three players an exotic dancer says beat and raped her at a party where she was hired to perform. 

Laurie Rosenow, “It makes one wonder what sort of pressure was placed on the students to give samples en mass when authorities admit that there were likely only three perpetrators of the alleged crime.”  Laurie, it's called legal pressure.  They didn't have much of a choice.

Stephanie Moore in Cincinnati, “You didn't mention that the Duke players were not cooperating with the investigation and refusing to talk to the police about that night.”

Finally, police are still searching two boys missing in Milwaukee.  Last seen Sunday, March 19.  Authorities say they're not getting enough help from many students, adopting a no-snitching attitude.

Chuck Kelly who grew up in Milwaukee, went to the college there, writes, “I understand the distance from the police.  If this reaction gets in the way of a criminal investigation, maybe someone will ask where the no-snitch attitude was born.”

No, Chuck, you are then part of the problem and people who adopt your attitude and refuse to help share the blame for the family's pain here. 

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

That does it for us tonight.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews up next.

END 

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

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