updated 7/31/2007 11:01:47 AM ET 2007-07-31T15:01:47

Guests: Rev. Stephen Volpe, Lt. Jay Markella

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight we hear from the only family member who survived that horrible Connecticut home invasion last week, the father.  Two suspects with long rap sheets allegedly held the family of four hostage in their own home in the middle of the night, tied the father up, beat him with a baseball bat, allegedly raped the daughters and mother, forced the mother to a bank, before strangling her, then set the house on fire, killing the daughters.  Dr. William Petit barely made it out alive.

On Friday, the brave father and husband was released from the hospital after being measured for a new suit to wear to his family‘s funeral.  All of the family‘s personal items were burned.  This weekend, for the first time since the attack, Dr. Petit spoke publicly, remembering his family at a memorial service and still visibly bearing physical scars from the ordeal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. WILLIAM PETIT, JR., FAMILY KILLED IN HOME INVASION:  Jen was an amazing mother and friend.  She was involved in all aspects of the girls‘ lives.  She was their confidante.  They were really more like sisters.  I had to keep saying to her, say, You‘re the mother, not the sister.

Hayley, as you‘ve heard, is firstborn, Daddy‘s little girl.  I didn‘t hear until long after the fact and Jen showed it to me, one of the entrance essays that Hayley did for Dartmouth, but her essay was entitled, “My Dad.”  She said, “My dad looked on as my 4-year-old hands clasped the handle of the black medical bag he‘d just given me for my fourth birthday.  Looking inside, I saw a child‘s stethoscope and various other instruments which mirrored his professional tools.  From then on, I have gone with my dad to the hospital on Saturdays.  I loved trailing behind Dad‘s long white coattails through the endless maze of hallways with shiny white floors.

Kicky rosebud (ph) -- well, Michaela, Kaykay‘s (ph) usual approach to most people early on was—you know, look down at the carpet.  But once you got to her, you‘d get that smile.  And once you had the smile, you knew you were in.  So she‘s a wonderful, wonderful little girl.  She was going to grown up to be a beautiful woman.

I guess if there‘s anything to be gained from the senseless deaths of my beautiful family, it‘s for us to all go forward with the inclination to live with the faith and body‘s action, help a neighbor, fight for a cause, love your family.  I‘m really expecting all of you to go out and do some of these things with your family in your own little way to spread the work of these three wonderful women.  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Oh!  Joining me on the phone once again is the Petit family‘s pastor, Reverend Stephen Volpe.  He presided over the family‘s private funeral on Friday and spoke at the public memorial service on Saturday.  Reverend, thank you very much for taking the time.  Again, it is so heartbreaking to see and hear from Dr. Petit.  I would presume that was an extremely difficult funeral to preside over.

REV. STEPHEN VOLPE, FAMILY PASTOR:  Yes, it was, exceptionally difficult for everybody.  And you know, I think what Bill did at both funerals took a tremendous amount of courage and just shows the strength of the man and the strength that he also gave to his daughters they displayed in what they were doing.

ABRAMS:  The fact that he was able to still use some modicum of humor, knowing the pain that he is enduring, in an effort to appropriately and accurately characterize his family I think just shows so much.

VOLPE:  It shows a tremendous—I‘ll tell you what it shows.  It shows that Bill still, even after all of this, is still giving to those he feels are in need.  And that—you know, two primary motives for his speaking and for the manner that he was able to speak, one was the fact that he wanted to tell everybody about who his family was and who they were and what they did and what they represented.  And the second was to make sure that he addressed everyone just to let them know that he was OK and that things could still carry on in Michaela, Hayley and Jen‘s honor and memory.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Reverend Volpe, thank you very much for coming back on the program and taking the time.  I‘ve made comments before about Dr. Petit without knowing him.  Those feelings are even stronger, my admiration for him increased significantly, which is hard to imagine, after watching what I just watched.  Thank you for taking the time.

VOLPE:  You‘re very welcome.  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  New questions are being raised about the amount of time it took police to respond.  Remember, Jennifer Petit alerted a bank teller that her family was being held hostage at about 9:30 AM, when she was forced to take money out of their account.  When the police arrived, the house was in flames, the suspects were fleeing in the family car.

So the question a lot of people are asking is, How long did it take for them to respond?  Was there a delay?  Lt. Jay Markella joins us on the phone now.  He‘s the public information officer for the Cheshire, Connecticut, Police Department, in the town where they lived.

Lieutenant, thanks for coming back on the program.  All right.  What can you tell us about the timing here?

LT. JAY MARKELLA, CHESHIRE POLICE DEPARTMENT PUBLIC INFORMATION

OFFICER:  Yes.  Unfortunately, Dan, I can‘t get into specifics regarding the time.  I will say that reporting of a 30-minute response time is false.  People reporting that are assuming they know when the call came in.  They‘re assuming they know when the arrest was made.  And I liken it to a book critic who‘s reading the first and last page and trying to tell someone what the story is in between.  Again, any reports of a 30-minute response time are just utterly false.

ABRAMS:  Well, can you tell me this?  Was there anything that could be characterized as a delay?

MARKELLA:  No.  There was absolutely no delay.  I don‘t want to make this right now about the Cheshire Police Department.  All this information will come out in the end.  I know some journalists have made comments that we‘re trying to hide something.  This information isn‘t going anywhere.  These things are on tapes.  All times are recorded, and that will be out later on.  We can critique things later, but in regards to a delay in response, that‘s just totally false.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Well, look, I know you wanted an opportunity to respond to that, which is why we led with that—with that issue.  I don‘t know enough.  I don‘t have the records.  I don‘t have the documentation to be questioning you in that way.  I just wanted to give you an opportunity to set the record straight on that.

MARKELLA:  No, I appreciate it.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you about this.  We now know that two other homes in the area were hit probably the night before, and it‘s now believed that these same two guys were involved in the robberies of two other homes in the area?

MARKELLA:  Again, that‘s information I can‘t comment on.  I know that home owners themselves have actually called in to several...

ABRAMS:  We spoke—yes, we spoke to one of the home owners on this program.

MARKELLA:  And again, I can‘t—I can‘t say what they‘re saying is false.  I can‘t say what they‘re saying is true.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, you...

MARKELLA:  You know, we have asked them not to call in.  Everybody has a right to call in and...

ABRAMS:  I understand.

MARKELLA:  ... give their opinions.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you—let me ask you a personal question.  It doesn‘t have to be about you, it can be about the folks in the police department.  I have to believe that this is a really hard case to work on.

MARKELLA:  Oh, you know what, Dan?  It‘s absolutely brutal.  I mean, it has just affected this department and this community.  It just hits so hard here, and you can see it on all the guys working.  I can tell you firsthand the detectives that are working on this, state police that are working on this, state‘s attorney, everybody, it‘s just affected them so hard.

ABRAMS:  Because of the brutality, in part, right?

MARKELLA:  Oh, absolutely.  And you know what?  That‘s part of the reason why we can‘t release information.  What you have to understand is there‘s a big difference between going for the death penalty and getting the death penalty.  And I know personally I wouldn‘t want to look back five years from now and say, You know what?  If I didn‘t release this information, these guys would have received the death penalty.  But because I did, they‘re serving life in prison.

ABRAMS:  Well, on that note, I will thank you, Lieutenant, and end the conversation there.  So thank you very much.

MARKELLA:  Thank you so much, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Appreciate it.

All right.  We already know both the suspects have lengthy criminal records.  They were out of prison on parole.  Tonight we‘re learning more about these guys, and some of these details are really hard to believe.  Some new details in particular about the younger suspect particularly surprising.  Joshua Komisarjevsky had reportedly lost his girlfriend, had been engaged in a custody battle over his 5-year-old daughter—that‘s right, he had a daughter.  And we‘re just learning, according to “The Hartford Courant,” that he was granted custody of the child about six weeks ago.  He was struggling financially but lived just two miles from the Petits.  He had 18 burglary and larceny convictions.  And according to our research, someone with the same name, alias and address as him was an emergency medical technician.  Wow!

Here‘s MSNBC senior legal analyst, former Connecticut prosecutor Susan Filan.  She knows many of the law enforcement folks involved in this case well.

All right, Susan.  This guy‘s background surprises me.  He‘s an EMT.  He‘s fighting for his own child tooth and nail, and then allegedly raping and killing someone else‘s weeks later.

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Usually, when we look at that kind of record, Dan, the burglaries and larcenies, we see a drug addict.  Typically, in a custody case in Connecticut, if the father‘s awarded custody, there‘s something so—a father like this, I should say—there‘s something so seriously wrong with the mother.  I understand now his parents, the paternal grandparents, have custody and are going raise this 5-year-old child.  But this is just botched, botched, botched.

ABRAMS:  But I‘ve never even heard of—I mean, the idea that he‘s going court, right, using the legal system to fight for his child, and then going and committing just these incredibly heinous crimes—let me read this to you, Susan.  This is from a 2005 letter, according to “The Hartford Courant,” that he wrote in the context of his custody battle, and talking about his other incarceration on another charge.  “Unfortunately, my incarceration has disallowed me to be actively involved in the first year of my daughter‘s life, when attachments and the forming of emotional bonds are most prevalent.  I wish nothing but the very best for my daughter, and it is painful not to be able to provide for her.”

This is a guy who‘s writing about the emotions of his daughter, and then is accused of the ultimate depravity!

FILAN:  Yes.  HE didn‘t write that.  He sounds like a manipulative sociopath to me, who will do anything and say anything to get whatever he wants, whether it‘s drugs, money, a daughter for whatever reason, certainly not to love, nurture and raise her, but maybe to get state assistance or some kind of benefits or even child support from the mom.

Dan, this is a guy who—watch this—is going turn all the things that you just listed as mitigating factors in his own defense, why he should not receive the death penalty.  He‘s going to turn all this to a plus.  I was an EMT.  I was a dad.  I tried to get custody of my kids.  I got custody of my kids.  Reward me.  Watch.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  That‘s a—that‘s a really good point.  I think that‘s exactly what‘s going to happen.  All right.  Susan Filan, stick around, all right?

FILAN:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  Up next: A reporter exposes a golf course where strippers were part of the game.  He‘ll join us with his investigation and why it led to a serious confrontation.

Plus, NFL star Michael Vick finally speaking out about the dog fighting charges.  We‘ll show you what he‘s saying today, and we‘ll ask the NAACP why they‘re still supporting Vick, even after one of his co-defendants pled guilty and is prepared to point the finger at  Michael Vick.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Great golf courses are known for their stunning beauty, the manicured lawns, the strict dress codes.  But apparently, some of that is, let‘s just say, optional when a strip club decides to host a golf outing.  As you can imagine, some neighbors were furious, but maybe not as furious as the sponsors of the event at this private club when Harry Hairston from NBC‘s Philadelphia station WCAU exposed them.

He joins us now.  Harry, tell us what happened.

HARRY HAIRSTON, WCAU-TV PHILADELPHIA:  Well, Dan, our cameras were rolling when strippers from Club Risque engaged in some very risque activity at an area golf club.  And we should warn viewers the video you‘re about to see is a bit racy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s assault!  That‘s assault!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why are you grabbing the camera?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s assault!

HAIRSTON (voice-over):  This man did not want the NBC-10 investigators to see what anyone could have seen from a public street, strippers from Club Risque engaging in very risque activity at the Island Green Golf Course in northeast Philadelphia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) something going in there that shouldn‘t be?

HAIRSTON:  This man wouldn‘t talk and left after we called police about him shoving my photographer around.  But someone who wants to remain anonymous did talk earlier, alerting the NBC-10 investigators about strippers baring more than bikinis in plain view, right in the middle of a residential area.

Within minutes of driving through this northeast neighborhood, I looked out of the passenger window and spotted a topless woman fondling her breast.  And when we stopped for a closer look, we saw more than just fondling.  One by one, golf carts pulled up.  After a little bit of talking, the golf carts started rocking with lap dances.  And when the hot session cooled, cold cash came out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You got be kidding me.

HAIRSTON:  We showed the video to several area residents.

SHAWN GILL, AREA RESIDENT:  Pretty amazing.  Unbelievable. 

Unbelievable.  I‘m shocked.

DONNA DIBIASIO, NEIGHBOR:  That is disgusting!  I mean, it‘s out in the open.  It is daytime.  I mean, what if someone and their family walked by?

HAIRSTON:  I contacted the golf course, but management refused to talk and hung up on me.  I also contacted the gentleman‘s club.  A spokesman for Club Risque told me they sponsored the outing and the strippers worked for them.  The spokesperson also told me the strippers were supposed to only pose in bikinis.

JOANNE PINOSKI, GOLF ROMP WITNESS:  I think it‘s terrible, disgusting. 

And they should be arrested, especially whoever is that on the top.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAIRSTON:  The manager of the golf course called me late in the day.  He said he didn‘t know the strippers were performing lap dances.  But he says once he found out, he ordered them off the property and He was in the process of shutting down the outing while our cameras were rolling—Dan.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Harry Hairston, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

Joining us on the phone now is Joanne Pinoski, is a waitress at the Island Green Golf Club.  She witnessed the event.  Thanks a lot for taking the time.  Appreciate t.  All right.  I assume you were pretty stunned at what you were seeing.

PINOSKI:  Yes.  It was pretty repulsive and unnecessary and uncalled for to do that in broad daylight.

ABRAMS:  And I assume you could see all of this?  You know, you know, you wonder sometimes if there‘s a camera that‘s got a super-lens or something.  This is just really easy for anyone to see?

PINOSKI:  Anybody could see it from, I would say, 25 feet away.  Even if you were 25 feet away, you could see everything from the street and the sidewalk.  And you could just—you could see everything!

ABRAMS:  Has this ever happened before there, as far as you know?

PINOSKI:  I‘ve heard of, you know, little things here and there.  But I actually witnessed it myself today when I walked up the street on my break.  And I spoke to channel 10.  And it‘s really awful because I know they experienced a little bit more than I did, but what I saw was horrible.  There‘s a day care center down the street.  The children walk by there every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 11:00 and 3:00 o‘clock.  They could be exposed to that at any time, and they are only 5 years old, 6 years old and 7 years old.

ABRAMS:  And they would walk by the exact areas where you could see this all happening?

PINOSKI:  Yes.  It‘s a golf course.

ABRAMS:  Come on!

PINOSKI:  They could walk right into that.  And it is summertime, and the children are not in school.  So children are all over the place at that hour.

ABRAMS:  Harry, look, from the video, it looks like some of them are all in bikinis, and that was the claim, that they were in bikinis.  But just to be clear, we—you blotched out areas.  Let‘s just say that there‘s—they‘re not wearing bikinis in some of the areas where you‘re covering it up, right?

HAIRSTON:  Well, yes.  What we covered up is where they had taken the bikinis off.  And I‘ll tell you, Dan, when we got the tip about what was happening, we just drove around the perimeter of the golf course.  And as I was coming down the street, I just looked out the passenger window, like I said in the report, and all of a sudden, I said just, Wow.  Oh, my goodness.  What‘s this?  And when we pulled over and got a closer look, it was really amazing.

And Dan, you know, I‘ve been covering news for about 30 years now, and this was shocking to me.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Harry and Joanne Pinoski, thanks a lot. 

Appreciate it.

PINOSKI:  You‘re welcome.

HAIRSTON:  Thank you, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Still ahead: One of the men accused in the dog fighting ring with Michael Vick now says the NFL star bankrolled the whole thing.  So why are groups, including the NAACP, racing to defend Vick?  And for the first time, we hear from Michael Vick himself.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHAEL VICK, ATLANTA FALCONS:  (INAUDIBLE) I put him through a lot.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But first: Remember the prince who falsely claimed to have fathered Anna Nicole Smith‘s baby?  He‘s back.  As you may have heard, he now claims he was held up by three women and forced to strip after they asked to take a picture with him.  He says that people stop him every day to take pictures.  Yes, right!  That‘s up next in “Beat the Press.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Beat the Press, our daily look back at the absurd and sometimes amusing perils of live TV.  First up, Zsa-Zsa Gabor‘s husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, best known for claiming he was father of Anna Nicole Smith‘s baby, now inserting himself in the public eye again by claiming three women robbed him at gunpoint, made him strip naked and tied him up in his Rolls-Royce last week.  What I found most interesting—he seems to be claiming he‘s a celebrity, constantly being hounded by his fans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRINCE FREDERIC VON ANHALT, ZSA-ZSA GABOR‘S HUSBAND:  It was something like we have every day in Bel Air, you know?  Tourists come up with a convertible (ph), take a picture.  I do it.  If you don‘t do it, they call you arrogant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  He even claims that it, quote, “happens every day five times in Bel Air.”  I know.  It must be hard, all the paparazzi, the girls wanting to take pictures.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VON ANHALT:  You know, three girls, good-looking girls.  One was not so good-looking, but the other was good-looking.  The one that wanted to take the picture, she got out of the car.  She asked me.  I said of course I‘d do it.  I got out of the car...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  OK.  OK.  OK.  Just shut up.  Please.  Please!

Next up: A shout-out to Nancy Grace for putting CNN sports reporter Larry Smith in his place after he compared criminal charges against Michael Vick to the sexual assault case involving Kobe Bryant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY SMITH, CNN SPORTS:  But while Kobe Bryant is a situation, we can sort of compare the two.  This really is much worse.

NANCY GRACE, HOST, “NANCY GRACE”:  Did I just hear Larry Smith, CNN sports correspondent and anchor, state that crimes on a dog are much worse than crimes on a woman?  Did I hear that?

SMITH:  I‘m sorry.  You—I‘m saying they could be.  I‘m not arguing which is worse—which one is worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Good for Nancy.  I‘m sure it was a misstatement.  Of course, the charges against Kobe were dropped.  But come on.

Finally, for an FCC that‘s so concerned about not letting indecency on the air, you‘d think they‘d be more careful about the call letters it grants to TV and radio stations.  The FCC put out a new list of call letters last week, and one station owner got some nasty call letters for two of his stations.  I‘m not going to say all the letters of the first one.  You might be able to figure it out.  Let‘s—the call letters were K-(blank)-N-T were given to a TV station in Maui.  And a station in Arizona received KWTF.  Take me a minute to figure that one out.

The vice president of the company that requested and received those letters said it is, quote, “extremely embarrassing to me and my company.  We‘ll file to change those call letters immediately.”  Sure is coincidental, the same company got two dirty call letters.

Up next, NFL star Michael Vick finally speaking out about charges he took part in that illegal dog fighting ring.  One of his co-defendants pled guilty today and says Vick paid for the whole operation.  And yet some groups like the NAACP are coming out in defense of Vick now, talking, as always, about the presumption of innocence that, of course, does not exist outside of a courtroom.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, two news helicopters crash covering a police chase, killing four people.  Now there‘s new pressure from the man driving the car to be charged with their deaths, the car that was being chased.  Can they do that?  We‘ll debate it.

But first, NFL star Michael Vick speaks out in his first interview since dogfighting charges were filed against him.  Vick thanked his supporters for standing by him, saying he hopes to be back on the field soon. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL VICK, NFL PRO QUARTERBACK:  Under the right circumstances, you know—there would be a lot of things that would need to be worked out, you know.  For them to put their trust and faith back in me, but if I had the opportunity, without a doubt, like I said, it wouldn‘t a problem.  I‘d love to come back, but like I said, under the right circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And Vick isn‘t alone in defending himself.  He picked up a key ally.  The NAACP leaders lashed out against the media and animal rights groups for their treatment of Vick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. R.L. WHITE, NAACP ATLANTA BRANCH PRESIDENT:  Even worse than the allegations is the way that he‘s being vilified by the animal rights groups, radio talk show hosts, and even the press before he has had his day in court.  To treat him as he‘s being treated now is also a crime.  He has not lost his rights as a citizen in this country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Meantime, Vick‘s defense was dealt a blow today as one of his codefendants reversed his plea, now pleading guilty to dogfighting charges and saying that the dogfighting operation was, quote, “almost exclusively funded by Vick.”

My take.  I am tired of people in high-profile cases constantly trying to avoid public discussion and debate by hiding behind the presumption of innocence.  The evidence is piling up against Michael Vick.  Does that mean he should lose his freedom now?  Of course not.  For that to happen, prosecutors must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt in court and, in court, he is presumed innocent.  But the rest of us, those of us not on the jury, can look at dead dogs and other horrifying dogfighting equipment, and bloody carpeting found on his property, and be suspicious, and we can read the indictment, listening all of the people who will testify against him, and look at the latest guilty plea, and say, “This looks bad at the least for his career, if not ultimately for his freedom.” 

We don‘t have to presume based on the evidence that has emerged so far that the police and prosecutors got it all wrong.  I‘m not ready to say beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew what was happening at his house.  I‘m ready to say I don‘t want to be lectured about drawing conclusions based on the evidence we know of so far. 

Here now for a little debate on this is Dr. R.L. White, president of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP who we just heard from.  And Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming on the program.  All right, Dr.

White, what am I getting wrong here? 

WHITE:  Well, in our eyesight, you don‘t have anything wrong.  But in our eyesight, there must be a full presumption of innocence until someone is proven guilty, whether in court or in the court of opinion in the streets. 

ABRAMS:  So we can‘t even look at the evidence we know of so far, we can‘t talk about it, no sponsors can take any actions, they all have to presume that the police and prosecutors got it wrong and sit back? 

WHITE:  No, you can certainly look at all the evidence.  You can draw your own conclusions.  The things that I‘d like to express is that make sure you know all the facts before you make a decision, because you remember less than a year ago when the Duke lacrosse students were just trashed by everybody in the nation, they thought they had it right. 

ABRAMS:  Right, except not on this program.  And the reason was—and the reason that I defended the Duke students and went after the prosecutor, ultimately—was one of the first people to do that—was because there was no evidence.  There was nothing.  Here we know that it was happening at Michael Vick‘s home, that there was dogfighting occurring there.  Now, whether he was part of it and whether he knew about it is the legal question, but there‘s a fact that dogfighting was going on at Michael Vick‘s home.  That‘s different from the Duke case. 

WHITE:  I still maintain that we should know all the facts before we make judgment.  And it‘s easy for us to sit outside and think we have all the facts and then, you know, the people who are testifying that they know this and he did this, and so I think they, too, have some credibility problems. 

ABRAMS:  All right, so, Wayne, you have been singled out for blame, your organization, for going after Vick by a number of Vick supporters, not just the NAACP. 

WAYNE PACELLE, HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE U.S.:  You know, Dan, I think you‘ve got it spot on.  I mean, there is a fact here that‘s not in dispute, that Michael Vick‘s property, a property he owned, was a major dogfighting operation.  Investigators went there on an alleged drug charge, marijuana charge.  They got it, they saw a massive dogfighting operation.  You have bloody carpet; you have break sticks used to separate all the dogs.  You had all the accoutrements of dogfighting.  There was a kennel there.  There were buildings behind the main home that were dogfighting-oriented buildings. 

All we‘re saying is that, hey, this looks pretty bad for Michael Vick.  And at the best-case scenario for him is that he wasn‘t paying attention to what‘s happening on his property.  And then when you add the indictment in and the chilling facts in a 19-page indictment, we‘ve said they‘re allegations, but we‘ve said it‘s cruel and barbaric and that, while this major shadow is hanging over his head, he shouldn‘t be donning the Atlanta Falcons uniform and he shouldn‘t be sponsored by Nike and Reebok and the other companies, that if he‘s exonerated, then that changes the situation.

ABRAMS:  But is there an argument to be made that, if it turns out he didn‘t know about it, that it was happening on his property, but he didn‘t know that it was occurring, and he wasn‘t a part of it, that it‘s not fair that they took action so early? 

PACELLE:  Well, I think that, you know, you‘ve got to be responsible for the most part in terms of what‘s on your property.  Now, there are lots of folks who are saying they see him in the neighborhood, that he bought syringes at the local stores nearby.  He was claiming he knew nothing about it.  I find it hard to believe, as a general matter, he knew nothing about it. 

But even if we assume he‘s correct, the problem is his property was used as a major, criminal dogfighting operation.  That‘s a federal felony.  It‘s a state felony.  We think he bears responsibility.  We‘re not saying he should be put in jail forever at this point.  We‘re saying that he shouldn‘t don the Falcons uniform and influence kids and have kids think it may be OK to engage in dogfighting when we know it‘s an epidemic, especially in urban communities, and we shouldn‘t have Nike sponsoring Vick at this time when you‘ve got major felony dogfighting charges hanging over your head. 

ABRAMS:  Dr. White, what of that? 

WHITE:  The way we believe here in Atlanta, for the last few years, Michael Vick has been somewhat of a hero in this community.  And by the record of all the people who know him, they were shocked to even believe that he would ever do anything, because there‘s nothing in his demeanor like that.  Now, I do know that there are many, many people who own properties in the United States, things are going on, on their properties, that they don‘t know.  All we‘re saying is, let the real facts come out, not just as you see it, but as they are. 

PACELLE:  Michael Vick had a kennel that he was advertising the sale of dogs.  You know, this is not something new.  And let‘s face it, this indictment spans a five- or six-year period.  Dogfighting is not an isolated sort of circumstance where it‘s he said-she said or a he said-he said circumstance.  You‘re talking about a social activity with many handlers of the dogs, with spectators.  There are confidential informants that are cooperating witnesses.  But even if you put all that aside, the fact is, it was a major dogfighting operation on his property.  We‘re saying suspend until the case.  When the case is resolved, then you deal with fines and the jail time and those serious issues.  But right now, we shouldn‘t allow Michael Vick in that hero status... 

ABRAMS:  Let me play one more piece of sound from Vick on the radio today.  Then I‘m going to give Dr. White the final word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICK:  It pains me not to be down there right now, because I know so many people want to see me, and I want to be there.  But at the same time, this is something that God (INAUDIBLE) in my life.  You know, to help me see, you know, get to the next part of my life.  And, you know, I‘m just thankful for that, you know, that I learned a lot from this situation.  But at the same time, you know, I know there‘s a light at the end of the tunnel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Dr. White, do you wish that Michael Vick was speaking out more? 

WHITE:  Yes, I wish that he were.  But, you know, the NAACP, for the last 98 years, has been on the vanguard of protecting rights for those that we think may not be treated right.  And all we are saying, if someone has done a crime, yes, then they must pay for what they‘ve done.  But until they have been convicted then keep an open mind.  And that‘s all we‘re asking.  Keep an open mind.  No rush to judgment. 

ABRAMS:  You get the final word on that, Dr. White.  Thank you very much for taking the time.  Wayne Pacelle, appreciate it. 

PACELLE:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Up next, two news helicopters crash while covering a high-speed chase, killing all four on board.  Now the driver who was fleeing from police could be charged with murder.  Can they do that?  That‘s up next.

And later, Al Gore‘s son heads to rehab, avoids prison time for drug possession.  But does that make him tonight‘s big winner or loser? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Two news helicopters covering the same police chase in Phoenix, Arizona, slammed into each other Friday, killing all four people on board.  Now the police are saying the man who led the police and choppers on that high-speed pursuit will be, quote, “held responsible for any of the deaths from this tragedy.” 

My take.  How do you do that?  Punish this guy to the max for the crimes he committed, but how is he legally responsible for the fact that news crews followed the chase?  If Lindsay Lohan had fled from police and then photographers following the chase crashed with each other somewhere else, would we charge Lindsay Lohan with murder?

Look, I totally disagree with people out there who are trying to use this tragedy to forward their agenda that police pursuits should not be covered.  And I have the utmost respect for what those pilots and photographers were doing.  I just don‘t see how you hold the idiot who‘s fleeing from police legally responsible for their deaths. 

Here now with me is defense attorney Michelle Suskauer, MSNBC senior legal analyst and former prosecutor Susan Filan, and KNBC‘s News Chopper 4 pilot Chip Paige, who joins us live from his chopper above Los Angeles. 

All right, first of all, Susan, let me ask you, how do you make the case that this guy is responsible for the fact that news choppers followed him? 

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Because when he acts recklessly with depraved indifference to human life, he is then responsible for all the foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences of his reckless acts.  But for his leading police on this chase, these choppers wouldn‘t have been following him.  If they hadn‘t been following him, they wouldn‘t have crashed.  He‘s therefore, extrapolating backwards, responsible for their deaths.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t think you can make an argument that he‘s legally responsible for anything that could not be foreseen as part of this event.

FILAN:  Well, when I mean by not foreseen, I just mean because it‘s never happened before doesn‘t mean you‘re going to say it‘s reasonably foreseeable or unforeseeable.  I‘m saying that, because they were following him—and you can assume that there are going to be people following you when you‘re a high-speed chase, you‘re responsible for any actions that results in their death. 

ABRAMS:  It‘s just not going to fly.  I‘m telling you, it‘s not going to fly.

But before I get to Michelle Suskauer, Chip Paige, let me ask you this.  As someone who is a pilot, someone who does this for a living, do you have an opinion one way or the other about whether this guy should be held legally responsible for the deaths of the people on board ? 

CHIP PAIGE, KNBC, LOS ANGELES:  You know, Dan, I think I have to leave it up to attorneys like yourself to really decide whether or not he is personally responsible.  In California, the felony murder rule is pretty clear that, during the commission of a felony, if there is a murder that takes place, it‘s part of it.  You‘re held responsible for it.  But our position in the air, obviously, a very disappointing turn of events, this collision, the accident, the fatalities that followed, the loss of life very, very disappointing.  But really from this seat, it‘s not the right place to say whether or not those guys should be on the hook for this.

ABRAMS:  And, generally, there‘s a lot of communication that goes on, is there not, between the various pilots in the air, the news copters, et cetera? 

PAIGE:  Absolutely, Dan.  You know, there‘s a lot of people here that are working together.  We have a channel that we use between ourselves, whether or not we‘re in controlled airspace or out of controlled airspace.  We still have a dedicated channel that we use for ourselves to talk between ourselves to keep ourselves apart, let each other know what‘s going on.  “Hey, I have you over there.  I‘m behind you.  I‘m coming around.”  It‘s a great, very polished method of communication between the (INAUDIBLE) experienced pilots that do this kind of word. 

ABRAMS:  And I know that KNBC has shown great care in covering these kinds of events from the air, as well. 

All right, Michelle Suskauer, look, you know, Susan is making the argument as a prosecutor.  Susan and I generally tend to agree on most of these cases.  You and I tend to disagree on a lot of these cases, but I do not see how they make out a legal case against the guy.  I mean, you can‘t argue felony murder, because he wasn‘t engaged in a crime that directly led to someone getting murdered, because there wasn‘t a murder.  There was an accident that occurred.  What do you make of Susan saying that, as a legal matter, even if it was unforeseeable, they could somehow be—he could be held responsible for murder?

MICHELLE SUSKAUER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  She‘s completely off base here.  It‘s not like when you‘re—you know, if there‘s like a convenience store robbery, and then there‘s—somebody who gets shot who‘s just walking into the store in the commission of that forcible felony, completely different here.  You just cannot stretch it that far. 

And certainly this guy who‘s doing this high-speed chase, it‘s certainly not foreseen that you‘re going to have news helicopters, that you would even think that there would be news helicopters following him, and that he would be responsible for their safety up in the air.  And, again, don‘t you think it‘s really premature here, Susan, that we should wait and find out what‘s going on, in terms of—maybe it‘s pilot error, weather, mechanical failure. 

FILAN:  But that‘s reasoning backwards.  That‘s saying that, you know, because I didn‘t know that anybody was in the home when I set fire to it, I can‘t be held responsible for their arson murder. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  One at a time.  One at a time. 

FILAN:  But you‘re saying, because they couldn‘t have ever imagined that there would be a copter chasing me, I can‘t be responsible...

SUSKAUER:  That‘s not the point.

FILAN:  ... for the fact that my high-speed chase led to their death.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s the problem.  In California, an appeals court overturned a case where they held a guy responsible for police copters who were going after them, police copters. 

FILAN:  And he‘s in prison now for nine years because after the reversal he pled guilty.

ABRAMS:  All right...

SUSKAUER:  You know what?  But I was just going say, if somebody was run over by this guy in the course of this chase, completely different.  Then, of course, he‘d be responsible. 

ABRAMS:  I agree.  Chip Paige, thanks a lot for listening to us battle it out here while you‘re up there doing the hard work.  Keep up the good work, and thanks for taking the time.

PAIGE:  Thanks for having me, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  And Susan and Michelle, as always, appreciate it. 

SUSKAUER:  Thanks.

FILAN:  You bet.

ABRAMS:  Up next, it‘s type for “Winners and Losers.”  Lindsay Lohan‘s new thriller bombs at the box office.  Al Gore‘s son is thrilled to learn he‘ll avoid prison time.  And dozens of prisoners dance to “Thriller.”  Oh, yes, today‘s “Winners and Losers” coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  Time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 30th day of July 2007.

Our first winner?  Prisoners at the Cebu Detention Center in the Philippines, rattling the prison with a lot more than homemade instruments clanging against bars.  Some of the 1,500 prisoners now killing time by practicing, then performing, mass-choreographed dance moves to hit songs like Queen‘s “Radio Ga Ga” and Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller,” impressing guards, fellow inmates, and Web surfers alike.

Our first loser?  Non-incarcerated air guitarists, who‘ve also apparently killed a lot of time practicing, then performing, for the right to compete at the World Air Guitar Championships in September, impressing so-called judges, fellow air guitarists, Web surfers, and probably some prison inmates.

The second winner?  Hungarian daredevils Goltan Barracks (ph), on tape, wowing crowds as he flies his plane under Central Europe‘s longest and tallest bridge.  His excuse?  It was part of a state celebration of this new, majestic bridge.

The second loser?  A man who identified himself as Ron Teague, on tape wowing news audiences as he led people on a high-speed pursuit near Dallas today.  His excuse for racing through residential neighborhoods at over 95 miles per hour with the police in hot pursuit for 45 minutes? 

RON TEAGUE, POLICE SUSPECT:  My cat was dying.  I was trying to get to the vet.

ABRAMS:  But the big loser of the day, Lindsay Lohan.  We‘ll never know for sure if her latest drug and alcohol charge killed her latest movie, “I Know Who Killed Me,” but it‘s clear it tanked at the box office over the weekend, taking in only $3.9 million, and she‘s still in serious legal trouble. 

The big winner of the day?  Al Gore‘s son, Albert Gore III, who seems to have avoided serious legal trouble.  The former VP‘s son pleaded guilty to four drug charges today, agreed to enter a drug rehab program, and now will have the opportunity to avoid prison time and ultimately get his record wiped clean. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Joining me now, Emily Heil from “Roll Call‘s” “Heard on the Hill” column. 

Emily, thanks for joining us.  All right, so here‘s the question.  Now that he has done this, and it could get wiped off his record, could he run for office and not have this come back to haunt him? 

EMILY HEIL, “ROLL CALL”:  Well, absolutely.  I think we‘re very forgiving of youthful indiscretions.  Bush pled guilty to a DUI back in the ‘70s, and we got over that.  Clinton smoked, even if he swears he didn‘t inhale.  I think we‘re very willing to, you know, forgive the young.

ABRAMS:  And is there the sense in Washington that he got off easy?

HEIL:  Well, you know, I don‘t know.  It seems to me that the punishment he was handed out was about what everyone else gets.  I mean, I don‘t get the feeling, in fact, the Orange County district attorney, his office was saying, you know, this is what anybody getting off the street would get, so that‘s what they‘re saying.

ABRAMS:  Real quickly, Susan Filan, this is not happening in Washington, D.C.  People are going to say, “Oh, his lawyers in Washington all had”—but it wasn‘t in Washington, right? 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Emily, let me go to Susan Filan real quick.  Yes, Susan?

FILAN:  Dan, I agree, there is a standard plea deal.  There‘s nothing unusual about it.  But here‘s where we‘re going to find out if there‘s special treatment or not.  If he bombs out of rehab, comes back to court, and they still give him some kind of a deal like no prison, and he still escapes the felony conviction, then we‘re going to see special treatment.  So the jury‘s still out on that.  But I think so far, this is standard.

ABRAMS:  Real quick, Emily, final 15 seconds.  I‘m sorry for interrupting you before.

HEIL:  Sure.  Oh, I think that the sense is that his parents didn‘t have to look up a lawyer in the yellow pages, sure, but it sounds like he‘s getting the usual treatment. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right, Emily, thanks very much.  Appreciate it.

HEIL:  Not a problem.  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Susan, see you later.  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Stay tuned for “To Catch a Predator,” rural Georgia.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 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.

transcript

Watch MSNBC Live each weeknight at 9 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,