updated 4/27/2004 10:23:49 AM ET 2004-04-27T14:23:49

Guests:  Jermaine Jackson, Harland Braun, Geoffrey Fieger, Mickey Sherman, Jean Casarez, Norm Early

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Michael Jackson‘s two lead attorneys fired.  A new attorney on the way.  Many Jackson family members stunned by the decision.  We‘ll have an exclusive with Jackson‘s brother Jermaine. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They know the trial.  They know the facts, and I wish that they would stay on and I will try to do everything in my power to keep them on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Plus—the manslaughter trial of NBA star Jayson Williams will soon be in the hands of a jury.  But since he admits he was holding the gun that killed his limousine driver, does he have any real shot of being found not guilty? 

The program about justice starts now. 

Hi, everyone.  We have got a lot of exclusives to bring to you tonight.  In the Michael Jackson case, from exclusive interviews to an exclusive on the shrinking role of the Nation of Islam in this case. 

First up tonight, Michael Jackson replaces his lead attorneys just days before his arraignment on child molestation and other charges, naming California attorney Thomas Mesereau to now lead his defense team.  In his official statement, Jackson says—quote—“it is imperative that I have the full attention of those who are representing me.  My life is at stake.  Therefore, I must feel confident that my interests are of the highest priority.”

Former co-lead attorneys Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman are out.  Enter Mesereau who‘s represented Mike Tyson and until recently Robert Blake, accused of murdering his wife.  Mesereau left that case in February citing—quote—“ irreconcilable differences.”  But THE ABRAMS REPORT has learned that some of Jackson‘s family members have been calling Brafman and Geragos criticizing the decision. 

In another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive I spoke with Michael‘s brother Jermaine Jackson who‘s in Bahrain.  As you‘ll see in the interview there‘s a five-second delay, which made it very tough to ask follow-up questions.  Jermaine began by reading a prepared statement about his brother‘s decision.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERMAINE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON‘S BROTHER:  It is my understanding that a rumor is circulating stating that I was part of the decision making process that ended the fiduciary relationship between my brother, Michael, and his legal team of Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman, who I fully had a lot of confidence in and felt that they were doing a wonderful job.  I‘m here to state unequivocally that nothing can be further from the truth.  I had nothing to do with the separation, especially given the fact that I have been out of the country since April 6, luxuring in the Middle East here and was given the news of my brother‘s decision only this morning. 

I would like to make it clear, however, that my family supports Michael 1,000 percent and will continue to.  And I have stated before that I am behind Michael 1,000 percent and know that he is innocent.  Michael will prevail when he is completely exonerated of the false charges that are now facing him.  And we fully support him, as well as the Middle East.  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Jermaine, based on that, were you disappointed when you heard the news that the two men who you said you had supported and thought were doing a very good job were no longer going to be working with your brother? 

JACKSON:  I was disappointed, and I was also saddened that it was blamed—that I had something to do with it.  Like I said, I‘ve been out of the country for quite some time and this was news to me as of this morning. 

ABRAMS:  Who do you think is behind the decision?  I mean let me read you a statement from Michael himself, and he said—quote—“Let me make it clear I have not replaced my defense team.  I have replaced the lead attorneys and contrary to reports, this is a decision that I have personally made.”  Do you believe that Michael made this by himself? 

JACKSON:  There‘s a lot going on, and I do know that Michael is innocent, and I felt that—I spoke to Mark about an hour ago and it was news to him.  And he knew that I had nothing to do with it, and this is—it sort of saddens me quite a bit. 

ABRAMS:  What did Mark Geragos tell you about this when you talked to him? 

JACKSON:  He just said that he didn‘t think that I had anything to do with it.  He didn‘t tell me who he felt it was.  He just wanted to talk to me to see if I knew anything about it.  And I told him I just found out this morning.  If this is a decision on Michael‘s part, then I am surprised, but at the same time, I can‘t say because I really don‘t have the facts and I don‘t know the logistics as to how this came about. 

ABRAMS:  Do you think based on what you know of Michael Jackson‘s relationships that Leonard Mohammed, who as you know is connected to the Nation of Islam, do you think that he was behind this decision? 

JACKSON:  I really don‘t know.  I really don‘t know.  But if there was a question, there are a lot of people that you can question, but I really don‘t know.  I really don‘t.  I‘m here.  They‘re there.  And I‘ve been here lecturing students here about the problems that are going on in the states with what‘s taking place in the Middle East.  And I‘ve been just following through write-ups and speaking to the family and things like that.  But this was new to me as of this morning. 

ABRAMS:  Does it make you nervous, the idea that Michael‘s going to be working with someone new, someone who you don‘t know? 

JACKSON:  It makes me wonder, but not nervous, because I know Michael is totally innocent -- 100 percent truly innocent.  And I do know that the truth will prevail and God is on his side.  And—but at the same time, this is a media circus just like it‘s been in every little step, crease, just an outpour of just media frenzy.  And at the same time who hurts from it is my mother, the family, loved ones who care about him.  And I‘m pretty sure it hurts him as well. 

ABRAMS:  When is the last time you spoke to Michael?  And have you had a hard time getting in touch with him as some family members have claimed? 

JACKSON:  The fact that Michael is a wonderful person, we spoke briefly before I came over, but it was nothing about what was going on, just about creative stuff and music.  And from that point, I felt that things were going to be OK, which I still feel they are going to be OK. 

ABRAMS:  What is his relationship like with you and other family members?  Again, you know that there‘s been a lot of talk a few months ago about the fact that, you know, Michael was insulated from many of his family members.  Has that still been the case? 

JACKSON:  No.  I think what it was is he needed some time off and—away from everything, and so he was with his family.  They did a few days in Hawaii and they went on to sort of just be a family, him and his kids.  But it‘s just a tough time.  It‘s a tough time, but as a family, we‘ve never stopped being close and loving and supporting him. 

ABRAMS:  One other question about the decision-makers.  A lot of people have said that your brother, Randy Jackson, is in many ways sort of calling the shots now and that he may have been behind this change.  Do you believe that? 

JACKSON:  I‘ll tell you this—when I get back, I will have more facts and more concrete answers for you, but I will find out. 

ABRAMS:  Finally, if you could say something to Benjamin Brafman and Mark Geragos, what would it be? 

JACKSON:  I would say to them that they have and they‘ve had my support since day one.  They know the trial.  They know the facts.  And I wish that they would stay on and I will try to do everything in my power to keep them on.  Michael, as well as they know, is completely innocent.  And I feel that it‘s just a lot going on, and I need to get back and sort of get the logistics as to what‘s going on.  And Mark and I, we‘ve been in sync pretty much on everything that has taken place, and I felt that Ben has been a wonderful asset to the team as well.  But I‘ve been away, and things happen when you leave the country. 

ABRAMS:  Will you be at the arraignment on Friday? 

JACKSON:  I‘m trying to get back, but I have a few more things to do here.  If not, I will be there through media contact or some kind of way.  But I would never leave my family‘s side, as well as Michael‘s side.  He has—I‘ll say it again—our full support.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Coming up—is the Nation of Islam out?  Since that interview, we have exclusive details.  And Michael Jackson‘s former attorney, Benjamin Brafman, speaks out about being replaced. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it‘s best and the decision was made that for whatever the reason it‘d probably be better if either I stepped down or, according to the Jackson camp, I get asked to step down. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Plus, Kobe Bryant‘s defense team fights to introduce his accuser‘s sexual past in court.  It‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, we‘ve got exclusive details about how the Nation of Islam may no longer be calling the shots in Michael Jackson‘s life.  And what Michael Jackson‘s former attorney has to say about working with Jackson and his advisors.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back.  We‘re talking about the shift in Michael Jackson‘s defense team.  Lead attorneys Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman out.  Earlier today Brafman spoke to “Access Hollywood” about what happened and why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN BRAFMAN, MICHAEL JACKSON‘S FORMER ATTORNEY:  I think it‘s something that was sort of going to happen at some point.  Whether I knew it was going to happen this soon, it‘s not a complete surprise.  There‘s been some issues that had to be addressed.  I think people who know me know that I am very serious about my work.  I‘m not a yes-person.  The people who are in charge when it‘s business as usual are no longer in charge when I‘m in the case.  And I think that generates some natural tension, which in normal circumstances can be healthy and good. 

But high-profile megastars come with high-powered personalities and high-powered staffs.  I‘m certainly not a fan of the Nation of Islam, but insofar as their involvement in this case, the only involvement I‘ve seen in this case has been in terms of security and scheduling.  And as far as I‘m concerned, they‘ve treated me with great respect, great courtesy, and have accommodated me in many ways.  So, I would be shocked if, you know, they played any role in this decision. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And now we have learned more exclusive details.  Sources close to Jackson tell us the Nation of Islam will not be handling security at his Friday court appearance, that Jackson has hired another private firm to take care of his security.  And other sources close to the singer tell us the Nation of Islam may be out all together, soon to play a diminished role in Jackson‘s everyday life.  We called Leonard Mohammed, the man who had led Jackson‘s security detail, who also happens to be the son-in-law of the leader of the Nation of Islam.  He did not want to comment one way or another.  We ask now, could this be the work of his new attorney?  Did he say I‘m only coming if the Nation isn‘t joining us and was this change a good move? 

Let‘s bring in our team of high-profile attorneys, each of whom has left at least one high-profile case—criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman, who represented one-time fugitive athlete Alex Kelly, Harland Braun, who represented actor Robert Blake.  He quit after Blake didn‘t abide by his advice when it came to the media, and Geoffrey Fieger, who severed his relationship with Dr. Jack Kevorkian when the doctor made the decision to represent himself.

All right, so everyone has had experience with this.  Harland Braun, let me start with you.  Do you think that Tom Mesereau, who I believe you know, when he came into this case, that he said, look, sure I‘ll come in but the bottom line is the Nation of Islam is out? 

HARLAND BRAUN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  I have no way of knowing that specifically, but it would be consistent with Tom.  Tom is deeply involved with the black community and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Church here, so he‘d be fairly—feel pretty comfortable to lay down that rule.  So, I think it would be a good move and if he did it, I would applaud it. 

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey Fieger, I mean if you were taking on a new case like this and you were meeting with someone like Michael Jackson, I assume that the first thing you would do is set down some ground rules, correct? 

GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Sure.  And I want you to admit that I was the first guy who told you from day one that Geragos was out. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but you thought Geragos was out because Brafman was in. 

FIEGER:  That‘s right and he was. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Go ahead. 

FIEGER:  But I would set down rules.  But I‘ll tell you, Brafman‘s really—I think he‘s being forthright.  The Nation of Islam is not involved in this thing, and we‘ve made more of it than is really there.  If they‘re providing security, big deal, whoever provides security.  I doubt very much that they are dictating who his attorneys are and that Brafman is being correct in that assessment.  And I‘m sure Jackson made the determination, and I‘m sure Tom Mesereau is going to deal with this case on this basis only—that he‘s the boss, just like Brafman said, none of the high-powered advisors are going to tell him what to do, and Jackson sooner or later is going to come to the realization that it‘s his butt on the line and nobody else‘s and until and unless he does that, there‘s going to be a problem. 

ABRAMS:  Mickey, when you were representing Michael Skakel, a Kennedy nephew, you know there was while there was while limited Kennedy involvement, were there still people trying to tell you from behind the scenes hey why don‘t you do things this way and that way, and I‘m told that maybe you made a mistake hear or there, meddling like that? 

MICKEY SHERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Frankly, no.  They were very, very kind and supportive the entire way.  You know I think Jackson is a different kind of an animal, and I think Tom Mesereau is a great choice, but I don‘t know that even Tom Mesereau is going to be able to keep him off the top of the SUV and that‘s the basic problem.  You‘ve got a client who you can‘t really tell what to do or what not to do. 

ABRAMS:  Harland, was this a good move, do you think, by Michael Jackson? 

BRAUN:  I‘m not sure.  I know both of them.  They‘re both excellent lawyers, so he‘s going from one excellent lawyer to another.  I think some of the concern was probably that some people around Jackson were concerned that Mark was tied up in the Scott Peterson case, so that if he‘s there for six months, it was probably difficult for him to pay as much attention to Jackson as Jackson would have desired.  So, I think that is reflected in the statement and probably is a lot of what this is about. 

ABRAMS:  Harland, is it frustrating for you?  I mean you were representing Robert Blake.  You were a vociferous advocate for him even after you finished representing him—is it frustrating to have to leave a case where you‘ve worked so much on it? 

BRAUN:  It‘s frustrating but you have to have a principle, and at some point you‘ve got to draw the line and not be compromised or prostituted by a client‘s desire.  So, I felt comfortable leaving the case and I‘m proud of the work that I did on it, but that‘s the way it‘s got to be.

FIEGER:  Hey Dan...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

FIEGER:  ... I‘d be interested in Harland‘s opinion.  What does—

Harland, what do you think is going to be the difference between Blake and Jackson in terms of control?  Mesereau left Blake because of the same reasons you had problems and Jackson is going to be, it seems to me, a lot worse than Blake was. 

BRAUN:  Well, I think Tom learned a lot from having to deal with Blake.  I think he realized now that he had the same problems that I did.  So, I think that Tom is going to learn.  He‘s going to have to stay on top of Jackson, communicate with him on a daily basis and make sure he understands everything that‘s going on.  He‘s also going to have to make sure that Jackson isn‘t getting contrary advice from other factions in the family or other people around him without him being able to get his two cents in.  So, I think he‘ll know what to do. 

ABRAMS:  And Mickey, Michael Jackson seems to be suggesting in his statement that he was having—says it‘s imperative for him to be able to stay in contact—you know look, I find it hard to believe that Michael Jackson couldn‘t get in touch with Ben Brafman...

SHERMAN:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  I mean the bottom line is, I get in touch with Ben Brafman when I need to...

SHERMAN:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... and I can tell you that he hangs up on me a lot when he‘s got clients calling.

SHERMAN:  Yes.  There is no way that either Ben Brafman or Mark Geragos were not returning their calls.  And I think the legitimate concern was that Mark Geragos‘ plate is filled.  But you know that‘s what a good lawyer does.  He has a lot of big cases.  This problem is with Geragos is we know about them because they‘re all out—these two are at least high profile.  And one thing you‘ve got to remember, Dan, and some of us sometimes we forget it because our egos are the size of Montana, but it ain‘t about us.  We‘re just the lawyers.  We‘re fungible as we learn from the events of today.  It‘s about the client and it‘s about the case, and it‘s really not that important who the lawyer is unless they‘re a real jerk. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, I don‘t know.  You know I think that actually—I think who the lawyer is can make quite a difference.  But you know I don‘t know.  Let me take a break here.  If you could all just stick around.  I‘m sure Geoffrey thinks that whenever he‘s on a case it makes a huge difference.  So, all right.

Coming up, an exclusive look at what Michael Jackson‘s new attorney had to say about the case before he joined the defense team and fell under the gag order. 

Plus, the defense and prosecution wrapped in the manslaughter trial of NBA star Jayson Williams.  The jury now decides if they believe he accidentally fired the gun that killed his limousine driver.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back talking about the big shift in Michael Jackson‘s defense team.  Jackson set to be in court on Friday, apparently no longer going to be accompanied by Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman.  Tom Mesereau, who represented Robert Blake and Mike Tyson, will now be Jackson‘s lead attorney at Friday‘s arraignment.  But before he signed on, he spoke with NBC News last month and discussed the grand jury from the defense perspective.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS MESEREAU, MICHAEL JACKSON‘S ATTORNEY:  There‘s a lot that goes on in the grand jury room that the defense never sees and nobody else does except the grand jurors and the prosecutor.  We never see what goes on in there.  We only read a cold transcript.  There‘s a lot more to these proceedings and what comes out of them than just a cold transcript.  But all the defense gets is that cold record.  The prosecutor will have a chance to see how this person appears as a witness.  He won‘t have a chance to see how the person appears as a witness under cross-examination or criticism.  But just how the person appears, how they articulate, their memory, how they appear as a human being can be of great service to the prosecutor in deciding what kind of a witness this is. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Thoughts from Tom Mesereau, Michael Jackson‘s new attorney, before he signed on to this case.  Let‘s go back to our legal panel.  Harland Braun is out there in California.  You know, Harland, the defense team or people associated with it are saying, you know what?  We had our eye on this guy, Mesereau, from the beginning and he was involved in Robert Blake so we couldn‘t get him.  I don‘t buy that.  I don‘t buy it for a second that they wanted him a long time ago but they couldn‘t get him. 

BRAUN:  We‘ll he may have been of one of the people they were looking at.  I‘m sure they didn‘t contact him until recently.  He was tied up with the Blake case.  But there are all kinds of stories circulating and every faction is priced to put out stories like that.  So, what you have is almost like a political caldron here with one faction will be on the top one day and one faction will be on the top the other day, and Mesereau‘s faction are the people that support him, are on the top today.  And Geragos‘ supporters obviously are overseas. 

ABRAMS:  Harland, as one of Los Angeles‘ best-known criminal defense attorneys, did Michael Jackson ever contact you or anyone on behalf of Jackson contact you in consider—to consider having you represent him? 

BRAUN:  I had some early on—some people contact me.  But Mark is a friend of mine and I don‘t believe in getting involved in cases that the—a friend is the lead attorney and try to inject yourself into the case.  So, I certainly was not interested in getting involved in the case. 

ABRAMS:  So that was before Mark Geragos was hired. 

BRAUN:  No, no.  It was after—he was hired way, way back before the charges were brought. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Right. 

BRAUN:  When the charges were brought, there was some indication they wanted us to be a team, and I just don‘t think I wanted to jump in with a close friend because I think there‘s got to be one head of a team, so I thought it would be personally an offensive situation. 

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey, was it a sleazy move for Michael Jackson and his team to go be talking to Mesereau while he had two other attorneys, without notifying Geragos or Brafman that he‘s talking to their client? 

FIEGER:  No.  They do it—clients do it all the time.  And in that sense, Mickey‘s right, although we‘re not fungible, we‘re not plotted plants, and his continued freedom depends on the quality of the legal representation he gets and it does matter who his lawyer is.  But Harland is exactly right.  Somebody has his ear and that somebody chose Mesereau over Brafman and Geragos, and that‘s why they‘re out. 

And it could happen again.  It may very well happen again.  Until and unless Michael checks and understands it doesn‘t mean anything what his advisors say because he‘s the guy who‘s going to go to prison for a long time if he doesn‘t recognize that it‘s him, not his advisor, not his agents, not anybody else, and that‘ll be a major, major problem for whoever becomes involved in this case. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Harland and Mickey, thanks a lot.  Geoffrey, I think you‘re going to stick around with us. 

Coming up, Kobe Bryant back in court.  His defense team arguing that his accuser‘s sexual history should be part of the trial.  A live report coming up from Eagle, Colorado. 

Plus, the defense and prosecution rest in the Jayson Williams trial.  Will the jury believe the former NBA star‘s story that he shot his limousine driver accidentally?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  In a Colorado courtroom, two key battles unfolding in the sexual assault case against Kobe Bryant.  One involves defense claims that the accuser‘s past sexual history is relevant to the case and should be introduced at trial.  The other involves the admissibility of statements Bryant made to detectives shortly after the alleged rape and the reported bloodstained shirt he was wearing that night.  By week‘s end there‘s hope a trial date could be set. 

MSNBC‘s Jennifer London is live in Eagle, Colorado with details on today‘s hearing—Jennifer. 

JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well Dan I can tell you for starters any hopes that a trial date may be set this week we are being told have pretty much gone down the drain.  The court saying that it is very unlikely that Bryant will be arraigned this week and it is also unlikely that the court will even discuss when to set a trial date.  They are telling us the reason for this is because there is still some outstanding DNA tests. 

Now that being said, court is still in session at this hour.  As you mentioned, they are discussing two very important defense motions.  All day long they‘ve sort of been shuffling between the two depending on witness availability.  We have heard for the rape shield hearing, which is the defense motion to strike down Colorado‘s rape shield law.  We know that at least one of her former boyfriends testified today, and then in terms of the suppression hearing, that is the hearing to suppress evidence and statements Bryant made shortly after the alleged rape, detective Doug Winters was on the stand.  Now, he is one of the two detectives that questioned Kobe Bryant shortly after the rape. 

Now, in terms of other things we are seeing today, Dan, a couple of good examples, if you will, of why this case is moving so slowly.  The defense filed a brief today taking issue with the prosecution referring to the young woman as a victim.  They are saying if you call her a victim, you‘re basically convicting Kobe Bryant.  And also some more back-and-forth today on some discovery information.  And, Dan, the pretrial hearings continue tomorrow and Wednesday. 

ABRAMS:  Jennifer London, we will keep checking in with you on the progress of those hearings.  Thanks a lot. 

Coming up, the Jayson Williams trial.  That‘ll soon be in the hands of a jury.  Since the former NBA star admits he was holding the gun that killed his limousine driver, does he have any real shot of being found not guilty? 

Plus, many of you thought I should not have honored Army Ranger and former NFL star Patrick Tillman after he died in Afghanistan.  Your e-mails coming up.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  The trial of former NBA star Jayson Williams is wrapping up.  Both sides gave closing arguments today and the jury is expected to begin deliberating tomorrow.  Prosecutors say Williams recklessly shot his limousine driver Gus Christofi while he was showing off his gun to friends.  They say he then tried to cover up the murder or the manslaughter to make it look like a suicide.  But Williams‘ defense team says it was all a horrible accident.  They tried to discredit the prosecution witnesses and the way the police handled the investigation. 

Before we talk about this, first, some of today‘s closing argument. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH HAYDEN, ATTORNEY FOR JAYSON WILLIAMS:  Now, the state key witness in connection with this count, Mr. Benoit Benjamin, and we all remember Benoit Benjamin indicated that he was standing three feet away from Mr. Williams and then he saw Mr. Williams flip the gun and it fired, but before that, he heard Mr. Williams say, “what the “F” are you doing in my “f-ing” room you “f-ing” stoolie?  Mr. Benjamin admitted that as of the first day he gave three separate versions of where he was, always out of the bedroom, under oath, then admitted they were all lies. 

BILLY MARTIN, ATTORNEY FOR JAYSON WILLIAMS:  This gun on February 14 accidentally discharged.  This gun was not pointed at Mr. Christofi.  This gun was not a weapon used against Gus Christofi.  It caused his death.  But it was an accident. 

People were just shouting at Jayson. People were telling him go take a bath, take your clothes off, go—and Jayson is running like a madman.  He‘s—not knowing what to do.  People are telling him what to do and he‘s panicked.  Jayson was so out of it that if people told him go this way, Jayson, Jayson went that way.  Jayson needed a friend to step up for him, and nobody did.  Jayson now recognizes what‘s going on.  He‘s got - composing himself. 

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) wait until the lawyer gets here.  And, guys, say anything, tell the truth.  The gun malfunctioned.  We ask you—don‘t believe Benoit Benjamin.  Do the only just thing that you can do in this case. 

STEVEN LEMBER, HUNTERDON COUNTY PROSECUTOR:  We know that the defendant was attempting to eliminate any possibility of evidence being found on his body.  That could include blood.  That could include gunshot residue.  But where there‘s absolutely no question about what the purpose of the defendant was were the things he did right at the death scene, right at the crime scene.  Because you heard testimony beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant was wiping the shotgun down. 

Now, what other purpose could he have about other than to wipe off fingerprints?  Trying to place the blame on the shotgun makes no sense.  The shotgun alone did not kill Gus Christofi.  The shotgun alone did not load itself.  The shotgun alone did not fly from the gun cabinet.  The shotgun alone did not crack itself open.  The shotgun alone did not point itself directly at Gus Christofi.  The shotgun alone did not snap itself together.  All those events were the end result of the defendant‘s conscious, malicional (ph) voluntary actions. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Two very different stories about what happened there.  Court TV‘s Jean Casarez has been covering this trial since the beginning.  Jean, there was an important legal ruling made that is going to have a huge impact on how this jury views the case, right? 

JEAN CASAREZ, COURT TV:  I think you‘re talking about the jury instructions...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CASAREZ:  ... that are to be given tomorrow morning? 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CASAREZ:  Yes, I think there are three key elements that are very pro defense.  First of all, negligence, if you find that Jayson Williams was negligent, that he should have been aware of a risk, just should have been aware then you go no farther.  He is not guilty of the manslaughter count. 

Second, on causation.  If you find this was an accident, an accident is not going to be defined for the jury, so it‘s your experiences in life deems what accident is to you.  If you find it was an accident, he‘s not guilty.  And third, if you find he panicked, you are to take that into consideration saying that he could not have formed the intent to cover up a pending investigation. 

ABRAMS:  You know, Geoffrey, I thought going into this case that it was going to be real tough for Jayson Williams to walk out of this courtroom.  But if this jury now believes—and, again, it‘s one of these legal definitions, difference between negligence and reckless, you know it‘s one of these legal fictions that‘s created, and the jury has to believe he was reckless, if they believe he was negligent, he‘s not guilty.  That‘s a real good opportunity for the defense. 

FIEGER:  Well I‘ve tried cases in New Jersey and they‘re conservative juries.  Dan, this is a wildly liberal area that he‘s being tried in.  You saw a good cross section of closing arguments, and I would say just based on that alone, he has a rough road to hoe.  I would say bye-bye, Jayson.  He‘s going to get convicted of something, mark my words. 

ABRAMS:  All right.

FIEGER:  You‘re not going to find it was an accident when you point a gun and shoot it at somebody. 

ABRAMS:  Look, I agree with you that it‘s going to be a tough—it‘s still a tough case for him, but I thought initially that he really had almost no chance...

FIEGER:  I think he has no chance now.  He just...

ABRAMS:  All right.

FIEGER:  ... has an ability to hire attorneys.  But I‘ll tell you, you watch, I don‘t think that jury is going to be out for a long time.  He‘s going to be convicted. 

ABRAMS:  Norm Early, the former Denver D.A., joins us.  Norm, good to see you.  All right, so you‘ve heard now a little of both the closing arguments in this case.  Do you agree with Geoffrey? 

NORM EARLY, FORMER DENVER PROSECUTOR:  Well from the very beginning the prosecutors knew that this was not a who done it case.  This is a what is it case?  And is it accidental or is it some kind of crime?  Now, in all of these cases, everybody‘s going to claim it‘s an accident.  I mean you know that from the very beginning.  They‘re not going to say well I picked up the gun and I intentionally shot the chauffeur.  They‘re going to say it was an accident. 

But there are accidents and then there are accidents, and in the latter category it‘s a lot more likely that somebody is going to be killed or hurt by virtue of your actions, and that brings it a lot closer to a crime than if you just say it‘s an accident.  And I think the jury is going to say this was not just an accident.  This is an accident.  It was looking to happen based upon the conduct of Jayson Williams. 

ABRAMS:  And Jean, as a legal matter, again, what does an accident mean?  I mean what—does Jayson Williams‘ team have to prove something here?  Did they present any evidence to show that it was an accident? 

CASAREZ:  No.  They just said we want “accident” included in the jury instructions and so be it, it‘s going to be there and there will be no definition.  So, lots of us have accidents in life, right?  So we define them as we choose.  The jury will also. 

ABRAMS:  And Geoffrey...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... there‘s no requirement here that Jayson Williams have intentionally shot this driver, correct? 

FIEGER:  Exactly.  Recklessness is the only standard.  And more to the

point, what‘s going to really hurt Jayson is that he lied about it

afterwards.  They are going to go back into the jury room and they‘ve drawn

out the timeline of how dishonest he was, blaming it on other people, tell

·         it went for the full gamut.  That just—I mean that enrages the jury. 

And believe me, that‘s going to be the basis upon which he gets convicted. 

ABRAMS:  And, Norm, that‘s a separate charge here, the cover-up, but that certainly comes into play in evaluating guilt or innocence.  These jurors are going to say wait a second.  What‘s he doing wiping off fingerprints, et cetera, off the gun? 

EARLY:  There‘s no question.  If this jury looks at this case in light of their normal life experiences in order to define accident, and then they also look at what he did and the circumstances surrounding that, immediately after the firing of the gun, this is not an individual who says, I accidentally shot him, is going over saying how you doing, what‘s wrong, are you OK, oh, my goodness, let me get an ambulance, let me do this, let me do that.  This is a person who is trying to hide the conduct.  And hiding the conduct, even though in and of itself may not be part of the crime, it certainly is something that a jury is going to look at and say, whoa, this is not a normal situation.  This is criminal conduct. 

ABRAMS:  And...

EARLY:  So he‘s got a good chance of getting convicted here. 

ABRAMS:  Jean, what is the defense position on why he wiped off the gun?  Panic? 

CASAREZ:  Panic, that‘s right.  Panic, pandemonium.  Number one, he didn‘t know what he was doing.  Number two, he followed the direction of others. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Jean Casarez, Norm Early, Geoffrey Fieger, we are going to follow that case.  If there‘s a verdict, we‘ll bring it to you. 

Coming up, my “Closing Argument”—how the breakup between Michael Jackson and his attorneys is a lot like a messy divorce right down to accusations of cheating.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, “Your Rebuttal” on whether the flag draped caskets of our fallen service men and women should be seen by the public.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—why dumping a lawyer can be very similar to dumping a husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend.  Why it‘s often the promiscuous clients, not the rejected lawyers who are the problem.  Rich and high profile and unfaithful to their attorneys, a client who does the legal equivalent of sleeping around.  No question, Michael Jackson was cheating on his legal team when he met with another lawyer a week before firing his now jilted legal team over the weekend.  Jackson suggesting they weren‘t attentive enough while the relationship had apparently been on the rocks for week. 

Attorney Ben Brafman in particular seemed stunned by the timing.  And like so many good relationships gone bad, Jackson family members now calling the recently dumped ex‘s just to say how much they like them.  But you have to ask, did Jackson do it because everything wasn‘t as rosy as the honeymoon phase or was it just because some of his—quote—“friends” thought he could do better, find someone smarter, hotter, less controversial?  Well now he has a new man in his life, attorney Thomas Mesereau.  But the question you have to ask like any wary potential suitor, is Jackson just going to do it again? 

Will his friends stick by this one even when the going gets rough?  The Jackson team claims they had their eye on Mesereau from day one, but at the time he was still involved with Robert Blake.  Mesereau is still recovering from that failed relationship.  He was one of four lawyer fired by Blake.  I guess Blake just isn‘t looking for a real relationship.  When it comes to a defendant charged with a serious crime, it‘s not the time to be dating around.  After a number of failed marriages or relationships, potential suitors would have to ask, what is wrong with this person?  It wasn‘t easy for Blake to find a new lawyer.  In the end, Jackson has got to make sure he is not out there breaking legal hearts.  But maybe this relationship is the one, so to speak. 

All right, I‘ve had my say.  Now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  The debate over photos of flag draped coffins of soldiers released and then published in violation of a Pentagon policy.  A policy that‘s been in place since 1991, but only enforced at all bases since the outset of the war with Iraq.  I said that I think we must be able to honor our slaying soldiers by seeing the first ceremony upon their return or at least only prevent photographing the coffins of the families who oppose it.  Mixed reaction on this one. 

Former U.S. Army Special Forces Serviceman Kevin McMahan.  “I don‘t believe it has anything to do with politics and as a former serviceman of 15 years, I myself would not want pictures of my body released in such an undignified manner.  These servicemen deserve to be honored upon their return to U.S soil and only after being welcomed home with honors should the public be allowed to view anything.”

James Wyatt from Virginia Beach, Virginia.  “You have to know that eventually instead of using these pictures to honor the soldiers, some of the sick people who are out there, and there are many, will use them in a disrespectful manner.  Wouldn‘t Al Jazeera love to show them to the Arab world?”

From Hickory, North Carolina, Linda Giles.  “It is the family‘s decision to make concerning their loved ones.  But until that loved one is in their possession, that body is the responsibility of the military.”

On the other hand, Karina Ladd at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  “I totally agree with you about the photos of the caskets.  I feel the reason they don‘t show the pictures is because it puts emotions and feelings behind the numbers.  My husband is in the Air Force and is currently in Iraq.  I felt very good that if something happened to my husband he would be treated with honor and respect and dignity.”

Nikki at Fort Bliss, Texas.  “The facts remain America has every right to see what war is.  War is not pretty.  This is the reality of what America has become.  American soldiers are all heroes and they deserve to be honored by all of us.”

And Sharon Saunders.  “What could be more respectfully honorable than to show the coffins draped by these—by the flags these young sons, fathers, husbands and lovers fought under?”

My “Closing Argument” Friday on the combat death of Army Ranger and former NFL star Pat Tillman who died while searching for al Qaeda terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan around the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.  I said while he isn‘t any more courageous than our other patriotic soldiers, there‘s something particularly striking about his willingness to give up the good life and I said that the word hero just didn‘t do him justice. 

Some upset that I did that including Marc Dayton.  “What the hell makes Tillman‘s death so much more tragic than the 700 other soldiers that gave their lives in this war?”  Marc, I never said it was more tragic. 

And Tom Tarjan from Texas.  “The networks should be ashamed for presenting the story as if it is the only important event to occur.  I am saddened and disappointed, but most of all I expect that every soldier receive the same honor as Mr. Tillman.” 

Tom and Marc I hear you and that‘s why I specifically said that he‘s no more a patriot than our other soldiers.  But war, like everything else, has its symbols.  The soldiers in this picture didn‘t—quote—“deserve to be honored more than anyone else.”  And yet they came to represent something heroic and admirable and I think that‘s OK.  I stand by my tribute. 

Roisin Crowe from Newport Beach, California writes, “Your “Closing Argument” regarding the loss of Pat Tillman was moving beyond words.  You did not fail to mention the other heroes who have enlisted and given their lives and yet at the same time gave tribute to a true American hero who would most likely be humbled by the title.”

And Cindy from Houston, Texas.  “Once again Dan, you‘ve made my day.  Your story about Pat Tillman brought real tears to my eyes.  There isn‘t a word to describe him.”  You‘re right.

Your e-mails, abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show.  Please include your name and where you are writing from. 

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Chris talks with Saudi Arabia‘s ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan. 

Thanks for watching this edition of the program.  As always, we‘re here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time.  We hope we‘ll see you again tomorrow. 

Our music is good.  This new music.  Come on.  See you.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc.  (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, 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 FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,