updated 6/15/2004 10:03:47 AM ET 2004-06-15T14:03:47

Guests: Dean Johnson, Colin Murray, Jack Furlong, Daniel Petrocelli, Larry Johnson, Lorenzo Vidino, Ruth Wedgwood, Brenda Hollis

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, the investigating officers take the stand in the Scott Peterson case. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  What did they find when they first went to the Peterson home after Laci was reported missing?  And what did Scott Peterson tell them about his wife‘s disappearance?  This, as the defense prepares to put the police on the hot seat. 

Plus, he was allegedly plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Ohio. 

Today the attorney general announces the details of the bust. 

And why are some concerned there may not be enough hard evidence to convict Saddam Hussein?  Is there even a chance he could end up a free man in Iraq? 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, day eight in the Scott Peterson trial.  On the stand today, the first police officer to respond to the Peterson‘s home Christmas Eve when Laci was first reported missing.  Officer Derek Letsinger testified he saw some—quote—

“suspicious items”, a crumbled rug by one of the doors, a bucket with two

mops in it, dirty rags on top of the washing machine, items that to him

seemed out of place and what the Modesto police officer called a—quote -

·         “model home.” 

The keys to the case for the prosecution today, Peterson‘s alibi and behavior.  Prosecutors say that investigators quickly became suspicious of the way he acted from the day his wife was reported missing. 

Let‘s go to the courthouse and MSNBC‘s Jennifer London.  Jennifer, at one point today things got so heated the defense asked to end the trial.  What happened? 

JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Dan, you‘re absolutely right.  The defense asking for a mistrial.  Mark Geragos claiming the prosecution is withholding evidence.  This came about as one of the officers, Matt Spurlock, was on the stand.  He testified that during a conversation he had with Scott Peterson on 12/24/02 he was asking Scott where he was that day.  Scott said fishing, but he didn‘t know what he was fishing for. 

Spurlock presses him and says what bait, what lure were you using?  Spurlock says Peterson‘s answer was very evasive.  Spurlock then testified that Peterson walked away, threw down a flashlight and said a swear word.  At this point, Geragos stands up, wants the jury out of the courtroom, asking for a mistrial.  Judge Delucchi saying no such luck Mr. Geragos and remember, this is not the movie. 

Now two officers testifying today really building upon testimony that we heard late last week. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LONDON (voice-over):  Week two of the trial came to a close with police officers describing the scene at the Peterson home on Christmas Eve 2002 as chaotic and emotional.  Sergeant Byron Duerfeldt testifying he thought the scene was unusual, immediately calling for a detective.  Friends and relatives of Laci painted a picture of a cold, distant Scott Peterson.  Outside of court, shying away from cameras, Harvey Kemple recounts what he told the jury. 

HARVEY KEMPLE, LACI PETERSON RELATIVE:  The man was more upset about his burnt chicken than even thinking about finding his wife. 

LONDON:  Tension building between the two families. 

LEE PETERSON, SCOTT PETERSON‘S FATHER:  Remember, Harvey said he was kind of a barbecue afficionado.  Well I think he‘s been sniffing too many of his barbecue fumes. 

LONDON:  And then there‘s Peterson‘s alibi.  Where was he the day Laci disappeared?  The prosecution casting doubt on Peterson‘s story. 

DEAN JOHNSON, FMR. SAN MATEO COUNTY PROSECUTOR:  Scott Peterson originally had golfing as his alibi.  He was going to put himself as far away from the Berkeley Marina as possible.  Then he realized something.  I have made a mistake.  There is actually a written record that I was at the Berkeley Marina.  There is a ticket that‘s stamped with the time that I arrived there.  So now maybe I have to change my alibi. 

LONDON:  Still, some court watchers say the prosecution is in some ways actually helping the other side. 

MICHAEL CORDOZA, TRIAL ATTORNEY:  They are losing whatever they have in the minutia that they are putting on in front of this jury.  With ever witness they put on, they make a point or two, cross-examination comes and they lose five or 10 points. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LONDON:  No talk about burned chicken today, but we did hear from one witness, a person who works for a parent company of various maternity clothing stores.  Once again, the prosecution going back to what Laci Peterson was wearing right before she disappeared.  Dan, the—this witness talking about some clothing items, maturity clothing items she bought.  We understand at one point during his testimony, Laci‘s mother, Sharon Rocha, started crying as he was describing these various clothing items.  And Dan, the judge also telling us that they will meet after this witness is excused today to go over these discovery items that came up earlier today. 

ABRAMS:  Jennifer London, thanks very much.  Just to make it clear, you know what‘s important about this clothing is that the prosecutors are saying why is she wearing the same clothes that she was wearing the day before when she was found?  Prosecutors say because Scott Peterson killed her the night before.  Scott Peterson said she was wearing different clothes when he left the house.  It‘s one of the key points for the prosecution in the case.

Let‘s bring in our legal team—former San Diego prosecutor Colin Murray, criminal defense attorney Jack Furlong and in court today for the proceedings, former San Mateo County prosecutor Dean Johnson.

All right, Dean, give us the overview.  Good day for the defense, good day for the prosecution?  Which one was it? 

JOHNSON:  Good day for the defense.  They opened with the same theme that they closed on last week, which is all of the things that the Modesto Police Department did not do.  And they were very effective in pointing out that there could have been a luminal test for blood, that there is a crumbled rug that the police said was suspicious but they didn‘t collect it.  They brought up a number of items like the mop and the rags on the washer and we are not sure where that goes. 

ABRAMS:  Well, I‘ll tell you where it goes. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I mean you know where it goes Dean.  The bottom line is that they are saying the housekeeper was there the day before and what is a mop doing out and rags unless someone was cleaning up the house? 

JOHNSON:  Right, well, that would be the thought.  The only thought would be that since this mop—it‘s not mop in the bucket that‘s relevant in and of itself, but the fact that there was a wet ring around the mop and the bucket...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

JOHNSON:  ... which would suggest that there had been a recent cleaning of the house.  But of course no photographs or pictures or evidence of that. 

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON:  And a number of things that...

ABRAMS:  All right...

JOHNSON:  ... just haven‘t been done. 

ABRAMS:  Colin Murray, this happens in every single case though.  The defense says they could have done this and they could have tested his grandmother‘s car and they could have tested this and they didn‘t and they didn‘t and they didn‘t.  But does it work? 

COLIN MURRAY, FMR. PROSECUTOR:  Well it works if the police walk into a crime scene and sees something as suspicious as a rolled up rug and fail to collect it.  I mean that‘s just not good police work and in a case of this magnitude where the stakes are this high, you would think that they would do a more complete search than they did. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but you know Jack Furlong, it just seems to me that those are—they are good arguments, they‘re legitimate arguments, they should bring it in front of the jury, but in the end when the question the jury has to decide is did he do it or didn‘t he do it?  You know even if you distrust the police in this case, you still have the fact that the bodies are found 90 miles away from the home, having washed up about two miles or so from where Scott Peterson says he was fishing? 

JACK FURLONG, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Dan, how do you always do this?  Now I am going to have to take the prosecution side since he‘s cutting the defense some slack.  So sure look, if I‘m the prosecutor the first thing I‘m doing and the last thing I‘m doing is hammering the recovery of the bodies and the proximity of that recovery place to where the marina was where he launched his boat.  There‘s no question about it and in defense of the police officers who probably did drop the ball about 47 times at the house, I‘m telling you if rags in the washing machine are evidence of a crime, I‘m going to go to jail for a long, long time because that‘s the way my laundry room looks. 

But when the cops walk in on the day of her disappearance, they don‘t know if it‘s a homicide at that point.  They have an unexplained disappearance on Christmas Eve and they are looking around.  If you are going to automatically assume when someone has been missing for 10, 12 hours that you have to immediately label that person‘s home a homicide crime scene and do everything as though that person had been recovered, that‘s a world of difference between...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FURLONG:  ... let‘s say O.J. Simpson‘s household where you literally had bodies on the ground, you know it‘s a crime scene. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s a great point, yes.

FURLONG:  I give the cops some slack.  We‘re always Monday morning quarterbacking these cases.  That said, you know you want, as exactly as he said, if you are going to come in and call this a capital crime, you better treat this like a capital crime scene and they patently did not. 

ABRAMS:  All right, stick around.  We continue our coverage of the Peterson case including the defense argument that the Modesto police did a horrible job of investigating Laci Peterson‘s disappearance from the beginning.  They say they were too quick to focus in on Scott Peterson. 

And, we‘re going to talk to the man who overcame similar charges of bad police work to successfully win the case against O.J. Simpson.  He did what the state of California could not.  Focus the jurors on the real evidence in the civil case. 

What advice will Daniel Petrocelli have for the Peterson prosecutors? 

And later, another attack on Americans in Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda terrorist kill an American, kidnap another.  The search is now on.  How will they work to find him? 

Your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  I‘ll respond at the end of the show. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, O.J. Simpson‘s defense team argued the police bungled the investigation.  They got Simpson off.  Could the same strategy work for Scott Peterson‘s lawyers? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back.  With the police now taking the stand in the Scott Peterson trial, it‘s now the defense‘s turn to try to discredit the investigation.  They‘re going to try to depict the Modesto investigators as sloppy, mishandling, maybe even planting evidence, ignoring other leads in an effort to arrest and convict Peterson.

Key to the case, this is one of them for the defense, the police rushed to judgment.  Sound familiar?  In 1995, O.J. Simpson‘s so-called “Dream Team” used that defense and we all know what happened there.  But, can that defense work again? 

Is it risky because of the Simpson case to start using that type of defense? 

Jack Furlong, I think that‘s got to be a concern for anyone pursuing the rush to judgment, the police mishandled evidence.  They planted evidence.  I mean I think that anyone starts to say wait a second, this is the defense that came up in O.J. and I can‘t think that‘s going to be particularly helpful for most juries.

FURLONG:  You know I think if we were preoccupied with the mishandling of evidence, that would be a much more trenchant observation.  But what we have here is a lead detective and I regret calling him let‘s say obsessive.  I mean by his own description he said look, I came back on Christmas Eve and I worked around the clock and I basically go home to change my clothes and I worked this case for the last couple of years.

The guy has about an eight-year track record of and I‘ll say the jury is out, repeated allegations of intimidating witnesses, of suborning perjury, of withholding evidence.  This is not the same as saying I mishandled the blood vial in the heat and unfortunately, it decomposed...

ABRAMS:  But it‘s the same thing as saying that the guy was a racist and therefore might have...

FURLONG:  No, no, no...

ABRAMS:  ... planted the glove. 

FURLONG:  I disagree and I‘ll tell you why.  In this case oral statements are everything.  This is a circumstantial case.  This is not two bodies lying on the ground with bloodstains and we can actually tie the DNA from point “A” to point “B”.  This is entirely based on circumstantial evidence and they are saying this is what the guy said to me.  We‘re not even talking about written statements of a defendant. 

This is he looked like he was detached.  He didn‘t do this.  He said this to me.  He didn‘t say this to that person.  He had a wrong alibi.  All these things are oral statements and when you get to the end of the day, it‘s a detective who‘s apparently interviewed a bunch of witnesses, who keep coming up with different stories that tend to inculcate the defendant. 

(CROSSTALK)

FURLONG:  So when you have a detective with a long history of intimidating these witnesses, it‘s entirely appropriate to go after. 

ABRAMS:  Colin, the problem with that is that a lot of the people who came forward and said for example, Scott Peterson told me he went golfing, not fishing, were not police officers. 

MURRAY:  Exactly.  And there is no evidence that I‘m aware of, of witness intimidation.  It‘s not that Detective Brocchini had to beat on these people to get them to say that Peterson went golfing instead of fishing.  And so, there needs to be some evidence, Dan, of intimidation for his track record to come in.  If there is not and if the defense is trying to bring this in, in a vacuum, it‘s not going to be admissible.

ABRAMS:  Dean Johnson, you know this case very well, how much of the background are we going to get into of some of these police officers as part of the cross-examination? 

JOHNSON:  I don‘t think we‘re really going to get into the background of the police officer.  I don‘t think there is going to be a Mark Fuhrman who comes forward or anything.  I think what we are going to see is these officers who made a number of mistakes and I think right now what we are seeing is something that the prosecutors may have actually learned from the O.J. case. 

Remember in that case, the prosecution came out very strong and sort of tried to represent to the jury that their investigation and their officers were perfect.  These prosecutors are essentially sitting passively, letting Geragos have his way.  I think they are going to come forward at the end and say look this investigation was not perfect.  These officers were not concerned about being in the trial of the century.  They were concerned at that time about finding a missing person and possibly about finding a killer or a kidnapper that was loose.  But they are going to say all of those mistakes aside, this really is a case about two bodies lying on the ground and about where those bodies...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

JOHNSON:  ... were found and what those bodies were wearing.  And those facts are irrefutable and those facts are going to point right back to Scott Peterson. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Colin Murray, Jack Furlong and Dean Johnson, thanks a lot.  Good to see you. 

MURRAY:  Thank you Dan.

FURLONG:  Thanks Dan.

JOHNSON:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, remember, this is the program to watch, by the way, for daily coverage, breaking news of the Scott Peterson trial.  It‘s right here.  Plus, for an interactive look at the Scott Peterson case, log on to our Web site, abramsreport.msnbc.com. 

Coming up, the other case where the defense argued the police ruined the investigation, O.J. Simpson, 10 years after Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were murdered.  We talk with a lawyer who won the civil case against O.J.  How did he overcome that argument that swayed the jurors in the first case? 

And later, details of an alleged terror plot to blow up an Ohio shopping mall.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  We have been talking about how defense attorneys in the Scott Peterson case are beginning to put the police on trial saying they bungled key evidence and led a sloppy investigation of the murder.  We‘ve seen this defense strategy before in a case that 10 years ago this weekend.  That actually began 10 years ago this weekend.  The criminal trial of O.J. Simpson. 

Defense attorneys argued police contaminated and damaged evidence.  They even suggested LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman planted key evidence, the infamous bloody glove at Simpson‘s home.  An argument that Peterson‘s team may make about one of the detectives in this case.  But in the civil trial against Simpson it didn‘t work.  Simpson was found responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman and ordered to pay $33.5 million. 

Now, as one of few people who watched this trial every day from inside the courtroom, I can safely say my next guest gets a lot of the credit for the different verdict the second time around.  Simpson had to take the stand in the civil trial and as I said in my “Closing Argument” Friday, there were four points that made it clear Simpson just wasn‘t telling the truth. 

One, he couldn‘t explain how he cut his hand that night.  On the stand he said he believed he cut it on some glass in a hotel, but he had told the police he thought he had done it at home.  Two, he said Nicole must have lied in diary entries when only days before the murder she wrote that Simpson had repeatedly threatened her.  Three, he said phone records that suggest he called his answering machine and heard a message that night from his then girlfriend threatening to break up with him were simply wrong. 

And finally, the 30 photos of Simpson wearing the exact type of rare shoe worn by the killer.  He said the photos were doctored, that he had never worn those ugly shoes.  The problem, Simpson couldn‘t explain why one of the photos appeared in a Buffalo Bills newsletter seven months before the murders. 

Daniel Petrocelli is the attorney who did what the state of California couldn‘t do, win the case against O.J. Simpson.  He represented the Goldman family in the civil case.  He is a great lawyer and a great guy and he joins me now.  Good to see you Dan.

DANIEL PETROCELLI, CROSS-EXAMINED O.J. SIMPSON IN CIVIL TRIAL:  Good to see you.  The discussion you were having on the Peterson case was bringing back a flood of memories. 

ABRAMS:  I‘ll bet.  I‘ll bet. 

PETROCELLI:  You know...

ABRAMS:  And before we talk about O.J., tell me what advice would you give to the Peterson prosecutors to avoid allowing the supposed police misconduct to become the central issue? 

PETROCELLI:  Well, you know I wouldn‘t pretend to give those guys any advice because they know what they are doing.  But what we did in the Simpson case is we just kept telling the jury that the case was about O.J.  Simpson.  It wasn‘t about the police.  It was Simpson who was on trial. 

This was a murder case, not a malpractice case. 

And you know if investigators and detectives don‘t do the best job of investigating a crime scene, it doesn‘t in and of itself mean anything.  In fact, it may mean that had they done a better job, they would have found even more incriminating evidence.  So the idea here is keep the focus on the murder, not on any of the conduct of the police. 

And you need a good judge to understand when the defense lawyers are going too far.  As one of your guests suggested, there really does have to be a direct relationship between some act in detecting or investigating the evidence and the impact that it had on the evidence, such as affecting the chain of custody or tampering with the evidence. 

ABRAMS:  Do you think it‘s a risky strategy these days for defense attorneys to start saying oh the police were sloppy, the police planted evidence because it starts to sound like the O.J. Simpson case? 

PETROCELLI:  Yes.  And I think that that strategy, though successful in the criminal case, ultimately lost a lot of credibility when Simpson was unanimously found libel for the murders in the civil case.  Now, to be fair, we in the civil case had the enormous advantage to which you alluded at the outset of this segment that is we could put Simpson on the stand and force him to testify.  You know, good defense lawyers, especially those as skillful as Simpson‘s criminal defense lawyers, can have a field day raising riddles and enigmas and questions about the evidence. 

And the defendant does not have to take the stand to provide the answers to those riddles and the questions.  But in the civil case, of course, we called Simpson to the stand and under the law, if he refused to go up there, raise his right hand, he takes a default.  So he had no choice but to testify and he had to provide answers.  And of course, he wasn‘t able to provide answers, certainly not truthful answers. 

ABRAMS:  You know, as we said, it‘s been 10 years since they were killed and I wonder all the time why people don‘t focus on that more.  Why don‘t they talk—people say oh, you know do you really think he was guilty, this and that.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I saw the criminal trial.  Is it the fact that they weren‘t able to watch O.J. Simpson that‘s made them sort of dismiss that as not particularly relevant? 

PETROCELLI:  Yes, I think that‘s had a lot to do with it.  I mean, the mean the power of television is just staggering.  It was for that reason that we were very much against having the civil case televised because we wanted to ensure predictability and television in high-profile cases can produce avert results, especially when it has unpredictable effects on people in the courtroom like the judge and like the lawyers and even the jury and the witnesses.  So not having television I think helped us. 

But in terms of the legacy, Fred Goldman I think may have been right in the end because he always told me, Dan, I want the world to see Simpson on the stand.  I want the world to see him answer the questions that he refused to answer in the criminal trial.  And in retrospect, Fred may have been right because I think if the world had seen Simpson on the stand, unable to account for the extraordinary amount of evidence against him and telling one obvious lie after another...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

PETROCELLI:  ... I don‘t think these questions would be lingering... 

ABRAMS:  I agree—I completely agree with you, I have to tell you from watching that case from inside the courtroom, I have no doubt.  Let me ask you, how is the—O.J. Simpson keeps bragging about the fact that he is not going to pay a penny, Fred Goldman will never see a penny of his money, et cetera.  You know everyone knows that he has got some money and a lot of people allege that he‘s got it sort of hidden away.  Are you continuing in the effort to follow the money trail? 

PETROCELLI:  You know, the reality is we are not.  Simpson has been earning his income in ways that have not been readily transparent, at least not in the past and we chased him around to no avail.  It really wasn‘t about getting the money.  It was about imprinting him for all eternity as a killer.  But I will say this much, having heard my client speak recently about this issue, if Simpson wants to come back out and wants to try to re-emerge in the public life and wants to try to get gainful employment and make transparent income, he does owe $33.5 million plus interest, which probably puts it above $40 million and there will be people chasing him for the money. 

ABRAMS:  Dan Petrocelli, great to see you.  Thanks for coming back on the program. 

PETROCELLI:  Nice to see you, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, while you would think it would be easy to convict Saddam Hussein of war crimes and atrocities, some now saying it may be a tough case?  Really?  Is it even possible Saddam could end up a free man?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, is it possible there‘s not enough evidence to convict Saddam Hussein?  Details are coming up, but first the headlines. 

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back.  Two new developments in the war on terror to report.  In Washington, a terror suspect already in U.S. custody accused of providing material support to al Qaeda by planning to take out an Ohio shopping mall.  And in Saudi Arabia, the FBI joins the search for an American military contractor allegedly drugged and kidnapped by al Qaeda. 

First, the terror threat at home.  The Justice Department says Somali immigrant Nuradin Abdi trained at a terrorist camp in Ethiopia, lied to U.S. immigration agents to get travel documents, contacted another al Qaeda operative when he came here and then conspired with that man, Iyman Faris and others to kill Americans. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  It is alleged that Abdi along with admitted al Qaeda operative Faris and other co-conspirators initiated a plot to blow up a Columbus-area shopping mall.  It is also alleged that in pursuit of this plot, Abdi received bomb-making instructions from one of these or those co-conspirators. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Abdi was picked up on immigration charges last November.  No word yet from the Justice Department on who those other alleged co-conspirators might be. 

And only frightening words coming from the group that claims it kidnapped U.S. military contractor Paul Johnson in the Saudi capital Riyadh.  Last weekend the kidnappers called themselves the al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula and are threatening to treat Johnson as Iraqi prisoners were treated in the Abu Ghraib prison.  Johnson‘s son had this message for his father‘s captors. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL JOHNSON, III, AMERICAN HOSTAGE‘S SON:  Whoever is responsible for this, you know I would trade, in a heartbeat, with my father.  He doesn‘t deserve this and I plead with you all to please let my father go. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The FBI has reportedly joined the search for Johnson and the State Department says it‘s in touch with the Saudis who they say are doing the best they can.  So, the questions—number one, are shopping malls a vulnerable target?  How big an arrest was this?  And how far are the Saudis going to do?  What can they do to try to help find Johnson? 

Joining me now, Larry Johnson who worked for both the CIA and the State Department‘s counterterrorism office.  And Lorenzo Vidino, a research analyst with the investigative project, which focuses on domestic terror. 

All right, Mr. Johnson, first let‘s just talk generally about this issue of shopping malls.  This has been a long concern I think of many in the world of counterterrorism.  Does it remain a very active, serious threat to the point that shopping malls, you think need to take actions such as metal detectors, et cetera? 

LARRY JOHNSON, TERRORISM EXPERT:  No, I don‘t think so.  Look, there‘s no denying that what‘s left of al Qaeda and what is part of this worldwide Jihadists movement would, if they could, attack U.S. targets whenever.  However, this fellow that was arrested, he‘s really some leftovers from the early days and the aftermath of 9/11.  This other fellow he was conspiring with, remember, he‘s the one that went to New York, planned to bomb the Brooklyn Bridge and decided can‘t do it, backed off. 

And I think also it‘s important to remember, the FBI Department of Justice has not had a very good last two or three weeks on the terrorism prosecution front.  One, they have detained a Seattle man who later it was determined they had the wrong fingerprints for the bombing in Madrid, Spain.  And then they lost the case up in the Dakotas against an individual who‘s claimed to be planning Jihadist attacks over the Internet.  So, you know I think we need to—these cases need to be tried in court.  They‘ve raised the allegations.  Let‘s present it.  But I think there is a little bit of a tendency to exaggerate the capability these folks. 

Do they have the desire?  Absolutely.  But capability is different than desire. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Vidino, do you agree with that? 

LORENZO VIDINO, TERRORISM EXPERT:  Yes, I partially agree.  Again, we know that this man trained in an al Qaeda camp.  We know that also this man was receiving orders from Iyman Faris who was in close contact with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of 9/11.  So I‘m not that sure that these people are not able to carry out attacks.  I agree we shouldn‘t panic.  There‘s not a huge threat to shopping malls and that these (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are not as trained, not as ready to strike as some of the 9/11 hijackers, for example.

ABRAMS:  And I should say that MSNBC News has learned that the FBI saying that there was no specific shopping center targeted and that there was no timeframe for an attack. 

All right, let‘s move on to the issue that I don‘t think anyone has a question is very serious and that is the kidnapping of this contractor in Saudi Arabia.  Mr. Johnson, how are they going to go about, what is the first step towards trying to find this guy?  I mean, are the Saudis actually going to be able to make any progress?

JOHNSON:  The Saudis have a real problem and it goes back let‘s say to 1990-1991.  That‘s when they first exiled Osama bin Laden because he was making threats against the apostasy of the Saudi royal family.  That they weren‘t living up to their religious obligation. 

Now what you are seeing take place in Saudi Arabia is this has spread.  Unfortunately, within some of the Saudi security forces, you have elements that are more sympathetic to bin Laden than sympathetic to the ruling family.  So I‘m not terribly optimistic that they are going to be able to locate Mr. Johnson who is currently in custody...

ABRAMS:  But Mr. Vidino, even if that weren‘t the case, I would still

think, I mean even we assume the best from the Saudis, that you know

they‘re getting tired of this.  That it‘s only hurting their country, that

they are attacking Muslims and non-Muslims and as a result, that maybe the

Saudis you know have finally gotten the will to do something, I still got

to believe that this is a very, very difficult effort.  I don‘t remember,

and you correct me if I‘m wrong, any occasion when al Qaeda has released a

·         someone they‘ve kidnapped. 

VIDINO:  Yes, absolutely.  I mean al Qaeda has been kidnapping people for years now.  They have been doing it in the Philippines, in Pakistan, in Yemen and most of the time they kill them.  We saw what happened to Nicholas Berg in Iraq.  It was a brutal beheading on Nicholas Berg.  It‘s unlikely that al Qaeda would release him.  We‘ll see what the Saudi security forces will be able to do, but it‘s a complicated situation... 

ABRAMS:  But I mean what can—I mean as a practical matter, what is it—can they—they start to, what, talk to people who know the people they suspect were involved here in an effort to figure out where they are? 

VIDINO:  Well, I have to say that Saudi forces are good—handle one situation in terms of where the cells are.  They know that there are certain areas of Riyadh, certain areas of other Saudi cities where militants are known to operate.  They have at least 26 operatives that are wanted and for the last nine months they have been tracking these people.  So the intelligence is not that bad. 

ABRAMS:  Yes...

JOHNSON:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  ... very quickly, yes.  Go ahead...

JOHNSON:  Dan, this isn‘t like traditional kidnappings where they are looking for something to negotiate over.  These folks, there is not a matter of negotiation.  What they want is Western influence...

ABRAMS:  Right.

JOHNSON:  ... out of Saudi Arabia, completely.  That‘s non negotiable...

ABRAMS:  Yes, that‘s the problem.  All right.  Well, we will certainly hope for the best. 

Larry Johnson and Lorenzo Vidino, thanks a lot.

JOHNSON:  Thanks.

VIDINO:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, is it possible that Saddam Hussein could be released by the end of the month? 

And why the state trial of Terry Nichols was a waste of time and money.  It is my “Closing Argument”. 

Plus, your e-mails.  We‘ll read some of the ones from Friday on the O.J. Simpson case.  Please send your e-mails from today, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you are writing from.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back.  It would seem like it would be easy to prove Saddam Hussein guilty of atrocities committed during a rein of terror that began 34-years-ago.  But not necessarily according to the “London Times”, which says—quote—“The attempt to put Saddam on trial is being undermined by the lack of a star prosecution witness or any smoking gun evidence.”

And why are there no supposed witnesses?  A—quote—“Senior British official blames the fear factor.  Saddam may be in custody but the other detainees know from past experience if they turn Queen‘s evidence, revenge would be taken against their families.”

So without smoking gun evidence, written orders, what is there to connect Saddam to his regime‘s crimes?  Like using poison gas as a battlefield weapon during the Iran/Iraq war in the ‘80‘s, using gas as a terror weapon against Iraqi Kurds in ‘88, invading and occupying Kuwait in ‘90, persecuting Iraqi Shi‘ites after the Gulf War, ethnic cleansing in northern and southern Iraq, and the everyday torture and murder that was a hallmark of Saddam‘s Iraq.

In another surprise, a Red Cross spokesperson in Baghdad claimed Sunday that because Saddam is a prisoner of war...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADIA DOUMANI, INT‘L CMTE. OF THE RED CROSS:  If he is not charged, then the law says that at the end of the war, of occupation, he should be released. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, the Red Cross in Geneva has now—quote—“clarified” that, saying Saddam can be charged and tried like any other POW suspected of committing a crime, but without a regime in sight or can testify to receiving or hearing Saddam order some crime or an order on paper with his signature, is it even possible Saddam could walk? 

With me for that, retired Air Force Colonel Brenda Hollis, the former lead prosecutor in the trial of another former dictator Serbian Yugoslavia leader Slobodan Milosevic and Johns Hopkins University international law professor Ruth Wedgwood. 

All right, let me just get the general question out of the way here first.  Professor Wedgwood, any chance that, based on these supposed problems that Saddam Hussein could walk? 

RUTH WEDGWOOD, INT‘L LAW PROFESSOR:  You have other problems providing security for the trial, but on the actual legal theory, no, because as Brenda has used in her work at the Yugoslav tribunal, there is a theory of criminal negligence.  If somebody is at the top of a wiring diagram in the military, even if you can‘t show they ordered something, if they were confronted with notorious events, which they failed to control, failed to prosecute after the fact, let it run amuck.  They are equally responsible as if they had committed it themselves. 

ABRAMS:  So Colonel Hollis, bottom line is that people shouldn‘t be worried about the evidence being undermined, et cetera, that there is not a risk that Saddam Hussein is going to be running for office in Iraq in the next few years? 

COL. BRENDA HOLLIS, (RET.), FMR. WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR:  Well, of course this would be a criminal proceeding and in all criminal proceedings, the prosecution has the burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt, so you couldn‘t ever say that it‘s absolutely certain that a person would be convicted.  But I do believe that the evidence is there and can be gathered from a variety of sources.  Also, it is true that there are various ways in which he can be responsible for crimes committed by others.  The superior responsibility is one.  Also, he could have encouraged the crimes or solicited them.  He could have provided the means by which people actually carried out the crimes.  So I believe that there will eventually be a strong case against him. 

ABRAMS:  So we don‘t have to worry, bottom line about the sort of need for these—quote—“smoking gun”.  I get the feeling that some people are sort of applying every day courtroom concerns to the international forum where in essence, Professor Wedgwood, there is a little difference in the way things are prosecuted and the rules that are applied.

WEDGWOOD:  Well, in civil law countries like Iraq there‘s a wider range of evidence that can be admitted.  It‘s not a jury.  It‘s judges as the fact finders.  And I think there‘s a kind of common sense they can draw inferences from patterns and practices if there is atrocity after atrocity after atrocity and no attempt on the part of Saddam to control them and every signal that he‘s encouraging them, I think they can infer intent and direction.

ABRAMS:  Colonel Hollis, one of the big concerns is going to be protecting witnesses.  I would assume that a lot of people are going to be very concerned about testifying in this trial, but this is also a problem that you faced in the prosecution with regard to the former Yugoslavia, correct? 

HOLLIS:  Well that‘s correct.  And certainly, protecting witnesses is crucial to any successful outcome.  One of the things, though, I think that they can look at, at the special tribunal in Iraq is where will the witnesses come from?  And I think you can look outside of Iraq for some witnesses.  For example, experts, political, military, sociological experts can provide some of the evidence that‘s needed to convict or to prove the different elements of these crimes...

ABRAMS:  Do you though...

HOLLIS:  I think also you can...

ABRAMS:  I apologize.  Do the ones who live in Iraq, though, who are there in Iraq, effectively go into a witness protection program? 

HOLLIS:  There are a variety of measures that can be taken, depending upon the needs of the witness.  Certainly, a witness protection program would be one alternative either within Iraq or with the assistance of the international community, perhaps outside Iraq at some point...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLLIS:  ... either before the trial or after. 

WEDGWOOD:  In real life, Dan, they‘re going to need a visa out of there and resettlement to some nice other place.

ABRAMS:  What—Professor Wedgwood, what about the death penalty?  I mean is there any possibility that the fact that there aren‘t these—quote—“smoking gun”—and look, they may turn out to have them, but let‘s assume for a moment that some of the evidence with regard to sort of the smoking gun documents, witnesses isn‘t there, is that going to be a problem with regard to getting Saddam the death penalty? 

WEDGWOOD:  Well, there is a question in the sense that Iraqi law permits the death penalty unlike international legal tribunals.  And the person who‘s found guilty of this criminally negligence failure to supervise theory is considered just as guilty as if he had done it himself.  But in some national legal systems, this kind of criminal failure to supervise is considered a lesser offense.  And I think if that‘s all they can prove, if that‘s all the judges find, that the death penalty will be much harder to justify in that case. 

ABRAMS:  All right, well, we shall see.  Professor Wedgwood and Colonel Hollis, thank you so much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, why the state trial of Terry Nichols was a complete waste of time and taxpayer money.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.  Coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, why the recent trial for Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols never should have happened.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—it‘s official.  The state trial of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols was an enormous waste of time and money.  Friday night, after a three-month trial, the state jurors announced they were deadlocked as to whether Nichols should get the death penalty.  That same jury had convicted him of 161 counts of murder.  The judge must now sentence him to life. 

But of course, Nichols is already serving life without parole in a federal prison after being convicted of manslaughter for the deaths of eight federal agents.  Back in February of 2003, I warned that spending close to $10 million on this effort could not be justified, particularly since the victims‘ families were divided as to whether they even wanted to endure another trial and with the Oklahoma County court fund on the verge of going broke.  The D.A. was quoted after the verdict saying that—after the hung jury—the death penalty—saying this was never about a sentence.  It was about justice and he was held accountable.  For the first time he is now a convicted mass murderer. 

Well those are nice buzzwords, but if the maximum potential sentence had been life, they would not have pursued this case in the name of justice.  The reality is Nichols was serving life without parole.  All his appeals had been rejected.  Now he will serve, well, life.  All that has changed is that Nichols got a reprieve from the boredom by being removed from the confines of the most restrictive federal prison in the nation for a visit to Oklahoma. 

Now, with that said, I have long believed the initial federal jury verdict made no sense.  Only convicting him to involuntary manslaughter even though he clearly helped build the bomb and plan the attack.  He probably should have gotten the death penalty back then.  But the money spent on this effort could have been better used.  Compensate the victims, put more police officers on the street, whatever.  It is just politicking or pretending to suggest something has been accomplished now that Nichols can be legally described as a mass murderer.  He was a killer who will spend the rest of his life behind bars.  He is now a killer who will spend the rest of his life behind bars.  Nothing has changed for the better. 

All right, I‘ve had my say.  Now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  On Friday we looked back at the O.J. Simpson case 10 years after the murders of Simpson‘s ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman with many of the original players from the case.

From High Point, North Carolina, Lynda Parsons writes “Mr. Simpson was found not guilty by a jury of his peers.  What good does shoveling around the case do?  Nothing can be said today that will change the outcome of the trial.  It‘s time to let these two victims rest in peace and it‘s definitely time to let Mr. Simpson and his children get on with their own lives.”

I disagree Lynda.  The victims‘ families don‘t want to us forget, even if you do.  When this sort of injustice results, and Simpson refuses to pay the money he owes from the civil judgment, that you want to forget about, he shouldn‘t be permitted to just get on with his life. 

We also discussed the racial divide that still exists in a recent NBC News poll, which asks do you think O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman?  Eighty-seven percent of whites believe he did it.  Seventy percent of blacks believe he did not. 

Chris Cozzolino, a criminal justice professor from Clearwater. Florida doesn‘t buy the poll, thinks it‘s skewed.  “Who in the world are the people being polled?  Are they all incarcerated African American males serving time for murder, aggravated assault or domestic violence against their girlfriends or wives?  Give me a break.  With the exception of what amounts to only two under informed students, over the course of six years teaching at the college level, I‘ve never encountered anyone who factually believes he is innocent.”  Well, maybe you are getting a skewed pool yourself. 

Finally from Emporia, Kansas, Glen Strickland remarks on my “Closing Argument” where I explained why the civil case would have convinced any rational thinker that Simpson was guilty.

“I enjoyed your take on the O.J. Simpson case 10 years removed, well done Dan.  I only wished that you had been prosecuting the case rather than just reporting it.  Maybe there would have been a more just decision.”  Maybe.  Glen, thank you. 

Your e-mails, abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We‘ll go through them and read them on the air.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from. 

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Chris talks with New York Governor Mayor George Pataki. 

See you tomorrow.  Good night.

END   

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