updated 11/29/2004 4:50:50 PM ET 2004-11-29T21:50:50

Guest: Patti LuPone, Rhonda Gaynier, Brian Jenkins, Robert O‘Neal, Jay Fahy, Tom Radosevich, Mike Trent, Edgar Dworsky

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up—if you‘re going to the airport today, you might get more than just long lines.  Some women now saying the pat-downs are going too far, but isn‘t that just the price of tougher security? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  The government issued new regulations allowing screeners to conduct more intense searches.  Some women say it just goes too far.  But do we really want kinder, more sensitive airport screeners? 

And what would you do if a gang of robbers put a gun to your head, demanded money, and threatened to rape your daughters?  One man chased the fleeing criminals down as they fired at his car.  One of the alleged criminals now dead.  The authorities looking into possibly charging the father, as well.  He tells us his side of the story. 

Plus, buyer beware.  Some major retailers now refusing to accept returned merchandise from certain customers who abuse the privilege.  Is that really such a bad idea?  Why should everyone pay the additional costs for a few serial exchangers? 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket on this busiest of travel days—enhanced airport security a little bit tougher, but some women are saying it is just too much.  The front page of “The New York Times” yesterday, the headline, “Many Women Say Airport Pat-Downs Are A Humiliation.”  After two Chechen suicide bombers, both women, allegedly brought down a pair of Russian jetliners last August, the TSA toughened its policy on security searches. 

Now while women can request female screeners, many are saying that their breasts and buttocks are being unnecessarily examined.  “My Take”—

I‘ve been through airport pat-downs many times, including these past few weeks as I fly around the country covering stories.  Sure, it‘s made me uncomfortable.  I don‘t enjoy undoing my belt and the top of my pants in front of everyone, or having a guy in a uniform kneed my upper thigh to prove I‘m not hiding anything dangerous.  But it‘s part of the price we pay for enhanced security. 

I don‘t understand why this is considered a gender issue.  Anywhere someone could be hiding a non-metallic explosive can be investigated.  Now, if there‘s improper touching, fondling, the screener should be disciplined, possibly criminally charged.  But on the whole, yes, it‘s a little humiliating.  But I guess I‘d rather sacrifice a little dignity before boarding a plane than risk losing my life in the air. 

But some of my guests may see it differently.  Patti LuPone is a star of Broadway, Hollywood and cabaret, was quoted in “The Times” article having—had a run-in with a TSA agent.  I‘m a big fan, and she joins us on the phone.  Excuse me—Brian Jenkins is senior adviser on terrorism and security to the RAND Corporation and a former member of President Clinton‘s White House commission on aviation safety and security.  Thanks to both of you for joining us.  We appreciate it. 

Miss LuPone, let me start with you.  Tell me what happened and how you think this fits into the bigger problem here. 

PATTI LUPONE, SINGER AND ACTRESS (via phone):  I was—well, you know what, it‘s about knowledge, and so I proceeded in the Fort Lauderdale airport to do what I have the knowledge to do.  I took off the danskins (ph) because there‘s metal.  Those are my shoes.  I took off the belt because it‘s got, you know, metal.  I took off the leather jacket. 

What I was doing as I was traveling from Fort Lauderdale heat to Chicago cold, and so I layered.  And underneath, I had a relatively see-through camisole underneath a Chinese jacket, which was left open.  If it was closed, I wonder what would have happened.  Nonetheless, I was at the initial screening.  I put the computer in the gray bin, et cetera, et cetera. 

The gentleman told me to take off my shirt.  The initial screener told me to take off my shirt.  I simply said to him, if I take off my shirt, I will be exposed.  He said OK.  That‘s all.  My luggage—my carry-on passed through the metal detection.  I passed through metal detection, and then I was waved into secondary screening and I said, what‘s going on?  What do you want? 

Then he said you didn‘t take off your shirt.  And I felt as though I was in the time-out chair.  I said, I told you I would be exposed.  You want me to take off my shirt?  Then I took off my shirt.  Now what do you want?  Talk to me.  What is going on?  This is rude. 

I heard in the back of my, you know, mind, female screener, you know, and I felt like it was being shouted across the screening area, and nobody was talking to me.  Nobody was telling me what was going on.  The next thing I know, my right breast is being felt, and as I looked down to my right breast, it‘s too late, now the left breast is being felt, and then she‘s gone, and still nobody has said a word to me and... 

ABRAMS:  So let me be clear.  So—I mean, you‘re saying that you don‘t have a problem with the fact that they asked you to go into the secondary round of screening and if they felt the need, you said a female agent came over, screener came over, checked you the way they‘re supposed to with the back of their hands...

LUPONE:  No, no, they did not check with the back of their hand, number one. 

ABRAMS:  She cupped with the front of her heads? 

LUPONE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So look, there‘s no question that that‘s a sort of violation of the TSA rules.  I don‘t think anyone...

LUPONE:  I know that...

ABRAMS:  ...is going to challenge that.  Because you know, they shouldn‘t be doing it that way.  Can you understand, though, why in general you know, they‘re upping the level of security right now and as a result, it‘s going to be a big inconvenience for a lot of us, but it‘s one of the prices maybe we have to pay for tougher security.

LUPONE:  Well, you know what?  My issue is communication.  And I said this to the three screeners who I commended to the TSA because they had the psychological edge to talk me off the edge.  These guys knew how to handle a passenger in distress, as opposed to being treated like a lemming or being treated like cattle. 

ABRAMS:  See I guess I expect to be treated like a lemming...

LUPONE:  But you mustn‘t and we mustn‘t. 

ABRAMS:  Well...

LUPONE:  What I said to them was you need to communicate with the passengers.  I do not think that a passenger, any passenger in America or Europe or anywhere...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

LUPONE:  ... would not allow anything to happen as long as we were communicated with. 

ABRAMS:  All right...

LUPONE:  And the point was I—my please for communication went unheeded. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me bring in Rhonda Gaynier—sorry—an attorney who was also upset about the way she was treated by a TSA screener.  Let me ask you this.  I mean apart—we just heard Miss LuPone sort of laying out her concerns about the way she was treated, et cetera.

Do you think that this is a larger problem?  I guess that‘s my concern, is that I think that there are going to be individual cases where we‘re going to find out that the screeners didn‘t act the way that they should have.  But “The New York Times” article yesterday seemed to be suggesting that this is a widespread problem. 

RHONDA GAYNIER, ACCUSES TSA SCREENER OF GROPING HER:  I think it‘s more than a—well, I think it‘s more than a widespread problem.  It seems to me that what‘s happening is a continual erosion of our constitutional rights... 

ABRAMS:  But isn‘t that always...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... doesn‘t that always happen, though, when you have to enhance security, there‘s no question it becomes more invasive, period? 

GAYNIER:  Well, I really question the reason why we‘re enhancing security.  From what I understand, there were two planes blown up over Russia.  They think, but they don‘t know for sure, that maybe some plastic explosives were carried on by women, but they don‘t know if it was carried on by women or if it was in cargo.  And because of that, TSA has now decided that we‘re going to strip even more of our citizens‘ constitutional rights, invade their privacy more than they have before, take away their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches...

(CROSSTALK)

GAYNIER:  ... and subject women especially to this offensive invasion of their body. 

ABRAMS:  So you would rather take the chance and say, you know what, we don‘t know for sure now, let‘s wait and see, and hey, if—so if an American plane gets blown up by a woman, then we‘ll know for the future that we need to be more careful? 

GAYNIER:  No, what I‘m saying is if we need to pat people down at the airport, they should have the same rights that a common criminal does on the street, which is probable cause for that pat-down.  I got patted down because I had four S‘s on my boarding pass that was randomly put there by the computer.  I didn‘t do anything to...

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Look—no look, it happens to me all the time, too. 

LUPONE:  Rhonda...

ABRAMS:  Let me bring in Brian...

LUPONE:  ...I‘m profiled on U.S. Airways.  Every single time I fly on U.S. Airways I get the four S‘s and I have no idea why. 

ABRAMS:  Look, and Brian Jenkins, let me bring in—you know—I mean I hate to phrase it this way, but I guess my reaction is too bad.  I mean it happens to me.  I get profiled sometimes.  My producer, Fagnili Laconie (ph) gets profiled just about every time we go, and they pat her down with a full pat-down, et cetera.  I mean—and I guess that I just think that this is one of the prices we have to pay for this new world. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Let me let Brian respond and I‘ll let you...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead. 

BRIAN JENKINS, RAND CORP. TERRORISM EXPERT:  Well, look, there‘s several issues involved here.  First of all, with regard to the insertion of some people randomly for secondary selection, that is a decision that we made on the White House Commission back in 1996 specifically in order to protect the civil liberties.  In the original—in some of the original measures, the secondary inspections were going to be based upon information that was derived from the passenger‘s record.  But in order to try to prevent people from understanding how those criteria would work and also to ensure that people would not be treated as suspects, we decided, with the advice of a panel of civil libertarians, that we had assembled deliberately, that a random number of passengers—selected at random—would be inserted into the secondary search stream...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Then why am I profiled...

JENKINS:  So that‘s to protect liberties. 

ABRAMS:  And...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why am I profiled...

ABRAMS:  ... but what do you think generally about what we‘re talking about?  I mean it sounds like the allegation...

JENKINS:  You know...

ABRAMS:  ... here is that women are being subjected more to this, in particular, it sounds like the allegations with regard to their breasts because there could be something hidden in their bra et cetera.  You know, now the TSA is saying, look, we are concerned about what happened in Russia.  It seems to me that sometimes we‘ll have to accept—maybe it will be a short time period.  Maybe we‘ll say you know what turns out six months later it wasn‘t the case.  This doesn‘t seem to me to be such a huge intrusion to accept temporarily at the very least, Mr. Jenkins. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If we are communicated with...

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Let me let Mr. Jenkins, then I‘ll let you Miss LuPone...

LUPONE:  All right.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead Mr. Jenkins.

JENKINS:  Well look, the issue is, first of all, we have ample evidence of female terrorists.  So the notion of women somehow being immune to the search process or being given a pass in the search process simply doesn‘t bear up under any type of scrutiny.  Second, we are constantly dealing with a dynamic evolving...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

JENKINS:  Since 9/11, since 9 /11, we had the shoe bomber.  We now know that there was likely a second shoe bomber. 

ABRAMS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

JENKINS:  We had planes brought down in Russia.  We now have news of some hijacking plot that may have been thwarted in the United Kingdom.  The threat is real. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

JENKINS:  We are dealing increasingly with sophisticated terrorists who know we have metal detectors and are now using explosives that have no metal components. 

ABRAMS:  I agree with you entirely.  Miss LuPone, go ahead.

LUPONE:  I just feel as though in many ways the government and the TSA have let the horse—have closed the gate after the horse is out of the barn. 

GAYNIER:  Absolutely. 

LUPONE:  You know, it‘s...

ABRAMS:  But that‘s what fighting terrorism is all about...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s trying to be first. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s trying to be before the problem occurs. 

LUPONE:  The point is they are not first.  The point is they are not first.  They‘ve let the horse—they‘ve closed the gates after the horse is out of the barn.  There is no initiative here.  There‘s random—there‘s breast exams because allegedly two women had plastic explosives...

ABRAMS:  But you‘re saying we should wait.  You both seem to be saying let‘s wait until there‘s more evidence...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, no, no, no, no...

ABRAMS:  ... to demonstrate this is going to happen.

LUPONE:  Absolutely not.  I am not saying let us wait.  I am saying I wish there was ingenuity on the part of the TSA and the government to come up with a wiser—I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.  It‘s not let‘s wait.  I will do anything.  I am in that plane.  I don‘t want to die in a fiery bomb.  I will do anything.  First and foremost, I want my civility.  I want to be dealt with, with respect, and I want to be told why they are feeling my breasts...

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But if you‘ll do anything...

LUPONE:  I was told by the TSA...

ABRAMS:  ...if you‘ll do anything...

LUPONE:  I was told by the TSA...

ABRAMS:  ...it will mean it includes having, you know, your breasts examined. 

LUPONE:  I would give them that permission if they told me why. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Fair enough, fair enough.  All right.  Look, communicate—I don‘t think anyone is going to dispute that...

LUPONE:  Well I didn‘t get communication...

ABRAMS:  Well, look I think if the TSA was on the program, they would say, look, if there wasn‘t communication, there should have been. 

GAYNIER:  I think that‘s a repeated problem. 

ABRAMS:  Quickly.  I‘ve got to wrap it up.  Yes.

GAYNIER:  I‘ve heard that from a number of women that there was no communication...

ABRAMS:  All right.

GAYNIER:  ...they didn‘t use the back of the hand.  It was very intimidating. 

LUPONE:  Yes.

GAYNIER:  They didn‘t talk to you in advance. 

LUPONE:  No.

GAYNIER:  But that‘s not the problem.  The problem is you‘re patting people down and treating them worse than you would a criminal on the street...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

GAYNIER:  ...and you‘ve done nothing...

ABRAMS:  I say...

GAYNIER:  ...and I wonder if...

ABRAMS:  ...then you can drive.  I mean honestly...

GAYNIER:  Well, that‘s what I‘m doing today. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right...

GAYNIER:  As soon as I‘m done...

ABRAMS:  All right...

GAYNIER:  ...I‘m driving to Michigan for Thanksgiving. 

ABRAMS:  Fair enough.

GAYNIER:  I‘m not flying anymore. 

ABRAMS:  Fair enough.

GAYNIER:  I‘m not. 

ABRAMS:  Fair enough.  I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the program.  And Miss LuPone, big fan, thank you very much. 

LUPONE:  Well thank you...

ABRAMS:  Brian Jenkins, as always...

GAYNIER:  Thank you for having...

ABRAMS:  ...good to have you. 

LUPONE:  Bye.

ABRAMS:  Coming up—a dad chases down four men who robbed him at gunpoint, killing one of them as he was shooting at the dad.  We‘ll hear from Robert O‘Neal on how he mustered up the courage to go after the men who threatened to rape his daughters.  And the lawyer for one of the thugs now seems to be blaming dad.  What‘s the law?  Could O‘Neal be held criminally responsible for killing the punk who was shooting at him?  We‘ll talk to a former New Jersey prosecutor. 

Plus, police say she accused her common-law husband of cheating and then cut off a significant body part while he slept.  I don‘t really have to tell you which part.  Her attorney and the prosecutor in the case join us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up—we‘ll hear from the man who turned the tables on four men who robbed him at gunpoint.  He tells us his unbelievable story coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with an armed robbery, threats of rape, and then gunfire in a New Jersey town.  Now a dad who risked everything to find the gang of punks who threatened his two teenage daughters is part of a criminal investigation.  When it was all over, the girls were safe, two of the four alleged assailants captured by police, and the man police say fired the shots, 19-year-old Jose Alvarez was dead, killed under the wheels of the SUV driven by the girls‘ father, 54-year-old Robert O‘Neal. 

Before we discuss the legal issues and how everything will transpire there, Robert O‘Neal, who to many has become the hero dad here, joins me now to talk about his harrowing ordeal.  Mr. O‘Neal, thank you very much for taking the time.  Appreciate it. 

ROBERT O‘NEAL, ALLEGEDLY ROBBED BY GANG:  You‘re quite welcome, Dan. 

I‘m glad to be here. 

ABRAMS:  So tell me what happened. 

O‘NEAL:  Well, you know, this unfold—they followed me home.  As we were coming down the street, I noticed this car was following us slowly.  We live in a very well-to-do neighborhood, a superior court judge lives up the street, the mayor lives around the corner, and I thought nothing of it until my girls got out of the car and they did a slow drive-by. 

Now, as I‘m trying to prepare my girls to go in the house, I hear three car doors slam, and I see these young kids, black hoods on their head, come running around the corner.  They break their stride and they start very loud conversation, cussing and carrying on.  As I go to my car to retrieve my wallet, I turn around.

One of them is walking around my vehicle to go up the steps to go into my home, home invasion.  I don‘t know you.  What are you doing—to distract me.  Turn around, there‘s a gun in my face, give it up or we‘re going to kill you and rape your girls.  I gave them what they wanted.  They break, trying to see what I‘ve given them.  Well actually, they rifled my pockets. 

As I go around my vehicle, they hear my miniature Dobermans in the house barking.  They think the dogs are coming out, they run.  I holler to my daughter, Ashley, call the police, I just got robbed at gunpoint.  I have no idea who they are.  I think they have a car parked around the corner.  I‘m going to get a license tag to give to the police so these guys can be arrested. 

I think the cell phone is in the car.  It wasn‘t in the car.  Unfortunately, I followed these guys, tried to get a license tag number, and they started shooting at me.  I had no intentions of hurting anybody.  My only...

ABRAMS:  So you‘re following these guys and they‘re shooting their gun at you? 

O‘NEAL:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  And then you, what, try to sort of protect yourself by running them off the road or...

O‘NEAL:  No, I ducked under the dashboard.  I mean, when I saw the back windshield disintegrate, I ducked under the dashboard.  I knew they were shooting at me because I saw a silver handgun hit the window, and the next thing I knew something hit my car.  I was under the dashboard.  And as they continued around the corner, my vehicle followed them. 

I was trying to get the tag number so that the police could be summoned.  I knew somebody had to see because we were in front of a Sunoco.  I knew they would call the police.  I was hoping that aid would come right away.  The Trenton police force is pretty good.  They were right there in the nick of time in order to try to, well...

ABRAMS:  So you didn‘t even know at this point that you‘d run over one of the guys who was shooting at you?

O‘NEAL:  Absolutely not.  My vehicle was out of control the second time my vehicle—when they went out of control, my vehicle struck theirs.  Both vehicles were out of control.  The next thing I knew I was in the air.  My vehicle almost turned over.  It did a 180, went back up the street, into the island, across the road, and I slowed to a stop. 

ABRAMS:  Were you scared? 

O‘NEAL:  You know something?  Yes, I was, but what can you say—you don‘t know what‘s going to happen in a situation like that.  Again, my—I did not pursue them with the intentions of hurting anybody.  I went after them—these criminals seem to think they can get away with doing this because Americans are sometimes passive.  And I mean people are tired of being victims all the time, not that I did anything wrong.  The only—my only effort was to go after these guys to give the information to the police...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

O‘NEAL:  ... so that they could arrest them. 

ABRAMS:  ... start firing a gun at you...

O‘NEAL:  Yes, well, you know, it happened in Vietnam.  I mean we‘re at war over in Iraq. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘NEAL:  I mean what am I supposed to do? 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEAL:  You know, I can‘t turn my back and get shot in the back. 

ABRAMS:  I‘d ask the same question.  All right, let me read you very quickly something that an attorney for one of the alleged robbers said to us today, Jack Furlong.

He said if Mr. O‘Neal had enough time to call police and protect his family and chose instead to pursue people he believed to have robbed him, then if someone dies, that death lays at his doorstep.

O‘NEAL:  Yes, well, that‘s just it.  That‘s the point.  I didn‘t have enough time to call the police.  I asked my daughter to call the police.  I had no identification on these perpetrators.  In order for the police to do their job, a citizen has to protect himself and get the information so that the police can do their job.  They had gotten clean away and probably come back when I‘m not home and do what they said they were going to do to my daughters.  I mean—I really don‘t know...

ABRAMS:  You‘re frustrated...

O‘NEAL:  Yes, I‘m frustrated...

ABRAMS:  Believe me, I can understand that.  I mean you know, I don‘t think—I think anyone in your position would be equally frustrated.  You know, you‘ve done what you could to try...

O‘NEAL:  To protect my daughters and my family. 

ABRAMS:  Good for you.  Can you hang on for a minute...

O‘NEAL:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  ...stick around for a minute?  Robert O‘Neal is going to stick around.  Prosecutors say they‘re still deciding who they‘re going to charge in the case in death—in the death of one of the men who robbed and threatened Mr. O‘Neal.  A former New Jersey prosecutor...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘NEAL:  When you need help, it‘s never there.  I just couldn‘t take it anymore.  You put a gun in my face and threaten to rape my kids; I‘m not having it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Robert O‘Neal talking about why he took off in his SUV after a gang of four kids and punks robbed him, threatened his daughter, then shot at him when he followed them to try and get their license plate. 

“My Take”—when your police and prosecutors are investigating everything, including Mr. O‘Neal‘s actions as part of this case, based on what I know, there‘s no chance that they‘re going to charge him with anything.  Here‘s a man robbed by armed punks, who allegedly threatened his daughters with rape.  He turns over his wallet, then bravely risks his life to make sure justice is served. 

They open fire on his vehicle.  Yes Mr. O‘Neal‘s vehicle hit the car with his SUV.  Yes, he hit and killed a thief who was shooting at him after he fled the get-away car.  But remember, police say the guy is shooting at Mr. O‘Neal when that happened.  If a citizen cannot do what this sounds like, then we are all in big trouble. 

I‘m joined by former New Jersey prosecutor Jay Fahy and again by Mr.  O‘Neal.  All right, Jay, I mean what‘s going on here?  We hear Jack Furlong, the attorney for one of the alleged robbers, suggesting that Mr.  O‘Neal may have been engaged in some wrongdoing here. 

JAY FAHY, FORMER NEW JERSEY PROSECUTOR:  The answer is the prosecutor and the police have to look into Mr. O‘Neal‘s conduct for this reason.  In New Jersey, if you use deadly force, even in self-defense or in the defense of others, it is—you cannot use that defense if you had an opportunity to retreat.  That‘s the state of the law...

ABRAMS:  But his position would be look, he didn‘t mean to kill anybody.  That he didn‘t even know that this guy was there, that he‘s being shot at.  He‘s ducking under his dashboard, and the next thing he knows, there‘s a body under his vehicle. 

FAHY:  I agree with you completely.  And in this case, because of Mr.  O‘Neal‘s conduct, what he did was he was following the people that robbed him because he wanted to be able to identify them so that they couldn‘t come back and attack his family again or come back and attack him again, and it‘s completely justified. 

However, in fairness to the police and prosecutors, they do have to at least look into this to see what all the circumstances were.  Mr. O‘Neal has not been charged.  In my opinion, he would not be charged.  If he somehow were charged, there is no way that a grand jury would indict him, and I don‘t think there‘s any way that a regular jury would convict him.  In my opinion, he‘s a hero and he‘s someone to be commended. 

ABRAMS:  Go ahead Mr. O‘Neal.

O‘NEAL:  Well, you know, I‘m not a hero.  I‘m just your average American male that works hard and tries to take care of his family.  I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEAL:  ...why should we cower as cowards when these criminals assault us?  I mean too often they get away unidentified.  I merely tried to get identification so that the police could do their job efficiently and quickly.  Too many times they get away because people don‘t want to be involved. 

ABRAMS:  At what point—so you get in your car and you start chasing these guys effectively.  At what point did the cars start hitting each other, your car and their car? 

O‘NEAL:  Down at Route 29.  As I approached them and I looked over my dash—I‘m looking over the dashboard.  I‘m getting—trying to get close enough to see a license tag; I saw fervent movement in the back seat.  I saw a flash.  I heard something hit my car.  And the next thing I knew, I had hit them.  The windows disintegrated.  They made a right. 

I stayed on their bumper.  I came back up.  I‘m still looking and they started shooting again.  I ducked under my bumper—I mean under the dashboard.  Next thing I knew all the vehicles were out of control.  It took quite some time.  The road was slippery.  The cars were all over the place.

ABRAMS:  And it sounds like you‘re stunned that one of the defense attorneys seems to be pointing the finger at you.

O‘NEAL:  Yes.  Well, yes I am.  Absolutely.  I was protecting my family.  Would he do no less for his family?  How would he feel if they tried the same thing with him and he had an opportunity to assist the authorities, to bring these criminals to justice, and he did nothing about it? 

ABRAMS:  Robert O‘Neal, I think you‘re going to have the sympathy and best wishes of just about all my viewers.  Have a happy Thanksgiving.  Thank you very much...

O‘NEAL:  You too.

ABRAMS:  ... for coming and taking the time.  Appreciate it.

O‘NEAL:  Thank you.  You‘re welcome.

ABRAMS:  Jay Fahy thanks a lot as well.  Appreciate it.

FAHY:  My pleasure.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, move over Lorena Bobbitt.  This woman says she was justified when she cut off her boyfriend‘s penis while he slept.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Wait.  She‘s - we talk to her attorney about her defense coming up. 

And the next time you see those must-have jeans, make sure that you really want them because if you try to return them, the store may turn you away.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up—she allegedly took a page from Lorena Bobbitt‘s book.  The difference here, they never found her boyfriend‘s missing part.  You know what it is.  We talk with the woman‘s attorney and the man prosecuting her—first the headlines. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well men have to have a little more consideration and respect a woman. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Lorena Bobbitt became a household name back in ‘93, sending shivers down, well, down some men‘s pants after slicing off her husband‘s penis.  She said she had been abused for years.  She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and has since been released.  Police later found her husband‘s penis in a field and successfully reattached it. 

No such luck for another man.  Delmy Margoth Ruiz is currently being held in a Harris County, Texas, jail charged with aggravated assault for doing the same thing to her boyfriend.  He was rushed to the hospital with 80 percent of it missing.  And while he‘s still recovering, it seems there‘s no chance of reattachment. 

Like Bobbitt, Ruiz defense reaction saying—quote—“I‘m the victim here.  I was sick of all the abuse.  He would beat me up.  I was threatened, a prisoner in my own house.  He was always mistreating me, so I was afraid for my life.”

“My Take”—whether it‘s jealousy or alleged abuse, this is never an option.  Imagine for a moment if the gender were reversed, and in a fit of rage a man mutilated a woman‘s genitals.  It‘s never OK. 

Joining me now, Mike Trent, the assistant D.A. prosecuting this case, and Tom Radosevich, an attorney for the defendant in this case.  All right, thank you both very much for taking the time.  Appreciate it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Radosevich, let me start with you.  What is the defense here?  Does she admit that she did this? 

TOM RADOSEVICH, DEFENDANT‘S ATTORNEY:  Well, we haven‘t investigated it enough to learn all of the facts.  We‘re hearing different things from the investigating officers, and we‘re investigating those things to find out whether they‘re true or not.  Then we‘ll come up with a defense, if we have to. 

ABRAMS:  Is it—are you saying that at this point that it‘s possible that someone else did this? 

RADOSEVICH:  Well, I haven‘t seen the local affiliate ABC News interview yet.  I understand that Delmy might have admitted that she did it there.  We understand the officers are saying that she said it over the telephone.  But I don‘t know personally, and we‘re not certain that she‘s admitted it herself. 

ABRAMS:  Mike Trent, there‘s a lot of evidence, at least with regard to the fact that she did this, right? 

MIKE TRENT, HARRIS COUNTY TEXAS PROSECUTOR:  Yes, there is and she has made numerous admissions, not only to relatives, but also law enforcement officers and probation officers connected with this case. 

ABRAMS:  And what did she say was the reason that she did it? 

TRENT:  Well, one relative she told, when the victim lying bleeding on the floor of her bedroom asked her why she did it, she said, so you can‘t have any more women.  Only later do we have this concocted explanation that she did it to escape from abuse or torment. 

ABRAMS:  Let me read from the criminal complaint.  At around 10:00 a.m., she was at her mother‘s house.  She heard her mother, the defendant, crying and screaming.  She asked her mother what was wrong.  The defendant said something has happened.  Jenny Ruiz could hear the complainant screaming from inside the house, Jenny, Jenny help me. 

Jenny went into the house.  She saw the complainant sitting on a chair.  He was bleeding from his groin area.  Blood was soaking through his shorts and onto the floor.  The complainant asked the defendant why she had done this to him.  Her mother, the defendant, told the complainant that he had made her do it.

Mr. Radosevich, does this—is it possible this will be one of those cases like in Bobbitt where you‘re going to say that she was temporarily insane? 

RADOSEVICH:  I understand Lorena Bobbitt was acquitted because the jury decided she had committed an irresistible impulse.  Texas law is a little different in that regard.  You have a right to commit violence on a person who‘s in your home and will not leave.  That may be a defense.  Obviously the battered women history could be a defense also... 

ABRAMS:  You can‘t cut off someone‘s penis because they won‘t leave, right? 

RADOSEVICH:  You can shoot somebody.  Cutting off a penis, of course, is graphic and headline grabbing.  I would say a gun to the heart hurts just as much, maybe more if you‘re dead. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Trent, I would assume you‘re not particularly worried about that kind of defense. 

TRENT:  Well, no, because it was his house as well as her house and there‘s no evidence she was in fear.  She left him on the floor of her bedroom to bleed for probably an hour or two, made no attempt to get help for him.  Only when his screams were heard by her daughter did any action take place at all, and the daughter and the defendant‘s sister were the ones who brought her to the hospital. 

ABRAMS:  How‘s he doing Mr. Trent?

TRENT:  He‘s—obviously he‘s in a lot of pain still today. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

TRENT:  He‘s in need of surgery.  You speculated correctly.  There‘s going to be no reconstruction that I know of.  He is permanently mutilated. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  We will follow this and maybe as time goes on we‘ll find out a little bit more about what the defense will be.  Mike Trent, Tom Radosevich, thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

TRENT:  Thank you Dan.

RADOSEVICH:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  How shoppers beware if you‘re also a serial returner, you may be blacklisted.  Some stores are starting to refuse to take back returns from shoppers who abuse the system.  And this may surprise you—I agree with them.

Plus Thanksgiving is around the corner.  I‘ll tell what you I‘m thankful for and what I am thankful that I am not.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  The three days after Thanksgiving are some of the biggest shopping days of the year.  But before you go out to the mall this weekend, you might want to carefully consider everything you buy, because returning items could be a lot harder.  A lot of stores now starting to keep track of what you buy and what you return, and some of them are starting to refuse a shopper‘s right to return, but is that really so bad? 

NBC‘s Tom Costello has the story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Like a lot of 23-year-olds, Lauren Baumhauer knows what she likes. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  These are from Express.  These are from Express. 

These are from Express. 

COSTELLO:  Her closet packed with her favorite brand. 

(on camera):  So you are really a loyal Express customer? 

LAUREN BAUMHAUER, SHOPPER:  Absolutely.  Everything that I have on right now is from Express.  I mean it‘s half my clothes in my closet. 

COSTELLO (voice-over):  But a few months ago when Lauren went to the Express store in this New Jersey shopping mall to return a blouse that didn‘t fit, the clerk asked for her driver‘s license and then...

BAUMHAUER:  Just as she was about to give me the receipt, she said, oh, you know, I‘m sorry, apparently your return was denied. 

COSTELLO:  After making four returns in two months, it was one return too many.  A new software program had identified Lauren as a potential problem customer or worse.

(on camera):  Experts calculate that retailers lost $30 billion to fraud last year, $16 billion to return fraud.  As the scams grow more sophisticated, some retailers say they have little choice but to fight back, using software to build databases of potential problem customers. 

MARK HILINKI, RETURN EXCHANGE:  Retail return rates are somewhere in the 10 to 15 percent range, and about one percent of all of those returns are fraudulent or abusive. 

COSTELLO (voice-over):  Mark Hilinki‘s company, the Return Exchange, devised the software that tracks customer returns for Express, K-B Toys, the Sports Authority, and Staples, to name a few.  Hilinki says the software monitors the number of returns a customer makes and more. 

HILINKI:  The dollar amount for those returns and the difference in time between those returns. 

COSTELLO:  Express tells NBC News the only individuals possibly affected by our process would be those who exhibit extremely abnormal return patterns.

But privacy advocate Jordana Beebe worries customers are given little warning before their returns are denied. 

JORDANA BEEBE, PRIVACY RIGHTS CLEARINGHOUSE:  I just feel that it‘s not a good thing to put good paying consumers into a situation where they feel the need that they have to lie or have somebody else do their dirty work. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

COSTELLO:  In the end, that‘s what Lauren did, turning to her sister to return her blouse. 

BAUMHAUER:  And as soon as she gave her name and her I.D. number and everything, there was no problem. 

COSTELLO:  So you worked the system? 

BAUMHAUER:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

COSTELLO:  Working the system beyond the point of no return. 

Tom Costello, NBC News, West Nyack, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  “My Take”—I think small businesses and, for that matter, department stores should be able to put restrictions on the right to return.  Why shouldn‘t people who are regular returners have to pay for it?  Why should the rest of us who don‘t regularly return have to subsidize the costs?  I know this might not be a popular position, but unlike some other pandering hosts who will just tell what you they think you want to hear, I‘ll tell it to you straight.  I support having some sort of blacklist.  If you return too often, I think it‘s fine for stores to say you lose the privilege. 

Joining me now is consumer advocate and attorney Edgar Dworsky, who is founder of consumerworld.org.  Thanks for joining us.  Do you disagree with me on this one? 

EDGAR DWORSKY, CONSUMER ADVOCATE:  I certainly do disagree. 

ABRAMS:  Why? 

DWORSKY:  I‘m concerned about the honest consumer, the consumer who‘s a good shopper, who goes to the store quite often to buy goods, maybe they have kids.  They don‘t want to take the kids into the store, so they buy a number of items and bring it home for the kids to try on, then they return the ones that don‘t fit.  That‘s an honest shopper...

ABRAMS:  But why...

DWORSKY:  ... and she may be denied a refund. 

ABRAMS:  Why is returning like a right?  I mean we treat the ability to return in this country, I think unlike some other countries, as this sort of fundamental right that we can take as many things as we want from the store and treat it like daddy‘s closet, and then just go back. 

DWORSKY:  Well, actually, it isn‘t a right.  A store can set up any type of return policy it wants under the laws of most states...

ABRAMS:  So what‘s the matter with...

DWORSKY:  It could be no returns in 30 days or it could be no returns.  But to the extent that a store does have a return policy, let‘s say 30 days, and I comply with that return policy, bring the item back on day 20, why should I be denied that return? 

ABRAMS:  Because if you‘ve been taking stuff from this store, you keep going back to the store and you keep returning it and returning it and returning it, why should I, who goes in there one time to buy something, have to pay the cost of the fact that you like to go in there and try things on all the time? 

DWORSKY:  The problem is how do you segregate the honest consumer from that dishonest one, the one who is borrowing the dress or buying the camcorder to go to the wedding over the weekend?  How do you keep the innocent consumer, be able to return things legitimately, but also catch the person who‘s abusive.  That‘s the tough question. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Here‘s the retail exchange statement.  Our system prevents against retail return fraud and abuse, a $16 billion a year problem impacting retailers and consumers.  Our system identifies approximately one percent of consumers whose return behavior mimics return fraud or abuse and allows retailers to offer more lenient return policies, control prices, and protect against identity theft. 

Approximately 99 percent of consumers making returns will be unaffected.  Look, if they‘re going to tell too many people they can‘t return it, they‘re going to lose business.  So what are we really worried about?  Why don‘t we say, look, if you‘re willing to risk the business, fine? 

DWORSKY:  We‘re worried about the 99 percent of consumers who don‘t abuse the policy.  In your taped piece that young lady bought four items and returned them over a period of two months.  That‘s two returns a month.  Are you saying that two returns a month is too much?

ABRAMS:  I‘m saying that we should leave it up to the free market.  That if these stores get too restrictive with their return policy, they‘re going to lose business. 

DWORSKY:  I‘m also concerned about the return exchange.  Are they sharing this data with other companies?  So let‘s say I do return a lot of things to a clothing store.  Then when I go to store “B”, which is an electronics store, are they going to know that I returned stuff to store “A” and I‘ll be denied any returns at all?  That‘s not fair. 

ABRAMS:  Well, you know, look whether it‘s fair or not, it‘s business.  And it seems to me this is a business, and these businesses are losing money.  Look, I agree.  There‘s got to be ways to deal with some of these problems.  But as a fundamental issue , I say let them impose these blacklists so the rest of us who don‘t borrow clothes from stores on a regular basis don‘t have to pay for it.  Final word... 

DWORSKY:  But Dan, they have to disclose it.  If it‘s disclosed upfront, our policy is...

(CROSSTALK)

DWORSKY:  ... you can have three returns a month...

ABRAMS:  Right, if it‘s disclosed...

DWORSKY:  Fine, everybody knows the rules of the game.

ABRAMS:  ... no problem with it, right—if it‘s disclosed, you have no problem? 

DWORSKY:  I have much less problem.  Right now it‘s a surprise...

ABRAMS:  All right.

DWORSKY:  We‘re sorry, we‘re not going take your return back. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let them know—everybody, let them know that they‘re not going to be able to play this game, and then I think Mr.  Dworsky and I are probably at least close on the same page.  All right, Edgar Dworsky, thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

DWORSKY:  Thank you...

ABRAMS:  Appreciate it.  Coming up—O.J. Simpson owes Ron Goldman‘s family more than $33 million.  I said yesterday that you know, they should do everything to collect that money.  Many of you not happy at all with the fact that I took on O.J. Simpson.  Coming up... 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving and it involves the cases I cover.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—what I will be thankful for on Thanksgiving this year.  Well, a lot of things—my health, my family, my friends.  But for the purposes of this show where we cover law and justice stories, many of which are just heartbreaking, I‘m reminded that I‘m thankful that I‘m an outsider rather than a participant in many of these stories.  That I‘ve been blessed not to be one of the victims or their families who have to carry the weight of an inexplicable crime with them every day, who are so unfairly burdened with constant pain, anger, sadness, and frustration or even one of the defendants‘ families.  In many cases, through no fault of their own, they‘re suddenly the community pariahs, ostracized, often blamed for the actions of their loved one, suffering pain and loss with little support from the outside world. 

I hope that appreciating my good fortune in that regard helps me to better cover these stories.  To remember they‘re not just legal stories, but deeply personal ones.  Many of the people I have to report on every day will have a lot not to be thankful for this year.  So when I sit down with my family and friends, it‘s not just what I have that I‘ll appreciate, but what I have not. 

I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  O.J. Simpson‘s lawyers in court again yesterday trying to prove he was not making covert cash by selling memorabilia.  O.J. repeated his deadbeat mantra that he will not pay the family of Ron Goldman a dime, even though a civil jury awarded their family 33 million.  O.J. saying if he has to, he will not work another day in his life.  I spoke with Fred Goldman last night on the program and made my disdain for Simpson quite clear and explicably many of you sticking up for O.J. 

Cheryl Martin, “I was appalled while watching tonight‘s show because you allowed Fred Goldman to call O.J. Simpson all types of names, but berated O.J. when he spoke of Goldman in less than endearing terms.  Ron Goldman lost a son and O.J. lost an ex-wife.  Only Ron, Nicole, O.J. and God know what really happened that night.” 

No Cheryl, using that philosophy trials would never mean anything because evidence would never be enough ever.  And for to you compare O.J.‘s loss to the Goldmans is as downright insulting to all victims.  Let‘s be clear.  In the criminal trial, one jury said we‘re not 90 something percent sure O.J. did it, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  Fine.

The civil jury said it was at least 51 percent certain that he did, a preponderance of the evidence.  So accepting both juries‘ verdicts, it‘s somewhere between 51 and 90 something percent certain that O.J. killed his wife and Ron Goldman.  Many who watched the trials are a lot more certain than that. 

Chuck Boyce, “To me it just seemed that you were a bit biased on a situation that doesn‘t have anything to do with you.  Are you someone special to say that he killed another human?”

No Chuck, just well informed.  And it‘s not bias when you say this is my position.  It‘s just an opinion. 

From San Jose, Edmund Watson.  “A court of law found him innocent as charged.  That should have to do for Goldman and anyone else.  Keep your smug innuendos to yourself, OK?”

I will not Edmund.  I will try to help the Goldmans uphold the law in the jury‘s ruling.  Remember, the criminal jury only prevented Simpson from having to go to prison.  That doesn‘t mean he gets to avoid responsibility.  The O.J. apologists love to scream about why no one accepts the criminal verdict.  And then in the same breath, they say they reject the civil one.  I accept both. 

Chuck Woodhead in Potomac, Montana.  “As far as I‘m concerned since O.J. was acquitted, the civil trial constitutes double jeopardy and shouldn‘t have been allowed.” 

Chuck, unfortunately for you, you don‘t get to make the laws. 

MonaLisa Brown in Chicago.  “If Fred Goldman spent more energy trying to get on with his life and not trying to make O.J.‘s life miserable he‘d probably be a whole lot happier.  Mr. Goldman‘s actions make me wonder if it‘s all about the money with him.”

Really?  How would you suggest he exact some level of accountability on the man who a jury found killed his son? 

Also last night, we took a look at the footage of what started that basket brawl to see who might face criminal charges and spoke to the attorney for one of the accused fans, John Green. 

Ryan Joseph Mitchell writes “He clearly threw two punches at Artest as if he could take the pro baller on.  John Green doesn‘t remember if he threw the cup at Artest?  I‘m pretty sure if one action was the cause of one of the worst sporting event brawls in history and you‘re the one that started it, you‘d remember.”  Well said Ryan.

And from Pittsford, New York, Michael Cloutier.  “If you watch the video segment where the cup comes down and hits Artest, as he‘s getting up and entering the stands, you can see the man who‘s accused of throwing it in the white hat.  He has both hands in his pants pocket.  Did he throw it and get them in his pockets that quickly?”

Well it sure looked that way Michael from the video or maybe it‘s the second cup thrower theory.  How could the single cup have been thrown from that angle?  Let the conspiracy theories begin. 

Finally, Paulo Saghi in Wichita, Kansas.  “Watching the show has become less enjoyable with the selection of experts being so intimately involved with particular issues.  Can there be the disclaimer—quote—

“by the way this expert has something to gain by expressing this particular view.”

Paulo, I‘m sorry you don‘t like the fact that we try to get participants, rather than talking heads.  And you really need the disclaimer when we say that X person is the lawyer for Y defendant?  Who knew that the need for warning labels in everything would extend to our guests. 

All of you guys are taking me on.  There were a lot of you supporting me—I thought those were more exciting and interesting so I included them. 

Abramsreport@msnbc.com, that‘s where you can write to us and tell me what you really think.  You always do. 

A reminder, we now have our own blawg “Sidebar”.  It‘s called the blawg—law—about justice.  You can get to it through our Web site, abramsreport.msnbc.com.  Click on the “Sidebar”. 

“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews is up next.  Have a great Thanksgiving.  I don‘t eat turkey so eat a lot for me.

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

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.

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