Death penalty debate lives on (Rikki Klieman, Abrams Report Guest Host)
In Connecticut where there has not been an execution in nearly 45 years, serial killer Michael Ross decided that he will take that lethal injection on January 26 and no longer pursue any further appeals of his death sentence. He says he's doing this to spare the victims' families any more pain. A judge found that Mr. Ross is competent to make that decision and believe that it's his right to choose to die at the hands of the state.
But lawyers see things differently. The state public defender's office is going to other courts still looking for stays of execution against the wishes of Ross. They're challenging the finding of his competency and he doesn't like that one bit. Ross claims that a public defender told him that if he didn't pursue a certain appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, then he might be responsible for the execution of others on death row in Connecticut.
That's one responsibility Ross might not want to assume, but he has it whether he likes it or not. To compound the problem, Ross' father is being represented by the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union. They filed suit yesterday attempting to stop his son`s execution by challenging lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment.
So how will it end?
Is Ross allowed to be responsible for his own life and now his own death? Or should society and the criminal justice system itself have a vested interest in the final result? Are we all in some way responsible for the taking of a life by the state? Or can someone just say "Time's up, I'm done, got to go?"
Email us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.
A rhyme with reason (Dan Abrams)
Scott Peterson became a household name.
Not the best route to take for that sort of fame.
This year’s Kato Kaelin? That luscious Amber Frey.
Two different kinds of houseguests called to help expose a lie.
Martha Stewart never thought she'd spend Christmas in the Klink.
But then who'd have pegged Bill O'Reilly as a loofah-loving kink?
The real story this year? The trials we didn’t see.
Kobe's accuser decided there were places she'd rather be.
He said I'm sorry, she pulled out of the case.
But for naughty boss O’Reilly it was about saving face.
He paid millions and the case went away
Hopefully she saved any tapes for, you know, a rainy day.
But the thriller was supposed to be Michael's trial.
Was he just a child lover or is that called a pedophile?
Delays mean that one won't start until next year.
Leaving something on the horizon for news purists to fear.
Like it or not, the program about justice isn't going anywhere.
We’ll be back in 2005 with more legal fare.
Send us a rhyme at Sidebar@msnbc.com.
Passing the Buck (Lisa Daniels, Abrams Report Guest Host)
Only thing that annoys me more than incompetence: making excuses or "passing the buck".
This past holiday weekend, U.S. Airways and Comair , a Delta Airline subsidiary, were guilty of both. It wasn't bad enough that Comair cancelled all its flights on Christmas Day. It then blamed the mess on a failed computer, that manages flight assignments, and on Thursday's severe weather in much of the nation.
For its part, U.S. Airways cancelled more than 300 flights last week and then, to add insult to injury, it lost thousands of pieces of luggage just in time for Christmas. U.S. Airways also liked the weather excuse. But when that didn't cut it, hey pointed the finger at their own employees who called in sick.
My question is what type of operations are these two corporations running? I understand, nobody controls the weather, so I'll buy that excuse — but not the other two.
Computer problems and "sick” employees? These are excuses that I expect from a kid, who shows up to junior high without their homework — not from multi-million dollar corporations. It's no wonder U.S. Airways is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy.
We all have a job to do and people rely on us to do it with competence. My job tonight is to host this show. If you think I was totally incompetent, by all means, write to MSNBC and complain. But you won't see me making-up excuses, like "I was just a substitute" or "it was too cold outside for me to concentrate."
I won't accept anything less from others.
This past weekend, the job of Comair and U.S. Airways was to get us travellers home. Based on forecasts, they knew the weather was going to be bad. They knew a record number of travellers would be flying.
And what was their excuse? Something along the lines of the dog ate my flight plans.
What do you think? E-mail: Sidebar@msnbc.com
Looking forward to 2005 (Jamie Rubin, Abrams Report producer)
It’s been quite a year in legal news. From Kobe Bryant to Abu Ghraib, to some story about a guy in California who killed his pregnant wife, it’s hard to imagine that next year could possibly live up to the shock and scandal of this year’s headlines. Remember, 2004 was the year we learned that talk show host Bill O’Reilly fantasizes about women and loofah sponges, former Illinois senate candidate Jack Ryan liked to frequent sex clubs with his wife, and Martha Stewart actually surrendered to a federal prison camp .
But time beats on and we’re looking forward to the stories out there on the ’05 horizon. Of course we’re also anticipating those little blessings sent to us from the cable news gods: the fascinating legal stories that pop up on us when we least expect them to and carry on in newsworthiness for months at a time. So we’re at the ready to cover the Jackson trial, a change in power at the Supreme Court, and of course we welcome the “unknown unknowns” of the news world, as Rumsfeld might say.
For now here’s some reading to prepare you for some of the stories that will keep us legal newsers busy until 2006:
- Michael Jackson’s trial is set to begin sometime next year
- The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of federal sentencing guidelines.
- Kobe Bryant will finally have his day in court for a civil trial... or will he ?
- Prison may be the best thing that ever happened to Martha Stewart. She’ll star in a brand new NBC show and still have time to work on appealing her conviction.
- We’re sure Courtney Love is poised to rack up even more criminal charges in 2005.
And who knows which stories from ’04 will make their way back into the news in 2005? Even though Dan is back from California and we think the Peterson trial beast is slain, you never know how the story will haunt us in the new year. Appeal anyone? For now, check out this profile of what was, for some time, the most important job in Redwood City.
Don’t miss two special Abrams Report year-ender shows when Dan wraps up the biggest cases of 2004 on December 24 at 6 p.m. ET and previews the stories that will make headlines in 2005 on December 31 at 6 p.m. ET.
What do cases do you think will be making headlines in 2005? E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.
The Peterson case and satanic cults (Dan Abrams)
If you go to Peterson attorney Mark Geragos' web site, in addition to a request for donations to help find the real killers you’ll find a prominently displayed link to a recent article about how Laci Peterson was likely abducted by a satanic cult. The evidence? Witness sightings of satanic symbols which were reported in the neighborhood on a van, a tatoo, etc.
We reported on all of these theories throughout the search for Laci's kidnapper and killer. I evaluated them as seriously as any other possible evidence in the case. The problem is the defense did not call a single witness to support the theory. No mention of it in the opening or closing — nothing. The article is purely based on unsupported theories, maybes and might haves.
If the people who still believe Scott Peterson is actually innocent — and I am not talking about those who believe there was not enough evidence. But if the ‘Scott is innocent crowd’ want to change any minds they are going to have to do better than just recycling long-shot arguments so tenuous that the defense could not provide any evidence to back them up in court.
For example, when I challenged the verdict in the O.J. Simpson case, I cited evidence — reams of it to try to support my case. Now that the jury has convicted Peterson, supporters are going to have to do the same . . .
I've had my say, now it's time for your rebuttal...
On Thursday's show, we debated heavy-handed tactics by prosecutors threatening reporters with jail time, not as part of something like a murder investigation, but media leaks. I said that is a very effective way for the government to stop investigations of government corruption.
George Tichy in Riverside, California: "Focusing on the leak itself perfectly serves the government's ultimate purpose of distracting people's attention, switching it away from the real issue, the corruption that was exposed by the leak, to a secondary, irrelevant subject, i.e. the person who dared to expose it."
From Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Artie Blohm writes about one reporter facing time who never even published an article about the issue: "I don't understand how Judith Miller from ‘The New York Times’ is under investigation, having nothing to with the case against Valerie Plame, while the man who leaked the news, Robert Novak, gets to go free. It makes no sense."
But J.R. Powers in Texas writes: "I have to disagree with your view on journalists protecting sources. If a source breaks the law in obtaining the information they give, then they are in the wrong. If the journalist withholds the name of the source, then they are aiding and abetting a crime."
Well not according to the law, J.R. But I understand your point.
Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik withdrawing his name from consideration to be the next Homeland Security Secretary because of allegations of possible ethical and maybe even criminal violations.
From New York City, Kevin writes: "Why not make an example of Mr. Kerik by pursuing him vigorously or overly vigorously, as Martha Stewart was."
Steve Katz in Prairie Village, Kansas: "If Bill Clinton was subjected to the same scrutiny as Bernard Kerik regarding his adulterous indiscretions, would he have been elected president?"
Steve can you say Gennifer Flowers? And Kerik's alleged affairs were not the cause of his problems.
And Dan Galante in New York City: "Even if some more minor allegations come out, the man is a true hero. He was a great N.Y.C. police commissioner, especially on September 11, 2001."
Send your e-mails to Sidebar@msnbc.com. We want to know what you think.
The grand finale (Brian Cohen, Abrams report booker)
The Peterson case is closed and justice has been served. After two long weeks in Redwood City waiting for Scott Peterson's sentencing, the jurors have finally spoken.
I went out to encourage jurors be guests on "The Abrams Report" so that you, the public, could understand what they endured over this six-month process. I have so much respect for the jurors to put themselves, their family and friends through this ordeal and to make a tough decision they will live with for the rest of their lives.
When I had the chance to talk to Greg Beratlis, Juror Number One, a young woman walked up to thank him for doing his civic duty. He looked at me and began to tear up, his decision finally sinking in that he had sentenced a man to death. Greg told me that it's odd for him to get a pat on the back because he feels what he did doesn't deserve congratulations. He compared it to being at a funeral and going up to someone and congratulating them on a job well done. His eyes filled with tears and he said, "I just feel so bad for both sides in this case because this has been extremely tough on them."
Chasing these jurors down to get them to come on and talk about the experience was a tough task considering the mobs of media in Redwood City. Even when we arrived at their homes to confront them most were exhausted and wanted to take a break. The recurring theme for them was they just wanted to be with their family and hug them. To say these jurors didn't think long and hard about both verdicts is an insult to these people. I spoke with them and some of them haven't even had time to let it sink in that this case is over. There is one thing they all agree on, Scott Peterson was guilty of this crime and he deserves to die for it. They all said they wouldn't have chosen that sentence if they didn't believe it.
This case has been a long and exhausting story for everyone involved, and why it captured the public's attention more than other cases no one will know. It has been called the O.J. Simpson case of the new millennium, and we will look back at this case and talk about what could have been done differently from both sides. But maybe when Scott Peterson looks back sitting in his jail cell, he will think to himself what he could have done differently, and maybe Laci Peterson would still be alive today.
Keep those e-mails coming to Sidebar@msnbc.com
An outsider's look inside the Abrams Report (Zlatko Dimitrioski, Abrams Report intern)
I remember getting hooked on The Abrams Report. It was when I heard the words: "The program about justice starts now..." Now that I have been an intern with the show for some time, I have had the opportunity to see how the show comes together, and as a non-American, how the U.S. justice system works.
I would liken the process to putting a puzzle together— at the beginning it is a complete mess: stories and ideas flying all over, scripts assigned, written and changed, tape is sought out and cut, graphics created and recreated, new information plugged. I’ve seen our line producer, Chris, breaking the world record in the 100-meter dash running in high heels from the control room to the anchor desk and back, and amazingly, by six o’clock all of the pieces come together.
It’s not an easy task. Our producers are excellent writers, but what makes this show interesting for the people behind it is that we are also learning about how our justice system works in the process. I remember when Jamie and I were calling every state’s Supreme Court to get information about the mandatory retirement age for judges. It was grueling, but also rewarding. In the end, we had a comprehensive report that helped everyone gain a better understanding of the function and the future of the highest legal body in the United States.
This is important because we are reading the emails from our viewers. We see the passion and interest in stories that the Abrams Report covers. And the fascinating thing is that some of us are not lawyers, and haven't have extensive careers in the legal system, but still we are actively interested in a system which promises that justice will always be served.
That is why we are here, and that is why we expect you are here too.
E-mail us a Sidebar@MSNBC.com
Please keep the skies friendly— and cellphone-free (Dan Abrams)
The one thing I always appreciate when flying is that apart from the occasional quick phone call on those prohibitively expensive air phones, there's little noise on planes. I can work. I can sleep. I can watch movies. It is cell-phone free, a true piece of acoustic heaven in the sky.
So you can imagine my surprise and dismay when I arrived at the office, one of the first stories that was mentioned was a new FCC investigation to determine whether they should relax the ban on cell phones in the air.
Cell phones on planes? People gabbing in phones with the "La Cucaracha" song as a ringer going off, while my neighbor is basically sitting on my lap?
Just say "no." Even if the FCC determines they're safe, the airlines should determine that they are unsafe to a flyer's sanity. Maybe they can create a special area where calls can be made, or a cell phone section of the plane with a divider. Or maybe restrict use to serious emergencies at your seat.
But please, allow me to read, to sleep, or even to watch the movie "Elf" in peace. It is my final refuge away from my electronic tether.
E-mail us at Sidebar@MSNBC.com
This is not reality TV (Amy Harmon, Peterson trial producer in Redwood City)
An 11:30 a.m. PST call yesterday from the listening room informed us that the courtroom doors would be locked until 1:30 when the jury was to return from lunch... EXHALE... Two hours to regroup. We knew there wouldn't be any news for at least that long. But before anyone let out a full breath, the voice of the omniscient pool producer came out of nowhere, "At 1:30 there will be a verdict."
What? Did he really just say that? Forget breathing. This is the moment we've all been waiting for. The culmination of almost two years of hard work on a story that has kept us all on our toes, and many of you glued to your television sets.
Two hours later, the court clerk read the jury's recommendation: "We the jury... fix the penalty of death." Hundreds of people outside the courthouse reacted to that final moment. But it was nothing compared to the cheering crowds at the verdict. Yesterday, the crowd was almost muted, in slow motion, as if it wanted to react but was unsure about what would be appropriate.
It was as if everyone realized that whether the recommendation was life or death, no one had won. Surely tears are being shed by both Scott and Laci's families today and for years to come. One family has lost a daughter, a sister, a niece, an aunt; another knows they will lose a son, a brother, a nephew, an uncle. Both sides lost a grandson.
Today is a day that forever changed the lives of a lot of people. This is not just a television show. This is reality.
Character evidence put Peterson to death (Dan Abrams)
During the guilt phase of the Peterson case, there were cheers from the crowd of hundreds when Scott Peterson was found guilty of first degree murder. Today, in front of the court house, reactions are more muted. And rightly so… this was a decision about someone’s life.
This judge has the recommendation in his hand — and he still has the discretion to say 'no' and recommend life imprisonment instead. The official sentencing hearing will be in February 2005. But this would be unlikely and unusual. The defense team should not count on having this sentence reduced.
The murder of Laci Peterson and her unborn son Conner got Scott Peterson convicted. But it was the period of 116 days after the murder that got him the death penalty.
Between the time Laci was murdered and her body was found, volunteers were searching, the families were frantic, and everyone was trying to do anything and everything to find Laci.
And Scott? He was on the phone with Amber Frey at Laci’s vigil, he was lying to volunteers, and even laughing at a message from his own mother. The prosecutors successfully argued that this is not a life worth sparing. What put him to death was character evidence.
We are now expecting to hear from some of the participants of this case. Jurors will be free to speak, and so will family members, the prosecutors, and the defense team. We could hear some very emotional statements from both sides in the minutes and hours to come.
Why we covered the Peterson case so much and so often (Dan Abrams)
It is a question I get nearly every day, and my answer will be unsatisfying to some. News purists would argue that only the most important news should be covered — the news that affects the future of nations or issues that could affect life or death for most people.
The outcome of the Peterson case will not impact international nuclear proliferation nor lead to peace in the Middle East. Anyone who tells you we are covering one of the more important stories of the day is a liar.
But it is a fascinating story, more newsmagazine than pure news. This story gives an insight into both our legal system and into the darkest sides of humanity. So many can see something in themselves in either Laci or even Scott. They were where so many couples had been, or strive to be: young and relatively successful.
For some women, Scott Peterson represents the epitome of everything wrong with certain men and yet he just seems perfect; a seemingly loving, handsome husband who appeared so normal. But in reality, he was nothing of the sort
Disgusted by his burgeoning wife, he was out soliciting while she fended for herself and her soon to be baby at home. Then at the time when so many women feel so vulnerable-seven-and-half-months pregnant — he killed her.
It is at least as intriguing psychologically as it is legally, leading so many who have followed this case to question their own choices. Could my Harry or Doug be anything like him? It’s led me to wonder whether I could have seen it in him. I doubt it. Do I know anyone who is that deceptive? It’s a study in psychology. Everyone wants to understand Scott.
When I attend the most intellectual of events and speak about the Middle East or the Supreme Court, people always approach me afterwards. They ask, almost shamefully, questions about the Peterson case.
But there should be no shame. There is nothing wrong with following a fascinating story or reading a compelling book for that matter, particularly one that also teaches so much about how our legal system works. There is a place for it at the news dinner table and, while this is serious stuff as a news matter, maybe it's dessert. But as long as you don't only eat or serve sweets, I see it as an entirely defensible part of the diet. For some of the time, I have no qualms about being the pastry chef.
I’ve said what I needed to, now it’s your turn…
Thursday night, one of my guests, Geoffrey Fieger, tried to suggest Scott Peterson was involved in a disappearance of another woman before Laci. I cut him off because there is no evidence to suggest this claim... Many of you were upset.
Sheila P. Burlson in Charlotte, North Carolina writes: "You know, I have thought from the beginning that Laci was not Scott's first murder. Just a creepy feeling I had... wish you had let Geoffrey tell the viewing audience about that."
And from Virginia Beach, Virginia, Grace writes: "Thank you Geoffrey Fieger. I definitely agree that this is not Scott's first offense."
I cut him off because police investigated and found no evidence, zero that Scott may have been connected to another murder and I do not want to discuss non-issues on the program.
Trish Good in Pasadena, Texas: ”I was impressed how you strongly objected to this ridiculous, inflammatory statement and applaud you."
Finally, in Thursday night's edition of "Legal Lite", we told you about a fast-food worker who was jailed for spitting in a police officer's hamburger, the officer noticing only after he started eating it!
Many of you were eating dinner during that segment… Sorry about that...
But Kathy Carlson in Anderson, Indiana didn't mind: "The topic of the Legal Lite today was some guy hocking up a loogie on some police officer's hamburger. It's kind of bad because I eat my dinner while watching your show, but it's also kind of good because I'm on a diet. Could you possibly find a case where someone hocked a loogie on a plate of fries or a big bowl of chocolate ice cream."
Good one, Kathy.
The Peterson sentencing verdict will be announced at 4:30 p.m. ET today and we will be live in Redwood City, Calif. with the latest news. So stay tuned to MSNBC and Abramsreport.msnbc.com for the details.
All's quiet on the western front (Amy Harmon, Abrams Report Peterson trial producer in Redwood City)
Official word from the courthouse: The jury arrived shortly before 8 and started deliberating at 8:00 on the dot.
Our booker/producer Brian Cohen watched jurors come in this morning and reports they were slightly more dressed up than they were Friday, noting that juror #12 has her hair done. Brian's thought? Juror #12 thinks she could end up on TV today after the jury makes its recommendation. My thought? The weekend was long and boring, and she had plenty of time to do her hair this morning.
The buzz around here? There really isn't one. At least not compared to Friday afternoon. Could this be the calm before the storm? We'll keep you posted.
E-mail us at Sidebar@MSNBC.com
Peterson jurors take the weekend to think (Jamie Rubin, Abrams Report producer)
The jurors called it a day. They will resume deliberations on Monday to decide between life in prison or the death penalty for Peterson. But there's a good chance that even if they do vote for death, it's going to be a long time before Scott Peterson is strapped into to the death chamber — if he ever makes it there at all.
California has the largest number of inmates on death row in the country. People are waiting to be executed there, 15 women, and 626 men. Only 10 people sentenced to death in California have actually been executed there since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1978.
The last execution was held in 2002 and that inmate had been on death row for over 20 years. Even if jurors decide to give Scott Peterson a death sentence, there is a chance the judge in this case can overrule their verdict when the sentence is finalized in February.
Even so, it matters whether he gets the death penalty or not; it’s not irrelevant as some suggest. The decision will inevitably change where he lives and the appellate process. So this life or death sentence from the jury is not something to be taken lightly.
What are your thoughts on this case as final deliberations in the penalty phase near an end?
E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.
Abrams and staff on high alert (Jamie Rubin, Abrams Report producer)
Dan is back in Redwood City, Calif. on high alert as we wait for a verdict in the Scott Peterson sentencing phase. The decision could come at any moment, even during our show, so you won't want to miss Dan and his crack legal team for expert analysis. Tune in at 6 p.m. Eastern for the latest on the sentencing phase, the reality of the death penalty in California (more people are on death row there than in any other state, but no one has been executed in nearly three years), what Scott's life will be like in the California prison system, and reaction from Redwood City if Peterson's fate is decided tonight. And if word of a verdict comes before 6 p.m., Dan will be live on MSNBC with the news. Don't miss it!
All mothers’ pain is not created equal (Dan Abrams)
On the witness stand, Scott Peterson's mother, Jackie, repeatedly compared her anguish to that of Laci's mother , Sharon. But the comparison doesn’t quite work.
Yes, both are angry: Sharon’s beautiful daughter was brutally murdered and Jackie’s son has been convicted of that murder.
If Scott Peterson gets the death penalty, both will have lost a cherished child, through no fault of their own. But Jackie suggests both will have also lost a loved in-law as well.
Jackie Peterson testified that she loved Laci as much as Sharon Rocha loved Scott. That may have been true. In fact, Sharon initially defended Scott. But while Jackie still loves Laci, Sharon does not share those sentiments about Scott anymore.
Jackie's statement ignores that reality.
Jackie's pain is based in helplessness; Sharon's in sadness and fury. Sharon's rational is supported by love and facts; Jackie's is just based on love alone.
Jackie has directed her anger towards the media and, ultimately, the jurors.
Sharon's anger is directed straight at Jackie's son. Jackie's effort to deflect blame from Scott is ultimately an insult to the Rochas.
If Scott were innocent, it would be fair to talk about everyone's pain. But when everyone else, the Rochas and the jurors, are convinced otherwise, it just adds insult to injury to lump them together. Talking about all of them as one family is only fair when she speaks for the family.
But no matter what anyone says, I feel for Jackie Peterson— she is a sweet loving mother. But that should also lead her to better understand that her pain is not Sharon's. She has not lost her son yet. Even if he gets the death penalty, it would take at least ten years on death row before he is executed. That is not anything for her to celebrate but she and Sharon are just not battling the same demons.
The other night, I whined about wine on the show . The states claim that the 21st Amendment, which ended prohibition, gives them the power to regulate alcohol sales any way they want.
On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments that some state laws, namely New York and Michigan, discriminate against consumers and wine makers because those states allow consumers to buy wine directly from wineries in their state, but prohibit them from buying from wineries in another state.
I said this issue revolves around distributors trying to protect their monopoly and it's time for the court to say no to this discrimination. Ken Starr joined me on the program to discuss the issue.
Law student Aaron Power in Los Angeles, California writes: "The show made me admit, for the first and hopefully the last time, that I actually agreed with Ken Starr on something."
On the Peterson trial— Scott Peterson's family and friends are still on the stand pleading for his life to be spared in the penalty phase of his murder trial.
Greg Allan in Indiana: "The only point this gibberish from the friends of Scott brigade establishes is that he had the ability to charm strangers and acquaintances, which is a trait common to sociopaths."
But Brenda Moore has a different sentiment: "This man and his family are fighting tooth and nail for his life. I don't care if they call 1,000 people. Let them talk. If you don't like it, bring yourself back from Redwood City."
I have said they should be allowed to do it. I just don't think it is helping the cause. But thanks for the tip.
What do you think? E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com