March 1, 2005 | 6:36 p.m. ET

BTK killer hid in plain sight (Clint Van Zandt, MSNBC analyst and former FBI profiler)

MSNBC

While law enforcement considers the likelihood that Dennis Rader is BTK, others ask what could have happened in his life (or in the life of any person), that would allow him to become such a vicious killer.

How could one of four Rader brothers (Dennis being the older), a son of a loving mother and “a tough but decent and strict” father who was a former Marine who died in 1996; a former Boy Scout; a U.S. Air Force veteran; a former home alarm installer; the married father of two grown children; the president of his local church; and, a local sworn code enforcement officer— be connected to these brutal crimes?

In the case of BTK, how could someone could commit such heinous crimes and still live with himself? 

Click here to read Van Zandt's analysis of the mind of a serial killer .

March 1, 2005 | 3:34 p.m. ET

Jackson trial gag order accomplishes nothing (Dan Abrams)

The unprecedented secrecy surrounding the Michael Jackson case, the sealed motions, gag orders, the secret hearings have accomplished… well, nothing. 

Monday's opening statements were supposed to be the first time we learned about secret details of the indictment, the names of unindicted co-conspirators, the specifics of what Jackson is alleged to have done and when and where he did it. But it struck me as I was listening in the courtroom that there was almost nothing mentioned today that we didn't already know. 

Sure there were some details like how many sexually explicit magazines were found at Neverland and exactly how Michael Jackson's alarm system worked in his bedroom.  But every other major detail had already been leaked including the grand jury transcripts

The incredible level of secrecy that Judge Melville imposed here did nothing to protect the potential jury pool. The information was out there.  They still found jurors who just didn't follow the case closely, as they do in every high-profile case. 

The judge's orders may have led to some inaccurate reporting. Not only was the secrecy unconstitutional, it was a sham, an excuse for both sides. They can claim they don't want to try this case in the media while secretly doing just that.

By law, the information should have been released, but as a practical matter the additional safeguards just transformed the release of information into a competitive game. 

As John F. Kennedy once said, “Secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society.”

In a case like this, it just didn't work. 

Your rebuttal

On Friday, the 15th anniversary of the day that Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage, a Florida judge gave her husband permission to have Terri's feeding tube removed on March 18.  More delays are possible.  The family's attorney is making numerous filings and, as I've said before, I think it's time for this saga to end. All the courts seem to agree that Terri expressed a desire not to live like this, and doctors seem to agree she's in a vegetative state.

From Roseboro, North Carolina, Julia Rogers focuses on the husband: 
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't vows go something like to love, honor and cherish in sickness and in health, keeping only to each other until death do us part. If he doesn't respect the vows of marriage he made, then why should he respect her supposed request?"

Well, it's the courts ultimately determining, Julia, what she would have wanted for herself, not what he wants for her.

And Joelle Tisch in New York City on the family of Terri Schiavo's attorney, David Gibbs: 
"I'm sickened by the comments David Gibbs keeps making comparing the removal of the feeding tube from Terri, a brain damaged woman, to the Holocaust, using terms like Hitleresque and gas chambers. This is a sick woman who will never again live a normal life and he's comparing her to millions of healthy people who were killed simply because they were Jewish."

The jury in the Michael Jackson case selected last week, eight men, four women, no African Americans. I said Jackson chose to live in the Santa Barbara area, an area dominated by Hispanics and whites, he can't complain now that his neighbors aren't racially diverse enough.  His lawyer didn't even try and change the venue.

From Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Janice Bennett.  "The race card is getting old. People are tired of hearing race as an excuse. In 2005, that's all it is, an excuse."

Send your e-mails and rebuttals to AbramsReport@MSNBC.com

March 1, 2005 | 12:24 p.m. ET

Where were Michael Jackson's siblings when he was listening to opening statements yesterday? ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC contributor and Jackson family friend)

  • Joseph Jackson is in Europe.
  • Tito Jackson performed a show with Smokey Robinson for Black History Month in Las Vegas.
  • Janet Jackson was planning to attend but couldn't book a hotel room in Santa Maria area until today.
  • Jackie Jackson was attending business meeting, she's expected to attend today or tomorrow.
  • Randy Jackson was attending to some business at Neverland.
  • Latoya Jackson was simply unreachable.
  • Marlon Jackson is still working on his memoirs "Surviving The Storms."
  • Rebbie Jackson attended Tito Jackson's show in Las Vegas.

With him today,

  • His oldest brother Jackie Jackson
  • His mother Katherine
  • Publicist Raymone Bain
  • Fan Club President and Joseph Jackson friend, Angel Hernandez

The first witness on the stand today will be Martin Bashir, the documentary producer who filmed "Living with Michael Jackson." Click here to read Stacy's take on how the BBC special that was supposed to re-energize the popstar’s career became the linchpin for the prosecution's case.

Here's an excerpt:

It was early January 2003, shortly after Michael Jackson had dangled his youngest child out of a hotel window in Berlin, when I first learned that the superstar had given Martin Bashir unprecedented access to his world.

I accompanied his brother Jermaine to one of many damage control interviews the elder Jackson was conducting on behalf of his superstar little brother. Following the interview, Jermaine Jackson’s cell phone rang.

“That was Michael, he said not to do any more interviews, because he has something really big coming out next month that will shut everybody up,” Jermaine told me. “He did something with a guy named Martin, who interviewed Princess Diana,” Jermaine said. “(Michael) said just watch.”

Today, Bashir is the first witness in the child molestation case against Michael Jackson...

It all began with the Bashir documentary. Jermaine and I, along with the rest of Jackson’s family, waited with great anticipation for the February 2003 airing of the documentary that Michael Jackson seemed so excited about.

After all, it was going to be the documentary that re-energized the King of Pop’s career. No need for Jermaine or anyone else to defend Jackson on national television. This documentary, according to Michael, was going to set the record straight...

In the prosecution’s opening statements, the case consistently came back to the Bashir documentary. Sneddon quoted Jackson’s words from the documentary and suggested the alleged abuse occurred when Michael Jackson and his advisors decided to use the testimony of a 13-year-old cancer survivor to rebut the claims made in the program.

“[The Bashir documentary] was a landslide that threatened to destroy everything in its path,” Sneddon quoted one of Jackson’s advisors as saying.

“This wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Jermaine Jackson later said. “He trusted Martin Bashir.”

March 1, 2005 | 10:51 a.m. ET

Jackson trial opening statements (Dan Abrams)

Monday marked the opening statements from both sides in the Michael Jackson case. The 10-count child molestation and conspiracy indictment read with a list of 28 alleged overt acts. Some involving booze and sex, graphically described. 

District Attorney Tom Sneddon came out swinging, saying Jackson exposed the teenage boy in this case to "strange sexual behavior," which threatened to leave the confines of the Neverland Ranch, according to Sneddon.

"When on February 3, 2003 Michael Jackson, the defendant in this case, world's was rocked and it didn't rock in a musical  sense. It rocked in a real life sense."  It was rocked by a British-made documentary that exposed private parts of Jackson's  personal life for the first time. 

Slideshow: Michael Jackson trial Sneddon went on to describe a desperate Jackson and five unindicted co-conspirators, obsessed with trying to restore Jackson's public image. But according to Sneddon, the video did not make it easy. 

Sneddon also told the jury about regular alcohol-fueled evenings with Jackson and his accuser that were far from innocent.

Prosecutors say they have a witness beyond the accuser. His little brother will confirm some of the charges, and a flight attendant can testify to pouring alcohol into soda cans while Jackson sat with his underage guests on a chartered plane.  Sneddon described what the accuser's little brother would describe. Let me warn you, this is graphic: 

On other occasions [the brother] happened upon seeing Michael Jackson masturbating himself with one hand while Jackson's other hand was inserted into the underpants of his brother."

Sneddon also goes on to say:

"The private world of Michael Jackson reveals that instead of bedtime discussions and children's books and discussions of Peter Pan, that this 44-year-old man is sharing his collection of sexually explicit magazines. He's talking to the accuser about masturbation.  He's telling him it's normal and it's OK and everyone does it...  that each of these acts is calculated to desensitize the boy to change his moral antenna and to add the trust and the admiration of an adult voice to the boy's conduct to convince him what was being done was all right in the adult world and it worked."

Sneddon was  a bit rattled a couple of times by technical problems and defense objections. But he seems to have laid out a case that depicts Michael Jackson as a pervert who plied this boy with alcohol. 

It was not the best organized statement I've seen, but at least he seemed to have gotten the point across.

Click here to read more about the defense strategy : Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. went on the attack, saying the mother of the accuser fraudulently claimed to many people that she was destitute and that her son needed money for chemotherapy.

Click here for a slideshow on the trial so far .

Dan Abrams continues reporting live from Santa Maria, Calif. Stay tuned to 'The Abrams Report.'

February 28, 2005 | 11:41 a.m. ET

Opening day in Michael Jackson : Opening statements Monday will preview the essence of the trial — whether Jackson gave wine to a then-13-year-old cancer patient at his Neverland Ranch and then touched him inappropriately. Each side was expected to spend about two hours outlining its case Monday.

The credibility of a 15-year-old boy and his family will be a key element in the outcome of Michael Jackson's molestation trial. This is today's Question of the day : "Do you think Michael Jackson's accuser and his mother are credible?"

Dan will be in court for the Jackson opening statements and he'll anchor the show from Santa Maria tonight.

On last Friday's show, Abrams Report regulars Susan Filan and Mercedes Colwin gave mock openings for the prosecution and for the defense .

Also, a BTK case update : The man arrested on suspicion of being the BTK serial killer confessed on the day of his arrest to six slayings, a source close to the investigation said Sunday.

All this and more, on The Abrams Report tonight.

February 28, 2005 | 11:32 a.m. ET

Vioxx, Bextra, and the appearance of bias (Dan Abrams)

Were you as surprised as I was when the FDA voted to keep painkillers Vioxx and Bextra on the market?

Merck pulled Vioxx off the shelves in September after studies seemed to indicate it could significantly increase the risk of heart attack.  At the time, all I was thinking about were the lawsuits and whether the company and others that made drugs like it would be going out of business.  I'm no expert but it sure sounded dire. 

Then the 17-15 vote at the FDA last week, approving Vioxx; 17-13 approving Bextra. 

What happened?  I don't know.  Apparently there are conflicting studies.  But it got me thinking about who is on the FDA panel. 

Talk about conflicts:  The New York Times reported on Friday that 10 of the 32 government advisers who evaluated the drugs last week used to work for the companies that make the drugs. Nine of the 10 supported keeping the drugs on the market.  Think about that. 

If they had not voted, the votes would have been 14-8 to keep Vioxx off the shelves; 12-8 against Bextra.  Federal law prohibits researchers who've worked for a drug company from sitting on panels that consider the company's product, but the FDA grants conflict of interest waivers to certain doctors or other experts.  Officials at the agency say without these waivers, the panel wouldn't have the best researchers making the calls.  And almost all 10 have denied that their past work influenced their vote. 

But you know, that's not enough.  In this context, I'd rather have objectivity or even the appearance of it.  I don't care if the doctor is the leading expert in his field.  If he collected a hefty paycheck from Pfizer five years ago, I'm concerned about having him or her serving on an FDA panel, reviewing a drug that could change the fortunes of that company.

When these companies get sued, jurors may believe a conspiracy was at work to keep these drugs on the market.  That may be even worse than if the FDA just pulled the drugs. 

The FDA announced last week there will be a new safety review board to track drugs already on the market, supposed to be independent of the FDA.  I hope they give serious thought to the definition of the word “independent” before picking the members.  Having worked for a company doesn't necessarily mean the person can't be fair.  But like in the courtroom, it sure does make it feel like there could be bias. 

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com

Your rebuttal

I said former spiritual adviser to President Bush, Doug Wead, who released secretly recorded conversations with then Governor Bush for history purposes should have known that people generally don't like a snoop who secretly records phone conversations and no matter what you think about what he did, he'll certainly go down in history as being disloyal. 

Craig Hebert is disgusted: “Instead of discussing what a fool Bush made of himself, you would use a spin technique to try to persuade silly people that Wead will go down in history as a disloyal person.”

And Mo in New York: “This is one of those rare occasions when I must disagree with you.  In regard to the disclosure of the secretly recorded conversations between then Governor Bush and Doug Wead, I'm glad they were made public and I think it was the right thing to do.”

Look, Craig and Mo, both of you seem to miss my point.  It is both historic and disloyal, but I don't understand how Wead didn't know there would be a back lash.  He is now retreating saying he'll give the tapes to President Bush so some material may never be heard, meaning history suffers and yet, he's still disloyal.  Either do it for history's sake with the price being disloyalty or you remain loyal and you deprive history.  You can't have both and in Wead's case, it seems he gets neither. 

February 25, 2005 | 4:44 p.m. ET

Michael Jackson's family and the media: Does anyone really know about Jackson's innocence or guilt? ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC contributor and Jackson family friend)

MSNBC
"There is nothing you can say to me or show me that will make me believe he is guilty. I will never believe that he did that to any child." Those sentiments, from Michael Jackson's oldest sister Rebbie Jackson, are expressed almost daily by some of the pop star's most loyal fans that gather at the courthouse to cheer their hero as though he's making a grand entrance to a rock concert.

"He just didn't do this," Katherine Jackson, the singer's mother, bitterly opines while biting her bottom lip, a lifelong habit of the usually quiet and unassuming matriarch. "Why would he do something like that to someone he has helped to recover from cancer?"

"He is innocent," Jermaine Jackson said. "No question about it. I know my brother wouldn't do this."

Whether or not Michael Jackson is innocent of the charges against him, one thing has become unmistakably clear to this writer: Listening to pundits, who will be speaking about the case almost daily, may be just as insightful as listening to Jackson's own family members.

Why?

Many of news reporters, talk show hosts, analysts and others have met and/or interviewed Michael Jackson at some point over the past 20 plus years. Some are even on the defense witness list. During the times they have spoken to the singer, Jackson has allowed them to only know what he wanted them to know about him. Their take on Jackson's innocence or guilt may not amount to anything more than speculation or gut feeling. The same could be said of Jackson's family.

About 20 years ago, Michael Jackson and his brothers had completed the vaunted "Victory Tour" with a string of sold-out dates at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Every family member has since stated (many in no uncertain terms), that the end of that tour was the last time any of them had spent significant time with Michael Jackson. Since the tour ended, the Jacksons have stayed in the limelight, but not because of their music. Instead, Jackson followers have routinely endured tabloid-style publicity about the family dysfunction, cosmetic surgeries, mysterious relationships, and marriages.

"He didn't have much to do at all with his family," Jackson's former manager Frank Dileo recently told me. "They were never around and he rarely, if ever, wanted them around."

Dileo, who was fired as manager before Jackson's 1992 "Dangerous" CD hit the stores, said Michael wasn't just a solo musical act, but solo and totally separated from his family as well.

Jermaine Jackson provided ample support with his own 1992 song about brother Michael called "Word To The Badd":

"Reconstructed, been abducted, don't know who you are...Once you were made, you changed your shade, was your color wrong? Could not turn back, it's a known fact, you were far too gone."

Jermaine Jackson told me he was angry when he belted out those lyrics, which hit the radio stations on the same day as Michael Jackson's single "Black or White." "I couldn't reach Michael, no one could," Jermaine said. "He won't return calls to any of us. We don't know what's going on with him."

Michael Jackson had also been accused by family members of interfering with projects they were trying to accomplish (musical or otherwise). Again, Jermaine Jackson railed about this to his superstar kid brother:

"It ain't about you takin' my pie, you've been takin' for a long time..."

This is not to suggest Michael Jackson is guilty of child molestation. Just a simple reminder that one's ways and actions can even become foreign to your own family.

Is it fair to say that my five brothers and two sisters really know the grown up Stacy Brown, when I've lived in a different state from them most of my adult life?

We would like to think that our siblings are only capable of good— certainly not of the vile things Michael Jackson is being charged with.

Sexual molestation of children is a most horrendous crime. The damage to the psychic equanimity of the victim may extend well into that person's adult years. Psychiatrists and psychologists seem to agree that child molesters often succeed in hiding behind masks of respectability, position, and authority to remain unnoticed and unknown. For their victims, however, the knowledge of who these perpetrators are and what they have done remain forever etched in their minds.

But, even if Michael Jackson has created such a gaping distance between himself and his family, the clan hasn't allowed that to deter them in what has become their most daunting defense of him to date. When Jackson was accused of molesting a young boy 12 years ago, his family had to overcome sister Latoya Jackson's claim that her brother was guilty and that her own father molested her.

Of course, that case was settled out of court for more than $20 million and Jackson was never charged. This time, though, Michael Jackson will stand before a judge. A jury will eventually render a verdict, while his family prays that there is no executioner at the end of this dark tunnel.

"He is 1,000 percent innocent," Jermaine Jackson said. But, if Jermaine had said the exact opposite, you would still have to ask the question of whether or not Jermaine and his family really know the truth.

February 25, 2005 | 3:38 p.m. ET

Three week stay in life-support case

We have just gotten word from Florida that a judge is giving Terri Schiavo's husband permission to remove her feeding tube in three weeks. She is the brain damaged woman caught in a battle between her husband who says she wanted to be allowed to die and her parents who want to keep feeding her intraveneously. Dan talks with her parents' attorney, David Gibbs III, about today's decision.

February 25, 2005 | 2:52 p.m. ET

Exaggerated concerns over Ecstasy medical experiments (Dan Abrams)

Is there really any good reason to prevent terminally ill patients from legally using certain drugs that are illegal in all other contexts? The latest controversy is over the synthetic amphetamine, known as Ecstasy or X.  Ecstasy makes the user feel euphoric, which can also have dangerous side effects.  It's a particular favorite among young club goers. 

Harvard researchers announced they are going to conduct experiments on terminally ill patients to see if Ecstasy's hallucinogenic properties turn out to be therapeutic. The hope is that dying patients will be better able to cope with family conflicts, get their finances in order, and most importantly, alleviate their fear of dying. 

The FDA has approved the experiment. The White House is already expressing doubts about Ecstasy's medical value. And critics fear that if made legal for any reason, Ecstasy could lose some of the stigma the government has worked so hard to attach to illegal drugs. 

Marijuana has been at the center of a similar debate for years. It has been approved for medicinal purposes in 11 states, but the federal government has outlawed it. That conflict will be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in the weeks to come.

But is the stigma really such a significant issue? There are legal drugs like morphine and painkillers like Vicodin, which are at least as addictive. These drugs can have disastrous side effects if misused.  Why is this different? 

I'm not saying that Ecstasy should be available over the counter at a drugstore near you. But if it's proven to have positive effects for the terminally ill, and a doctor prescribes the drug in small controlled doses (much like medicinal marijuana), why should it be treated any differently than morphine? 

Terminal patients should do what they need to do to feel better. They are dying. And no one will dispute that kids are still getting access to illegal drugs with relative ease.  The notion that more kids are going to use certain drugs just because it is permitted for some terminal patients is just, well, mind blowing.

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com

February 23, 2005 | 5:51 p.m. ET

Jackson case: race not an issue ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC contributor)

When asked about the scrutiny Barry Bonds is facing amid the ever present steroid scandal in Major League Baseball, the would-be home run king pointed to the hottest of all hot bed issues: race.

“Because Babe Ruth is one of the greatest baseball players ever and Babe Ruth ain't black either. I'm black. Black. We go through a little bit more,” Bonds said.

Like it or not, Bonds was absolutely right. Black athletes, entertainers, lawyers, every-day Joe's, have gone through a little bit more. Not so, if your name happens to be Michael Joseph Jackson.

Like O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson is not necessarily viewed as “one of us,” in the black community.  Simpson, before that infamous June 1994 day when his ex-wife and her friend were found butchered to death in Santa Monica, Calif., was widely accepted and even lauded by whites while at the same time seen as a “sell-out” by many African-Americans.

However, when the verdict to free Simpson was announced, blacks shamelessly and regrettably celebrated.

But, make no mistake, the celebration was not for O.J. Simpson, it was for what we believed was payback to the “Man” for so many of our brethren who had been falsely accused and convicted in the past. It was for Rodney King and even the kids who a decade earlier took bullets from a subway gunman named Bernard Goetz.

Now the jury in the Jackson trial has been picked and there are no African-Americans on it, but that doesn't mean Jackson will have a problem getting a fair trial because he's black.

The race issue (I detest the use of the phrase “race card”) in this case probably began shortly after Jackson's arrest in November 2003. Immediately following the sight of Jackson cuffed and stuffed in the back of a Santa Barbara County Police car, big brother Jermaine railed on television “they're a bunch of racist rednecks out there that don't care about people. This is nothing but a modern-day lynching.”

Katherine Jackson told a British tabloid “blacks are treated differently than whites in America.” And earlier this month in a televised interview Joseph Jackson, against the obvious wishes of his wife, couldn't resist.

“I'm going to say it, even though Katherine doesn't want me to,” Joseph said. “It's racism. They are doing this to Michael because of racism.”

Even a wacky poll taken recently found that whites are far more likely than blacks to think Jackson is guilty.

I've known the Jacksons for quite a little while now, but I, like millions others, have known of them for nearly all my life. It is true that they, like so many other black Americans, have been treated a bit unfairly at times, but for the most part, they've lived a charmed life.

In our upcoming book, Michael Jackson: Nothing But The Truth, longtime Jackson confidant Bob Jones recalls a confrontation in, of all places, Australia that Michael had with a reporter in 1972. That confrontation is the only conflict I've ever been told of that involved Michael Jackson and the race issue. 

So, why is it that blacks cannot relate to Michael Jackson, even as they did O.J. Simpson? Well, it's pretty simple. Has Jackson ever been pulled over simply because he was black? Last time I looked, department stores have closed down to allow Jackson to shop while many of us are followed around incessantly by store detectives thinking we may steal something.

Michael Jackson reportedly has loans totaling a half of a billion dollars with Bank of America and other entities. Many blacks, even with good credit, have experienced being turned down for home and other loans simply because we are considered “high risk” or just plain old black.

A few years ago after his Invincible CD failed to sell to his liking, Jackson charged then-Sony chief Tommy Mattola with being a racist. The black community was shocked. Def Jam Records founder and rap music mogul Russell Simmons, who definitely has his pulse on the black community, black producer Rodney Jerkins, who produced Invincible, and even the notoriously militant Al Sharpton expressed outrage not at Tommy Mattola, but at Michael Jackson.

This case is not about race. It's about whether Michael Jackson is a child sexual predator or not. Twelve jurors, whatever their race, will hear evidence and decide. It's that simple.

Send your thoughts to Sidebar@msnbc.com

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