March 31, 2005 | 12:46 p.m. ET

Terri Schiavo passes

Terri Schiavo, the woman at the center of a family feud that became the focus of a national right-to-die debate, died Thursday, but her death did not end the controversy as her parents accused her husband of not allowing them to be present during Schiavo's final moments. Click here to read more .

Programming note: Dan Abrams will host "Terri Schiavo: The Impact" Friday, April 1 (9-10 p.m. ET).  The one hour special will explore the many facets of the case and its wide ranging legal, medical, financial, religious and political impact.

March 30, 2005 | 10:26 a.m. ET

Video: Remembering Johnnie Cochran

About five minutes before Tuesday’s show started, I was told that my friend and former colleague Johnnie Cochran had died.

He had been ill with a brain tumor for a long time. He had been trying to keep it very private, trying to move on with his life as best he could.

I worked with Johnnie at Court TV when we co-hosted a show called "Cochran and Company." There was only one company — that was me — and despite the fact that the program had his name on it, Johnnie Cochran could not have treated me more like an equal. Cochran’s legal career had distinguished him in so many ways well before the O.J. Simpson case. For him to treat the neophyte that I was at that time with the sort of respect, dignity, and kindness that he did, was what made Johnnie Cochran who he was.

Forget about the O.J. Simpson case for a minute, because I knew him well beyond that.  Johnnie Cochran was a guy we used to call “Mr. Johnnie” because Rosa Lopez, the witness in that case, called him that.

“Mr. Johnnie” was the kind of guy who was happy for to you make jokes at his expense as long as you were willing to take some back, a kind man whose laugh and smile will be missed.

Johnnie Cochran, thanks for everything.

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com

March 25, 2005 | 1:47 p.m. ET

Breaking news in the Jackson trial:

Judge Melville has just ruled that prior allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson will be admissible in court. The prosecution can now call witnesses to testify about evidence of alleged past molestations.

For the latest news on this development tune into 'The Abrams Report', tonight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

Email Sidebar@msnbc.com

March 25, 2005 | 6:23 p.m. ET

Did Terri speak or is it a desperate claim in the last hours of this tragedy? (Dan Abrams)

Another hearing is underway at this hour in a Florida court. It's hard to believe but lawyers for Terri Schiavo's parents are now arguing that the severely brain-damaged woman actually tried to speak before her feeding tube was removed.

According to their latest filing in Judge George Greer's court, the Schindler's lawyers claim that on March 18,  a member of their firm, Barbara Weller, went to Terri's bedside. Weller claims the mood was "jovial," that she "talked, joked and laughed with Terri" and that Terri "laughed heartily" when she was called "the bionic woman." She told Terri the case could be over if she could just say, "I want to live" and then, according to the filing:

Mrs. Schiavo attempted to verbalize that sentence.  She managed to articulate the first two vowel sounds, first articulating 'ahhhhh' and then virtually screaming 'waaaaaaa.'  She became very agitated but could not complete the vocalization attempted.

Now doctors who've actually examined Terri Schiavo would say that's impossible, but the Schindler's are in the last days or hours of a desperate fight to try and keep their daughter alive.  Lawyers for the Schindlers also want Greer "to disqualify himself  from any further  proceedings and to recognize that Terri Schiavo can communicate for herself."

My take? This latest claim just reminds us of how desperate the parents and their lawyers have become. It just can't be true that Terri somehow tried to say "I want to live" as her tube was removed. Whether she is in a "persistent vegetative state" as the courts have found, or a "minimally conscious state" as the parents now claim— she would not be able to understand the ramifications of removing the feeding tube. That suggests far more cognitive ability than anyone in this case has suggested up to now.

I am sure the parents want to believe Terri could think that way, that she would think that way. But in reality, all this is just a last ditch legal effort. Assuming the claim is being made in good faith, you can't hold against it them for trying, but you also can't accept the notion that it's actually true either.

The new proof the Schindlers have that Terri is not in a "persistent vegetative" state, but rather in a "minimally conscious" one is disingenuous as well.  A single doctor, who's never actually examined Terri suddenly provided the family with the false hope.

But almost everyone in the medical community believes otherwise. It's almost uniform, as long as you're not a congressman or a senator, or somehow affiliated with the cause. Those who objectively examined Terri say her cerebrum is nearly liquefied.  She's remained in this state for 15 years.  Even her parents conceded that she was in a persistent vegetative state until, I guess, their lawyers realized it might be hurting their legal argument.

It's time for people with a political agenda to stop playing with this family's emotions and hopes. This case is and should be over, and the rule of law should be accepted by everyone involved.

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com

March 23, 2005 | 6:58 p.m. ET

'American Idol' paving the way for U.S. re-voting practices (Dan Abrams)

There was a major revote Wednesday night and 30 million people were expected to recast ballots in an election that will ultimately elevate one person to a position of enormous influence… the next "American Idol." 

Getting a re-vote, effectively a do-over, is no easy feat. The 11 "American Idol" contestants got what many politicians, even presidential candidates, could not. 

Al Gore called for a revote in one Florida county in 2000.The Republican Party in Washington state wanted one after the most recent governor's race. South Africa asked for one after it lost the chance to host the 2006 World Cup finals. And actress Valerie Harper demanded one after she lost her bid for president of the Screen Actors Guild to Melissa Gilbert.

In those cases, you only had disenfranchised voters, irregularities, and possibly even some fraud.  But last Tuesday, there was a far more serious and insidious problem: Fox posted the wrong voting phone numbers for three contestants at the end of the program. It was apparently a problem with graphics. 

With an error so grave, what other remedy could there be, than to allow the electorate an opportunity to be heard? To get another chance to vote tonight for your favorite performance?
The decision to stage a recount was swift and decisive,  ith Fox execs announcing their plans within hours.

Could "American Idol" be setting a precedent? A re-vote has happened in other situations..  The state of North Carolina just held a revote for state agriculture commissioner after a voting machine broke down and 5,000 votes were lost. The voters in the Ukraine had to storm the country's parliament last year in order to get one.  hey prevailed. 

So, how was "American Idol" able to enact this Draconian measure without a public outcry?  Probably because viewers will actually vote again, choosing their favorite musical performance from the comfort of their own homes. 

I don't watch "American Idol."  It seems like everyone else does. One has to wonder, what if, just what if this "American Idol" revote had gone off without a hitch before the 2000 election?  Who knows whether the U.S. Supreme Court might have just looked at everything a little bit differently. 

In the words of Ryan Seacrest, Abrams out. 

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com

March 23, 2005 | 6:58 p.m. ET

Where's the outrage over the Red Lake school shooting? (Dan Abrams)

Am I alone in feeling like we've become somewhat desensitized to a school shooting? 

The latest school shooting was in Minnesota yesterday at Red Lake High School. At least 10 died, and more than half a dozen were injured. There's something particularly frightening about the idea that our kids are not safe in school... and yet, it no longer feels as momentous and terrifying as the days and weeks after the Columbine shootings in Colorado or even the other shootings at Kentucky or Arkansas. 

Sure, the media is covering what happened in Red Lake. As we reported, 16-year-old Jeff Weise allegedly killed his grandfather, took his guns with him to school where he reportedly smiled as he gunned down classmates .  Earlier reports suggest he may have posted comments on an online Nazi forum supporting Hitler under the name "Angel of Death." 

I covered Columbine.  I was out there in April '99 for nearly two weeks after high schoolers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 and then themselves.  That national sense that a cataclysmic event had shaken the foundations of American society just isn't there this time around, even though this case seems eerily similar— with a student sporting a dark trench coat, and viewed by classmates as a loner, and participating in online fringe groups.

I'm not sure if this is good or bad. Other school shootings in recent years just haven't received the kind of attention Columbine did. While the number of dead at Columbine was slightly higher, the point is the same:  A child came to school heavily armed and killed classmates and/or school officials. I just don't hear people saying, "Can you believe it?" like they did several years ago.  Instead, there's a sense of resignation, and almost an expectation. 

I fear that in the past 10 years, the shock and awe has been replaced with the routine and familiar. 

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com

March 23, 2005| 2:32 p.m. ET

Noble Jackie Jackson to the rescue ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC Contributor and Jackson family friend)

MSNBC

Another weird day in Jackson trial
Monday began looking eerily similar to that most bizarre scene eleven days earlier when Michael Jackson arrived at court clad in his pajamas. I saw lead defense attorney Tom Mesereau nervously speaking to someone on his cell phone, only this time Mesereau mostly stayed away from the eager eye of the television cameras.

The only tell tale sign of trouble, or at least the hint for me that it wasn't going to be an ordinary day, came when I saw Jackson's so-called personal magician walk into court with Katherine and Joseph Jackson.

Majestik Magnificent, his legal name, is one of Joseph Jackson's right-hand men. They are hangout partners with most of their tracks laid in Las Vegas. The magician endeared himself to Michael Jackson years ago with his uncanny ability to make things disappear. Majestik is also notable for other things that editors and censors wouldn't allow to be printed here.

When Jackson did arrive, moments past the 8:30 a.m. scheduled start time, he had a doctor clad in scrubs tagging along. Yep, things were looking quite bizarre. Even older brother Jackie Jackson was in on the act. He  played the role of umbrella holder incredibly for Michael. Brian Oxman, the attorney a cable television network caught on tape last week arguing about his place on the defense's food chain, arrived just behind Jackson.

There were moments when it appeared Jackson would leave early. His handlers revved up the engine on the Yukon truck Jackson rides in. The doctor conferred with lawyers and the judge in chambers and later attended to a sobbing Jackson in the men's room of the courthouse.

More testimony
However, Jackson did manage to sit through the morning's testimony in which a child abuse expert described the behavior of youngsters who have been molested.

Anthony J. Urquiza, a child psychologist called by the prosecution, told the jury about what he called "child sexual assault accommodation syndrome," in which youngsters become secretive, feel helpless and trapped, delay reporting acts of abuse, and finally learn to cope with the situation. He said that boys who are assaulted by men have more trouble disclosing the abuse than do girls. "To be sexually abused and have this issue of whether you are homosexual or not is added into a very difficult time," he said of adolescence.

The witness told of relationships in which a child likes or loves the person who is abusing him. "The need they have for affection and someone who cares about them helps to sustain the relationship," Urquiza said.

Urquiza said children often under go changes in behavior because of the abuse, including "acting out, becoming defiant, name-calling." Under questioning by the prosecution, the witness said that could include talking back to teachers and getting into fights the kind of misbehavior seen in Jackson's accuser.

He also said he knew of no research concerning false molestation claims motivated by money.

Jackie Jackson, elder statesman
As important as the testimony provided by Urquiza was, I submit the most important development of the day was Jackie Jackson's role as umbrella man. Jackie, 54, is the astute, no nonsense, and elder statesman of the Jackson family.

Why was his role Monday important? Unlike Jermaine Jackson and others who have rushed to publicly decry the media's coverage of Michael and his antics, Jackie Jackson is a thinker first and a doer next. He is sharp, both mentally and physically.

On days when you'd see Michael in Captain Crunch outfits or pajamas, Jermaine in a minister's robe, Latoya wearing "Show Girl" style clothes, and other family members  wearing "innocent" white, you will undoubtedly always see Jackie in a tailored suit with a stylish shirt and tie and neatly combed hair.

So to those who suggest that Monday was just another day in which Michael Jackson was guilty of pulling the wool over the eyes of the court, the presence of his oldest brother lent credibility to that.

For Jackson watchers, Jackie has always been the least likely to co-sign on to Michael's  shenanigans. When Michael Jackson feuded with then Sony Music chief Tommy Mattola a few years ago and called him a racist, Jermaine Jackson wanted to gather the clan and publicly support Michael. Jermaine had asked me to call some of his brothers in attempt to get them to sign off on a press release condemning Mattola and Sony. When I reached Jackie and stated Jermaine and Michael's case, Jackie took a moment and pondered what I was asking him.

"Sounds too crazy to me," Jackie said. "Tell Jermaine that this is one battle Michael should fight on his own.  I don't think it's a good idea to get involved and we don't even have all the facts. We don't know what Michael is doing."

When Jackson appeared in court wearing pajamas nearly two weeks ago, Jermaine rushed to the court house. Along the way he was listening to the news reports of his brother possibly faking an injury in order to avoid damaging testimony from a 15-year-old accuser. History suggests that Jermaine was ready to debunk any claims his younger brother was faking an injury.

Jackie Jackson was already at court during Michael's pajama party and he had seen first hand his brother's pain Monday. He humbly played the part of umbrella man and nobly played the part of big brother. His face told more of a story than Michael Jackson's slow and effort-filled walk into court.

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

March 21, 2005| 4:03 p.m. ET

Late for a very important date (Amy Harmon, Abrams Report Jackson trial producer)

For the second time in two weeks, Michael Jackson was late for a very important date: his child molestation trial. The judge previously made it clear that Jackson needs to be on time every day.  So much for that. 

The trial was delayed for 44 minutes this morning after Jackson shuffled into court about six minutes late.  He was escorted, almost carried, by a bodyguard and one of his brothers.  And guess who was following not far behind?  A doctor donning emergency room scrubs!  The M.D. and lawyers met with the judge in chambers.  After that, a defense meeting in the men's room...Jackson, his attorneys Tom Mesereau and Brian Oxman, and the doctor had a pow-wow in the restroom before Jackson returned slowly to the courtroom.  The judge took the bench, the jury was brought in, and the witness called to the stand, with no mention of the delay.

This isn't the first time the trial has been delayed.  Jackson was hospitalized during jury selection with "flu-like symptoms," causing a delay.  On the ninth day of trial, in the middle of the accuser's testimony, Jackson checked into the emergency room because of "back pain".  The judge then issued an arrest warrant and threatened to revoke Jackson's $3 million bail.  Now this.  Is it three strikes and you're out, Jacko?

What do you think?  Email us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.  For the latest news in the Jackson trial, check out 'The Abrams Report', weeknights at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

March 16, 2005| 4:23 p.m. ET

Scott Peterson's fate (Jamie Rubin, Abrams Report staff)

It was an emotional day in court at the Scott Peterson sentencing hearing today. A judge formally ruled Peterson will receive the death penalty, but not before allowing the Rocha family one final cathartic moment to tell Scott exactly what they think of him.

Sparks flew as Laci Peterson's brother asked Scott, "how does it feel to be a baby killer?" and called him a "loser" only to be interrupted by Scott's father Lee Peterson who shouted, "you're a liar!" Later, Sharon Rocha, Laci's mother, cried, "how dare you murder her? She was MY daughter. Laci loved you with all her heart. You're nothing, you have no soul."

Dan's got much more from inside the courtroom tonight, and the latest in that other trial we've covering, the Michael Jackson case. He's live at 6 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. ET. Join us!

Click here to read more. E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

March 16, 2005| 1:11 p.m. ET

What the conviction of Bernie Ebbers really means (Dan Abrams)

The implications of this verdict extend well beyond the courtroom. Bernard Ebbers was the Worldcom CEO and he presided over the biggest fraud and bankruptcy in American  history— $11 billion.

The guilty verdict on nine counts sends the message that you take the good with the bad. It means that all these white-collar fraud cases where everyone is pointing fingers— well, now, the buck stops somewhere. Prior to the fraud investigation Ebbers was touted in the press as a financial genius— the first guy who figured out how to stand up to AT&T, and a guy who pushed through over 75 deals to build a global telecom giant.

But for this trial, Ebbers argued that he wasn't responsible for cooking the books for nearly two years because he was just a former basketball coach who had never taken an accounting class in his life. But if that's really all he was, then why didn't he announce earlier that he was in over his head?

Ebbers seemed content taking responsibility for his success, but the moment then going got tough, the ruthless CEO got going and the former bouncer/milkman/high school coach was back. 

He's not alone. It seems with many of these CEOs under fire— Ken Lay of Enron, for example— when the heat in the kitchen starts picking up, the chefs suddenly start acting like busboys. 

Sure, this verdict is a success for prosecutors in pursuing corporate fraud cases, but it's also a victory for personal responsibility and accountability. Under Ebbers' watch, 20,000 employees lost their jobs and most of their pensions. Shareholders lost a fortune.  Wall Street suffered its biggest bankruptcy in history. 

The legal case pitted Ebbers against his CFO, Scott Sullivan. Sullivan pled guilty and testified against Ebbers, hoping he will get a break when he's sentenced. Sullivan even admitted to orchestrating the fraud, but said he did it because his boss, Ebbers, told him to.

Whether Ebbers actually ordered it, as the jury seems to have believed, or he just let it happen, today's verdict sends a message that you don't get to choose when you want to be the guy in charge.

If CEOs aren't ready to accept that, then they should find another line of work.

It doesn't mean that every CEO who ran a failed company should be held criminally responsible. But it does mean that for corrupt companies, the people in charge better have a pretty compelling argument for why they were MIA when things went bad.

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

March 15, 2005| 4:17 p.m. ET

Citizens are the first line of defense (Dan Abrams)

With law enforcement throughout the Southeast conducting an intense manhunt, it was Ashley Smith , a young single mother in Duluth, Georgia, who managed to bring a nonviolent end to the search for a violent criminal.
 
33-year-old Brian Nichols, already suspected of shooting four people, allegedly pushed Smith into her apartment at 2 a.m. Saturday morning and, carrying a gun, wrapped her in electrical cord and tape. But the alleged killer who had nothing to lose left seven and a half hours later waving a white handkerchief at law enforcement.
 
This is another example of an everyday citizen providing the most valuable information. From tips about a missing child in response to Amber Alerts, to information that leads to the arrest of terror suspects, we— you and I— are the first line of defense.
 
A group of watchful citizens are much more likely to spot suspicious activity than a platoon of special agents and police. It was a citizen who first notified police that she had seen the car being driven by the sniper suspect who terrorized Washington in the fall of 2003.

Ordinary citizens are responsible for thwarting Richard Reid, the suspect who boarded a Paris to Miami flight in December 2001 with a bomb attached to his shoe. In Iraq, citizens have alerted Iraqi police about suspicious and unfamiliar vehicles parked nearby that have turned out to be packed with explosives.
 
Let's never underestimate what we can do to help. Because if everyone is on the lookout, there's nowhere for the criminals to hide.

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

March 15, 2005 | 2:27 p.m. ET

Something doesn't add up in the Jackson case (Amy Harmon, Abrams Report Jackson trial producer)

Many people say Jackson's accuser and his family are looking to make a quick buck off the King of Pop by fabricating the abuse allegations against him. I agree, the timeline seems suspicious.

Jackson allegedly plied the boy with alcohol and molested him when the eyes of the world were on him because of statements he made about sharing his bed with young boys.

On the other hand, by the time of the alleged abuse, team Jackson already had the family on audiotape and videotape praising him and denying any wrongdoing.

But the question lingers: Why would Jackson do this when he was in such a— to use his words— "vulnerable position"? Does anyone think Jackson saw an opportunity with this family—one in which Jackson saw that he could easily defend himself against abuse allegations?

It's now Jackson's word against the word of a family whose past is riddled with false accusations and exaggerations— a family that does not appear to be trustworthy.

In the family's defense, I cannot imagine that a mother would be so cruel to force her teenage sons to talk— with the eyes of the world on them —about molestation, masturbation, pornography and erections. If they just wanted money, why didn't they take the case to civil court?

Some will say it's because a criminal conviction virtually guarantees millions. But on the other hand, a civil case could also protect this family's reputation from being tarnished the way it will be in this matter. Look at Jackson's 1993 accuser: While his name is known now, and some documents detailing his own allegations of abuse have been released for all the world to read, he seems to be living anonymously amongst us. Something doesn't add up in this case and I'm not sure whose side it favors.

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

March 14, 2005 | 1:37 p.m. ET

Day of stress for Michael Jackson's family ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC contributor and Jackson family friend)

MSNBC
My closest friend in the Jackson family is Rebbie.

She is considered by many Jackson-watchers— fair or not— as the "normal" Jackson. Rebbie has three grown children, two of which are married and another about to follow the footsteps of his famous mom, aunts, and uncles by recording what sounds like the next "Thriller," or, at least, the next "Rhythm Nation."

Rebbie has been married for 36 and a half years and is a devout Jehovah's Witness. She attends meetings at her local Kingdom Hall five times a week and studies the bible at home with her husband.

But, as well-rounded and together as she may be, the actions of her younger brother last Thursday caused tensions to rise to levels not reached since he was arrested in November 2003.

"This is devastating," Rebbie told me this morning as news reporters fled the courtroom and lead defense attorney Tom Messereau paced nervously with cell phone in tow outside the Santa Maria courthouse. "What do you suppose happened?" Rebbie asked me, as she clearly was on the verge of breaking down.

"The stress is unbelievable, I've got to get in touch with mother. I've got to get out there." She had been concerned how her mother, Katherine Jackson, has been holding up throughout this ordeal. And with the matriarch taking up residence at Neverland where cellular phones rarely receive useable signals, it hasn't been easy for Rebbie to reach her mom to offer encouragement.

Hearing the frantic and breaking voice of my friend, one of the nicest people in the world, was tough to take. But, like some of her famous family members, she oftentimes counts on me to deliver news such as this.

Not wanting to listen to daily and sometimes embarrassing reports about the King of Pop, some in the family feel because I'm a contributor at MSNBC, I am "in the know." The truth is, the family empowers me to be "in the know."

Nonetheless, on Thursday, it was all about crisis management.

A day that was supposed to be about the testimony and cross examination of Jackson's young accuser, turned into a day of speculation. Was Jackson really ill? (The family says yes.) Was there a suicide attempt? (There was a rumor that thankfully died as quickly as it began.) Did he try and make a run for the border as some had been speculating he would since his arrest?

What did happen was that Michael Jackson went AWOL from his child molestation trial and was nearly jailed before he finally showed up more than an hour late, in his pajama bottoms and slippers.

Judge Rodney Melville did not punish Jackson, apparently believing that his back problem was indeed serious enough that it required treatment at the Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital.

Jackson's late arrival occurred before his 15-year-old accuser testified about drinking liquor with the pop singer and looking at sex magazines with him. He also said he once saw Jackson walk in to the room naked.

But the details of the accuser's testimony took a back seat on Thursday. Court TV's chief investigative editor and Today Show contributor Diane Dimond found herself in a position to incredulously remind the Abrams Report panel of guests that "Hello, the accuser did testify today."

But many seemed a bit more interested in Jackson's late arrival and the fact that he came to court in bedtime attire.

It seemed that all the goodwill that Michael Jackson had managed to build with the media since the beginning of the trial— and make no mistake, the majority of the media had been reporting that the case had clearly been going Jackson's way— had suddenly been lost.

I mentioned this to Rebbie and she agreed. "One thing happens and everybody seems to automatically go against him," she said.

One could imagine that Michael Jackson must have been thinking, "Where is Geraldo when you really need him?"

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

March 11, 2005 | 4:54 p.m. ET

Poor Thomas Mesereau, Jr. (Dan Abrams)

As all heck broke loose at the Santa Maria courthouse on Thursday morning—media going wall-to-wall with the search for Michael Jackson, the judge issuing a bench warrant for Jackson's arrest, and Jackson finally showing up in his pjs looking disheveled—  you had to feel sorry for one person in particular.

One man seemed to be out of the loop— the one guy who probably should have known exactly what was going on— Thomas Mesereau Jr., Michael Jackson's attorney. No defense attorney wants to be seen on live television pacing back and forth trying to find his client on the same morning that the prosecution's star witness is about to take the stand.

MSNBC
Thomas Mesereau , Jr. paces back and forth on his cell phone as he waits for his client, Michael Jackson, in front of the courthouse.
Then, he had to try explaining to an irritable judge that his superstar client tried to make contact before court started, that he has a really bad back, and he's at the hospital and that  he "understands " he might be on his way in to court.

Mesereau's been there before. Last year, he abruptly quit as attorney for Robert Blake after Blake refused to take his advice on a variety of issues. The "Baretta" actor is now on trial for murder and has been known to break into spontaneous song outside the courthouse. He went through four lawyers before his trial started.

Mesereau's not the only high-profile lawyer to be baffled by the behavior of a celebrity client. Attorney Robert Shapiro gained international fame representing OJ Simpson, but by the end of the case he had been marginalized in favor of Johnny Cochran. Then Shapiro briefly represented music producer Phil Spector. Spector liked to show up in court in long matrix-like coats, bright-colored fedoras, and high-heeled boots. Spector ended up firing Shapiro and then sued him to get his $1 million fee returned. Spector is now on his fourth lawyer.

You have to wonder if Mesereau is now kicking himself for taking this case. He knew Jackson was going to be a volatile client. Jackson had already fired two other attorneys—P. Diddy's defense attorney Ben Brafman and Scott Peterson attorney Mark Geragos before hiring Mesereau.

Celebrities are often used to playing by their own rules. One celebrity attorney told the Associated Press this past fall, "Celebrities wouldn't accept a bad table at a restaurant or a room without a view in a hotel. They are not going to accept a lawyer who is not up to their expectations." 

But big time defense lawyers like Mesereau are also used to making the rules.

Defending your client is one thing... but having to provide a judge with letters from the school nurse is a whole different ballgame.

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com.

March 10, 2005 | 3:26 p.m. ET

Jackson trial: They report, they decide (Dan Abrams)

As I listen to different reporters coming in and out of the Jackson courtroom, I'm struck by how much their accounts differ from one another.

One quote reads, "The accuser's brother was credible and did not stray on the key issues." Others sitting in the same courtroom report "the prosecution really seemed to have lost ground with this witness."

Just channel surf, you can't miss it. And I can't help but think that we would all be better served if we all could decide for ourselves. 

Judge Rodney Melville has made that impossible, imposing a sweeping gag order and banning any cameras or taping in the courtroom. Judge Melville's attempts at secrecy have backfired, with just about all of the pertinent information in this case leaking out before trial. 

But there also should have been a camera in the courtroom. In the past few days, the accuser's brother and sister have been testifying. Today, the accuser himself is testifying. Their testimony will likely determine the outcome of the case— a case that the world is watching. This is one of those cases where the proceedings and the outcome will affect the public's perception of the legal system one way or another. It would be better to see it without a filter and no reporter bias.

The judge should have allowed everyone to decide for themselves whether or not justice is being served. With the accuser and his brother, they're both minors, so we likely wouldn't be able to see their faces anyway on TV— but we might be able to listen to them tell their stories and see Michael Jackson tell his story, when and if he takes the stand. 

Many seem to think that a camera adds to a circus-like atmosphere and in the O.J. Simpson case, it did just that. I agree. But sometimes it's the price we have to pay. Most of the time, judges have acknowledged it has little or no impact on the proceedings. 

I've covered many televised trials with tough judges where the camera ended up being forgotten. If Jackson is convicted, there may be allegations of racism, and since few will have actually seen the proceedings, it will be based on hunches, rather than facts.

Whatever the outcome, in a case with this notoriety, seeing is believing and not seeing may mean not believing. 

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com

March 9, 2005 | 4:52 p.m. ET

Terrorists can buy guns, and there's nothing the government can do about it
(Dan Abrams)

If you're on the FBI's terror watch list, there are a lot of things you can't do: You can't work at an airport, you're not supposed to be able to fly on a plane, you can't get on a cruise ship to the Bahamas— but apparently you can go out and buy yourself a gun. 

A new report from the independent General Accounting Office in Washington found that terrorists,  or those suspected of being involved in terrorism,  are buying guns just as easily as everybody else.  The director of the FBI came out today and confirmed that. 

In just nine months last year, 47 suspected terrorists legally purchased firearms and according to Director Robert Mueller, there's nothing the FBI can do about it. Under the nation's gun laws, unless you are a terrorist who also happens to be a convicted felon, a domestic violence offender, an illegal immigrant, or mentally deficient, the FBI can't stop you from purchasing a personal firearm.  Are we saying that our love for guns outweighs our fear of potential terrorists? 

To make things worse, after they've purchased their weapons, the federal government legally had to destroy the background checks within 24 hours.  Congress passed that law last year so that the feds wouldn't be able to use gun-buying records for law enforcement purposes. 
This is insane. 

I know all about the Second Amendment. I wrote a law review article about it and I know there are serious problems with the terror watch list. There have been numerous cases of mistaken identity. The Department of Homeland Security even admitted in October it's doing a pretty shabby job of coordinating the list. But if the list is going to mean anything, it should at least prevent people whose names are on it from buying weapons.  If there's a mix-up because the watch list is faulty, that can be cleared up with some additional investigation.  The airlines do it every day. 

Congress should act now to make sure terrorists can't use this nation's lax laws to create private arsenals to use against our own citizens.

Your Rebuttal

In my "Closing Argument" Friday, I said we should add judges and prosecutors to the list of those in society we appreciate because of the risk they take every day facing down bad guys and the risk that that can pose.  Many of you echoed these sentiments.

Lance Hamner, a prosecutor Indiana:
I've had death threats come to me from many different directions and at least two hits put out on me for prosecuting a drug dealer killer who we subsequently convicted.  It was gratifying to me to have our peril acknowledged.  On behalf of myself and my colleagues, I thank you.

Todd Smith, assistant D.A. in Canton, New York: 
On behalf of prosecutors everywhere, thank you.

Thank you to all of you who wrote in those notes. And speaking of prosecutors, I said if you listen to defense attorneys, prosecutors get the wrong guy in every case they pursue.  Public defender investigator Sandra Smutz.  "Your comments on the danger some judges and prosecutors face are well taken.  However, your stereotypical dismissal of defense attorneys under cuts your argument and makes me wonder about your understanding of democracy."

Don't wonder, Sandra.  It's OK.  The reality is that defense attorneys are representing the bad buys.  Sometimes they're innocent, but in the vast majority of cases, you are on the side of the criminal.  Now look, I respect what you do.  Our system could not function without you and some— and let me also point out some defense attorneys are threatened by their clients as well.  But it's the prosecutors and judges who are far more regularly threatened by the criminals. 

In my "Closing Argument" last night I said the suggestion by Giuliana Sgrena, former hostage and Italian journalist for a communist newspaper, that the U.S. military intentionally tried to kill her as her car sped towards the Baghdad airport is absurd.  She has a right to be angry, deserves some answers, but she is only hurting the effort to find those answers because now her credibility is at issue. 

Nigel Elliott writes:
You may not believe Ms. Sgrena, but her account is the last straw for a world sick and tired of U.S. lies.  Because yellow journalism and talking heads brainwashed by Bush like you, more and more Americans with a brain and college education are turning off the TV and going online to read British, Canadian and other foreign English news sites.

Nothing I can do about that, Nigel.  By the way, Nigel, it sure sounds like a British name to me. Who knows?

Mike Doss writes:
You attacked the credibility of the surviving witness in the Baghdad roadblock by dismissing Giuliana Sgrena as a communist.  Not only is it a fallacious argument to attempt to nullify someone's testimony merely on the basis of their political ideology, but she was not even driving the car.

Mike, I dismissed her claim because it's ridiculous.  The fact that she works for a communist newspaper that's repeatedly criticized the war only goes to her wanting a soapbox for her views. 

Also last night I said I'm getting tired of hearing people complain about Martha Stewart's action-packed days since her release from prison.  She served as much time as anyone else convicted of a similar crime. 

Nancy Laucella in North Granby, Connecticut: 
The problem with Martha is that she's never been humble about her time away.  She's basically thumbing her nose at the powers who put her in Camp Cupcake.  She should just get on with it and forget staging her image comeback on TV.

and M. Casey in Morrisville, Pennsylvania:
I think some wanted Martha to be broken, apologize and fall apart in public and they're still waiting.

March 9, 2005 | 3:35 p.m. ET

Cosby back on the hot seat (Cory Gnazzo, Abrams Report staff)

Hi everyone, here's what we're working on for tonight: The woman who says Bill Cosby drugged and molested her is now filing a civil suit against Cosby . Tonight, Dan talks exclusively to her lawyer. If the woman's allegations were not enough for the district attorney to file criminal charges, why does she think she has a shot against Cosby in civil court?

Michael Jackson's accuser's brother is back on the stand today for a second round of cross-examination.  He now says he walked in on Jackson molesting his brother three times, not just twice.  The changes in his story do not look good for the prosecution. And once he's off the stand, we expect prosecutors to call his brother, the accuser himself, to testify. We'll get the latest from the courthouse and Dan will break down today's testimony with his legal team.

Dan's got just a minute for a few topics tonight... Jurors are still deliberating in the Robert Blake murder trial. Today they're in their fourth day and for the first time they are asking for testimony to be read back. 

And wait 'til you see what some voyeurs are doing with their video cameras... shooting video up women's skirts. Despite complaints from the women , it appears to be completely legal, how can that be?

Don't forget, Dan reads your e-mails at the end of every show so keep them coming! Send them to Dan now: mailto:abramsreport@msnbc.com

The program about justice starts at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

March 9, 2005 | 3:31 p.m. ET

Jackson case: Brother of the accuser's testimony fatal?

On last night's show Dan and his panel discussed the implications in the inconsistencies in the testimony of the accuser's brother. Here's some of what they said:

For Dan Abrams, this could be the beginning of the end for prosecutors: "A kid who's already lied in a lawsuit and who sort of got caught in another  possible misstatement," says Abrams. "I'd be nervous if I were the prosecutors here."

Rikki Klieman, a criminal defense attorney, on last night's Abrams Report offered her two cents: "One of the things we see is that often times testimony is like a tennis match— that is, you see the ball go to one side of the court.  Yesterday was a devastating day against Michael Jackson.  Now it bounces to the other side of the court where Tom Mesereau really steps up to the plate and he winds  up in a situation where he can show a young boy is lying."

Former Prosecutor Jean Rosenbluth said witnesses often aren't 100 percent consistent in their retelling of stories: "There is not a witness in history who has every told exactly the same story from start to finish, and in fact, if they did, there would probably be allegations that it was rehearsed," says Rosenbluth. "There are certainly inconsistencies in what the boy testified to today, but I don't think any of them are fatal. Frankly, one issue of Barely Legal magazine probably looks very similar to another. And why does Michael Jackson have an alarm leading up to his bedroom?  The prosecution can exploit that to say he was doing bad things in there and wanted to know when somebody was coming." 

Jim Thomas, Former Santa Barbara County Sheriff says that the media shouldn't be putting the nail in the coffin of this case just yet. "The boy has still stuck by the alcohol, the use of the pornographic magazines and the two acts that he saw and he hasn't wavered from those at all.  And it's going to be difficult I think for Tom Mesereau to get him off of that."

What do you think? E-mail us at Sidebar@MSNBC.com

March 9, 2005 | 12:01 p.m. ET

Lefkow murders investigation update
(Clint Van Zandt, MSNBC analyst and former FBI profiler)

MSNBC

It is now eight days since the brutal, execution-style murders of the 89-year old mother and the 64-year old husband of Chicago U.S. District Court Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.  Both victims were found by Judge Lefkow in a pool of blood in the basement office in the Lefkow residence on Monday evening, February 28th.  Both had sustained head shots and died from multiple gunshot wounds.  .22 caliber shell casings were found at the scene, suggesting the weapon may have been a semi-automatic pistol.  (.22 caliber handguns are many times the assassin's weapon of choice because of their size, ease of concealement, low noise level when fired, and the known difficulty in conducting ballistic examinations as compared to larger caliber firearms.)

On Friday, March 4th, the FBI offered a $50,000 reward for information concerning the killers.  A task force composed of Chicago PD detectives, FBI agents and Deputy U.S. marshals continue to work this case around the clock, running down over 600 tips that have been provided by the public to date, especially after the release of the composite pictures of two potential suspects who were in the Lefkow neighborhood at the time of the murders. Although the FBI indicates that they have not focused on any one suspect, investigation continues concerning 33-year old white supremacist Matthew Hale. Hale is currently in jail awaiting sentencing next month for having solicited an FBI undercover informant to kill Judge Lefkow after she ruled against him in another matter.

Task force members are identifying and interviewing extremists in the Chicago area and across the country concerning these murders, while forensic experts at the FBI Laboratory consider physical evidence gathered at the crime scene. These include shell casings; bullets and bullet fragments; a fingerprint recovered from a broken window that might have represented the killer's point of entry into the Lefkow residence; a bloody footprint believed left by the killer(s); a cigarette butt found in a sink in the victim's residence; and cigarette butts and a soda can believed dropped by the suspects for whom the composite sketches have been issued.

As of Tuesday, the cigarette butt from the home was identified as that of a male, but comparison to the 2.25 million genetic profiles available for matching purposes has so far failed to identify a suspect. The developed DNA profile does not match any member of the Lefkow household, so it continues to be a potential key piece of evidence, able to scientifically link any potential suspect to the crime scene and the murders.  (Note that DNA analysis can now not only provide the sex of the contributor, but also the race.)

This case has had worldwide attention and FBI Director Robert Mueller is briefed daily on the progress of the case, one that President Bush is also following.  The pool of potential suspects continues to include associates of Matthew Hale; other extremist groups; a "lone wolf" extremist (someone acting on his own without any outside support, other than, possibly, the emotional catalyst provided by the volatile writings on white supremacist Web sites); someone else that could be a friend of someone related to a defendant in another case heard by Judge Lefkow; someone targeting the Judge's husband, Michael Lefkow, who, until his death, was an attorney in private practice; some other unknown matter related to the Lefkow household, and/or a crime of opportunity (burglary or robbery) committed by an unknown offender.  The execution-style murder of the two victims appears to suggest however that they were the intentional target of someone who wanted to not only punish Judge Lefkow, but to crush her.  She is a courageous jurist who has vowed to continue on the bench. 

This is a crime of terror against the U.S. criminal justice system, possibly designed to undermine this system and punish a federal judge for her service on the bench. It is an attack upon America and as such every available resource must be used to solve these murders and bring the murderer or muderers to justice, otherwise no court or judge in the country will be safe from intimidation.

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