updated 3/16/2005 12:08:48 PM ET 2005-03-16T17:08:48

Guest: Karen Steinhauser, Robin Wright, John Q. Kelly

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Brian Nichols bound and shackled and tightly guarded.  The court coming to him.  Today the man suspected of Friday‘s rampage in Atlanta recharged with rape but not with charged with murder?

Surviving the crash.  Is bigger always better when it comes to avoiding the fatal impact?  See if your ride will keep you safe when it comes to a collision. 

The Jackson trials.  The accuser makes it off the stand.  The jury throws a pizza party.  And the truth behind the rumored connection between the “American Idol” drop-out and this very molestation trial.  Jackson Puppet Theater is all over it.

And what is a discriminating ex-con wearing to conceal those nasty little ankle monitors this season?  Bye-bye, Manolo Blahnik.  Hello, Just Out.  Turn the world‘s most famous felon into a goody two shoes. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  And good evening to you.  Keith Olbermann is on vacation all this week.  I‘m Alison Stewart. 

He‘s accused of killing a judge, a court reporter, a deputy and an immigration agent.  He‘s accused of viciously assaulting several others, escaping from custody, and holding a woman hostage.  So today, he was charged with the crime he was originally on trial for. 

We begin our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN with Brian Nichols back

before a judge.  This time, shackled at the ankles and wrists and flanked

by 15 sheriff‘s deputies, including 10 SWAT officers. 

Prosecutors say they will be filing murder and other charges against Nichols, but today the judge held him without bond on the same charges he was facing before Friday morning‘s massacre.  That included rape, aggravated sodomy, and false imprisonment. 

Nichols‘ new attorney says now is not the time to address any of the charges against his client, whether already filed or pending.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER ADAMS, NICHOLS‘ ATTORNEY:  This is a time of grief and mourning for the courthouse community, for all the victims.  We‘re going to respect that.  There will be plenty of time for us later to lay out our legal arguments and motions and to examine the evidence and to search for understanding in this case.  But it‘s not the time now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  On Sunday, Brian Nichols‘ former attorney said continuing with the initial rape retrial would be a waste of taxpayers‘ time and money, saying quote, “He‘s facing four homicide charges that could carry the death penalty.  In the best-case scenario, he‘s in jail for life.  What‘s the point?”  End quote.

To try answer that question, I‘m joined by Karen Steinhauser, a former chief deputy district attorney in Denver, Colorado, and a current professor of law with the University of Denver. 

Thanks so much for taking the time tonight, Ms. Steinhauser. 

KAREN STEINHAUSER, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER:  Thanks for having me. 

STEWART:  What is the point of recharging him with rape instead of charging him with the murders immediately?

STEINHAUSER:  Well, first of all, he will be charged with the murders, but it takes time to make sure the entire investigation is done, all of the witnesses have been talked to, any physical evidence has been gathered.  That takes numerous days to get that done. 

But in terms of the rape charge, this is the—this was the second time that this young woman was going through this trial.  She may be going through it again.  But to say that it not worth doing it, I think, is a disservice to her.  If there was a sexual assault here, then that is something that he should also be held accountable for. 

From the prosecution‘s standpoint, or actually, from his standpoint, it may seem like the least of his worries at this point in terms of the amount of time he may be serving.  But for this young woman, I don‘t think anybody is in a position to say, well, this isn‘t important anymore.  So let‘s just forget about it.  That‘s not right.

STEWART:  What about her say on the matter?  Should she not want to live through this again, does she have any say in deciding to drop the charges?

STEINHAUSER:  She should have a say.  It‘s going to be up to the prosecution to decide if they‘re going to pursue it.  But they should do it after they consult with her.

She may feel like she‘s been through it twice already.  She‘s hung in there.  She doesn‘t want to just drop it now.  Or she may feel like enough is enough and she‘s ready to just move on and let the system deal with these other cases. 

STEWART:  Well, let‘s talk about moving on.  You touched on this briefly, but I wanted to get back to it.  There were no court dates set today.  Just a statement of intent from the prosecutors. 

What kind of time line do you think we‘re really talking about?

STEINHAUSER:  Well, you know, we‘ve got a lot of counts here.  We‘ve got counts of murder.  We have attempted murder.  We have different firearms issues.  We have this—the hostage situation.  So there‘s going to be quite a number counts involve. 

And that mean the prosecution making sure that—that all of the paperwork, everything is done.  The “I‘s” are dotted.  The “T‘s” are crossed.  They don‘t want to let anything slip through on this.  So it could be anywhere from several days to even a week to make sure that everything is handled the way it should be. 

STEWART:  And one final important point.  All the Fulton County judges have recused themselves from this case.  Might it be moved out of the district altogether because of the potential for a tainted jury pool?

STEINHAUSER:  Well, I think you have a couple of issues.  You have the

·         the concern over the fact that—that all of these judges in that county, judges are family to each other.  And so I‘m not sure they‘d even want that trial of their colleague who was killed to be in that courthouse. 

You also have the huge amount of prejudicial pretrial publicity.  And so there may need to be a change of venue just to see if you can get a jury pool that‘s able to sit and try this case, if it does go to trial. 

STEWART:  Certainly quite a few issues to work out.  Former prosecutor Karen Steinhauser, thank you so much for your time tonight.  We appreciate it. 

STEINHAUSER:  You‘re welcome.  Thank you. 

STEWART:  Now, as for the woman who helped put Brian Nichols back in police custody, she will be getting at least part of the $60,000 reward for his capture.  A lot of people wondered about this. 

The state of Georgia today agreed to pay Ashley Smith its portion of the reward money.  Now, that‘s $10,000.  The U.S. marshal service offered a $25,000 award.  The FBI, a $20,000 award.  And a sheriff‘s association, a $5,000 reward.  No word yet on whether Ms. Smith will be receiving any of that money. 

There are new developments tonight in the case of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who disappeared from her Florida bedroom on February 23.  Police now say they have a “person of interest.”  Those are their words.  And partial results of a family polygraph test. 

Jessica‘s father, grandmother and grandfather were all given a lie detector test.  Her father and grandpa passed, but her grandmother‘s test raised two, quote “red flags” for detectives.  Police say those anomalies could have been stress induced but added that they are not ruling anybody in the family out as a possible suspect. 

Ruth Lunsford told a local reporter that this case isn‘t about them. 

It‘s about her granddaughter. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUTH LUNSFORD, JESSICA LUNSFORD‘S GRANDMOTHER:  It is about my granddaughter, not about anybody else.  And I can‘t take no more.  Just can‘t take it.  Please. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  When the reporter went on to ask if a family member might be involved in Jessica‘s disappearance, the Lunsfords asked them to leave their house. 

As for a person of interest, police say they will release his name to the public if they don‘t find him in the next two days.  He is apparently not in Florida right now, but he does have ties to Jessica‘s neighborhood. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF JEFF DAWSY, CITRUS COUNTY, FLORIDA:  I look at different categories: family, social, school, church.  I can tell you, he was in one of those particular areas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  To help analyze these new developments, I‘m joined by former FBI profiler and MSNBC analyst Clint Van Zandt.  Clint, always nice to speak with you. 

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  Good evening. 

STEWART:  All right.  We‘ve heard about this person of interest the police are actively searching for.  Help us out.  Person of interest means what these days?

VAN ZANDT:  Person of interest means a politically correct way that when I was an FBI agent, we would either say a subject, meaning we think he did it, or a suspect, meaning your name has come up and we need to talk to you.  Now we‘ve got a new politically correct way to say it. 

But the bottom line is, they have someone who either is a suspect or someone who may have information in this case that the authorities need to find.  He‘s got 24 hours to turn himself in and in the meantime, I guarantee you, the FBI is going to be out looking for him to help the sheriff‘s office in this one. 

STEWART:  The sheriff said he had all kinds of questions for this person of interest.  What kind of questions are you thinking about?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, you know, No. 1, were—do you know Jessica?  Were you in the neighborhood at the time this took place?  Give us a minute by minute analysis of where you were before and after the crime took place. 

I mean, if this is a person of interest, this little girl has been missing over three weeks now.  They‘ve worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day almost as the sheriff has told us.  So it looks like they have someone who either has information on the case or may be a suspect. 

And I‘ll tell you what.  If that person is listening to you and I right now, this is the time.  Pick up the phone, call the sheriff‘s office and say, “I‘m probably that person of interest.  Here I am.”  Don‘t make the FBI come and arrest you. 

STEWART:  Well, let‘s turn to the family right now.  There was news about the grandmother and her most recent polygraph raised red flags on a few questions.  If the sheriff is releasing this info, does that mean they think they‘re on to something?

STEWART:  Well, you always start with the family.  I mean, in the first place, you say who had access to the victim?  Who was related to her?  Who was in the house or who was the last person to see her, in this case, tuck her in at night. 

In all four of those categories, the grandmother, the grandfather, the father qualify, as they always would when a child is taken out of the house. 

To me, you know, this is a 73-year-old lady.  She‘s been under a lot of stress.  She may be taking medication and, of course, she was in the house the night that we believe Jessica was taken away.  So there may be some residential guilt that‘s there, too. 

So there‘s going to be a number of different answers.  But the sheriff is right.  Nobody is ruled out until the investigation rules somebody positively in. 

STEWART:  And what kind of question would be a red flag question that would leave the sheriffs to come to the media and put it out there?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, in the polygraph exam, they‘re going to probably keep half a dozen questions or so.  You know, do you have any idea what happened to Jessica?  Did you have anything to do with it?  Did you have any idea where she is now?  A number of questions like this that, you know, could have a blip on the radar. 

I mean, a real quick example.  When I was an FBI agent, if I would ever take a polygraph and someone would say, “Have you ever taken government property?”  And I‘m sitting there saying, “Well, I‘ve got this plastic pen that said ‘U.S. Government,‘ and I know it‘s laying on my desk at home.  I might get a blip on the polygraph.” 

The polygrapher would say, “OK, Clint, throw that out.  I know you‘ve got a government pen at home.  Notwithstanding that, have you ever taken anything else?”

Well, the polygrapher can do the same thing with this lady.  But the strength of a polygraph is not that galvanic skin response.  The strength of the polygraph is the interviewer who—who does the interview before and after.  Let‘s not—you know, a polygrapher, a profiler, what solves cases is the public and investigative shoe leather. 

STEWART:  You heard him.  He‘s a former FBI agent, now an MSNBC analyst, Clint Van Zandt.  Thanks so much.  Take care. 

VAN ZANDT:  Thank you. 

STEWART:  Spreading democracy in the Middle East.  As some people take to the streets there, back here Karen Hughes is appointed to make over America‘s image in the region.  How will she go about doing that?

And the Michael Jackson trial‘s accuser is finally off that witness stand.  Were prosecutors able to repair any of the damage done during the cross-examination?

This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  She has been called one of the most powerful women in President Bush‘s inner circle.  Now how will Karen Hughes tackle the job of making over America‘s image in the eyes of the Arab world?  Everybody curious (ph) about that one.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  An upsetting yet familiar imam in the Middle East today:

protestors burning the American flag.  A not so subtle reminder of the less than stellar opinion many in that part of the world feel about this part of the world. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, also familiar.  A Bush team player reemerges in an unfamiliar role, tasked with making over America‘s image in the Arab world.  To that colossal P.R. job in just a moment. 

First battling protests in Lebanon.  Some 3,000 pro-Syrian demonstrators marched on the U.S. embassy in Beirut today, opposing U.S.  interference there.  The group, mostly students, burned American and Israeli flags, chanting “death to America.” 

Soldiers and riot police constructed barbed wire and metal barricades to control this crowd.  No clashes broke out. 

This one day after one of the biggest demonstrations the city had ever seen, only this one was anti-Syria.  Hundreds of thousands of protestors flooded the square and spilled in the nearby streets chanting, freedom, sovereignty and independence. 

They‘re demanding a full Syrian withdrawal from the country, which would include the dismantling of the militant Shiite group Hezbollah.  President Bush had a message for that group at a news conference this afternoon with Jordan‘s King Abdullah. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.  And I would hope that Hezbollah would prove that they‘re not by laying down arms and not threatening peace. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The influence of militant groups like Hezbollah is just what President Bush is hoping his former aide Karen Hughes can counter.  He has chosen her for a State Department post created to improve America‘s image overseas. 

Yesterday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice introduced Hughes as the administration‘s nominee for undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. 

Hughes has continued to advise the president from her home in Austin, Texas, since she left her White House post back in 2002.  She wanted to spend more time with her family at that time.  Now, she has little foreign policy experience, but she does have the ear of the president and a high profile.  And she acknowledged the task ahead won‘t be an easy one. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN HUGHES, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY NOMINEE: 

This job will be difficult.  Perceptions do not change quickly or easily. 

This is a struggle for ideas. 

Clearly, in the world after September 11, we must do a better job of engaging with the Muslim world.  As the 9/11 Commission reported, if the United States does not act aggressively to define itself, the extremists will gladly do the job for us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  To talk a little about the road ahead for Karen Hughes, we‘re joined now by “Washington Post” diplomatic correspondent Robin Wright. 

Robin, thanks so much for being with us tonight. 

ROBIN WRIGHT, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Nice to be with you, Alison. 

STEWART:  OK.  She‘s a big name.  But Hughes, is she the right person for this position?  What does she have going for her and what does she have working against her?

WRIGHT:  Well, she has the president‘s ear.  But the problem for her is that she has no foreign experience.  She faces probably the most daunting task of any single individual, and that‘s selling not just the United States but U.S. policy. 

The issue is not the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  It‘s really the policies of today‘s administration.  And many of which are very unpopular, beginning with the war in Iraq. 

And this is a time that‘s really critical, because the idea of promoting democracy around the world is the central theme of the Bush administration‘s second term. 

STEWART:  Something I‘m curious about is a very practical matter about a choice of a women for this role, considering some of the cultural traditions, even in modern leaning countries like Jordan.  Could that be an issue?

WRIGHT:  I don‘t think so.  I‘ve always been struck as a former foreign correspondent in the Middle East that I never had any problem dealing in the Islamic world in the Middle East. 

We as Western women sometimes are honored for the traditions in our parts of the world, rather than imposed with their cultural traditions.

STEWART:  Now, knowing the Bush administration, what do you think her first move will be?  But as someone who reports about foreign affairs, what should it be?

WRIGHT:  Well, it probably should be getting out in the region, getting familiar, listening to the people on the streets, not just what the leaders are telling the United States but how people feel.  Because this is really where we want to build democratic ideals and traditions among the grassroots. 

What she will probably do, I suspect, is try to talk with those who have been in this position in the past, talk with those making policy and try to frame what the goals of the administration are.  But somewhere along the way, she has to do both. 

STEWART:  We talked a lot about the policy issues.  But in terms of pure P.R., what do you think is the biggest makeover the United States needs and how is she going to go about it?

WRIGHT:  Well, as I said, the issue is not just promoting Americans‘ ideals.  It‘s policy.  And that‘s a huge obstacle.  We are seen in the region as trying to impose our ideals.  The issue is really how do you foster, encourage democratic ideals to emerge from the bottom in some of those societies? 

And that‘s not easy.  That‘s not—it‘s not likely to be effective in putting ads on television in Egypt or on billboards in Jordan.  It‘s a much more difficult task of people to people diplomacy.

STEWART:  More substance than style, is what I‘m hearing you say. 

WRIGHT:  Yes.

STEWART:  Robin Wright with the “Washington Post,” thanks so much. 

WRIGHT:  Thank you. 

STEWART:  From the battle for hearts and minds to something yummy for the tummy.  And international pizza- off.  That could only mean one thing.  “Oddball” is around the corner. 

And crucial information for all you road warriors out there.  The government comes out with a list of the deadliest cars on the road.

ANNOUNCER:  You‘re getting your news OLBERMANN style,                COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN, part of the best primetime in cable news, MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart, show sitting for Keith Olbermann.  I‘m letting all the producers stay up past their bedtime.  It‘s time once again to take a break from the day‘s real news for a quick segment of the day‘s really stupid stuff. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in northern Italy where the 14th annual pizza championship is underway.  It‘s more like a pizza Olympics, but they can‘t call it that or they‘d be sued back to the Stone Age. 

Some of the many events in the three-day competition include classic pizza, deep dish pizza and apparently best pizza made while break dancing.  We‘re not sure when these skills will come in handy at a real pizza place or if you really want to eat a pie from some guy who had his mitts all over it. 

To Greece, where folks in this coastal village are apparently a few ingredients short of pizza.  It‘s the annual flour war.  A traditional event in carnival season.  Residents get dressed up in costume and protective goggles and hurl handfuls of powdery stuff at each other.  Some is dyed different colors to make the experience more pleasant and festive.  But in the end, it all just winds up on the ground. 

Next week when it rains, they change the name to the city to Gravytown. 

And finally, in our short trip around the world, in Russia, where the man in the Speedo is Mr. Kareem Diab (ph).  He spent the last two years working toward this moment.  Not really working out towards this moment but preparing for this record setting dip in the icy Moscow waters. 

Diab (ph) smashed the previous record by remaining in the water for an hour and living.  Ice swimming—does not happy—is a traditional sport in Russia, and they call the participants walruses. 

No offense, Kareem (ph), really.  Are you sure he‘s alive?

The accuser in the Michael Jackson trial was in deep water today on the stand.  We‘ll take you inside the courtroom and set the record straight on one of the biggest rumors swirling around this case. 

And later, anklet trackers, a bad thing.  Designer shoes that cover up your new anklet a good thing, a very good thing. 

Those stories ahead.  Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day. 

No. 3, Maria Miller of Vancouver, British Columbia.  She‘s filed a lawsuit this week against Cirque du Soleil.  Miller claims she was sitting in the front row seat in July of ‘03 when a tether broke and she was struck by an out of control clown.  OK. 

No. 2, Richard Kreimer, a homeless man in New Jersey who won a $230,000 lawsuit for being unlawfully kicked out of a public library 10 years ago.  He‘s now suing New Jersey Transit for unlawfully kicking him and other homeless people out of train stations. 

And I know you‘re asking the question.  Why is he still homeless after winning 230 grand?  It‘s not really clear. 

And No. 1, 49-year-old Billy Reed of Fleetwood, Pennsylvania.  He says he‘ll appeal his case to the state supreme court after being rejected again in lower court this week.  Reed has been fighting for the state for almost two years for his right to have his eyes closed in his driver‘s license photo. 

Why?  We‘re not really sure.  But he says it is his mission in life now.  Rock on, Billy.

(MUSIC: “DRIVING WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED”)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart, keeping the anchor chair nice and warm for Keith Olbermann while he gets some much-needed R-and-R.  The anticipation had been the case would last for months.  The star witness, the focal point of the prosecution‘s case comfortably holding his own, it seemed, until one rough day on the stand had legal pundits wondering allowed if months might no longer be the case.  And all but putting the proverbial nail in the proverbial coffin. 

Our number three story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, rumors of the demise of the People v. Michael Joe Jackson may, in fact, be greatly exaggerated.  It‘s your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 484 of the Michael Jackson investigations.  Today marking the fourth and final day of testimony from Jackson‘s accuser.  And what by many accounts (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to district attorney, Tom Sneddon‘s, last chance to resurrect the testimony of his key witness. 

The accuser yesterday admitting he had told the dean of his school that Michael Jackson had never molested him.  Today under the prosecution‘s redirect, testifying that he had only done so because the kids at school were already making fun of him for being at the pop star‘s Neverland Ranch.  Those classmates saying he had been “raped” by Jackson.  The boy contending, he didn‘t want them to think “It really happened.”

For an assessment of the day‘s events, I‘m joined now by former prosecutor, now civil litigator, John Q. Kelly. 

John, thanks for being with us. 

JOHN Q. KELLY, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  Hey, Alison, hi.

STEWART:  And our eyes inside the courtroom tonight, Dawn Hobbs who has been covering the story since it began.  Santa Barbara News-Press, she‘s also NBC News analyst.  Dawn, good evening to you. 

DAWN HOBBS, SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS:  Hi, thank you. 

STEWART:  I want to start with you, Dawn.  The prosecution had a rough day yesterday.  The defense was able to poke some major league holes in that accuser‘s testimony. 

Will they be able to salvage the star witness?  Did they do it today? 

HOBBS:  Well, yesterday was quite devastating for the accuser‘s credibility when it was brought out under cross-examination by the defense that he had denied that anything had occurred with the entertainer to a school official. 

Now today, the prosecution took the opportunity to resurrect him.  To rehabilitate his credibility in front of the jurors.  And today, jurors learned that he was actually a very good student.  He had good grades, right now, as compared to how he was portrayed in the past.  And that the reason why he didn‘t talk to the administrator about this is because the kids were already teasing him about appearing in the Bashir documentary holding hands with Jackson. 

STEWART:  Now, John, did the prosecution make enough with this, this redirect.  That hey, the kids don‘t want to make fun of me explanation? 

Is that enough? 

KELLY:  Well, I don‘t think so.  Regardless of his reasons, when your entire case hinges on the credibility of your complaining witness, which is the case here, you cannot have that witness giving different versions of the same event to different people at different times.  You cannot ask a jury to convict someone, find someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt when they‘re faced with several different diametrically opposed versions of the same event from the complainant. 

STEWART:  But aren‘t juries supposed to expect that?  I mean, isn‘t that the case?  You put a witness on the stand, someone builds him up, someone knocks him down.  Someone goes back and builds him back up again. 

KELLY:  Well, no.  I mean, sometimes, whether it‘s—you know, might be an eyewitness to a robbery or a homicide or something like that, they make mistakes about little things.  Different people see different events different ways.  But in this case, this is the person that had the acts perpetrated upon him.  And in one day, he‘s saying, yes, it did happen.  Another day he is saying, no, it absolutely did not happen.  It‘s something different here, and the jury‘s going to have a very hard time relying on his testimony. 

STEWART:  Dawn, after the accuser got off the stand, the next folks up were law enforcement, including the lead investigator.  Did they bolster the prosecution‘s case or was the defense able to do some damage there as well? 

HOBBS:  Well, both actually, Alison.  What happened was the lead—lead investigator was able to clear up what had appeared to be a new—a new molestation that had come out from the brother‘s testimony.  When, in fact, he had indeed told the latest fense (ph) investigator that—I mean, I‘m sorry.  The lead detective that this incident had happened, and he said this during an earlier interview with him.  Where he was on the couch sleeping.  He saw Mr. Jackson walk into the bedroom, lay down next to his brother, and allegedly, start grinding up against him. 

Now on cross-examination, however, it came out that the amount of times that the accuser said the molestations occurred differed throughout each interview he had with law enforcement.  Additionally, as these interviews with law enforcement go on, so does the time sequencing change.  And originally, he said that the incidents occurred before an interview with social worker, and then in a subsequent interview, he said it happened both before and after.  And then during grand jury testimony, he said that it only happened after. 

STEWART:  John, as a former prosecutor, how important is law enforcement on the stand? 

KELLY:  Well, in this particular case, all they can do is corroborate what they‘ve been told by another party, in this case, the complainant.  And you know, there‘s some contradictory statements that the complainant made to the lead investigator.  Apparently, the complainant also told this investigator, first of all, that certain things didn‘t happen.  Then later, said that he had been molested by Mr. Jackson.  And you know, every time these contradictory statements came up, they hurt the prosecution case. 

STEWART:  Dawn, let‘s talk about the jury‘s reaction to all this. 

What did you observe? 

HOBBS:  The jury reaction has been very interesting in this case.  The first day the boy took the stand, you could tell some jurors were smiling at the boy, trying to make him comfortable with their presence.  When he was being questioned by the prosecution, then they actually had sympathetic smiles toward him and nods.  They chuckled when he said boyishly cute things.  But under cross-examination by the defense, then they raised their eyebrows.  They‘re looking at him much more seriously and somewhat skeptically at this point. 

STEWART:  Dawn Hobbs covering the Jackson trial for the Santa Barbara News-Press, thank you for your time.  And former prosecutor turned civil litigator, John Q. Kelly, thank you so much as well. 

KELLY:  Sure Alison, goodbye.

HOBBS:  Thank you.

STEWART:  Pretty straightforward day in the Jackson trial.  Oh, almost ho hum, really.  And so it is that we turn to the world wide Internets for our daily dose of Jackson rumor and innuendo.  You thought it couldn‘t get any more bizarre, well you were wrong. 

Amidst the bus—buzz surrounding American Idol” finalist, Mario Vazquez, abrupt departure from the show came speculation on the Internet that the personal reason he sided for the big dis, was actually a subpoena to testify at the Jackson case.  Vazquez, apparently, sang back up vocals on Jackson‘s album in “Invincible.”  And when trial testimony yesterday mentioned a mysterious figure called “Rio,” who may or may not have seen things relating to the accuser‘s time at Neverland Ranch, Tudin (ph) set a wagon. 

But NBC News has learned Rio is actually Rio Jackson, a relative, not

·         I repeat, not, no way, not happening, Mario Vazquez.  The disappointment may be assuaged in part by our frequent and almost entirely fictional presentation, Michael Jackson puppet theater.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I used to sing back-up for Michael, and he never groped me once. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Maybe because you were always standing behind him. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  He‘s innocent, Mr. Sneddon.  And you‘re a cold man. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh! You‘re a cold man! Tom Sneddon is a cold man. 

Tom Sneddon is cold man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is wonderful. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re the man, dog!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I object.  This entire performance is out of order! It is terrible! Wow!

STEWART:  End scene.

From theater to staged crashes, the government announcing the list of the deadliest cars to be in when an accident hits. 

And the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame induction makes us all feel just a little bit old.  U2 already inducted, and I‘ll share my special brush with Bono.  You don‘t want to miss that.  I didn‘t want to miss that.

Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON KRESSLEY:  No, I like it here.  It‘s a Red Sox sandwich.  Theo!

How about pink sox instead of red?  Pink is the new red. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you get it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Got it.

STEWART:  A Miami SWAT team captured a burglary suspect today after an hour-long stand-off.  The unidentified man was captured as he was—ran out on a roof top. 

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And, of course, the question is, can it be a stand-off when the suspect is lying down? 

STEWART:  And no pants. 

HOST:  That‘s another issue, for another broadcast. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Bad news all-around for S.U.V. drivers: your car won‘t necessarily protect you in a crash, and it‘s costing you more to fill ‘er up with gas. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The deadliest car on the road today: the S.U.V.  The safest car on the road today, the S.U.V.  You heard me.  No, I haven‘t been drinking. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: my car is better than your car for surviving a crash.  A safety group has unveiled its list of vehicles with the highest and lowest death rates in collisions, and though S.U.V‘s are on both those lists, bigger is not necessarily better.  Just listen to Tom Costello. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  In Colorado, a terrible accident.  A mother and child thrown from an S.U.V. as it skids and rolls down a grassy median.  The 6-week-old baby in a car seat, but not attached, is killed. 

RON WATKINS, MASTER TROOPER, COLORADO STATE PATROL:  The infant was ejected outside the vehicle, near the final resting place of the vehicle. 

COSTELLO:  Accident expert say S.U.V‘s, now more popular than ever, continue to be more prone to rollovers, and several are on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety‘s latest list of vehicles with the highest death rates. 

While smaller cars, like Mitsubishi Mirage, the Pontiac Firebird, and Kia Rio are on the list, there are also six S.U.V‘s including the Chevrolet Blazer, with the highest death rate, two models of the Kia Sportage, the Ford Explorer, and the Chevrolet Tracker. 

ADRIAN LUNO, INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY:  Which do have a problem with single vehicle fatal rollovers because of their higher centers of gravity. 

COSTELLO:  The findings, no surprise to the crew of the Denver Fire Department‘s Rescue One. 

CAPTAIN JOE HIBBERT, DENVER FIRE DEPT.:  Just because there‘s a size difference doesn‘t necessarily mean the guy in the small vehicle is always going to lose. 

COSTELLO:  But an S.U.V. lobbying group said S.U.V‘s are safer because they‘re bigger. 

RON DEFORE, SUV OWNERS OF AMERICA:  It‘s true that S.U.V‘s tend to roll over a bit more than other vehicles, but rollover crashes are relatively rare. 

COSTELLO:  That conflicts with what the Insurance Institute says, but S.U.V‘s are on the list of vehicles with the lowest death rates, including the Toyota 4-Runner, the Toyota Rav4 and the Lexus RX300.  Also on the list, the Volkswagen Passat, and minivans like the Honda Odyssey.  The safest car, the Mercedes E class. 

The bottom line, heavier cars and minivans fared generally better than small cars and top heavy S.U.V‘s, and across the board, death rates are coming down. 

The key, says experts, drive defense. 

WATKINS:  Don‘t put your make-up on.  Don‘t use your cell phone. 

Don‘t read the paper. 

COSTELLO:  Advice from a veteran. 

Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  The cargo is always precious, of course.  But these days, so is the gas.  Prices keep rising everywhere except for one gas station in Grand Island, Nebraska.  Prices there topped out at $1.99.  The reason, the station‘s electronic sign couldn‘t display a 2 in the dollar position.  So the owner left the price just shy of $2 for five whole days, but that sale‘s over.  The sign now displays only the time and the temperature until it is upgraded to show the 2-plus price. 

As for prices in the rest of the country, looking pretty bad, on the verge of an all-time record.  The average national retail price rising six cents to 2.06 a gallon.  That is the highest price since it peaked last May.  The region hit the hardest?  Hi, West Coast.  For L.A. drivers seeing the worst at $2.89 a gallon.  The lowest, the Gulf coast at $1.97 a gallon.  The Midwest, about in the middle, at $2.05. 

From gas guzzlers to rock ‘n‘ roll geezers, it is time for the celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” and though not exactly oldtimers, last night‘s inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been recording for at least 25 years.  Yep, that‘s one of the requirements.  But another requirement is rock ‘n‘ roll brilliance. 

From the band U2, still at the top of its game, was inducted round about midnight.  The honors offered up by none other than the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, who called U2, quote, “the keepers of some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in the rock ‘n‘ roll world.”  But Bruce also offered some friendly barbs, saying that Bono had, quote, “One of the most endearingly messianic complexes in rock‘n‘roll.”  He added, “It takes one to know one.”

Also inducted, the Pretenders, the O‘Jays, Percy Sledge and Buddy Guy.  Can we get back to Bono for a minute?  Just a second.  You know, his wife‘s name is Alison Stewart.  Same name as yours truly.  This is a picture of Alison Stewart, married to Bono. 

But you know, actually, I did meet Bono one night.  Oh, yes.  That‘s a simulation.  Not real.  I told him my name and then he took off those glasses he wears.  He revealed some pretty bloodshot eyes and said, quote, “hey, baby, let‘s go to Vegas to get married.” It‘s a true story.  I‘m not really sure that Mrs. Bono would have liked that.  But you know what they say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  I never even got to Vegas.  But I can dream. 

And on one note in the ramp up to Congress‘s investigation into steroids and baseball, NBC News has learned the House committee has exchanged Jason Giambi from testifying.  Giambi‘s involvement with another investigation though thought to be the reason.  He testified before the grand jury in the Justice Department‘s investigation into BALCO, the company accused of illegal distribution of performance enhancing drugs. 

It‘s apparently uncomfortable and irritating.  Those are Martha‘s words, her own description of her brand new ankle bracelet.  So now a New York designer is offering the high doyenne (ph) of household hints a leg up out of her misery. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  She was sprung from the big house only 11 days ago so let‘s review.  She fed treats to the horses at her Bedford estate.  She doled out prison-inspired wisdom to her peeps at corporate headquarters.  She‘s writing again for her magazines and planning two TV shows for the fall.  Our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, what stone has been left unturned for Martha Stewart?  The online chat, a very good thing for someone under house arrest.  More now from Alexis Glick.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXIS GLICK, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  From her kitchen inside her home in Bedford, New York, Martha Stewart got wired with fans, including talking about her latest accessory fitted sometime after Stewart‘s appearance last week at her company. 

From sueannf: “Do you have on your ankle bracelet?”

Martha: “I was fitted last week with the probation department‘s ankle bracelet.  It is somewhat uncomfortable and irritating.  I hope that you never have to wear one.”

Irritating to us, we couldn‘t get ann to ask our own question.  Stewart‘s Web site blames a kind of domestic disturbance, a tree fell on a power line near her home.  Once online, though, the Web site estimates about 5,000 questions were posted for Martha.  She chose 41 of them to answer. 

Jill S wanted to know: “When you were away from home, what did you miss most?” 

“My daughter, of course,” Martha wrote, “but she was able to visit often.  Of course I missed my pets.  I really did not miss material things, maybe fresh lemons, but certainly not wine or ice cream.” 

There were lots of questions about entertaining, like what Martha‘s making for St. Patrick‘s Day: corned beef and cabbage.  And for Easter: she hasn‘t decided. 

Stewart let fans know where to find the pattern for her prison release poncho.  The selected questions and answers, her ongoing PR blitz, all an attempt to reconnect Stewart with her core audience and rehab her image. 

MARTHA STEWART:  We‘re going to deepen our bond with the millions who read our publications and watch our television programs. 

GLICK:  It‘s an uphill climb for Stewart‘s company.  Stock prices have steadily fallen since she left prison.  But no one asked about that online last night. 

Instead, more questions like this one from Pollski (ph): “What did you prepare as your first meal when you returned home?”

Martha: “It wasn‘t pierogis, I‘m sad to say.  Instead I cooked up a batch of scrambled eggs and cottage cheese for my doggies.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Lucky doggies.  Not included in that report, a bit more dish on that anklet.  Quote, “I‘m not allowed while I‘m home to have any padding under the strap,” endquote.  OK.  But there is apparently no prohibition on slyly covering it up with a special shoe or a boot or something bootish that hides behind it, let‘s say something crafty, or rather, something arts and crafty. 

And the biggest surprise, someone other than Martha has come up with that answer that pays more than lip service to Martha‘s new foot fetish.  Monica Novotny is here to explain with visual aids. 

(LAUGHTER)

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s right.  Hi, Alison.  You may recall, Martha Stewart‘s lawyers did request that she not be forced to wear the court-ordered ankle bracelet, perhaps anticipating her discomfort.  But now a New York shoemaker is one step ahead of Stewart, and he feels her pain.  Shoe designer and retailer Robert Yagone (ph) coming to Martha‘s rescue with his new line of shoes just in for those “Just Out.” 

In fact, that‘s what they‘re called, and here are five of Yagone‘s designs, each with a different form of ankle camouflage.  And based on Ms.  Stewart‘s past public appearances, we think these might be a good thing for her new lifestyle. 

First up, the crocheted cover ups.  They come in a pump and boot length.  The knitted cuff inspired by that home-coming poncho keeping you warm and toasty and dusting your floors while you walk because multitasking is, of course, so in this spring. 

Alison, what do you think? 

STEWART:  I think it looks like a little bit like a wookie. 

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  All right.  Moving onto the pearl choker.  Pearls, of course, are always appropriate for those courtroom appearances because you may be out probation but you don‘t have to be out of style.  So pearls, anyone?  What do you think? 

STEWART:  That‘s very glamorous, although I don‘t think they‘re real, Monica. 

NOVOTNY:  Oh, well, OK.  Shhh. 

STEWART:  We won‘t tell anyone. 

NOVOTNY:  Next up, the floral collection.  This one ideal for entertaining at home, those cocktail parties, summer barbecues, potluck dinners, and as our senior producer points out, the heel can be sharpened into a small weapon if things get out of control. 

STEWART:  Well, you know, since flowers and lapel are out this season, that‘s so five minutes ago.  I think flowers around the ankle. 

NOVOTNY:  There you go. 

STEWART:  What do you think? 

NOVOTNY:  It‘s a good cover up. 

OK.  And finally for those special trips out, work-related, of course, the rhinestone wrap, a little glitzy but if your ankle is going to be beeping, it might as well be blinging while you‘re at it. 

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  So, here you go...

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  The best piece of writing of the week. 

NOVOTNY:  Now if for some reason you think these would appeal to the house arrested in your life, you, of course, can find out more information, that‘s on our Web Site at countdown.msnbc.com. 

Is there one you want to take home?

STEWART:  Did you try on any of them?  I have to know. 

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  Actually, I was looking at the wookie.  Yes. 

STEWART:  Yes. 

NOVOTNY:  No, I didn‘t try any of them. 

STEWART:  Well, it has got a sensible heel...

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART:  She‘s a New York City woman, she‘s got top walk around a lot. 

NOVOTNY:  And there are the ones that I think dust while you walk, you know? 

STEWART:  All right.  Monica Novotny, bringing us some good stuff on COUNTDOWN.  That is it for COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being a part of it.  I‘m Alison Stewart, good night, good luck.  Good shoes. 

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

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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