updated 3/21/2005 9:15:10 AM ET 2005-03-21T14:15:10

Guest: David Gibbs, George Felos, Wendy Wright, Geoffrey Fieger, Marc Klaas, Clint Van Zandt, Mary Fulginiti, Mickey Sherman, Robbie Ludwig

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up—breaking news in the case of that missing Florida girl and the long fight over whether to end Terri Schiavo‘s life appears to be done. 


ABRAMS (voice-over):  Just hours ago, doctors removed the feeding tube that‘s kept the brain-damaged woman alive for more than a decade.  A last-ditch effort by Republicans in Congress to subpoena Schiavo to appear at a hearing seems to have failed.  So, is it really over? 

Plus, the newest bachelor on death row, Scott Peterson receives marriage proposals on his first day in prison.  And dozens of women want to know how to contact him.  What makes a convicted murderer just so irresistible? 

And the child molestation trial is not the only thing Michael Jackson may be battling.  He could be fighting to keep his home as well. 

The program about justice starts now. 


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone—lots of breaking news to report.  In the Jessica Lunsford case, that missing 9-year-old Florida girl who disappeared on February 23 after her grandmother put her to bed, police are going to hold a press conference any moment, probably in about 10 minutes from now, to announce what they call a—quote—“major development.”  We will bring it to you live when it happens. 

And in the Terri Schiavo case, the brain dead 41-year-old woman at the center of a legal firestorm over whether to remove her feeding tube.  At 1:45 Eastern Time this afternoon at a hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, the tube was removed.  It is the third time that has happened.  While her doctors pronounce she was in a persistent vegetative state, the tube was reinserted after legislative and legal action.  Now unless a court forces doctors to put the tube back, Schiavo will die some time in the next two weeks. 

Her husband Michael Schiavo has insisted for years that that‘s what Terri would have wanted and the courts have backed him up.  But Terri‘s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler have been adamant that Terri is not in a vegetative state, should be kept alive and given therapy.  All of this comes after an extraordinary, maybe unprecedented surge of activity in connection with the case. 

The U.S. Supreme Court, both Houses of Congress, Florida‘s House and Senate, Florida‘s courts have all weighed in, in the past 48 hours and it may not be over yet.  Before we talk to lawyers for both sides, a look back at what happened today alone. 


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  We‘re just four hours away from the 1:00 p.m.  Eastern Time deadline set by a local judge for removing Terri Schiavo‘s feeding tube.  Two pieces of news just breaking—we just heard from a spokesman for the Hospice facility behind me where Terri Schiavo is being kept that subpoenas have just arrived here from the U.S. House asking them to delay removing the feeding tube. 

The second piece of information is that we heard from David Gibbs, the attorney for the parents of Terri Schiavo who have been fighting for years to keep her alive, that at 12:30 Eastern Time, an hour from now, there will be a telephone conference call, a hearing between Judge George Greer and the chief counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Well, the time has come and gone and it is because a glitch at the courthouse.  They were supposed to have a hearing at 12:30 between the trial judge, George Greer, and the chief counsel for the House—U.S.  House of Representatives, who‘s asking for a delay in removing the feeding tube because of subpoenas that have been issued.  The problem, it appears, is they couldn‘t find Judge Greer.  It‘s as simple as that. 

Because of a courthouse glitch, the removal of the tube has been delayed.  Judge Greer has just reinstated his order to remove the tube.  We‘re getting confirmation from the courthouse that, indeed, as we reported a moment ago, Judge Greer has ordered that the feeding tube be removed. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  We now have just gotten confirmation, the office of George Felos, that‘s Michael Schiavo‘s attorney, has confirmed that the feeding tube keeping Terri Schiavo has now been removed at the Hospice here behind me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was an emotional occasion, prayers were said at the time, and the feeding tube was removed without incident. 


ABRAMS:  David Gibbs is the attorney for the parents of Terri Schiavo and he joins us now to talk about what is going on here.  Mr. Gibbs, thank you for coming back on the program.  We appreciate it.  All right, is this over? 

DAVID GIBBS, ATTORNEY FOR TERRI SCHIAVO‘S PARENTS:  No, Dan.  We intend to continue doing everything we can to save Terri‘s life.  We‘re going to be appealing to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the habeas that was denied and we are going to strongly urge Congress and the legislators in Tallahassee to once again step forward, pass laws.  We should not starve to death this innocent, disabled woman.

ABRAMS:  But what kind of laws can you really pass that are constitutional that are going to save Terri‘s life? 

GIBBS:  Well, the law that we are most optimistic about has already passed in the Senate and the House in Congress.  Basically conferring federal court jurisdiction on this case where the parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, would be able to come to court and see whether Terri‘s due process rights were protected.  She never had a lawyer.  We believe she never had a fair trial and before someone‘s life is ended, and we believe it is being ended in a terrible way, death by dehydration and starvation and as you can imagine, a very tough day for Bob and Mary as a mom and dad. 

ABRAMS:  You say—you talk about the method of her death.  Would you prefer that she just be executed quickly?  I mean there‘s really no option, is there? 

GIBBS:  No.  What we prefer is that she be kept alive, just like any other healthy person.  Terri Schiavo never left a living will.  She is not terminal.  Her life expectancy would be another 30 to 40 years.  I went in to see her many times today.  She‘s playful, she‘s animated, she‘s alive, and we‘re starving her to death and I think that‘s a very sad thing. 

ABRAMS:  But the bottom line is, is it not, now that the tube has been removed, and yes, there have been a couple of other occasions where it has been reinserted, it is an uphill battle, is it not, at this point? 

GIBBS:  Oh absolutely.  It will take a miracle and we know that millions of people across this country are praying for that miracle.  The president has said we should err on the side of life.  Leaders in the Congress are trying to save Terri‘s life and we‘re still looking for that miracle to come through.  But it‘s definitely an uphill battle. 

ABRAMS:  And let‘s be clear.  You rejected the court‘s finding, correct, which has been upheld by all the rest of the courts, that this is what Terri would have wanted. 

GIBBS:  We think the evidence is not clear and convincing, as the law requires.  These were just oral statements, watching TV.  The mother and father who know her the best feel very, very strongly that Terri would want to be kept alive. 

ABRAMS:  And you say again the mother and father, but that again ignores all the testimony that came out of trial that the judge weighed in terms of friends of hers who testified, in addition to her husband, and in addition to other family members. 

GIBBS:  There were only three people who testified.  It was Michael Schiavo, his brother and his sister-in-law.  It all came up years after the fact.  Michael was only married to her for five years before the incident and the family just believes that Terri would want to be kept alive.  They believe Terri‘s wish would be to be with them until God decides to take her home. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  But you don‘t think that the court was sort of, you know just pulling this up out of nowhere, do you?  I mean the bottom line is that the court heard the evidence and just rejected that position. 

GIBBS:  No, we believe that the court did not find adequate evidence and that some of the things that are being looked at in the Congress and in the legislature.  While one judge indeed found that...

ABRAMS:  And all the appellate courts, though.  But all the appellate courts upheld that.

GIBBS:  Well, there has been one appellate court, the second DCA that has affirmed that.  But basically affirming it on the ability of a trial judge to make these determinations and that‘s one of the issues.  If Terri had had a lawyer, if Terri had had a jury, if Terri had been to court...


GIBBS:  ... we need to remember the judge who decided this has never seen Terri. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Well, but it seems the doctors who did are almost uniform in their belief that this is a persistent vegetative state.  So... 

GIBBS:  But, Dan, as you look at that, regardless of what the doctors say, there is many doctors who say Terri could swallow, she could...


GIBBS:  ... learn to communicate, she could improve, and the real question is the quality of life.  When will the courts—when will the law step in and say a life isn‘t worth living and we‘re very concerned about the precedent a case like this might set. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and you know the other side would say, you know, it was Terri‘s wish and as a result she‘s getting what she had asked for.  But regardless, I think you made a point earlier that I think is worth repeating, that this is I think a sad day no matter which side of this you are on.  David Gibbs thanks very much for coming back on the program.  Appreciate it. 

GIBBS:  Delighted to be with you. 

ABRAMS:  We‘ll have more on the Terri Schiavo case.  We‘re going to talk to the other side, George Felos, the attorney for the husband in this case.  The tube has been removed.  There is an effort under way to have Congress—the Senate step in. 

Plus—do some women really like bad boys so much that they want to marry Scott Peterson?  The phone lines at San Quentin flooded with women wanting to know how can I get in touch with Scott Peterson?  Two have proposed marriage.  What makes a death row inmate so darn attractive? 

And Michael Jackson is fighting for his freedom in court.  Could he also be fighting for his home? 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  We also are expecting a live press conference coming up in the case of that missing girl, Jessica Lunsford.  That‘s where it‘s going to happen.  We‘re going to bring it to you live.  They say there‘s a major development.  Bring it to you any moment.


ABRAMS:  Coming up—Terri Schiavo‘s tube has been removed.  She will

·         expected that she will die in the next week or two.  But there is a major effort under way in the house and the Senate to try to step in.  We continue our coverage in a moment. 




ABRAMS:  This is a live picture of a microphone where we are expecting a press conference at any moment in connection with that missing 9-year-old Florida girl, what the authorities are calling a major development in the case.  There is a lot of activity going on around the home of a man who had been called a person of interest in that case.  We‘re going to bring that to you live when it happens. 

We‘re also covering breaking news in the Terri Schiavo case.  Remember, this is the woman who has been on a feeding tube for more than a decade and today the tube was removed and it is creating a political and legal firestorm because, again, if nothing else happens, she will die in the next couple of weeks.  Her husband has said that‘s exactly what she would have wanted, considering the circumstances that she‘s now facing. 

All right.  Here‘s what her attorney—sorry—here‘s what his attorney, the husband of Terri Schiavo, had to say only moments ago. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What we experienced today in the subpoena issued by the United States House of Representatives is nothing short of futhery (ph).  It was an attempt to intimidate and coerce the treating physicians in this case, the health care providers in this case and Mr. Schiavo. 


ABRAMS:  That was George Felos, the attorney, and he joins us now on the phone.  Thank you very much Mr. Felos...

GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO‘S ATTORNEY (via phone):  You‘re welcome. 

ABRAMS:  ... for joining us.  We appreciate it.  All right.  Can you tell us—I mean tell us first about the removal of the tube.  Set the scene for us as to how it happened. 

FELOS:  Well, Mrs. Schiavo‘s feeding tube was removed about 1:45 this afternoon, pursuant to a court order.  After the judge denied the intervention by the United States House of Representatives, health care providers, physician, a representative of Mr. Schiavo was there, prayers were said and it was done, according to her wishes.  And we just that the politicians in this country respect Mrs. Schiavo and her privacy rights enough to let her die in peace. 

ABRAMS:  What is her husband‘s feeling today?  I mean how is he feeling about the fact that this has happened today? 

FELOS:  It‘s been a very difficult day for him emotionally.  He loves his wife.  But he loves her enough to know that he can‘t be selfish just to keep her here for him.  These were her wishes.  She said that I don‘t want to be kept alive artificially, no tubes for me.  I‘d want the tubes taken out if I have a catastrophic medical incident like this. 

And he‘s trying to carry out her wishes.  And it‘s absolutely extraordinary to receive a subpoena from a House of Representatives committee saying you have to keep your wife alive, against her will, because we‘re investigating your case.  It‘s shocking.  You know, the United States...


FELOS:  ... does not own the body of its citizens.  The Congress no more than any person on a street has no right to tell you what medical treatment you should have or not have. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Felos, thank you very much for taking the time. 

FELOS:  And people should write their congressmen because this case is not over.  Congress may try to come back in session...

ABRAMS:  I think they will.  I think they will.  And that‘s exactly what we‘re going to debate in a moment, because I think that‘s exactly what‘s going to happen.  All right.  Mr. Felos, thanks very much. 

Geoffrey Fieger is a criminal defense attorney who has dealt with this issue many times in his career, including his representation of Jack Kevorkian and Wendy Wright, a senior policy director for the group Concerned Women of America.

All right.  Ms. Wright, why isn‘t this just pure politics?  I mean the bottom line is look, the courts have ruled here.  This Florida legislature has tried, unconstitutional laws that they have tried to pass that have not passed constitutional muster and now we‘re seeing more meddling again.  Why isn‘t it time to just say enough is enough? 

WENDY WRIGHT, CONCERNED WOMEN OF AMERICA:  Meddling to save a person‘s life.  You know, there is a lot of facts that have been in dispute, including this claim that Terri said that she would want to be stripped of the right to have food and water.  In fact, Michael Schiavo, when he sued the doctors that originally treated her after this mysterious condition came upon her told a jury that he would care for her the rest of her life.  And, in fact, at that time the testimony was she would live a normal life span...

ABRAMS:  But the court already ruled...

WRIGHT:  He never...

ABRAMS:  You want...

WRIGHT:  No, no, no...

ABRAMS:  I know.  You want to relitigate.  I know.  I know you do. 

WRIGHT:  No...

ABRAMS:  But no appellate courts want to do that...


ABRAMS:  They won‘t step in.  The court has ruled.  And I know you guys want to relitigate it.  I know you do. 

WRIGHT:  No, no...

ABRAMS:  But the bottom line is...


ABRAMS:  ... the appellate courts are saying no, no.

WRIGHT:  Dan, please this is extremely important.  Please let me finish.  He never told...


WRIGHT:  ... the jury that she said this. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  You are relitigating again...

WRIGHT:  It was only after the money from that award...

ABRAMS:  Yes, yes...

WRIGHT:  ... was safe in his bank account that he changed his story. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I know.  I know...


ABRAMS:  Geoffrey, the problem is...

WRIGHT:  He never said that before.

ABRAMS:  ... but the problem is, Geoffrey, that it seems to me, and this is what frustrates me about this case, is the fact that there seems to be an unwillingness to accept the court‘s ruling as to exactly what the doctors said, as to what her wishes were and that‘s the part that‘s frustrating to me.  I wasn‘t there for the entire trial, but I saw...


ABRAMS:  ... the judge‘s ruling and I saw the appellate rulings as well. 

GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  This is a much more serious event, if you will, than we‘re even stating because it is—in my lifetime, it‘s an unprecedented attempt by the legislative and executive branch to overrule the separation of powers.  Remember, the court says you and I know as attorneys have absolute final say in terms of the application and the interpretation of laws and the administration of laws.  And in this case, the courts have spoke repeatedly. 

We‘re not talking about once, twice.  They‘ve gone through the appellate process 50 times.  There have been more court reviews, Dan, of this case than any case I‘ve ever seen.  And at the trial level, 12 doctors have repeatedly testified over and over again, independent doctors, having no relationship with Mrs. Schiavo‘s husband, that she is brain dead.  That she lives in a vegetative state and for the executive Jeb Bush, the legislative, the Florida House and Senate who passed an unconstitutional law and now the United States House and Senate to pass unconstitutional laws, I agree with Mr. Felos.  This is an absolutely...

ABRAMS:  But I have to tell you...

FIEGER:  ... unconstitutional mechanism. 

ABRAMS:  ... look, I agree with you, but I think it‘s going to pass. 

And Ms. Wright, I think there is hope, is there not...

FIEGER:  It‘s not going to pass and I‘ll tell you why. 

ABRAMS:  Very quickly.

FIEGER:  I‘ll tell you why.  The senator from Oregon has already prevented that.  The House has now adjourned for two weeks.  The Democratic senators that allowed it to happen once are not going to allow it...


FIEGER:  ... to happen again.  It‘s not going to happen...


ABRAMS:  Ms. Wright, very quickly...


ABRAMS:  ... I got to tell you, I think that there is going to be an effort made this coming week.  Is that what you expect? 

FIEGER:  Of course...

ABRAMS:  Let me ask Ms. Wright...


ABRAMS:  Wait.  Geoffrey, hang on.  Hang on Geoffrey.  Go ahead. 

WRIGHT:  Dan, the reason why Congress acted this week was because there was such an outpouring from people all around the country calling their congressmen, their senators and the White House asking them to please do something to save her life. 


WRIGHT:  Now we all know that courts have been wrong in the past and we can‘t allow for our courts to act as judge, jury and executioner as we‘re seeing in this case. 


WRIGHT:  There have been many doctors...

ABRAMS:  Well, the courts do that every day, but...

WRIGHT:  ... there have been many doctors who testified that in fact she is not in a vegetative state.  Senator Frist who is himself a doctor and...

ABRAMS:  Well, Dr. Frist hasn‘t examined—I mean the bottom line is you got to talk about the doctors who are her doctors...

WRIGHT:  Well nurses...

ABRAMS:  ... versus people...

WRIGHT:  ... her caretakers...


WRIGHT:  Her caretakers have...

ABRAMS:  So you have the nurses on your side and they have the doctors on their side.  I love the nurses...

WRIGHT:  Anyone who‘s been in a hospital knows...

FIEGER:  Not one doctor has testified...

ABRAMS:  All right...

FIEGER:  ... that she can exist. 

ABRAMS:  ... let me take—I got to take a break.  We have a lot—and I apologize to both of you.  This is a topic I want to spend a lot more time on.  Wendy Wright, thank you so much for coming on the program.  Geoffrey is going to stick around on another topic. 

Coming up, live press conference, missing Florida girl, missing since the end of February.  They say it is a major development in that case.  There‘s all sorts of police action going on.  We‘ll take a quick break. 

We‘ll come back with that press conference. 


ABRAMS:  We now go to a live press conference in connection with that missing 9-year-old Florida girl.  The authorities saying that there is a major development in the case.  Let‘s listen. 


SHERIFF JEFF DAWSY, CITRUS COUNTY, FLORIDA:  Thank you for bearing with me and understanding that there was some things that I had to take care of before I could come out here.  This will be a very short news conference.  I will take some questions.  You will not be filled with a lot of facts and information because I don‘t have a whole lot.  But you‘ve asked if my investigation will ever take a specific turn.  Ladies and gentlemen, it did take a specific turn. 

John Couey is now the point of investigation.  John Couey, today, as you well know yesterday, as you very well know, he was interviewed by my investigators throughout the day.  The FBI sent their polygrapher up there that did the polygraphs on the family members.  John Couey was polygraphed today and at the end of the polygraph, he says you don‘t need to tell me the results.  I already know what they are.  Could I have the investigators come back in?  And the investigators came back in. 

He apologized to the investigators for wasting their time and I‘m now going to use the word that you probably waited for me to use.  John Couey admitted to abducting Jessica and subsequently taking her life.  I really don‘t have a whole lot of information for you besides that.  If anybody has any questions, I will be leaving here to go to the family. 

As you are all very well aware that my security has enhanced around the residence and it will remain there.  My PIO‘s and you have worked very well together.  I ask that you understand that this is a very tough time not only for me, it‘s a very tough time for the family.  My PIO‘s will be in contact with them and we will try to be in contact with you and orchestrate whatever we can to facilitate. 

With that, again, I‘m going to answer a few questions.  I do want to try to stay halfway composed for you.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Did he tell you where Jessica‘s body...

DAWSY:  I—he‘s told us a general area. 

QUESTION:  Any luck in finding that...

DAWSY:  This will take hours. 

QUESTION:  The search is under way now? 

DAWSY:  Pretty much so. 

QUESTION:  When will he be moved? 

DAWSY:  Oh, I don‘t know that yet.  I...

QUESTION:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) another hearing? 

DAWSY:  Well, remember, this is breaking news and I wish I could give you all the figures.  We‘re in the process of talking with our state attorney here.  He is not going anywhere up there.  He is on a no bond and we will bring him back once we do everything correct and, you know, we‘ve talked about building a case and this is not a time to sing anybody‘s praises, but I will tell you that we have built a case, a very methodical case and I‘ve got my man. 

QUESTION:  Sheriff, is there any negotiating principle of taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for cooperation and leading...

DAWSY:  I have not been made aware of that.  That would have to be cleared through me and that didn‘t get cleared through me. 

QUESTION:  Did he give you a timeline of when he abducted Jessica, how long he held her, what he did?  I mean did he...

DAWSY:  No. 


DAWSY:  He‘s probably doing that as we speak.  But again, it is very early and as the night goes on, I‘ll be very—I‘ll be made aware of what happens.  Yes, sir?

QUESTION:  Did he give you an idea of how he got in?  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

DAWSY:  I can‘t go through that right now.  We are now in a major criminal case and I‘m going to shut down some of the information, understandably so, on the criminal end, until I can approach the State Attorney‘s Office with all facts and figures.  Yes, sir? 

QUESTION:  What prompted his change in heart to confess? 

DAWSY:  I don‘t know.  I wasn‘t up there.  I‘m just telling you my investigators, after he finished with the polygrapher, he turned to him and said bring the investigators in and then started to confess. 

QUESTION:  Sir, can you tell me (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

DAWSY:  That was the reason why I took so long to come out here.  We were locating Mark and subsequently calling Jessica‘s mom to let them know at the same time and then to come out and brief you and that‘s what took us a little bit longer. 


DAWSY:  I don‘t know.  I mean I just was told by my—one of my commanders that the information has been relayed and then I knew you guys were on a timeline and I wanted to come out to you guys. 

QUESTION:  About what time was the confession? 


QUESTION:  ... he took her from the home or...

DAWSY:  Again, that‘s a criminal end of it.  As soon as I get verification, I will get back to you.  I don‘t have—again, let me explain.  I don‘t have a whole lot of data.  I wanted to come out and let you hear it from me.  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  Sheriff, what was his demeanor when he confessed... 

DAWSY:  Again, I wasn‘t there.  I mean it must have been fairly—I‘m searching for the word, I apologize.  I‘m a little brain-fade right now.  I guess it was cordial.  You know, I don‘t think you know we had to hold him down or anything.  He asked for them to come in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One last question.

DAWSY:  One last question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One last question.

QUESTION:  Are there any other cases in Citrus County now that you think we may need to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at John Couey because there are things that we hadn‘t investigated before?

DAWSY:  We‘re going to look.  We - he had talked to us quite a while.  We‘re going to look at a lot of things, but nothing of any major magnitude and you know that‘s really the only questions—I‘m stumbling right now and I apologize.  I‘m not...



DAWSY:  No.  Again, I apologize.  I‘m going to the residence.  You will see me there and I imagine I will see you there also.

QUESTION:  But no other like sexual molestation cases that hadn‘t been...

DAWSY:  Not that I‘m aware of, OK.

QUESTION:  When did you get the news...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) We‘re working on getting, putting some facts and timelines together for you...


ABRAMS:  This is the news that everyone feared, but no one wanted to hear.  That there‘s been an admission that John Couey, sex offender, he abducted little Jessica and subsequently took her life. 

He said - the sheriff just said we‘ve got our man.  Marc Klaas is someone who knows exactly what it‘s like to hear that kind of news.  He lost his daughter, Polly, who was killed and he‘s now become a great victim‘s rights advocate. 

Marc, the moment you get that news, it‘s got to be one of those moments that sticks with you for the rest of your life.

MARC KLAAS, FATHER OF POLLY KLAAS (via phone):  This is just - it‘s so terribly heartbreaking.  He just was so hopeful, Dan.  I can tell you that hearing about subsequent children after hearing about my own child initially is more difficult for me.  Interestingly, when (UNINTELLIGIBLE) first told me about Polly, it was such an overwhelming emotion that it took a couple of hours for the emotion to catch up with the intellect, if you know what I mean.  I mean I understood what they had told me, but it was so overwhelming and so devastating and so all consuming that it was only a couple of hours later that it all jelled in my mind and I realized the magnitude of the loss.

ABRAMS:  I always find it so inappropriate, I don‘t know if it‘s inappropriate, but just so not - it doesn‘t seem particularly accurate to say that there is some sort of closure.  I mean it‘s not closure, is it?

KLAAS:  No.  What it does, though, is it ultimately allows - it will ultimately allow Mark and his family to be able to put their lives together simply because they know.  See one of the things, probably the most domineering emotion that Mark Lunsford has had over the course of the past three weeks is fear.  Fear that something horrible is happening to his daughter, but now he won‘t have that fear anymore because he knows that nobody is hurting her.  Nobody can hurt her.  Nobody has been able to hurt her for some period of time.

And very shortly, I‘m sure that that fear will be replaced by anger and it‘ll be the anger of betrayal.  That he‘s been betrayed by another human being or his daughter was betrayed by another human being.  It‘s just so ghastly.  It‘s so unfair and so incredibly ghastly.

ABRAMS:  Kerry Sanders joins us now.  Kerry, what do we know about this guy, Couey?

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has been arrested more than 24 times over his lifetime.  He is 46 years old and just this week in Augusta, Georgia, happened to be in a bar drinking and smoking cigarettes when a local television crew went in there.  These are pictures of John Couey sitting there, relaxing, smoking, drinking, and seemingly going on about his life.  He is a registered sex offender.  He was convicted in 1991.

He served a five-year sentence and as a registered sex offender, he was supposed to be living in a different home, not the home that he was in when he now admits that he took 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.  He took—apparently spied her for the first time from the home where he was staying, which is his half-sister‘s home, about 150 yards away.  He was supposed to be staying at the home he had registered at, which is about two miles away over on West Grover Cleveland Boulevard.  And if you actually look at these pictures here, you can see that there are some authorities from the Citrus County Sheriff‘s Office that are there. 

They put up some yellow crime scene tape and they‘re going to be looking in that area.  We can just assume that they will be looking for Jessica Lunsford‘s body in that location.  I think this is going to raise some questions.  The authorities know they had about 60 sex offenders in the county and they methodically went through each one and they realized pretty quickly that Couey was not where he was supposed to be.  Of all 60, he was the one that they could not find. 

He left the area using an alias name, getting on a bus, and heading out of town.  I think one of the questions is going to be why didn‘t the authorities go into the home where it‘s possible now her body may be stashed and why didn‘t they go in there earlier.  I think there is going to be some other questions from the family about the time that this took.  As you know, Mark, as well as the grandmother and the grandfather, have been making pleas. 

They got a lot of community response initially.  People were out there.  They were even talking about tomorrow.  Once again, marshalling neighbors to come out and once again do more of a sweep.  But as you now know, there‘s been a confession.  So, the person of interest is now the confessed murderer of a 9-year-old girl.  We didn‘t hear the sheriff say why he did it.  But we know that he has had a history of sexual predatoring in the past. 

ABRAMS:  Kerry, that picture we saw, the videotape of him smiling at that bar, when was that taken? 

SANDERS:  That was taken on Monday of this week.  He was in the bar in Augusta, Georgia.  The local television station was doing a unrelated story about smoking in bars and whether there should be a smoking ban or not and it just happenstance that they had it.  In fact, one of the cameramen at the station saw the picture of Couey and said I kind of remember seeing a guy like that earlier this week.  And he went and pulled his videotape and looked at it and there he was. 

ABRAMS:  So this is after Jessica has allegedly been abducted and killed?

SANDERS:  Yes, this is two weeks...


SANDERS:  This is two weeks afterwards.  We‘re talking three weeks and a day or so now since she has been missing.

ABRAMS:  Wow.  All right.  Clint Van Zandt, former FBI profiler.  You know, the fact that this guy is sitting in a bar, having a drink, no worries in the world, the fact that seems that the police talked to him and let him go, going to be a lot of questions here about the police work. 

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER (via phone):  Well, part of it, though, Dan, is I think what we‘re going to find out is unfortunately this young girl was probably—has probably been assaulted and murdered within, as you know, statistically, within four hours normally if we don‘t get a girl back, if we don‘t get a person back, the chances of getting them back are less.  But here is a guy, Dan, who 27 years ago we know that he committed a house burglary, went into a young child‘s bedroom, put his hands on her. 

Here‘s a guy who worked a job as a dishwasher and sent a three-page love note to a 14-year-old girl.  I mean this is someone who has, at least a 30-plus-year history of crimes against children, against teenagers, inappropriate behavior.  I mean it shows one more time the horrific rate of recidivism that we see in these type of offenders. 

ABRAMS:  Why did they release information—and if we can get a picture of the grandmother, that the grandmother had—something the grandmother had said in a lie detector test had lead to red flags?  From the beginning of this I have not understood why they said that.  You know, it seems that grandma was purely just loving grandma. 

VAN ZANDT:  You know, what I think happened, Dan, I think that there was some inconclusives on her polygraph.  The Sheriff‘s Office couldn‘t explain those inconclusives and I think what it‘s going to turn out to be was that the grandmother probably harbored some sense of responsibility because, as we know, the offender came in to the house, came in to the trailer while the grandmother was there asleep and in bed. 

Now whether the Sheriff‘s Office thought perhaps the grandmother had some suspicions about family members, somebody in the community, they were going to use that to leverage her.  You know, the sheriff is going to have to tell us the rest.  But, you know, you see this sheriff like every other man and woman in law enforcement who worked this case.  I mean they worked it just like that was their own child.  They did everything they could to get that young girl back alive and when they, like the parents, like Marc Klaas have to face the inevitability of one more child lost to one more monster, it‘s just—when is it going to end?

ABRAMS:  We are continuing our coverage of the announcement only moments ago that there has been a confession by a sex offender to the abduction and murder of little Jessica Lunsford, the 9-year-old Florida girl who‘s been missing since February 23 and that is the man who is under arrest and apparently he‘s being questioned by the authorities as we speak, with regards to the details of exactly how it happened, the sheriff coming out and saying that he finished taking a polygraph and then apologized for wasting their time and then apparently spilled the beans. 

Mary Fulginiti, former prosecutor, this is one of those cases that makes people re-examine issues with regard to sex offenders, doesn‘t it?

MARY FULGINITI, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  Oh gosh.  I mean I have to tell you that‘s all we seem to see in the news these days between the Michael Jackson case, this case, and obviously some of the priest cases.  But what I find interesting about this case is they polyed (ph) him, which they do many times.  But polygraphs, which I think the viewers might find to be interesting, are very emotionally exhausting and if administered by the right polygrapher can really break a defendant, which appears as what occurred here.  Right after the polygraph he came out and essentially confessed to the totality of the crime.  So it was an interesting I thought investigative sort of tactic and move to utilize here to try to get that confession out of him, which obviously they did. 

ABRAMS:  Marc, is the family going to want more answers from the authorities or do you think that they‘re basically saying, look, these guys are the good guys.  They‘re on our side.  Marc Klaas is not on the phone anymore.  OK. 

Mickey Sherman with us, the great criminal defense attorney.  You know I hate to even ask this question at this point.  You know, when you get this kind of case with an alleged confession, there‘s not much of a defense, right? 

MICKEY SHERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  No.  You basically are going to argue for this man‘s life, and you know, Dan, I‘m not trying to be the apologist for sex offenders, but not every sex offender or registered sex offender is a murderer.  I mean there are levels and gradations and to paint everyone with a broad brush that we have to watch every single sex offender because they are potential murderers, that‘s really not the case. 

But on the other hand, I got to tell you, you know I‘m against the death penalty, most criminal defense lawyers are, and just when we think that we‘ve got the greater part of society convinced that we should get—do away with the death penalty, along comes a case like this and it‘s so difficult to argue against the death penalty in this case. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Well, apart from the issue of the death penalty, Geoffrey Fieger, this is the sort of case that I think does propel legislators sometimes to act.

FIEGER:  Well, we couldn‘t act anymore.  We‘ve become—I mean we couldn‘t get more retributive if you will.  We house more people in prison.  These laws requiring sex registration, even for teenagers that have sex with their girlfriend are getting a little bit absurd.  But as Clint Van Zandt said, and he‘s correct, as far as child abuse is concerned, sexually, the recidivism rate is virtually 100 percent.  It cannot be cured and these people are truly dangerous.  These people will not change and they will continue to do it.  He is absolutely right.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask Robi Ludwig about that, a psychologist who knows a lot about this.  True that guys like this are never going to change? 

DR. ROBI LUDWIG, PSYCHOLOGIST:  These are varied.  It is true what Mickey Sherman said that not all sex offenders are created equal and this particular sex offender, John Couey, is the most severe sex offender.  He is the predative type of sex offender that will seek out children and abduct them.  It‘s very statistically rare and these types of sex offenders resist treatment.  We just really don‘t know how to treat them yet.  In some cases, medication works.  In some cases if you do some kind of behavioral-type therapy, it is useful.  Some are responsive and some are not.  So, it is a very difficult question.  We just don‘t know how to treat these people. 

ABRAMS:  Have there been any study—you know there have been occasional cases where they‘ve suggested and they‘ve been rare, but they‘ve suggested castration for some of these guys. 

LUDWIG:  Right. 

ABRAMS:  Any sense that that works? 

LUDWIG:  Right.  That if you reduce somehow their testosterone level that they‘re less inclined to act on this impulse.  The problem with pedophiles is that they have these fantasies in their head and that the fantasies are compulsive and they can‘t get rid of it and they act on these fantasies and sometimes when they act on the fantasy, they feel so powerful that it‘s hard for them to resist engaging in it over and over and over again. 

ABRAMS:  Let me play, again, the sound from only moments ago, Sheriff Jeff Dawsy, making the announcement that they have their man. 


DAWSY:  John Couey was polygraphed today and at the end of the polygraph, he says you don‘t need to tell me the results.  I already know what they are.  Could I have the investigators come back in?  And the investigators came back in, he apologized to the investigators for wasting their time, and I‘m now going to use the word that you probably waited for me to use.  John Couey admitted to abducting Jessica and subsequently taking her life. 


ABRAMS:  Heard it once, got the same chills the second time around.  Take a break.  Continuing our coverage of the Jessica Lunsford case coming to a horrible end, it seems, in a moment.



ABRAMS:  I want to show that videotape right now.  All right, look at this.  This was taken on Monday.  Monday.  There he is.  John Couey sitting at a bar, having a beer, having a smoke, you‘re going to see him smile in a minute.  Yes, just having a good ole time at the bar.  Boy, oh, boy.  You know, Marc Klaas, you‘ve been through this before as a victim‘s family.  I almost don‘t want the family to see that video. 

KLAAS:  You know, they‘re learning in a much more profound way than we are that evil exists in this world.  You know, you tend to go through life with kind of rose-colored glasses thinking that if you do right by other people, they‘ll do right by you.  But then something happens like Couey or something happens like Richard Allen Davis and just everything that you believed in gets torn asunder, your world is shaken in profound ways that you don‘t understand for years and years, and the image of the smiling face never disappears. 

ABRAMS:  Clint Van Zandt, as they search now for the body in a general area, pretty clear they‘re—I mean I shouldn‘t say pretty clear, pretty likely they‘re going to find it quickly, right? 

VAN ZANDT:  I think so, too.  It‘s—what we‘re going to find out is this particular offender, I mean, after he assaulted and by his own confession, murdered this young girl, he wouldn‘t have carried her too far away.  I just don‘t think he had the skill set that would have allowed him to take her away to a predetermined, you know, burial site or something like that. 

And you know, just a question—something that was said earlier, Dan.  It‘s right.  I mean all sex offenders are not murderers, but all sex offenders are sex offenders and they reoffend and they do these horrific things to children and to adults again and again and, you know, we—and when I was in a behavioral science unit, we interviewed killers of children and people who assaulted children and I remember one particular individual who had a lengthy, lengthy record, realize that the average offender offends between 50 and sometimes 150 children. 

And this one fellow told us one time I‘ll do whatever you want.  I‘ll take Saltpeter.  I‘ll go to any courses you want me to take.  All I want you to do is let me out and let me on the street and let me get to children again.  That was one of the most chilling things I think I‘ve ever heard anyone say, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  I got to wrap this up.  Geoffrey Fieger, Mickey Sherman, Marc Klaas, Clint Van Zandt, Mary Fulginiti, Robi Ludwig, I know we—you guys were planning on talking a little bit more about another topic, but you know we had to do this.  So, thanks very much for coming on the program. 

Take a quick break.  Your e-mails coming up.


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Laci Peterson‘s family had the first opportunity to speak directly to Scott Peterson on Wednesday before he was sentenced to death.  I read quotes from what Laci‘s family had to say.  Many of you commenting. 

Rivka Weiner, “I was impressed and moved by your presentation of Laci Peterson‘s mother‘s heartrending words.  I was impressed that you allowed your emotions to come forth to be honest with your reaction.”  Thank you Rivka.

From Atlanta, Georgia, Susan Askew Locke.  “I want to commend you on the personal feelings that you have shown during the Scott Peterson trial.  Thank you for being real with America.  We need braver souls such as you.” 

Thank you as well Susan.

Inside the courtroom Scott Peterson‘s family members became agitated at some of the accusations made by Laci‘s family.  At one point, Scott‘s dad shouted liar at Laci‘s brother, Brent Rocha, when he was speaking.

Abbie Petris in San Diego.  “Isn‘t this amazing?  After all the lying Scott did both to his own family and to Amber Frey, his father has the gall to call Laci‘s brother a liar in the very same court that his own son‘s lies were exposed.”

In another California courtroom, former “Baretta” TV star Robert Blake found not guilty for the murder and solicitation of murder of his wife.  I said while it seems there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that doesn‘t mean he didn‘t do it.  The jurors said the same thing.

From Kenosha, Wisconsin, Terry Lopez.  “It‘s ironic on the same day Scott Peterson is sentenced to death for the death of his wife and child that Robert Blake is found not guilty.  Basically these two cases were the same, all circumstantial.”

No.  No irony there Terry.  Circumstantial cases strongest types of cases.  In the Peterson case, though, his lies, the location of the bodies, way stronger evidence than anything that the jury heard in the Blake case. 

From El Paso, Texas, Marc Wallis.  “I‘m surprised at you.  As an attorney you should understand the concept of reasonable doubt.  Yet, you act like this was a miscarriage of justice.”

Bill Krumpter, “Sounds like the media wants to replace the courts as judge and jury and convict the innocent and/or acquitted—he‘s talking about Robert Blake—via the power of public opinion.”

Look, to both of you, again, I‘ve said this before.  The legal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt only applies when the government has the power to take away someone‘s freedom.  The jury may have made the right legal decision and that could still mean Blake got away with murder. 

Finally Paula Helms in Colorado Springs—“My sister told me to send you this e-mail.  Robert Blake doesn‘t have to do time because he didn‘t do the crime.”

How old are you, Paula?  How old is your sister? 

All right.  Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show. 

“OH PLEAs!”—Yesterday being St. Patrick‘s Day, you probably saw the slogan, kiss me I‘m Irish posted on T-shirts and signs.  Twenty-three-year-old Josiah Johnson of Moorhead, Minnesota might as well have had a sign that said pull me over I‘m drunk.  Johnson finished a long night at a sports pub in Moorhead and made a mistake of getting in his Chevy. 

A mistake not only because he was apparently driving drunk, no, he was taking lessons from the proud Irish, Johnson drove home effectively boasting that he was tipsy.  Literally.  Johnson‘s license plate read t-i-p-s-y.  The county sheriff deputy pulled over Johnson after his vehicle was swerving.  Johnson faces third-degree drunk driving charges after registering a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. 

Johnson says he bought the plates to describe the ride in his jeep, the one he used to drive, but he kept the plates for his new Chevy as a joke because he really likes to party.  Good one.  I‘m sure the cops are cracking up. 

That does it for us tonight.  Coming up, 9:00, “Inside San Quentin”, Scott Peterson‘s new home. 

“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews is up next.  Have a great weekend.


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