updated 3/21/2005 10:07:56 AM ET 2005-03-21T15:07:56

Guest: Glenn Mcgee, Guido Sarducci

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISON STEWART, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The Schiavo decision.  Amid protesters at a hospice, an act of Congress, a Supreme Court rejection and a Florida judge‘s ruling, the feeding tube sustaining Terri Schiavo‘s life was removed.

COUNTDOWN examines a case that is akin to legal, ethical and medical quicksand. 

Jessica‘s story.  The person of interest became a person in custody and now is a person who confessed.  A big breakthrough in the case of the missing Florida girl. 

Neverland never more?  The new financial threat to Michael Jackson and his fantasy-based compound from a pornographic filmmaker. 

And live on tape in front of a picture of the Vatican, Father Guido Sarducci unlocks the secrets of “The Da Vinci Code.”

DON NOVELLO, COMEDIAN, AS FATHER GUIDO SARDUCCI:  You know the best way to break “The Da Vinci Code”?

STEWART:  No, sir.

NOVELLO:  Get one of these, “The Da Vinci Code” decoder ring. 

STEWART:  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann. 

It‘s a life and death struggle, usually a private family matter that has become increasingly public. 

Terri Schiavo has lived in a permanent vegetative state for 15 years.  A feeding tube is her lifeline.  Today that tube was removed.  But only after an extraordinary fight between her husband and her parents, between judges and politicians, a fight that apparently is far from over. 

Our No. 5 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, what would Terri want?  That‘s the real question at the center of this 15-year family drama.  But Terri Schiavo can‘t answer it. 

Her husband says she wouldn‘t want to be kept alive like this.  Her parents say she can get better.  But today it seemed everyone all the way from Capitol Hill had the answer for Terri. 

After years of court battles, today was the day a judge set for removal of the tube.  This week the Florida legislature tried to intervene.  Politicians on Capitol Hill tried to intervene.  But no new laws could get passed. 

So this morning the country woke up to the news that the committee in the House of Representatives, a committee, subpoenaed Schiavo in her vegetative state and her husband to testify in a move to force doctors to keep her feeding tube inserted.  The move turned an already painful day into a dramatic day of twists and turns in this case. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK POTTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  This one, of course, is coming down to the wire, as it always seems to do in the Schiavo case.  We‘re a half-hour away from the deadline for pulling the feeding tube, and there have been a number of developments, as you said. 

The next development should be beginning right now at a Clearwater courthouse, where Judge George Greer, who issued the order to remove the feeding tube, will hear a request from the chief counsel for the House of Representatives to delay pulling that tube because of the subpoenas that have gone out. 

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER:  It‘s now 1 p.m. on the East Coast, the time preordained by a Florida state judge for denial of food and water to Terri Schiavo.  That act of barbarism can be and must be prevented. 

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP:  Our understanding is that courts have given some extension to—to Terri‘s life, and what they‘ve actually done is postpone the beginning of a very painful death. 

POTTER:  It appears that there is some misunderstanding over what‘s happened with this hearing and this ruling.  And I want to reiterate what we‘re hearing from our affiliated station here in Tampa, which has a reporter at the courthouse. 

There has not been a definitive ruling yet in the case of Terri Schiavo.  All that has happened is that, because they couldn‘t find the judge who was having cell phone problems in calling in for a telephone conference, they simply delayed the hearing until 1:15. 

Judge Greer has just reinstated his order to remove the tube.  Reinstated his order to remove the feeding tube.  So that means that at this time now, that feeding tube can be removed.  In essence, what this sounds like is that he has rejected the argument from the House. 

BARBARA WELLER, LAWYER FOR TERRI SCHIAVO‘S PARENTS:  I said, “Terri, that‘s OK, that‘s good enough.”  I said, “I‘ll go out and I‘ll tell everybody that you tried to say I want to live.  And she did try to say it.”  A police officer at the door heard her.  And she was crying. 

And I said, “It‘s OK, Terri, you don‘t have to say the rest of it. 

It‘s OK.”  And then I calmed her down, and she was OK after that. 

KRISTEN DAHLGREN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  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 alive has now been removed at the hospice here behind me. 

She is expected to be able to live between seven and 30 days without food and water. 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s possible—it‘s quite possible that earlier in the week we will see a session of Congress where members come in, address legislation to specifically deal with Terri Schiavo, kick it up to the federal level, and then take it from there. 

GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO‘S LAWYER:  What we experienced today in the subpoena issued by the United States House of Representatives is nothing short of thuggery. 

It is absolutely shocking that, according to the House of Representatives, any committee member or subcommittee member can issue a subpoena directed to any American, forcing them to have medical treatment against their will. 

GOV. JEB BUSH ®, FLORIDA:  While I appreciate people may have a different point of view on this, I do think that, as a society, we should value life, and we should protect life and that all of us here have value in our lives, and so does Terri Schiavo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  It‘s been a mentally and emotionally exhausting day all the way around.  And today‘s removal is the third time that we‘ve reached this part of the story.  So there‘s still a very real chance that some action will be taken to overturn today‘s event. 

And as you saw, NBC‘s Mark Potter has been on the story all day.  He joins us now in Pinellas Park, Florida, outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo is being cared for. 

Mark, thanks for being with us. 

POTTER:  Glad to be here. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about some of the nuts and bolts.  What do we know about the tube removal today?  Who was there?  Any word on Mrs.  Schiavo‘s condition?

POTTER:  Well, we‘re told that she‘s resting in the hospice facility behind me.  Indeed, the tube was removed. 

Before that happened, she was visited by a monsignor who administered last rites.  Her parents were there earlier.  Her husband, Michael Schiavo, also was there later in the day. 

We‘re told that she is basically there normally, as she would be.  She‘s typically fed at night, so the removal of the tube this afternoon has not really yet had any impact. 

And as we heard earlier, the doctors are saying that it could be a couple of weeks or so, if the tube remains out, before she dies.  It could be longer.  Nobody really knows.  But those are the estimates. 

But right now we‘re told that situation is pretty much the status quo in the—in the hospice facility at this time.  It‘s early on. 

STEWART:  You know this better than most people, because you‘ve been covering the story for so long.  When we get to this point, it seems that something happens.  Could Terri Schiavo‘s feeding tube be reinserted, as it was before?

POTTER:  It happened twice before.  Once reinserted by another judge, then by the governor.  You never know. 

The parents, of course, are looking toward Congress.  They‘re not looking, really, at the courts anymore.  They‘ve lost at every step of the way.  I think there‘s only one appeal left at a federal court.  Not much hope there. 

So they‘re looking at Congress maybe coming together, the House passing a Senate bill that would protect Terri, putting her case into the federal courts.  That‘s about their last hope. 

And as you alluded to, in this case you just never know.  They get right to the wire, you think it‘s over and then something happens.  It almost happened again today, it felt like.  And it could happen again.  It‘s possibly a long shot, but the parents are certainly banking on it. 

STEWART:  Now, for people who have just sort of begun keying into this story, the parents have always said this is about money for Terri‘s husband.  Can you explain that part of the story?

POTTER:  Well, it‘s part of the ugly argument that—that we see in this case.  As the parents fight, bitterly, their son-in-law over this issue, they claim that their son-in-law, Michael Schiavo, cares more about the money that he would have inherited if Terri had died, money that he got in a settlement, a malpractice settlement.  They claim that that‘s really all he cares about. 

Of course, he denies that strenuously.  That money, by the way, most of it has been spent on the legal battle that has occurred.  And there‘s not much of it left.  As you know, somebody just offered him $1 million to walk away from this.  He turned that down. 

This is a very ugly family battle.  Very ugly.  And it‘s been pointed out for years in the courts, and that‘s just one aspect of it. 

STEWART:  You mentioned it‘s a family battle.  But Capitol Hill got involved today.  Can you, in a capsule, explain what happened?

POTTER:  Well, a lot of people got involved, the courts, the Florida legislature and Capitol Hill, trying to pass bills that were—would protect Terri.  The Senate did it; the House did not. 

And then the House Republican leadership decided that the way to go was with a subpoena, to try to subpoena Terri, her husband and others to Capitol Hill, or they would come here, actually, to investigate her situation, and also, look into long-term health care for incapacitated adults. 

And they were arguing that, because we now have these subpoenas, we need to look into this.  We need to delay this ruling pulling out the tube.  And so they were right in the middle of it.  But they were shot down by a local judge. 

STEWART:  Mark Potter in Pinellas Park, Florida, thanks a lot. 

We‘re going to continue on this vein.  As you‘ve already seen, a big part of this day was spent with some very heated words exchanged between lawyers in Florida and representatives on Capitol Hill. 

I‘m joined now by Patrick McHenry, a Republican representative from North Carolina.  He‘s a member of the House Government Reform Committee taking action to keep Schiavo‘s feeding tube inserted. 

Mr. McHenry, thanks for being with us tonight. 

REP. PATRICK MCHENRY ®, NORTH CAROLINA:  Thank you for having me, Alison. 

STEWART:  Michael Schiavo‘s lawyer said today of Terri Schiavo, and I quote here, “She has become a pawn in a political football game.”  Your response?

MCHENRY:  I think it‘s unfortunate that they‘re saying that.  This is a human life we‘re talking about.  And as a country, as a great nation, as a wealthy nation, I think we must respect life in all forms. 

And we have an obligation as Congress, as elected officials, to respect those lives and help those that cannot protect themselves.  And clearly, Terri Schiavo cannot protect herself. 

Though she is incapacitated, she‘s not in a coma.  In fact, she responds to external stimulus, and what you see from her is a sad state.  But at the same time, it‘s not for me to determine whether or not to take her life.  In fact, it should be for a judge to determine.  But it should be...

STEWART:  But you bring up an interesting point.  A lot of people are saying this is a family matter.  What is Congress doing in this family‘s business?

MCHENRY:  Well, certainly the mother and father of Terri Schiavo have said that they would like her to live.  And it‘s her husband who has not been engaged in this, other than to—other than for legal wrangling purposes, who wants to move on with his life. 

Well, he certainly can.  There are legal means for him to do that. 

But why does he have to take an innocent human life in the process?

STEWART:  You co-sponsored legislation called the Incapacitated Person‘s Legal Protection Act.  I believe that‘s the correct name.  It‘s federal legislation that would allow persons with disabilities to have their own legal counsel. 

How would this help Mrs. Schiavo, who clearly can‘t talk to any legal counsel, can‘t let her wishes be known?

MCHENRY:  Well, certainly what we‘re saying is because she cannot protect herself, we must step in as a government, like we step in for those that are mentally challenged, for children.  We‘ve stepped in as a people, as a government, and said that we will protect you. 

That‘s why you have child labor laws that say you cannot employ children in labor practices.  That‘s why we have said that you should have a right to live your life out to the fullest, no matter how long that takes. 

STEWART:  So would Congress have to step in on the hundreds of cases like this?

MCHENRY:  Absolutely.  And what we‘ve seen with this case—I think what we‘ve seen with this case is another judge—a local judge, usurping the power of Congress and stepping in the way of a subpoena that has been issued from Congress. 

I certainly think this local district court judge down in Florida should be held in contempt of Congress for doing this.  I think it‘s wholly ridiculous that he‘s stepping between the House and the Senate of the United States of America, saying, “Let‘s put this woman to death, a slow, painful death, by starvation.”  I think that‘s wrong. 

STEWART:  Well, we‘re going to have a medical ethicist to talk about how she‘s going to spend her last days.  What do you think personally about the idea of subpoenaing this woman who is in a vegetative state?

MCHENRY:  I think it‘s a bold step, because this is a last-month challenge, because we‘ve not been able to act quickly enough as Congress to step in and say that you should respect this woman‘s life, whether or not what you believe as a people, as a government, we should say you have the right to life from the moment of conception through natural death.  And that‘s what this is all about.  There‘s a larger issue here than just Terri Schiavo. 

STEWART:  Representative Patrick McHenry, thanks for joining us tonight. 

MCHENRY:  Thank you, Alison. 

STEWART:  A day of intense drama and confrontation.  Up next, we‘ll explore the ethical issues facing the medical community.  Specifically, in her vegetative state, what will Terri Schiavo experience now that her feeding tube has been removed?

And a devastating development in the search for Jessica Lunsford. 

Today the person of interest confesses. 

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Two major stories of life and death playing out today.  What will Terri Schiavo experience in the next few weeks?  And the sad ending to the search for a 9-year-old Florida girl.  And a sudden confession.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Continuing our coverage of the Terri Schiavo case, our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, medical decisions and the process of dying. 

Every year more than 1.5 million families make the agonizing decision whether to stop medical treatment for a loved one.  Here to help us get a better understanding of Schiavo‘s medical condition and the ethics surrounding the case, Glenn McGee is the director of the New York Institute for Bioethics. 

Mr. McGee, if you had to construct the ethical issue here, removal of all passions, religious beliefs, political beliefs, what is the medical ethical issue at hand?

GLENN MCGEE, DIRECTOR, NEW YORK INSTITUTE FOR BIOETHICS:  Well, it‘s actually interesting in a number of ways. 

We‘re asking as a country about who makes the choices for us, for our parents and grandparents and even sometimes, unfortunately, for our children.  A lot of people are asking themselves right now, “What if I forgot to plan for my parents or my kids?  What if I didn‘t have that conversation?”

This story is tragic in a number of ways, no matter which side of the issue you‘re on, because it represents one of those classic stories that‘s true for so many Americans in this age group. 

There‘s no planning.  There‘s been no conversation.  And so people are kind of at a loss.  If there‘s any disagreement, you can‘t resort to what the patient said.  You have to decide instead what you think they would have wanted or what you think you overheard them say or what they said in a casual conversation. 

STEWART:  Now, is that why this case is so very muddy?

MCGEE:  It‘s muddy for a number of reasons.  There aren‘t good laws, and as you‘ve seen, that‘s resulted in this kind of scampering around by those who are eager to do what‘s right on both sides.  And it‘s become hysterical. 

We all really, I think, are hyperventilating now about the Schiavo case.  And perhaps, if we take a break, we‘ll realize that the goal of Congress, as your last subject just said, maybe shouldn‘t be to look into every single case of persistent vegetative state or dying Americans.  It should be to pass good laws in the first place. 

With law under these circumstances, people are panicked.  They want to make sure that Terri doesn‘t suffer, and for some, that means that she should be allowed to continue in this state forever.  For others, it means that she should be allowed to die. 

But these are big, tough questions.  And a lot of them revolve around what she does or doesn‘t feel. 

STEWART:  Well, let‘s talk about that right now.  Should this feeding tube not be reinserted, how much longer is she expected to live and under what conditions?  Will she feel any pain?

MCGEE:  Well, there are some medical raw facts here.  No matter what neurologist you talk to, no matter how understand the scanning of the brain.  We know that Terri Schiavo will not feel anything.  Often, medical ethicists talk about the end of life in terms of several things, what you feel, so the kind of raw feelings. 

Patients who are in a persistent vegetative state don‘t respond to pens put in them.  They don‘t respond to what we call deep pain stimulus. 

Then there‘s the question of suffering.  None of us want to die or want anyone we love or care about to die in a suffering sort of way.  Terri Schiavo can‘t suffer, because she literally doesn‘t have the cognitive activity. 

But does she have dignity?  And on this issue, there‘s a lot of confusion and concern.  Everyone wants her to have the kind of death she would have wanted.  And many of us are saying that that means that she should be allowed now to be at the end of her ordeal. 

STEWART:  One person I heard say that they felt that Terri Schiavo deserved the same treatment as any other normal, healthy person.  Can you put her in that category at this point?

MCGEE:  Well, I think, frankly, that‘s not an unreasonable standard.  And when Terri Schiavo‘s parents say we should do everything for her, also, not an unreasonable request. 

The question is what is everything and what does it mean to treat her the same way we would anyone?  Many in the community who have disabilities are terrified about end of life decisions like this, because it suggests to them that if we Terri Schiavo go, maybe we‘d let them go.  Maybe we wouldn‘t do everything at the end of life. 

So we want to be careful, frankly, to be sure that we‘re being fair.  And I think, frankly, a lot of medical ethicists argue correctly that we are, that it‘s fair when someone is at the end of their life to let them die. 

STEWART:  Bioethicist Glenn McGee, director of the New York Institute for Bioethics, we thank you so much for your perspective. 

MCGEE:  Alison, good to see you. 

STEWART:  Three weeks after her disappearance, the so-called person of interest confesses to kidnapping and killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. 

Then later, Michael Jackson looking to keep his past out of his present, asking a judge to squash any information from his 1993 molestation case, one day after his former housekeeper brought it up on the record.

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, manning or, I guess, womanning the helm while Keith Olbermann enjoys a much deserved shore leave.  Time now to steer away from the serious news of the day and head toward the equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Expo 2005, where the future is now, baby, and pretty creepy, too.  From robot dinosaurs to robot musicians to robot receptionists. 

ROBOTIC VOICE:  Good afternoon.  Do you have any questions?  I‘ll try to answer them.  Please put your question. 

STEWART:  You know that‘s coming to a hotel near you soon. 

And speaking of kind of creepy things, see anything strange on this little guy?  Pet shop owner Brian Dohr (ph) does.  He says his red-ear slider turtle now bears the mark of the beast on its shell.  Yes, Satan picked a pet shop in Indiana to reveal himself to the world. 

I guess it was only a matter of time before the Prince of Darkness showed up somewhere, what with all the virgins and Christ miraculously appearing on roasting pans, fish sticks and grilled cheese sandwiches.  I say we name the little guy Damion. 

And moving back to the serious crime stories of the day, a tragic break in the case of missing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.  A convicted child molester confesses to kidnapping and killing the little girl. 

Then, barely 48 hours after he arrived on Death Row for the murder of his wife, Scott Peterson gets at least two different offers of marriage. 

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

No. 3, Robert Wright of Brisbane, Australia.  He‘s a pastor and a naturist.  And now he plans to combine his two favorite things by holding weekly fellowship meetings at a nudist beach.  Adding new meaning to baring one‘s soul, among other things.

No. 2, scientists at the B-2Up company in Japan.  They have invented a miracle chewing gum called “Bust Up.”  As the title so suggests, the company claims that chewing just three or four sticks of gum a day can enhance the size, shape and tone of your breasts. 

Not my breasts.  I‘m not touching the stuff, your breasts. 

And No. 1, State Representative Al Edwards of Texas, calling for an end to what he calls sexually suggestive performances by cheerleaders. 

Apparently, it sets a bad example for I had kids.  Quote, “It‘s just way too sexually orienting, you know, the way they‘re shaking their behinds,” end quote.  And this is from a lawmaker in the state that brought us the Dallas cheerleaders. 

(MUSIC: “Shake Your Bon-Bon”)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  A 9-year-old girl missing for 23 days.  All of those days agony for her family has now come to this. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.  The mystery of what happened to Jessica Lunsford has come to an end.  The person of interest in the case has confessed. 

Our correspondent, Ron Blome, outside the sheriff‘s office in Inverness, Florida has the latest developments.  Hi, Ron. 

RON BLOME, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Just a heartbreaker for this Florida community and for all of the people in South Florida and the nation who have been following this case.  As you said, it was Three weeks ago 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford disappeared from her grandparents‘ mobile home and it was in the middle of the night that somehow she was taken out of there and not seen again.  Her father discovered she was missing the next morning. 

Now, the third grader who disappeared, they put out the pictures of her.  There was a massive search.  There was hope even through today that she might be recovered.  But this evening a dramatic announcement from the sheriff here of Citrus County.  He came out on the steps and said, indeed, that person of interest, the suspect they identified earlier this week, had indeed confessed to the crime.  And here‘s how the sheriff described that confession, how it came out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF JEFF DAWSY, CITRUS COUNTY FLORIDA:  At the end of the polygraph he said 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‘ve probably waited for me to use.  John Couey admitted to abducting Jessica and subsequently taking her life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLOME:  As you heard the Sheriff Jeff Dawsy, identifying John Couey, the sex offender, registered sex offender in Florida, as now the person who‘s going to be charged with the murder.  He‘s still being held in Augusta, Georgia where he was picked up after being spotted in a homeless shelter after he fled Florida, initially being questioned.  Now, his record includes a 1991 conviction for fondling a child under 16.  And this one is of interest, 1978, he was burglarizing a home, and in the process of that he put his hand over a young girl‘s mouth. 

Now, the sheriff has still not said much about how this crime took

place.  Instead, he left the news conference and went immediately over to

visit with the family, and talk to them about the details that they had

learned.  Tonight we have a crew on the scene of the suspect‘s sister‘s

house, a half-sister who lived a few yards or so away from the Jessica

Lunsford house.  And they are reporting that they‘re seeing flashes going

off from camera‘s as the deputies continue to gather evidence.  But at this

point, no word yet on the final resting place of Jessica Lunsford, where

her body was taken or disposed of.  The sheriff‘s office still working on

that—Alison

STEWART:  And Ron, quick question.  Any time we can expect details on the timeline of this whole horrible event? 

BLOME:  Well, the sheriff said he just didn‘t want to get into that until he had a chance to visit with the family, that was understandable.  The sheriff‘s office is indicating that they may release a few more details over the weekend.  Obviously not going to say too much, because they don‘t want to jeopardize the case when they bring this man to trial. 

STEWART:  Ron Blome, in inverness, Florida.  Thanks for all the great reporting.  We appreciate it. 

And here to help us understand these developments, Cliff Van Zandt, former FBI profiler, and now an MSNBC analyst. 

Clint, thanks so much.  You‘ve been walking us through this for the past 3 week, we appreciate it. 

CLINT VAN ZANDT, MSNBC ANALYST:  Good evening.

STEWART:  Sounds like this was a sudden and dramatic confession.  Why do you think it happened so soon after he was taken into custody? 

VAN ZANDT:  Well, you know, the polygraph is a powerful instrument, not that it really can discern truth and fiction, necessarily.  The strength of the polygraph is on the operator and his or her ability to conduct a very, very thorough interview.  Now, we know you don‘t have to take a polygraph.  You don‘t have talk to talk to police, but this individual was evidently willing to.  You know, that beseech something about his character, I think. 

STEWART:  It‘s interesting, in Ron Blome‘s report, he describes Couey as being very cooperative, saying you don‘t have to do this anymore.  I‘m going to explain.  From your experience with people like this, why would he do this? 

VAN ZANDT:  Well, here we have someone who over a 30-year period has been arrested at least 25 times.  He has a history of repeat offenses, burglaries, as Ron suggested, repeat offenses against children.  His last job in the mid 1990‘s he was fired because he wrote a love letter to a 13-year-old girl.  All of these things going on on his background, I think when they finally sat down with him and confronted him with what he did and gave him a chance to provide closure, there was some element of this demented, psychopathic individual that, evidently, wanted to provide that closure for the family. 

STEWART:  It‘s really striking.  This video that people we‘re just looking at is video, was video that an NBC News crew happened to get of Couey just days ago.  They were working on a completely different story.  He happened to be in a bar.  Yet, now we know, days later, he‘s confessing to a murder.  Is there that much of a detachment... 

VAN ZANDT:  Well, he was...

STEWART:  For people like this?

VAN ZANDT:  Yes, I think—I think they are able to do it.  I mean, there he sits there smoking and joking with the troops, realizing that, just as you suggest, three weeks before he had committed this horrific offense, not just against a little girl, not just against her family, but against society. 

I mean, those of us that are parents, grandparents, caretakers, this is an affront.  When someone does this to a child, they do it to all of us.  They take away our element of security.  They make us want to go home and hug each one of our children one more time.  Make sure they‘re in bed before we go to bed.

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about the way this investigation was handled. 

What do you think was handled well? 

What do you think they could have done a little bit better with? 

VAN ZANDT:  Well, number one, for lack of a better term, kudos—kudos to the sheriff.  I mean, this I a decent, honest man who kept us informed.  I mean, today I was—I was—it felt good for him and for us that he didn‘t play any political games and say, well, I can‘t tell you this, I can‘t tell that you.  You and I, and America have, we‘ve been following this story.  We want to know what happened to this little girl.  We want—we needed to know.  And he stepped up to the plate and he said what he had to do.  And he and his investigators, to include the FBI and other agencies, tenaciously stayed on this, stayed on this.  They did everything they could to either bring this little girl home safe or find the offender and hopefully make sure he can never offend again. 

STEWART:  And quickly, before you go, this registered sex offender was within eyesight of Jessica‘s home.  Is there anything more that can be done from having to report one of these stories again? 

VAN ZANDT:  Well, yes.  You know, I mean, we‘ve got a Web site where we give out information for free to the public, so that they can learn, they understand.  I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of registered sex offenders in the country.  Everybody should get on their state‘s Web site, find out where those offenders are.  And kind of have a feeling of who‘s in your neighborhood and kiss your kids good night. 

STEWART:  Thank you for the great advice.  Former FBI profiler and now MSNBC analyst Clint Van Zandt, we appreciate it. 

VAN ZANDT:  Thank you. 

STEWART:  Staying with crime and punishment and the never-ending saga of the Michael Jackson case.  No, courtroom video?  No problem.  Puppet theater, it‘s up next. 

And little sister Janet dealing with legal issues of her own, needing a restraining order against a particularly persistent fan.  Those stories ahead. 

Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bytes of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And there she is, Secretary Rice arriving in Japan.  She‘s walking down the stairs, greeting some officials, American, Japanese.  And uh, oh.  Oh, uh.  Coni Shigi‘s (ph) got her.  Put her down, big fellow. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There you go.  Well, spring is less than two days away. 

Did you see what we‘re wearing? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES TOGETHER:  Spring colors. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There you go.  But a major winter storm is certainly ripe. 

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY:  I‘m thirsty, can you please bring me some water?  I told you, no.  And I told you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if you ask one more time I‘m going to come up and spank you.  Well, five minutes later the little boy called.  Mom!  “What,” she said.  He said, “When you come up to spank me, would you bring me a glass of water?”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Could Michael Jackson be losing Neverland.  Exclusive information on the king of pop coffers.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  In laying out this day‘s docket, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said, quote, “A break is in order for everybody.”  Now you know why that guy‘s a judge. 

It‘s our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 487 of the Michael Jackson investigations.  Neither the defendant nor the jury were in the Santa Maria courtroom today.  The judge, instead, hearing arguments of whether or not to hold another hearing.  That in relation to the admissibility of past molestation allegations against Jackson.  Specifically, from the 1993 case which was settled out of court. 

The defense today requesting a mistrial after yesterday‘s testimony from a former Jackson housekeeper, mentioned the name of the boy from that 1993 case prior to the judge‘s ruling.  Judge Melville denied the request.  However, he will hear arguments on whether or not to allow the past allegations a week from Monday. 

Another item on the court‘s agenda, Michael Jackson‘s finances or perhaps more accurately, lack thereof.  Judge Melville ruling that prosecutors could subpoena the pop star‘s financial records, but that they will not be permitted at trial, unless testimony warrants.  The prosecution contends Jackson is on the brink of bankruptcy, a fact they say serves as motive for allegedly holding the accuser‘s family at Neverland, and forcing their participation in a pro-Jackson video.  The hope, the prosecution contends, was to combat negative publicity the singer suffered after the broadcast of the now infamous Martin Bashir documentary “Living With Michael Jackson.”

And now the producer of the rebuttal video, as it‘s been come to known, is adding not only to Jackson‘s monetary woes, but his legal ones as well.  Strap in, folks, here‘s an NBC News exclusive report from correspondent, Mike Taibbi. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  NBC News has learned exclusively that Jackson‘s well-publicized financial problems were compounded today, when a F. Marc Shaffel, a long time gay pornography producer and unindited co-conspirator, applied for a lien on the singer‘s storied ranch, now valued at more than $22 million. 

Jackson allegedly owes nearly a million for two rebuttal videos Schaffel produced, and more than $2 million in personal loans and payments and gifts to such famous friends as Elizabeth Taylor, the late Marlon Brando.  Schaffel‘s attorney says a lien on Neverland would put the pressure on.

HOWARD KING, SCHAFFEL‘S ATTORNEY:  If he wants to sell all of the Ferris wheels and the trains, our lien will not be against those assets.  It‘s strictly the real estate.

TAIBBI:  In Jackson‘s molestation trial, the prosecution and the defense, for different reasons, have suggested that the pop star has serious financial and cash flow problems.  But Schaffel‘s lawyer says that‘s not quite true. 

KING:  To put it simply, Mr. Jackson is rich and has no money. 

TAIBBI:  King says he‘s learned a new internal restructuring plan for Jackson‘s finances could solve the singer‘s cash flow problem and leave him with . . .

KING:  Disposable income in excess of $10 million a year and absolutely no debt. 

TAIBBI:  And, in fact, a source intimately involved in Jackson‘s business affairs told NBC News exclusively a bailout plan proposed to the pop star would allow him to hold on to many of his significant assets, which now include his own songs and thousands of others including hits by Elvis and the Beatles and “would take him out of financial harm‘s way now and for a long time in the future.” 

Mike Taibbi, NBC News, Santa Maria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The accuser finishing a grueling four days of testimony on the stands.  On Wednesday, a veritable courtroom pronapalosa (ph).  It‘s been a pivotal week to say the least, and not just inside the courtroom. 

What better way to review it than with our latest installment of “Michael Jackson Puppet Theater.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Monday, oh, the economy picked up in Iraq. 

Tuesday Martha said her ankle hurt.  Ow!

Wednesday, Robert Blake not guilty. 

Can I get that jury? 

Thursday, steroid earrings.  Oh, steroid hearings.  Oh. 

Today Scott Peterson‘s been getting marriage proposals on death row. 

A lot of good that would do me.  Ooh, ooh, ooh!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Well, we said a weekend in review.  From Jackson to Jackson,

no easier seg in our nightly jaunt through celebrity and entertainment

news, Keeping Tabs”

Janet Jackson, obtain a restraining order banning a 46-year-old fan from any contact with her, her family, managers or agents for the next three years.  In her application for the order, Jackson said that Robert Gardner, quote, “Has been following me, sending me faxes and letters and attempting to arrange meetings in person meetings for nine years.” 

Ms. Jackson did not appear in court.  Mr. Gardner did, telling a judge he was willing to hire a lawyer to appeal the ruling and adding, quote, “I don‘t want to be considered a stalker.”  A little late, buddy. 

The subject of our last tabs has a new home overlooking San Francisco Bay, new clothes, no golf shirts allowed and a new status, officially a death row inmate.  But does any of that explain why Scott Peterson also has two marriage proposals?  Yes, on the surface the real estate sounds intriguing, except for the fact that it‘s home to San Quentin‘s execution chamber. 

Prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon, said that when officials suggested he must be ready for a nap, Peterson said, “Man, I‘m just too jazzed to even think about sleeping.” 

Meanwhile, Peterson has had more suitors than an episode of “The Bachelorette.”  Crittendon confirming that three dozen women called the prison on Peterson‘s first day there, and that would were interested in marriage, adding that proposals to death row inmates are actually common occurrences. 

Ladies, what gives? 

Up next, who better to task about the vagaries of “The Da Vinci Code,” than the gossip columnist and serial concierge for the Vatican, Father Guido Sarducci.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Last night on this broadcast, we told you about but the Vatican‘s sudden awakening to the book “The Da Vinci Code” which has sold more than 25 million copies since it hit book stores in May of 2003. 

Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, top religious expert Father Guido Sarducci, weighs in on the big Da Vinci diss.  And we‘ll throw a couple of bonus devote matters his way while we have him here. 

First an update and a refresher.  Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, I hope I said that right, spoke to a packed auditorium in Genoa (ph) with the apt backdrop of the painting of the Last Supper.  He rebutted “The Da Vinci Code‘s” premise, including the idea that Jesus married and had kids with Mary Magdalene. 

One day earlier, the cardinal had called on Catholics to snub the book saying, quote, “ Don‘t buy it.  Don‘t read it, it‘s rotten food.” 

And know, without any further ado, I‘m joined by the gossip columnist of the Vatican‘s newspaper, “L‘ Observatore Romano,” direct from Rome—

San Francisco, Father Guido Sarducci. 

Father good evening. 

FATHER GUIDO SARDUCCI, L‘OBSERVATORE ROMANO:  Good evening to you.

STEWART:  Lets, start with the obvious question, why is the Vatican suddenly lashing out against this book? 

SARDUCCI:  Why?  It‘s because the Vatican has been collecting art since the year 354 A.D., all right.  We‘ve been commissioning art, preserving art, promoting art.  Now, this guy comes from nowhere, he takes a painting that we own, and he makes all of this money on a book and doesn‘t give us anything. 

We don‘t get our big wet, if you know what I mean.  And why, you know?  And he did it on a holy year, you know, the year 2000.  Holy years come once every 50 years, all right?  He waits until a holy year.  It‘s like we put a lot of money and promotion into a holy year, it‘s our wave and he‘s jumping on our wave.  He stole our holy year, that‘s why we‘re upset. 

STEWART:  So, you‘ve got a problem with Dan Brown is what I‘m hearing? 

SARDUCCI:  Yes, I have a problem.  We‘re working it out.  You know, we‘re working it out. 

STEWART:  So, what do you think about all of these controversial theories in “The Da Vinci Code?” 

SARDUCCI:  It‘s bogus to begin with, you know.  How it started, it says one of the Apostles, St. Thomas, I believe --  no, John, St. John.  He said he looks kind of feminine.  Then they jump and say, it‘s a woman.  Then they jump and say its Mary Magdalene.  Then they say, if Mary Magdalene can be with apostles, she could be—women should be priest.  This where, you know, jump the gun.  It doesn‘t looks like women,  St.

John.  To me it looks like. Merv Griffin.

STEWART:  Like, Merv?

SARDUCCI:  I looks a Merv.  I met Merv once.  You know, I said to him, I said, you know, you look like to—I said, you look a George Washington.  And he says to me, thank you.  He says most people say I look like Sandra Day O‘Connor.

STEWART:  You know...

SARDUCCI:  He said, they used to say I looked like Petula Clark, but I don‘t hear that anymore. 

STEWART:  You both have a point I think there. 

SARDUCCI:  I know.  I know.  That‘s my point. 

STEWART:  So, do you think the Vatican will be suing Dan Brown over this painting, taking a hard line? 

SARDUCCI:  No, we‘re working with him.  We feel in partnership, and we can take “The Da Vinci Code” to a whole new place.  For instance, you know, the best way to break “The Da Vinci Code?” 

STEWART:  No, sir. 

SARDUCCI:  Using one of these, “The Da Vinci Code” decoder rings. 

STEWART:  A “Da Vinci” decoder ring?  Is that what you‘re saying? 

SARDUCCI:  A “Da Vinci Code” decoder ring.  And you get this with the 12-pack, apostle pack of a cereal.  We have friends in Bedford (ph), Michigan.  And it‘s “The Da Vinci Code” last supper, last breakfast apostle pack.  There‘s a different kind of cereal for ever parcel.  This is Paul, I believe.  St. Paul for Corn Pop.  This one is St. Bartholomew, I believe.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) then some cardinal says, how come he gets the frosted wheats.  You know, what I mean.   You know, it should be Frosted Flake.  Who‘s going to get frosted flakes, you know?  But we‘re working it out.

STEWART:  It‘s the cocoa apostles. 

SARDUCCI:  Cocoa Puff.  I don‘t know who‘s going to be apostles for Cocoa Puffs.  That‘s a good one. 

STEWART:  All right, now that we have you here.  I want to ask you about, I‘ve been calling it the Cash in of the Christ, “The Passion of the Christ.”  Big uproar back in the news.  They‘ve re-released it in theaters with less violence.  Is that a good idea? 

SARDUCCI:  Well, I think they should have changed the ending.  Because, you know, I always thought if there was a secret vote, Jesus would have won and Barabbas would have been crucified, you know.  Then Jesus would go onto a second term.  I wondered how many would, you know, if he would fired a lot of apostles, you know, like Bush did for his second term. 

STEWART:  Don Novello, aka Father Guido Sarducci.  Thank you for being here this week.  Next week, we might have gotten in trouble. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Hair and makeup are so fast.  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being a part of it.  

I‘m Alison Stewart.  Keith Olbermann, he returns on Monday.  You have a great and safe weekend!

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

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