updated 3/23/2005 11:43:06 AM ET 2005-03-23T16:43:06

Guest: Erik Stanley, Howard Wasserman, David Boies, Mark Lunsford, Elizabeth Tackett, Jesse Jackson, Michael Cardoza

ANNOUNCER:  Tonight, a special edition of THE ABRAMS REPORT.

Terri Schiavo’s parents take their case to a federal appeals court, the same court that sent Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba, refused to stop the recount in 2000’s disputed presidential election and ruled against Alabama’s 10 Commandments monument.  Three judges are now weighing the case.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you have to say to the family of Jessica Lunsford?


ANNOUNCER:  Plus: He’s charged with murdering Jessica Lunsford.  Now the 9-year-old’s father is demanding the death penalty.


MARK LUNSFORD, JESSICA’S FATHER:  Couey is scum.   Anybody that could act the way he’s acted does not deserve to live in my world.


ANNOUNCER:  Mark Lunsford speaks out live.

And Michael Jackson was smiling outside of court today, but will he be happy about what a stand-up comic said on the stand?  The latest from Santa Maria, including Dan’s one-on-one interview with Jackson friend and confidant Jesse Jackson.


REV. JESSE JACKSON, PUSH/RAINBOW COALITION:  I just hope that one can deal with the fact of this case and not with the show business of it all.


ANNOUNCER:  Now, live from Rockefeller Center, Dan Abrams.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Hi, everyone.  At this hour, we’re waiting for a decision from the 11th circuit court of appeals in the Terri Schiavo case, a three-judge panel working overtime, reviewing a decision that was made by a lower court.  It’s an appeal filed by an attorney for Schiavo’s family.

The federal judge, the lower court, decided earlier this morning that her feeding tube would not be reinserted.  The family is asking the court to reverse that federal court decision.  They’re asking for a temporary restraining order prohibiting Michael Schiavo from withholding Terri’s nutrition and hydration.  They’re asking for an order for the hospice where Schiavo is staying to transport her to the hospital, to reinsert the feeding tube and provide any medical treatment necessary to keep her alive.

We are going to be monitoring that courthouse throughout the program.  Schiavo’s parents concerned that they are running out of time before Terri dies.  The attorney for Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, says the court has enough time to make a decision.


GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO’S ATTORNEY:  There still is a window of two days here where Mrs. Schiavo’s artificial feeding could be reintroduced without any prospect of damage to her physical person.  So we don’t want any court to jump the gun and issue a stay—issue a stay in this situation without considering the case on the merits.


ABRAMS:  All right, so I want to talk about this.  Joining me now, Erik Stanley is the chief counsel of Liberty Counsel.  They deal with a lot of the 1st Amendment and religious freedom cases.  Also attorney David Boies—famous attorney.  He’s also the author of “Courting Justice: From New York Yankees v. Major League Baseball to Bush v. Gore, 1997 to 2000.”  And Howard Wasserman, an assistant law professor at Florida International University.  Thanks to all of you for coming on the program.

All right, Mr. Stanley, as we are waiting for the 11th circuit to rule here, I want to tell you something that’s been bothering me today, and it’s probably not bothering you, but it’s been bothering me.  And that is the idea that people like Tom DeLay and Rick Santorum are coming out and basically suggesting that their legislation ordered the court to rule in a particular way.  They’re basically saying, You know what?  The court didn’t really have a choice here.  The court should have forced that tube to be inserted.

Let me read from what Tom DeLay said today.  “This decision it at odds

with both the clear intent of Congress, the constitutional rights of a

helpless young  woman.  Section 3 requires the judge to grant”—requires

·         “to grant a temporary restraining order because he cannot fulfill his or her recognized duty to review the case de novo without first keeping Terri Schiavo alive.”

He’s basically saying, Look, you must, Judge, spend much more time reviewing this case.  Who are these congressmen and these senators to say what judges should and shouldn’t do?

ERIK STANLEY, CHIEF COUNSEL, LIBERTY COUNSEL:  Well, I certainly think that in this case, when you look at the statute that Congress passed, it certainly is very clear that Congress intended for the district court, the federal district court in Florida, to give this case de novo review, which means to renew it—review the case...

ABRAMS:  He did.

STANLEY:  ... all over again...

ABRAMS:  He did.

STANLEY:  ... as if it never happened.

ABRAMS:  He did.

STANLEY:  The federal district court—if you read the district court’s opinion, which I’m sure you have, he instead took a very quick look at this opinion, at what happened in the state court for 15 years.  I don’t think that in the course of one day, I don’t think he can decide the whole course or how this case should be decided.  I think he’s got to give this very careful consideration.  He recognized in his orders, the federal district court judge, that Congress intended for him to give very careful review to this case.  And he certainly, in order to do that, he must issue a TRO in order to reinsert the feeding tube.  You know, a TRO always could be overturned, but the federal court has no power to raise the dead.

ABRAMS:  Just so our viewers know, a TRO is temporary restraining order.

David Boies, I’ll tell what you irritates me so much about this case, is yesterday, all the people who supported this legislation—and I wasn’t one of them.  All the people who supported this legislation were out there saying, Look, it’s no big deal.  All we’re saying is give the federal courts a chance.  Now that they don’t like what the federal court’s doing, they’re saying, The federal courts were ordered to do something.

DAVID BOIES, ATTORNEY:  I don’t think the federal courts were ordered to do anything.  If you read section 5 of the legislation, it makes absolutely clear that Congress is not conveying any additional statutory or constitutional right.  The problem, if there is a problem here, comes from the pleadings of the plaintiffs and the law passed by Congress because the law passed by Congress says, We’re not creating any new right.  And the pleadings of the plaintiffs really attacked the due process aspects of the state court action.  And what the federal court says is that I’ve got to limit myself to what the plaintiffs have alleged.  They’ve alleged, with one exception, problems with the due process.  I don’t find a due process problem.

ABRAMS:  Yes, and Professor Wasserman, look, I want to try and keep this in lay terms.  I don’t want to start getting too lofty in our discussion here.  But the bottom line is that what this lower court judge did is he said, Look, now my job is to say was there a federal problem here?  And let me read from part of the lower court judge’s decision.

“Theresa Schiavo’s life and liberty interests were adequately protected by the extensive process provided in the state courts.  Michael Schiavo and plaintiffs, assisted by counsel, thoroughly advocated their competing perspectives on her wishes.  Another lawyer appointed by the court could not have offered more protection of Theresa Schiavo’s interests.”

I mean, what the plaintiffs here, what the parents of Terri Schiavo, what the brother, what other people are basically saying is, You know what?  This court has no choice but to say you’ve got reinsert the feeding tube, and then we’ll figure it out.


Yes, and—and that seems to be the thought that the members of Congress are having, that you have to freeze things to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

ABRAMS:  But it’s not freezing them.  But let’s be clear.



ABRAMS:  It’d be requiring them—it would be freezing if they hadn’t passed this legislation after the tube was removed.  Now they’re asking for action to be taken.

WASSERMAN:  Well, it’s freezing in the sense of keeping her alive until the merits of the case can be resolved.  But the statute that finally was passed didn’t require the district court to issue a stay or any kind of a temporary injunction, so the courts fell back on normal principles, which is you can—the court can issue a temporary injunction or a preliminary injunction if the plaintiffs show a likelihood of success on the merits.

ABRAMS:  Right.

WASSERMAN:  And the court looked at their claims and said that they had not.

ABRAMS:  You know, here’s my problem, Mr. Stanley.  It’s getting to the point where all—you know, every time the other side—now, I guess it would be fair to say the side that you advocate—is losing in one of these hearings or losing in front of a court, they say, You know what we need?  We need something else.  And then they get the something else, and then they complain about that something else, once the ruling doesn’t come down the way they want it.

STANLEY:  Well, first of all, I would say that we didn’t get the something else in this particular case when the judge took a look that this temporary restraining order.  He delved into the record very quickly on this case in the course of one day and I don’t think gave it the merit and the consideration that Congress intended.  But that’s kind of beside the point.  The point here is that if we are going to err in this case, we must err on the side of life.  Terri Schiavo has certain constitutional rights that must be protected.

ABRAMS:  You mean like the right to choose...

STANLEY:  We give criminal defendants...

ABRAMS:  You mean like the right to choose what she wants to do when she’s on a feeding tube.

STANLEY:  She has the right to choose what she wants to do...

ABRAMS:  Right.

STANLEY:  ... when she’s on a feeding tube, but—and she has the right to keep that feeding tube in there and she has the right to have it removed, if that’s her intent.  This issue of her intent is so hotly disputed in this case that we need to give this case careful review in order to determine what her wishes are.  We give criminal defendants the right by habeas petition review to the federal courts to go all the way through the state court system and then to have a collateral review in the federal courts of the merits of their claim.  Why shouldn’t we give Terri Schiavo...

ABRAMS:  I’ll tell you why.

STANLEY:  ... the same rights that killers on death row have?

ABRAMS:  I hear that argument again.  It is so disingenuous, that argument.  It is so irrelevant.  The bottom line is this is not about Terri Schiavo getting more rights.  It’s about the question of whether her parents and her brother get to continue fighting over the fact that they disagree with what a judge decided was her choice, Terri’s choice.

BOIES:  Yes, but there is a problem here though.  And that is that if something goes wrong and a higher court reverses the lower court, then it’s too late to do anything.  I mean, the argument in favor of reinserting the tube is that you keep her alive until the federal courts are finished.  Once the federal courts are finished, I think Congress and everybody has said they’re finished.  But there is a problem that something can expire.  She could be damaged during the period of time that the federal courts are doing the review.

ABRAMS:  Right, and that’s if you view the federal—you know, if you view this legislation as constitutional.  And the bottom line is, though, it seems to me that this is going to move its way up in the courts very quickly.  Look, we’ve got a live picture in front of the 11th court—circuit—federal court of appeals because we are expecting a ruling to come down at any time.  We’re told that the judges, the people working on this case are continuing to work overtime.

All right, let me take a quick break here.  We’re continuing to cover this breaking news in the case.  All of my guests are going to stick around.  Oh, tough, tough story, tough case.  All right.  Also tonight, we’ve learned that the convicted sex offender accused of murdering a Florida girl—get this—actually worked at her school for five months.  I’ll talk to little Jessica Lunsford’s father—oh, is he upset!  How couldn’t he be?  And Michael Jackson—he made it to court on time today.  This time, someone else had a medical meltdown.  Plus, we’ll talk to Jackson’s spiritual adviser, yes, Reverend Jesse Jackson.  We’re going to talk to him about how Jackson’s holding up, coming up.




MARY SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO’S MOTHER:  ... that we only need one vote in the state senate to save my daughter.  Please, senators, for the love of God, I’m begging you, don’t let my daughter die of thirst!


ABRAMS:  I don’t care what you think about this case, you have to feel for the parents of Terri Schiavo.  You know, I’ve been making clear I don’t support this legislation, but you know, I listen to her, and it’s hard not to be moved by her plea.  This is a lose/lose situation, it seems.

All right, we’re waiting for the 11th circuit court of appeals to issue an opinion—it could be at any moment—in connection with this case.  And the question is, is Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube going to be reinserted.  The family, her parents and brother lost in a lower court.  Essentially, a victory for her husband.

And the 11th circuit—I want to talk about this court for a moment as we’re waiting for this opinion to come down.  A lot of people are saying liberal court, conservative court.  Look, the general sense, I think --  and I’ll go to the professor down there on this one.  The general sense is somewhat on the conservative side, but you know, it goes both ways.  Let me give you a little sense here.  All right.  Jurisdiction’s over Florida, Georgia, Alabama, 12 active judges, 7 appointed by Republicans, 5 appointed by Democrats, 9 men, 3 women, 1 African-American, 1 appointed by George W.  Bush, 4 by President Clinton, 4 by the first President Bush, 1 by President Reagan, 1 by President Ford and one by President Carter, as well.

All right, so Professor Wasserman, look, this is—yes, it’s a three-judge panel, but I’ve got to believe some of the other judges on this court want to have a say in this, meaning I’d be very surprised if this court wants to come out with a 2-to-1 decision on something this controversial.

WASSERMAN:  Well, there’s probably a procedure in the courts for whatever the panel comes up with for circulating it.  And there are procedures for the entire court—for the court as a whole to rehear it.  But I doubt that the rest of the court is involved at this point in the process of drafting.  That would be very unusual for any appellate court to do.

ABRAMS:  Really?  David, I don’t know, I’ve been under the impression that when you have a very highly-charged case that the judges certainly have a sense amongst themselves, beyond just the people who were on the panel, as to how they feel about whether the entire court is going to hear it, et cetera.

BOIES:  I think that’s true, but remember, courts sometimes do take cases initially en banc.

ABRAMS:  Meaning the entire court.

BOIES:  The entire court.  For example, U.S. v. Microsoft, the entire court heard it in the first instance.  In Bush V. Gore, the entire 11th circuit heard it in the first instance.  So if the entire court wants to weigh in, there is a way for it to do it, as opposed to giving it to a three-judge panel.  And here, where time really is of essence, I would be surprised if the judges who are not part of the panel are planning to do something like en banc it afterwards.

ABRAMS:  Mr. Stanley, what do you make of this court?  I mean, as far as the courts of appeal in this country go, your side satisfied with this court?  Nervous about this court?  What do you make of it?

STANLEY:  It’s difficult to tell.  The 11th circuit court of appeals has made some conservative rulings.  They’ve made some rulings that may be considered legal.  I think a lot of it depends on, as it depends in most federal appeals courts, on what panel of judges you pick.


STANLEY:  I mean, normally, in a case like this, I think you’re going to get a three-judge panel.  And I think from there, I think the plaintiffs will probably appeal straight to the United States Supreme Court, the single Justice, who is Anthony Kennedy for the 11th circuit, on an emergency appeal.  I don’t think they’re going to waste their time with an en banc review, meaning the full court, after the three-judge panel has had an opportunity to decide it because there just simply isn’t time in this case.

ABRAMS:  And Professor Wasserman, if you were advising the plaintiffs, I mean, that sort of assumes for a moment that they’re going to lose here, would you say to them, Look, you got to get to the U.S. Supreme Court as quickly as possible?  Or do you sort of say to yourself, The U.S. Supreme Court’s probably not going to get involved in this if the 11th circuit doesn’t act?

WASSERMAN:  I’m not sure that one is better than the other, other than to the extent that, as Mr. Stanley said, time is of the essence.  But review to either the full 11th circuit or the Supreme Court is not going to be automatic.  Neither court is going to be under an obligation to hear the appeal, unlike the panel.  So I think Mr. Stanley may be correct that if time is of the essence, I’d move to the court of last resort as quickly as possible.

ABRAMS:  Mr. Stanley, I want to ask you about an argument made by the plaintiffs in this case.  They basically accused the Florida judge of becoming an advocate for Terri’s death.  “Once Judge Greer became an advocate to Terri’s death, it became impossible for Judge Greer to maintain his role as an impartial judge in order to review his own decision that Terri would want to die.”  And the judge in the lower court—this is No.  15, if we have it—basically said, “Plaintiff’s argument is that Judge Greer couldn’t fill his judicial duties impartially while at the same time fulfilling his duty to resolve the parties’ competing contentions effectively ignores the role of the presiding judge under Florida law.”

I mean, it sounds like—it sounds like what the family of Terri Schiavo is saying here is this judge just couldn’t be trusted because he issued a ruling.

STANLEY:  Well, I don’t think that’s the case.  I think that what the family is saying here is that this judge, I think, kind of crossed the line in some of the rulings that he may have made.


STANLEY:  You know, there has been—there have been years and years of litigation over this issue.  And they are raising the claim right now that this particular judge may have become impartial during the proceedings, acting, you know, both as a judge and as Terri’s advocate, or whatever.

But you know, I think the point here is that that claim has been raised in the federal courts, and Congress has certainly indicated it, by legislation, that the federal court should give that careful review.  In order to do that, a temporary restraining order has to issue in order to take a look at this.  You know, one of the things that the federal courts do when they look at injunctions is they normally look at four factors, but two are most important, the likelihood of success on the merits...

ABRAMS:  Right.

STANLEY:  ... which this federal district court judge looked at, but they also look at whether irreparable harm will occur...

ABRAMS:  And the judge said there would be...


ABRAMS:  Yes, he said there would be irreparable harm.

STANLEY:  He said there would be.

ABRAMS:  Right.

STANLEY:  Now, both—all of those factors are balancing factors.

ABRAMS:  Right.

STANLEY:  And there are cases where irreparable harm, when it is such that death will occur outweighs anything likelihood of success on the merits, and an injunction should issue.  And I think...

ABRAMS:  Hey, you know...

STANLEY:  ... that’s what should happen here.

ABRAMS:  But David, there’s something troubling about this argument.  I mean, it basically sounds to me like the plaintiffs are saying, We didn’t like the judge’s rulings, and as a result, because he picked a side—which judges have to do—he therefore became no longer impartial.

BOIES:  I think the criticism of Judge Greer, who I think gave this case extremely careful thought, is quite unfair.  I think the better argument that the plaintiffs had, and if the court of appeals reverses it, I would expect it may be on this argument, which is that the act itself inherently violated due process, violated the 1st Amendment.  The judge—the district court judge here says he doesn’t reach that issue because there’s no state action.  And I think the state action analysis is not as strong as the rest of the opinion.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  We are going to continue to wait.  And look, if anything comes down in the next hour, throughout this hour, we will certainly bring it to you.  Waiting for a possible ruling from the 11th circuit court of appeals as to whether they’re going to insist that that feeding tube be put back.

All right, Erik Stanley, David Boies, Howard Wasserman, thank you very much.  Appreciate it.

We’re still waiting and again, we’re going to bring you anything as soon as it happens.

Also coming up, the father of little Jessica Lunsford joins me with reaction to that registered sex offender who’s been charged with kidnapping his daughter—that’s him.

And later: No, he wasn’t the problem today in court.  A fan had a medical drama in the courtroom.  And I’ll talk to Jackson’s spiritual adviser.  Did you know it’s Jesse Jackson?  Coming up.



ABRAMS:  New information tonight about the man accused of killing a 9-year-old Florida girl.  Turns out, he worked at her school, even though he was a convicted sex-offender. 

John Couey made his first court appearance early this morning.  He was offered the services of a public defender, advised of the charges against him: capitol murder, burglary with battery, sexual battery on a child under the age 12, kidnapping. 

Learned that Couey, a convicted sex offender with a 30-year criminal history, worked for five months as a construction worker at Jessica Lunsford’s elementary school.  Unbelievable.  According to a co-worker, Couey had direct contact with students.  It’s unknown if that included Jessica.  Apparently, no law in Florida that prevents people with criminal histories from working on school construction sites.  The only thing the state checks is whether the employee is delinquent in child support payments.

Joining me now outside his home in Homosassa Springs, Florida, Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, and his oldest daughter, Elizabeth Tackett. 

Thank you both very much for taking the time.  I appreciate it.

But, you know, before we start talking about all this stuff, Mr.

Lunsford, how are you doing?  How are you holding up? 

MARK LUNSFORD, FATHER OF JESSICA:  I’m holding up.  And it’s because that’s what I have to do, because we have to change things for Jessie.  And the support that I get from my community, that keeps me going. 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

Elizabeth, this has been—I just can’t even imagine how hard this has been for you. 

ELIZABETH TACKETT, DAUGHTER OF MARK LUNSFORD:  It’s been pretty hard, I’m getting through it OK for now, though.  The worst is yet to come. 


ABRAMS:  Yes, well.  Your whole family has dealt with this whole situation with such dignity. 

All right, let me get to some questions here, Mr. Lunsford.  Five months.  You hear this guy has been working five months at her school.  Your reaction? 

LUNSFORD:  Well, I mean, these are some of the things that need to be changed.  People with a background that are a threat to children, they shouldn’t be allowed to work around them or live around them. 

ABRAMS:  He’s been charged now.  Do you think he deserves the death penalty? 

LUNSFORD:  Do I think?  I think he needs to be found guilty on all four charges and he should receive the death penalty. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Not a hard question for you, huh? 

LUNSFORD:  Right, not at all. 

ABRAMS:  Did you see this video of him sitting at the bar?  Did you get a chance to ever see that video? 

LUNSFORD:  Yes, I seen that.  I mean, you know, so that just goes to show you, you know, what kind of heartless creature that he is.  I mean, to do things the way he done them, I mean, he’s just—it’s undescribable of how—just how bad that is. 

ABRAMS:  This—because I want to make it clear to my viewers.  This is after all this happened, before Jessica has been found.  And there he is at the bar smiling, smoking.  Look at this.  I mean, I would almost wish you don’t even have to see that, because it gets me going.  And I can’t even imagine how it must make you feel to see that. 

LUNSFORD:  Well, you know, yes, it ain’t easy to look at.  I mean, it’s despicable.  I mean, I can’t imagine how somebody could hurt a child the way he did and then be able to sit, smoke and drink and laugh and make new friends. 

ABRAMS:  Elizabeth, had any of your family members ever seen this guy?  I mean, apparently, he had some family that lived real nearby.  Anyone seen him before this? 

TACKETT:  No, not that I know of. 

ABRAMS:  So, he didn’t even look familiar at all? 

TACKETT:  No, not at all.  I’ve never seen him before. 

LUNSFORD:  Well, she’s not from here either. 

ABRAMS:  All right.

Have you ever seen him, Mr. Lunsford? 

LUNSFORD:  Never.  Never seen him before.  Never heard his name. 

Never knew anything about him. 

ABRAMS:  How did you feel when you heard that he’d been arrested and he confessed? 

LUNSFORD:  I’m sorry? 


ABRAMS:  How did you feel when you heard that he’d been arrested and he confessed? 

LUNSFORD:  Well, I mean, didn’t make me feel any better.  I won’t feel any better until the man dies.  And then I don’t even know if that is going to do it, but I look forward to that day. 

ABRAMS:  His past criminal history, I assume that’s one of the issues that you’re going to be pursuing, right, is the fact that this guy had a long be rap sheet?

LUNSFORD:  Yes, I mean, not just his long rap sheet.  The only concerns I have is crimes against children.  And he’s—I guess he’s been convicted twice.  Is that right? 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Yes. 

LUNSFORD:  I think it is. 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

LUNSFORD:  So I mean, twice, that’s enough, OK?  My little girl paid a very heavy price, a very heavy price.  My family has paid a heavy price.  And now I need everybody to work with me.  We need to change this stuff, because this ain’t right. 

We can put an ankle bracelet on people when they get out of prison, but we can’t tag these guys and keep an eye on them? 

ABRAMS:  Elizabeth, before we leave, you know, I don’t want to forget about Jessica in all this.  I think that sometimes we have a tendency to look at these cases in this sort of like legal jargon-esque kind of way.  Just tell me a little bit about little Jessica. 

TACKETT:  She was a great little girl.  I loved her very much.  She was very fun to be around. 


ABRAMS:  What did she like to do?  What did she like to do? 

TACKETT:  She was really one—I haven’t seen her.  It’s been about a year, but I’ve talked to her pretty much every day.  She liked—she was into her schoolwork.  She liked to do her schoolwork.  She had good—great grades. 

She liked going to church.  She went to church every Sunday and Wednesday.  We talked about her friends and school.  That’s what she liked to do. 


ABRAMS:  All right.

Well, Mr. Lunsford, Elizabeth, what can I say?  I’m sorry.  And thank you very much for taking the time.  Good luck in your efforts.  It sounds like you’re going to become a very vocal voice in a movement.  And I wish you the best of luck. 

LUNSFORD:  Thank you very much. 

TACKETT:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up next, the Reverend Jesse Jackson tells us.

Sorry.  You know, these stories get to me.

All right.  Michael Jackson, Jesse Jackson talking about Michael Jackson.  Coming up in a minute, Jesse Jackson has been a spiritual adviser to Michael.  And he’s going to tell—I asked him, like, what kind of advice—I asked him at one point—I’m going to ask him, does you tell him to grow up a little bit?  That’s coming up. 


ABRAMS:  Right now, an appeals court is deciding whether to reinsert Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.  If they make a decision in the next hour, we’ll bring it to you live. 

Stay with us. 




UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Which one is it?


ABRAMS:  That was the scene as courtroom chaos erupted today in the Michael Jackson case.  One of Jackson’s fans fainted, then started hysterically screaming, “Michael, Michael,” before being taken away in an ambulance.

But the show must go on, and it did.  Before we talk to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has been advising Jackson today, a stand-up comic who—sorry.  Before we talk to him, a stand-up comic who befriended the accuser’s family took the stand.  She could be a crucial witness for prosecutors.

Joining me now with the significance of today’s testimony, NBC’s Mike Taibbi, who was inside the courtroom.  I’m also joined by defense attorney Michael Cardoza, who’s been in and out of that courtroom, and former prosecutor Laura Spencer. 

All right, Mike, let me start with you.  A big witness, right?  A quite a significant witness today? 


This is not a member of the family, but somebody who has known all the kids and the mother for about five years now and has stayed in touch with them.  She knew the boy before he became sick, when he became sick, after he began to recuperate, when he knew Michael Jackson, so a pretty important witness, a comedienne, as you said, named Louise Palanker, and a comedy writer. 

And she said a number of things.  She said that Janet—I’m sorry.  The mother had never, ever lied to her, never asked for money, key prongs of the defense position that this was a family out for the gold.  She said that the boy, as far as she knew, was a good boy, etcetera.  She also talked about a key point after the showing of the Bashir documentary when she claims she got a call from the mother. 

The exchange went like this.  She said, referring to the mother, “These people are evil,” meaning Jackson’s people.  “They’re keeping us.  I would say, where are the children? The children are with me.  I said, are the children in school?  She said, no.  And that’s when she started crying.”

Question, “Did you take her remarks seriously?”

“Yes, I did.”

Question, “Did you call anybody after this phone call?”

Answer, “My lawyer.”

“What did you tell your lawyer?”

“I felt they were being held against their will.”

Obviously, that’s the prosecution’s case.  She also said of the boy during the period of time—this was the question—that you’ve known him.  Have you been able to form an opinion about him concerning his character?  Her answer, yes.  He’s been honest in the face of others wishing him not to be.

So, a strong story by Louise Palanker.  Then, on cross-examination, as always happens on an effective cross-examination.

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

TAIBBI:  The inconsistencies in what she said before to police.

And an interview she didn’t know was recorded came up in which she said that the mother often said things that didn’t add up.  She said about the family: “This family can be as wacky as they want to be.  They’re always kind of strange.”  And about the mother, that she’s unbalanced.  “I think she’s totally bipolar.”  The behavior of their children, “so over the top all of the time,” including repeated calls to celebrities, who often called Ms. Palanker to complain about it.

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

TAIBBI:  One of those celebrities Jay Leno.

So, here we go.  This woman told a powerful story on direct and then was challenged. 

ABRAMS:  You know, but, Michael Cardoza, I think that this is an important point for the prosecutors here, because this woman, this comedian with no axe to grind in this case, it seems, was so convinced by the phone call that she’s calling her lawyer saying, I think these people are being held against their will. 

MICHAEL CARDOZA, NBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Right, but she didn’t call police.  If she was that worried, who would you call?  You’d call the police.  You might would call your lawyer, but you would certainly say, call the police or you would do it yourself. 

You know, what I have got to think, when Palanker was on the stand, she was asked, is the mother your friend?  Yes.  She’s a friend of mine. 

I’ll tell you what.  That rebuttal video that they showed in court, the jury can’t like that mother, so they’ve got to be questioning Palanker’s judgment in people.  Maybe, truly she was fooled by the mother.  But I’ll tell you.  That rebuttal video, nobody likes the mother behind that. 

ABRAMS:  See, here’s the problem.

Let me read another piece of testimony from today.  This is Louise Palanker recounting a conversation with the mother. 

She started by saying: “Wheezy,” meaning Louise, “if you have caller I.D., this is not a safe line.  Don’t call me back here.  They’re listening to everything I say.  These people are evil.  They’re keeping us.”

Now, you know, Laura, if that’s—even if the mother is not credible, you know, maybe it’s that she’s inventing it in her head, but it’s not that she’s inventing it just to make money, as the defense is alleging, if Palanker is to be believed. 

LAURA SPENCER, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  Well, that’s absolutely true. 

And Louise Palanker said that she believed this to be a legitimate call in which the woman was frightened.  And I think the reason that she didn’t call the police, the reason she called the lawyer was because she wasn’t sure of the circumstances under which the woman—was the woman being held? 

ABRAMS:  Doesn’t this go—doesn’t this belie, Michael, the claim that they were doing it for money? 

CARDOZA:  Does it belie the claim for money?  I don’t think so.

The money certainly is out there.  I mean, look what they’ve done.  You had testimony about George Lopez, where the little boy left his wallet at Lopez’s house, I believe it was, or at the Laugh Factory, and then accuses Lopez of taking $300 from him?  Mesereau sat up to say, look, these kids do that.  They accuse someone of taking $300.  No money is directly behind that. 

And maybe, if this woman is imbalanced, if she’s bipolar, maybe she’s making up that false imprisonment in her own end.  And remember what Palanker said here.  He said, you know, she’s got a syndrome.  She seems to be—it’s sort of a captive syndrome.  Maybe it comes from her husband that abused her before, but there’s something wrong this woman. 

ABRAMS:  Here’s cross-examination. 

“You made several statements about mother’s emotional state or mental state, some words like bipolar, wacky, over the top.  Can you explain that?”

“She’s very emotional.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“She very emotional, very excitable, very gregarious.”

Very quickly, Laura, what do you make?

SPENCER:  The mother wasn’t the only person who gave testimony about having been held captive.  The little boy gave testimony about it.  He said that this man Tyson, who was a bodyguard, and this other person who worked for Michael Jackson held their hotel cards, the cards that opened the doors.  So the mother isn’t the only one giving this testimony. 


ABRAMS:  Five seconds, Michael. 

CARDOZA:  Remember what the little boy on the stand said.  He said, I loved being at Neverland.  I never wanted to leave.  Captive?  I wasn’t captive.


SPENCER:  Well, of course he did. 

CARDOZA:  Well, of course he did.  That sort of blows up the false imprisonment.

SPENCER:  Of course he did, until he was molested and given liquor. 


CARDOZA:  No, that’s not how it came in, but go ahead.

ABRAMS:  Mike Taibbi, Michael.

I’m sorry, Michael.  I would have liked to spend more time, everyone. 

I’m sorry.  I went long on my last interview. 

CARDOZA:  Not a problem.

ABRAMS:  Laura Spencer, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

SPENCER:  You bet.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, we’ll talk to one of the first people Michael Jackson talks to many mornings, the Reverend Jesse Jackson.  Who knew?  He’s Michael Jackson’s spiritual adviser.  We’ll talk to him up next. 


ABRAMS:  It’s been a rough trial for Michael Jackson physically, but what is really ailing him? 

Earlier, I spoke to a man who talks to Jackson just about every morning before court.  The Reverend Jesse Jackson serves as Michael Jackson’s spiritual adviser.  I asked him the question everyone wants to know.  What the heck is wrong with Michael Jackson? 


REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION:  I think a combination of the stress of this trial and the severe back injury is taking its toll on him.  But there, of course, is enormous pressure.

And my appeal to him, of course, in this crisis and to his mother and others, of course, is to be prayerful, to be faithful, to not surrender and to stand by his own beliefs and, in this crisis, only his faith can see him through. 

ABRAMS:  Some have said that he may even be a danger to himself.  Are you worried about him possibly harming himself? 

JACKSON:  No, I don’t think Michael is at all suicidal.  I think he has amazing resilience and strength in light of that which he is facing.  He feels and his family feels very wronged by an ambitious prosecutor.  He feels that sense of being wronged, the sense that he feels that those who are now his accusers have a weak case.

But even the idea of conjuring up the trial of 10 years ago, he feels enormous pressure.  And, of course, when these storms do come, all you can do is hold on and not surrender, but I think that his family certainly has gotten closer through it all, and prayer really has been their main weapon. 

ABRAMS:  You are convinced he is innocent, right? 

JACKSON:  He said he is innocent, and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

And so far, as bizarre as this is, the accusations have not penetrated.  I remember so well the prosecutor with this grandstanding, 70 people going into his house armed, as if they were going to face armed resistance, and ransacking the house, and coming out and having this huge press conference.  And if there are any accusers, come now. 

This is a kind of setting a climate that was really drama and theater.  And, of course, whether you are Michael Jackson or Rush Limbaugh, however famous you may be, you deserve due process and dignity.  And I think that this kind of grandstanding approach, trying this in newsroom rather than the courtroom somewhat undermines the expectation, the reasonable expectation of dignity and due process. 

ABRAMS:  Did he say anything about what it was like for him to be sitting in the courtroom with the young boy who is making accusations? 

JACKSON:  Well, he did.

He felt, in some sense, hurt, betrayed, because, you know, through all of this, these children’s families, parents, have lived at Neverland Ranch.  Their parents, the whole family has been involved in the relationship.

So, in some sense, he feels a bit overwhelmed by a very politically inspired, it seems, prosecutor.  On the other hand, those that he trusted, he feels, in some sense, betrayed by them.  And yet, through it all, he is willing to go through the process and to do so and honor the procedure and live with the process and the outcome. 

He feels himself to be innocent and that he will prevail, but he will feel very bloodied up and muddied up through the process.  He feels very—very definitely feels wronged by the process.  I hope that he survives it.  And, in a case like this, of course, there are no winners.  It’s all pain and all losers.  But what can you do when your back is against the wall except to pray and be faithful? 

ABRAMS:  Well, and, Reverend Jackson, I know that much of what you advise him on is spiritual and prayer, et cetera. 

Do you ever give him practical advice, for example, saying things to him like, look, you got to—this is a trial and I know it’s hard for you, and you are not used to this, but you have got to behave like an adult; you have to not come across as so childlike all the time outside of court, when you are walking, with the hospital, et cetera? 

JACKSON:  That certainly is my point of view, and I have tried to say to him that there’s a trial within the courtroom and there’s a trial of public opinion, and one has to give all of the appearances of the sincerity that this case deserves.

And, of course, he has that sense of sincerity.  While he is going through a lot of physical pain, emotional stress, he still is his own person.  He will not negotiate away his person.  I just hope that one can deal with the facts of this case and not with the show business of it all.  Someone said the other day that he is a celebrity.  Well, he is a citizen. 

And, as a citizen, he deserves a trial that respects dignity and due process. 

ABRAMS:  I think he is getting a fair trial in there, from what I have seen, and I have made a prediction on this program before that I expect—

I think he is going to be acquitted or there will be a hung jury. 

But let me—very quickly...

JACKSON:  Well, I certainly hope—I hope that he will never subject himself again.  The very appearance of this relationship has been very damaging to Michael.  And I hope he will never again... 

ABRAMS:  Not have kids sleeping in the bed, yes.

JACKSON:  ... subject himself to this level of—that part is not working. 


ABRAMS:  Yes, yes, for sure. 

All right, thanks to the Reverend Jackson. 

We’ll be right back.


ABRAMS:  Here at MSNBC, we continue to watch the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, waiting for any ruling in connection with the Terri Schiavo case.  That could come at any time.  The question, is that court going to say that that feeding tube should be reinserted?  You see everyone there waiting outside for any word from the federal court of appeals, what really could be Terri Schiavo’s family’s last chance. 

That does it for us tonight.  Stay tuned to MSNBC for any developments in that case.  Still waiting.  So, thanks for watching. 

Up next, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” with Joe Scarborough.

And don’t forget, of course, to watch my program every night, 6:00 p.m. Eastern.  Thanks for watching.  I will be back here again same time tomorrow night.  See you.


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.


Discussion comments