updated 3/25/2005 2:32:09 PM ET 2005-03-25T19:32:09

Guest: Dr. Arthur St. Andre, Dr. Beatrice Engstrand, Jan LaRue, Eddie Lazarus

ANNOUNCER:  This is a special edition of THE ABRAMS REPORT.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO‘S ATTORNEY:  We hope that that order will effectively end the litigation efforts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Terri Schiavo‘s parents continue the fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We don‘t think Terri Schiavo wanted to die.  We are going to take it right to the judge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Now saying a new assessment from a doctor proves she‘s far more aware than many believe.  And how certain are the medical assessments?  We have a doctor debate.

Plus: A key witness for the prosecution in the Michael Jackson case under arrest.  What will that mean for the case?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHLEY SMITH, HELD HOSTAGE BY ATLANTA COURTHOUSE SHOOTER:  I have felt your prayers, and your prayers have sustained and strengthened me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And the young mom held hostage by the Atlanta courthouse shooter gets her just reward.

All this on a special edition of the program about justice.

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

ABRAMS:  Hi, everyone.  An emergency hearing is under way, what could be the final hearing in Terri Schiavo‘s parents‘ quest to keep their daughter alive.  Bob and Mary Schindler are back in this federal court with their attorney as we speak.  They say they have new proof that their daughter is not in a persistent vegetative state.  They come armed with an affidavit from a single doctor, who says he believes Terri Schiavo is in a minimally conscious state, not vegetative, far more aware than most doctors believe.

A federal judge in Tampa is hearing that claim right now and could rule at any moment.  We‘ll, of course, bring that to you as soon as it happens.

All right.  This after the parents lost an effort, the U.S. Supreme Court, asking that the Court intervene.  Joining me now is NBC‘s Mark Potter outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida—Mark.

MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, good evening, Dan.  Once again, people are standing outside the hospice facility here where Terri is being cared for, awaiting yet another ruling from the federal court.  And as you said, there is one more that may be the last issue.  The hearing is under way right now at the Tampa federal courthouse before the same judge who just a couple days ago refused to remove that feeding tube.

As you said, new issues are being raised this time by the same lawyers, David Gibbs for the parents, George Felos representing the husband.  And because the hearing is under way now, we don‘t know when the judge will rule.  We do know that a couple days ago, after an evening hearing, he went all night and ruled at 6:30 the next morning.

So that‘s what‘s happening now.  Again, awaiting a ruling, all this occurring as the options for Terri Schiavo‘s supporters dwindle rapidly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED:  We are just hearing word that the United States Supreme Court denied the motion...

POTTER (voice-over):  For those fighting to keep Terri Schiavo alive, another day of devastating news.  For them, the biggest blow was this morning‘s U.S. Supreme Court refusal to reattach the feeding tube.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re opening the door to euthanasia here in America.

POTTER:  Once again, a state judge ruled against Schiavo‘s parents and Florida officials who wanted to reattach the feeding tube.  Increasingly, on this side of the bitter court battle, they know time is running out.

BROTHER PAUL O‘DONNELL, SCHINDLER FAMILY SPOKESMAN:  She is definitely showing signs of dehydration and starvation.  It‘s only a matter of time that she would go into kidney failure.

POTTER:  But the attorney for husband Michael Schiavo says his wife is peaceful, resting comfortably and dying with dignity as she would want.

GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO‘S HUSBAND:  She‘s in her death process.  She‘s being attended to by a team of wonderful and compassionate, professional health care workers.

POTTER:  In Tallahassee, protesters camped outside the office of Governor Jeb Bush while staffers answered calls from around the country.  After saying yesterday he would do everything he could for Schiavo, Bush today said he would not violate a new court order prohibiting state officials from removing Schiavo from hospice.

GOV. JEB BUSH ®, FLORIDA:  I‘ve consistently said that I can‘t go beyond what my powers are, and I‘m not going to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POTTER:  Now, late this afternoon, as Schiavo‘s parents visited her here again, saying that she appears to be deteriorating rapidly physically, on this, her seventh day without food and water.  And Dan, of course, that becomes part of their argument in that hearing tonight in federal court for urging the judge to rapidly rule on reattaching the feeding tube.  And of course, the argument on the other side is that she is peaceful, she is dying with dignity.  The argument continues.  We await the ruling.  Back to you.

ABRAMS:  Mark Potter, thanks a lot.

And that‘s, of course, the debate we‘re going to have in a moment.  Tonight‘s hearing comes after a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, who‘s reviewed Schiavo‘s case but has never actually examined Terri Schiavo, disagreed with the diagnosis that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH ®, FLORIDA:  The neurologist‘s review indicates that Terri may have been misdiagnosed and is more likely that she is in a state of minimal consciousness, rather than in a state of—in a persistent vegetative state.  This new information raises serious concerns.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘ve said it before, as a legal matter, I simply do not believe that the parents of Terri Schiavo have any legitimate legal arguments to make anymore.  But one of the big questions is, of course, a medical one.  And so joining me now is Dr. Beatrice Engstrand, who has written an affidavit about Terri Schiavo‘s health on behalf of the parents.  She says Terri Schiavo is feeling pain right now and believes she‘s far more aware than many believe.  Also with me is Dr. Arthur St. Andre, director of surgical critical care at the Washington Hospital Center.  He believes Terri Schiavo is not feeling any pain.

All right, Dr. St. Andre, you and I talked about this last night.  You don‘t even view this as a debatable issue, right?

ARTHUR ST. ANDRE, M.D., WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER:  Well, from the information that we have—Terri has been examined a number of times by very expert, competent physicians, including one appointed by the court.  And my understanding is that their conclusion has been consistently that she is in the persistent vegetative state, and therefore, not aware, not having sensation.

ABRAMS:  So what do you make of Dr. William Cheshire‘s comments that say, “Based on my review of extensive medical records documenting Terri‘s care over the years, on my personal observations of Terri and on my observations of Terri‘s responses in the many hours of videotape taken in 2002, she demonstrates a number of behaviors that I believe cast a reasonable doubt on the prior diagnosis of persistent vegetative state.”

ST. ANDRE:  In the persistent vegetative state, patients are experiencing sleep/wake cycles and can have movements that are very disconcerting even to medical professionals because they can give you the false impression that there‘s actually awareness and purposeful movement.  To make the determination, the observations have to be done over a number of times in different settings by the same clinician to satisfactorily reach that conclusions.  So it‘s very difficult for someone to do this from afar if he‘s not had the opportunity to examine her directly often.

ABRAMS:  Dr. Engstrand, wouldn‘t you concede, at the least, that you and Dr. Cheshire are in the tiny minority on this issue?

DR. BEATRICE ENGSTRAND, NEUROLOGIST:  I think we‘re right, though, because Terri was vocalizing some words.  And when you have speech, that is not persistent vegetative state, that is cognitive function.  And just because the numbers are against us does not mean that we are wrong in this case.  And this is a person‘s life at stake here, so I think everything should be done to maintain her life.

An observation is often done when you adopt children from abroad.  You observe neurological films and assess people‘s clinical state.  So observation with videos and stuff like that is accurate medical accepted diagnostic...

ABRAMS:  But you‘re making it sound like she was just admitted yesterday.  And you‘re saying, You know, hey, wait a second.  We got to look at this in a way that‘s very careful.  She‘s now been observed for 15 years, and Dr. Cheshire comes forward now with this affidavit out of nowhere.  And look, I‘m not saying he doesn‘t believe it.  But I‘m saying that I find it—you know, I don‘t know why we should suddenly say, Oh, hey, there‘s this one doctor out there who‘s suddenly deciding that he doesn‘t think that the diagnosis was accurate, and that‘s somehow going to change everything.

ENGSTRAND:  No, I wrote in my affidavit also that I disagreed, that I think she‘s in a minimally conscious state because of her vocalizations, which is more than reflexive.  I used to do organ harvesting in the state of New York, and she wouldn‘t have qualified to give organs.  She wasn‘t brain dead.  She has a conscious state.

ABRAMS:  So how do you explain the liquefication of her cerebrum?

ENGSTRAND:  That could be scar tissue.  I‘ve treated people with cerebral trauma, bleeds in their brain, that have woken up, including the Central Park jogger.  That doesn‘t sway me at all.  I‘m surprised they didn‘t do a functional MRI before they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) going to disconnect food itself, to see what function, objectively (UNINTELLIGIBLE) .

ABRAMS:  Dr. St. Andre, it sort of gets me—it sort of irritates me that there are these people—and again, I don‘t mean to attack Dr.  Engstrand in particular, but these people who are now saying that all of the medical treatment that she‘s gotten up to this point has been negligent, that they haven‘t done enough, that—and the reality is that Terri Schiavo‘s situation has been examined, I would think, more thoroughly than just about anyone who‘s been taken off of life support.

ST. ANDRE:  Certainly, we have that impression, and I am quite certain that she has been examined a number of times, Dan.  And I think the thing to focus upon is that there‘s absolutely no dispute that this poor woman has suffered a devastating neurologic brain injury that has been consistent and persistent over many, many years time.  And our understanding from the husband, as reviewed by the court innumerable times, is that she has said she would not want to live in this condition.

ABRAMS:  Right.  But that‘s—that‘s—I‘ll get into the legal issue on that in a minute, but I want to just still focus again—let me get—let me ask you to put the Randall Terry quote up, the piece of sound, because this is—he‘s been a spokesperson for the family.  And listen to this because I want to you respond to this, Dr. St. Andre.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDALL TERRY, SCHINDLER FAMILY SPOKESMAN:  The uncle said that when you walk into the room normally, Terri is very loud.  She‘s happy to see people.  She‘s laughing.  She‘s talking.  Today she‘s so weak that her voice can barely be heard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You would agree, Dr. St. Andre, that is a vast overstatement of Terri Schiavo‘s cognitive abilities, correct?

ST. ANDRE:  Well, a person who is in the persistent vegetative state does make movements, can seem to laugh, can make grunts that sound like noise and are noise, can actually move, and at times, give you the impression that they‘re actually tracking you while she‘s in the room.  And as she becomes more weak, she will not be able to do those same activities.  Those don‘t necessarily indicate that she has any higher cortical function at all.

ABRAMS:  Dr. Engstrand, is she in pain right now?

ENGSTRAND:  I believe she is.  I would not want to starve to death.  I think the cells are breaking down.  She‘s having electrolyte disturbances  That predisposes her to heart attack, to seizure activity.  The potassium, the sodium, all those numbers in your blood are going to go awry as she‘s starving to death.

ABRAMS:  And Dr. St. Andre, again, that position is in the extreme minority when it come to evaluating what she‘s feeling, is it not?

ST. ANDRE:  Certainly, in the persistent vegetative state, when there is no awareness, there is no perception of any of these changes that are being mentioned that she is actually going through in the state of no hydration and no food.  She actually will be very peaceful, and her death in these final hours will be rather gentle.

ABRAMS:  All right.  We are—let me thank you—actually, you‘re both going to stick around, if you don‘t mind, because we may have some medical questions that come up in the context of the legal discussion.

We are waiting for a ruling, an emergency hearing under way in federal

court.  Many say this could be the last opportunity for the parents of

Terri Schiavo to get a court to step in and reinsert her feeding tube.  I -

·         we will see.  We‘ll wait.  But the question that we‘re going to ask is, Are there any legal options left for her family, even if they lose here?

Also, after convincing the accused Atlanta courthouse shooter to let her go, Ashley Smith finally gets the reward she deserves.  We hear from her.  And what could be a major coup for the prosecution in the Michael Jackson case.  Jackson‘s lawyers wanted comedian George Lopez to testify for them.  He didn‘t want to.  He seems to willing to testify for the prosecutors.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GIBBS, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S PARENTS‘ ATTORNEY:  We think there is some new ground, and we‘re going to right to the heart of the matter.  We don‘t think Terri Schiavo wanted to die, and we are going to take it right to the judge and let him make the decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  That was the attorney for the parents of Terri Schiavo arriving at that courthouse a couple of hours ago.  There is still a hearing ongoing there.  The question: Is there a new issue?  Is there new evidence, as Terri Schiavo‘s parents claim?  They have come armed with an affidavit from a doctor saying that they believe that Terri Schiavo has been misdiagnosed, and as a result, they say, that feeding tube must be reinserted.  They also make additional federal claims, all in the effort to, at least for now, have that feeding tube reinserted.  It has been out since Friday.

Joining me now is Eddie Lazarus, former Supreme Court clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun and a constitutional law expert, and Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America.

All right, Ms. LaRue, let me start with you.  I understand...

JAN LARUE, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA:  Hi, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Hi.  I understand why the lawyers went back.  Can‘t blame the lawyers, trying to do everything that they can to represent their clients.  But the notion that this federal judge, who‘s already rejected this effort on behalf of the parents, is suddenly going to say, Oh, there‘s some doctor out there who believes she was misdiagnosed, and that changes everything, to me seems to be bordering on the absurd.

LARUE:  Dan, it‘s not absurd.  I don‘t think anybody in this country would want to see an innocent woman starve to death by a court order if it‘s against her wishes and if she‘s not PVS, as the—which is the foundation of the judge‘s order.

ABRAMS:  Right.  But “against her wishes” has nothing to do with what this doctor‘s offering in his affidavit.  He has no idea what was her wish or not.  We can talk about that in a minute...

LARUE:  That‘s part of what the judge has to consider here, and...

ABRAMS:  Yes, but the judge has already rejected that.  The judge has already rejected the idea...

LARUE:  This is based on the evidence offered in the affidavit, which Dr. Cheshire examined her on March 1.  You made a mistake in your opening...

ABRAMS:  He didn‘t examine her, he saw her.

LARUE:  Yes, he did!  He said...

ABRAMS:  He never examined her.  He...

LARUE:  He saw her.

ABRAMS:  Yes, there‘s a big difference.

LARUE:  He saw her.

ABRAMS:  That is not a medical examination.  Any doctor will tell you looking at someone who is next to you...

LARUE:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  ... is not an examination.

LARUE:  Why are you willing to rely on Dr. St. Andre‘s opinion here...

ABRAMS:  I‘m not.

LARUE:  ... when he hasn‘t seen her?

ABRAMS:  I‘m not.

LARUE:  Well, the point of the matter is, Dan...

ABRAMS:  I‘m not.  I‘m willing to rely on the people who‘ve examined her.  For example...

LARUE:  The point of the matter is, Dan...

ABRAMS:  ... for example—you asked me a question.

LARUE:  ... what is wrong with having...

ABRAMS:  Let me quote...

LARUE:  ... an MRI to confirm this?

ABRAMS:  Because, again, you‘re acting as if this is a brand-new issue.  You‘re acting as if—that they haven‘t done...

LARUE:  Do you understand that...

ABRAMS:  ... the required tests.

LARUE:  ... that Terri hasn‘t had a neurological exam in three years, that everybody is basing the fact that they think that her cortex is permanently damaged based on a Cat scan 10 years ago?

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me ask you—all right, let me ask...

LARUE:  We have—you have got...

ABRAMS:  Let me ask Dr. St. Andre about that.  Dr. St. Andre, can a liquefied cerebrum, absent some sort of miracle—and let‘s—let‘s leave open the possibility of—of—of divine intervention.  Apart from divine intervention, is there a medical explanation for how a liquefied cerebrum could come together once again and create the missing parts of the brain that were lost?

ST. ANDRE:  There are two points to understand.  First is that the liquefied cerebrum would not reconstitute itself.  And secondly, the persistent vegetative state is one that is made by a clinical diagnosis, examination repeatedly over time.  It is not a radiologic diagnosis.

ABRAMS:  And as a result, what you‘re saying is that an MRI a PET, additional tests would be useless.

ST. ANDRE:  They would not help you to further the diagnosis of the persistent vegetative state.

ABRAMS:  All right...

LARUE:  Well, they certainly would help to prove that it was incorrect, wouldn‘t they, Doctor?

ST. ANDRE:  No, they would not at all because the persistent vegetative state, again, is based clinical examination to determine whether or not there‘s awareness.

ABRAMS:  Let me be fair.  Let me let the other doctor...

LARUE:  My understanding is that a CAT scan...

ABRAMS:  Ms. LaRue, let me just...

LARUE:  ... is a...

ABRAMS:  Let me just the doctor who is on your side in here.

LARUE:  ... is a structural brain study...

ABRAMS:  Ms. LaRue...

LARUE:  ... and not a cellular study.

ABRAMS:  Ms. LaRue, let me just let the doctor who‘s on your side in on this one.  Dr. Engstrand, what do you make of it?

ENGSTRAND:  Well, according to the legal team, I was told she hasn‘t had a CAT scan in many years.  So a liquefied cerebrum, she would have had to have a radiographic study.  So I was not privy to that.  I—but even if there was a liquefied cerebrum, I‘ve seen many people with horrible CAT scans, that should have been dead, that are alive now at work.  So I think that...

ABRAMS:  Yes, but that‘s—but that‘s not a medical answer.  I mean, that‘s sort of like say, you know, I‘ve seen a lot of things that have changed.

ENGSTRAND:  Oh, yes, it is a medical answer.

ABRAMS:  That‘s not specifically addressing the question...

ENGSTRAND:  Yes, it is!

ABRAMS:  ... of whether a liquefied cerebrum can change.

(CROSSTALK)

ENGSTRAND:  Yes, it can.  The function of the brain can still be there.

ABRAMS:  And so as a result, the liquefication can somehow alter itself?

ENGSTRAND:  No, you can...

ABRAMS:  ... again, absent—absent—again, I‘m not talking divine intervention, but strictly based on a medical explanation.

ENGSTRAND:  With the plasticity of today‘s neuro research being done to take centers (ph) from brain and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) channel pathways, things can be done, and function can be restored.

ABRAMS:  Dr. St. Andre, the bottom line is, we have been calling doctors around this country, trying to get people who will give us explanations and take that position, and there are a handful—when I say a handful, I mean that there are four, something like—every other doctor we spoke to at every university that we called gave the same answer, which is the answer that you‘ve been giving.

ST. ANDRE:  Yes, I think that‘s true.  And we have to rely on the information that we have from physicians who have examined her repeatedly for long periods of time to know whether or not she‘s in a persistent vegetative state.  And my understanding is, by physicians appointed by the court, who have no vested interest on one side or the other, they have reached that conclusion.

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to go to Mr. Lazarus on this.  Let me just make it clear, the reason that I get riled up about this is because sometimes I feel like the arguments that are being made aren‘t being made based on law or based on medicine, they‘re being based on ideology and politics.  And I‘m just trying to sort out what‘s for real and what is not.

Eddie Lazarus, legal question.  This hearing in front of this judge, same judge who rejected the effort before—but, you know they do have—this doctor who‘s coming forward is from the Mayo Clinic, a very well respected medical center, and he‘s saying, I think they got it wrong.  If he‘s right that they got it wrong, do you think that maybe there‘s a possibility the judge will say, All right, we‘re going to err on the side of caution?

EDDIE LAZARUS, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW SCHOLAR:  I think it‘s very, very unlikely, Dan.  Part of the—I approach this a little bit differently than the other guests because I don‘t know, really, anything about the medical certainties on one side or the other.  I‘m looking at this from the point of view of, Do these people have a federal law or a constitutional law claim?  And that‘s the problem they face.  Just because there‘s new evidence that‘s appeared doesn‘t mean that that suddenly creates a federal law or constitutional claim.

ABRAMS:  But you would agree—but you would agree, right—I mean, look, we‘re talking about life and death here.  So if there were evidence that would suggest that they‘d been getting it wrong, I would certainly hope the federal courts would step in.

LAZARUS:  It would have to be powerful evidence, though, Dan, because it would have to suggest that there was some corruption in the process by which this original determination was made, that somehow the due process rights of the parents were violated in the decisions that were being made.  You‘re right, if there was something definitive, like in a death penalty case, really strong evidence of actual innocence, well, yes, you‘d expect a federal court to step in.

ABRAMS:  Right.  Let me just tell you...

LAZARUS:  But a single affidavit, no.

ABRAMS:  Let me just report to everyone, the Florida supreme court has just rejected the appeal of Terri‘s parents trying to overturn Judge Greer‘s opinion earlier about whether Children and Family Services could take custody of Terri.  The judge had said no.  And in fact, this judge had instructed law enforcement in the state not to try to take custody of her.  The Florida supreme court has just affirmed that opinion.  But let‘s be clear.  That is no surprise to any of my guests who are on this panel.

All right, let me take a quick break.  We‘re coming back with the same panel, continue the discussion.  That is what is going on outside of Terri Schiavo‘s hospice.  And the question that some are asking, is anyone planning any extra-judicial activity?

And later: Yesterday, we brought you exclusive details about a key prosecution witness in the Michael Jackson case who‘s under arrest now for, among other things, kidnapping.  Tonight, what the prosecution is doing to make sure he still takes the stand.

Plus, Ashley Smith.  Remember her, the brave Atlanta woman held hostage for seven hours by accused killer Brian Nichols?  Gets her $70,000 reward.  Hear what she has to say coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s a live picture of the federal courthouse in Atlanta, where Terri Schiavo‘s parents are making an emergency request to the court in an effort to have Terri Schiavo‘s feeding tube reinserted.  They have come armed with the affidavit of a doctor from a prominent hospital who is saying that he believes that Terri has been misdiagnosed, that she was not in a persistent vegetative state, rather, that she‘s in a minimally conscious state and, the doctor says, that would mean that she‘s far more aware than believed up to this point. 

And so the question is, will this make the difference in this federal court? 

I‘m joined again—let me go back to Jan LaRue on this. 

And, Jan, I want to read you from what Judge Greer in the Florida court said about this exact issue, this new doctor, Dr. Cheshire‘s comments.  Then I want to you comment on it. 

All right, he—the judge said: “Schiavo cannot live without a nutrition and hydration tube and Dr. Cheshire does not suggest otherwise.  By clear and convincing evidence, it was determined she did not want to live under such burdensome conditions and that she would refuse such medical treatment/assistance.”

Why do you think/hope the federal court will look at it differently?

LARUE:  Well, Dr. Cheshire‘s affidavit indicates that he believes that she can swallow.  And even when you remove a feeding tube, there‘s an ethical duty here to provide food and water to a person who can swallow.  And that‘s being denied. 

You know, if we looked at this as if Terri were a condemned murder, we‘d all be supporting federal review of her constitutional rights. 

ABRAMS:  That argument is always..

LARUE:  That‘s what Scott Peterson is going to enjoy. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

LARUE:  That‘s why Congress passed a law and the president signed it, to make sure she would have the same access. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Right.  I hope that‘s not why they passed the law.

And I‘ll you why I hope not.  I‘ll you why I hope not. 

(CROSSTALK)

LARUE:  Dan, we talk about all the judges that have reviewed this. 

They haven‘t looked at the evidence.

(CROSSTALK)

LARUE:  Jan, Jan, hang on a sec.  Hang on a sec. 

You‘re talking about the comparison to death row inmates.  And I hear that comparison again and again and again.  The difference is, here, the finding was, this is not what Terri would have wanted.  You claim to be speaking for Terri.  But yet...

LARUE:  That‘s begging the question.  It doesn‘t answer it.  That was my first point.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But you can‘t compare death row prisoners who are trying to get off death row with someone who has the court wouldn‘t want this. 

LARUE:  Dan, are you aware of the fact that, in 1984, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ordered a prison doctor—they affirmed a trial court order that ordered a prison warden to feed and hydrate an inmate who wanted to starve to death, and he was found to be mentally competent?

ABRAMS:  What does that have to do with this? 

LARUE:  What does this have to do with it?  We have got a judge here who is ordering a woman to be starved to death. 

ABRAMS:  Because that‘s what she wanted. 

LARUE:  On the flimsiest of evidence.

Let me tell you something.  When you base—call this clear and convincing evidence that she wants to die, I could get a search warrant kicked because there‘d be no probable cause to rely on this kind of stale and highly suspect hearsay testimony.  That‘s all we‘ve got here.  Why can‘t we have an MRI to answer the medical question? 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Look, I know you don‘t agree with the ruling.  You don‘t agree with the Florida appeals courts.  You don‘t agree with all the federal courts.  I know.  You disagree with every single court.

(CROSSTALK)

LARUE:  That doesn‘t matter with federal review of a death sentence.  We don‘t care about all the state judges.  We still give them federal review. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I understand.  And that‘s exactly what they did here.  They gave it de novo review.

LARUE:  Let‘s do that for an innocent woman being starved to death.

ABRAMS:  All right.  OK. 

LARUE:  Does anybody want that to happen if it isn‘t her wishes? 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But, again, you‘re making it sound like this hasn‘t been reviewed by the courts, Jan.  All right.  All right. 

LARUE:  Come on, Dan.  Act like this is a convicted murder.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I know, act like it and make a comparison that has absolutely no basis in reality. 

LARUE:  Oh, really? 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  That comparison is...

LARUE:  What‘s that got do with whether or not she should have federal review to see if her constitutional rights have been violated?

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  That‘s fine.  Congress passed a law.

(CROSSTALK)

LARUE:  Terri has never, ever had her own attorney.

ABRAMS:  Look, I accept—Congress passes a law, I accept it.  I accept this legislation from Congress.  And the federal courts have reviewed it.

(CROSSTALK)

LARUE:  And the federal judge all presumed it was constitutional. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s right.  They haven‘t said it was unconstitutional. 

They just haven‘t deemed it constitutional. 

LARUE:  They presumed it.  They presumed it, as they should. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  Fine. 

So, you should have no complaints with what the courts have been doing. 

LARUE:  Look at the dissenting judges.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Terri Schiavo is now at a hospice—one dissenting judge.

LARUE:  Two.

ABRAMS:  About 10 miles away from the courthouse, outside, dozens of protesters.

NBC‘s Kerry Sanders has more. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  They‘re devastated.  Outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice, the 100 or so faithful say even now they still believe in miracles. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for Terri. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... the wickedness of man. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... hunger justice and mercy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was thirsty and you gave me drink. 

SANDERS:  Most are strangers, but on a common crusade, like Tim Hanline, a computer programmer and father of two. 

TIM HANLINE, COMPUTER PROGRAMMER:  Now, how do I teach my daughters to respect authorities when authorities are tyrannical? 

SANDERS:  The drum beats, symbolic, they say, of Terri Schiavo‘s heart; 14-year-old Michael Zelka (ph) skipped his home schooling lessons today to hold vigil. 

(on camera):  Some have come here from as far away as Los Angeles to this patch of grass outside the hospice to find like-minded souls, while others are here to find the unblinking eye of television cameras just across the street. 

RANDALL TERRY, SPOKESMAN FOR PARENTS OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  You know, Good Friday is tomorrow.  And during Christ‘s crucifixion, he said, I thirst.  And at least the Romans offered him a drink of water. 

SANDERS (voice-over):  He‘s Randall Terry, infamous to some for protests in the late 1980s aimed at shutting down clinics that perform abortions.  And media from around the world are chronicling these events. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The way it‘s portrayed in the overseas media is that some Americans are whack jobs. 

SANDERS:  But those here say they‘re simply drawn by their convictions, a belief that they‘re right and the way Terri Schiavo‘s dying is wrong. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDERS:  And, tonight, many more people have now gathered out here and, as you can see from the crowds that are out here and the signs they‘re holding, one there that says “Jeb, Terri has faith in you”—that would be Governor Jeb Bush, the attempt here to put pressure on the governor to see if he can do something.  In fact, tonight, later this evening, many of these people say they plan on getting a bus and traveling up to the State Capitol in Tallahassee to protest there. 

Meantime, tonight, a short distance from here in Tampa at the federal court, as we look at this live picture, there have been some delays in the presentation there before Judge Whittemore, in part because of a suspicious package that was found outside the federal courthouse.  The authorities were concerned about that suspicious package.  They moved everybody back a half a block, then a block, then two blocks away. 

And it delayed the proceedings inside.  And so they‘ve gotten started there much later than they anticipated. 

ABRAMS:  All right. 

SANDERS:  Tonight, those who‘ve gathered here say that they‘re holding vigil, praying and hoping for a miracle, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Kerry Sanders, thanks very much.  Appreciate it. 

We‘re out of time on this topic.  Let me just make a final comment. 

And that is that, while I may disagree with Jan LaRue, who is a great advocate for the position that she‘s taking here, this is a tough, tough subject.  And don‘t get me wrong.  I feel for Terri‘s parents.  I‘ve said it before.  I‘m going to say it again.  I understand why people feel so passionately about this.  I feel passionately about it as a legal matter.  There are other interests here we all have to consider as well. 

Eddie Lazarus, Jan LaRue, Dr. Beatrice Engstrand and Dr. Arthur St.

Andre, thank you very much.  Appreciate it. 

(CROSSTALK)

ST. ANDRE:  You‘re quite welcome.

ABRAMS:  We‘ll keep watching the court in Tampa and bring you the latest as soon as it happens. 

Also coming up, the first celebrity prepares to take the stand in the Michael Jackson case, not testifying for the defense today, as promised.  That could be trouble for Jackson.  Details up next. 

And Ashley Smith comes out.  She‘s gotten that award for the capture of the accused Atlanta shooter.  She‘s speaking out in a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, we‘re continuing wait for a ruling from a federal court.  It could be the final effort from the parents of Terri Schiavo coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL JACKSON, DEFENDANT:  Very much still in pain. 

QUESTION:  Are you? 

JACKSON:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  Your back? 

JACKSON:  Yes, and my side.  I‘d like to say hello to the people of Santa Maria, my friends and neighbors.  Thank you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You got to love it, Michael Jackson greeting his friends and neighbors, otherwise known as the jurors, as he left the courthouse just hours ago. 

Got lots of big news out of Santa Maria tonight, surprising turn of events at the end of court today.  Comedian George Lopez will willingly testify for the prosecution on Monday.  Why the big deal?  Well, he was subpoenaed by the defense and has been fighting to keep himself off the stand.  He‘s also the third witness to be called by the prosecution who the defense talked about in its opening statement.  It seems the prosecution isn‘t giving up on that witness we told you about last night, Jackson‘s former security guard who is in a Nevada jail facing robbery, burglary and kidnapping charges.

The DA‘s office today filed an application to have Chris Carter moved from Las Vegas to Santa Maria—quote—“for the purpose of giving testimony as soon as practical.”  But even if the prosecution succeeds in getting Carter to Santa Maria, there‘s no guarantee that he‘ll talk about seeing Jackson drinking alcohol out of soda cans with kids and about the recording equipment at Neverland that he discussed in the grand jury. 

Joining me now, two NBC News analysts and Jackson trial watchers, criminal defense attorney Michael Cardoza and Court TV investigative editor Diane Dimond, who‘s been following this case from the beginning. 

DIANE DIMOND, COURT TV:  Hi, Dan.

ABRAMS:  All right, Diane, let‘s start with the George Lopez issue.  Again, it seems that the defense being is blindsided a little bit by a witness that they thought was going to testify for them. 

DIMOND:  Yes, this is the third one.  There was a weatherman comedian from L.A. and then a comedy writer from the Laugh Factory and now George Lopez.  All three were mentioned by Larry—by...

ABRAMS:  Tom Mesereau.

DIMOND:  I was going to say Larry Feldman.  Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

DIMOND:  Tom Mesereau.  Thank you. 

In his opening statement as coming to the jury to testify that they had been hustled by this young accuser and his mother.  Well, the first two witnesses testified that it wasn‘t the mother and the boy at all.  It was the father that they had trouble with.  And my sources are telling me that‘s exactly what George Lopez is going to say.  That‘s why he‘s been fighting this defense subpoena. 

He didn‘t want to come and testify until his attorney talked to the prosecution.  They got it all straight and he‘s going to appear on Monday. 

ABRAMS:  Michael, how big a problem? 

MICHAEL CARDOZA, NBC LEGAL ANALYST:  You know, I don‘t see it as a—well, for whom? 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  For the defense. 

CARDOZA:  For the defense, it‘s a problem.  You know, you put him on your witness list.  You expect him to say one thing.  Then the prosecution Trumps you on it and brings them in.  It could hurt a little bit. 

But, again, this case comes down to, in my mind, the victim.  Does the jury believe the victim?  And, I‘m telling you, the one thing that will bolster the victim in this case is the ruling Monday. 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

Will Melville let those priors in or not?  Boy, that‘s the whole case in my mind.

ABRAMS:  I agree.  I agree.  And we‘ll preview that tomorrow.

But I want to talk about this Chris Carter guy.  This is an insider, right?  This is a guy who is with Jackson all the time.  And, again, the prosecutors are thinking, this guy is going to be great for our case.  He‘s going to talk about seeing Jackson drinking out of cans, alcohol with kids.  He‘s going to talk about the mother being all upset at Neverland, et cetera.  And now he‘s under arrest and they‘re still going to call him in, Michael.  Mistake? 

CARDOZA:  You know, if you‘ve got him, bring him in.  The jury may believe him.

I mean, I tried a number of murder cases where I have put a guy on the stand in one case where I said, how many murders have you committed and been convicted of?  And he told me five.  I‘ve done five.  I‘ve only been convicted of three.  Jury believed him in the case and I got a murder conviction.  They may well believe him.

But Mr. Carter is going to be a bit cranky.  What, he‘s a convicted drug dealer and he‘s facing robbery charges in Las Vegas. 

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

CARDOZA:  He may not be too cooperative.

ABRAMS:  Diane, did the prosecutors get—I asked you if the defense got blindsided before.  Now, let me ask you, did the prosecutors get blindsided on this one? 

DIMOND:  Oh, I‘m sure they‘re not very happy that Carter got pinched for burglary, robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas.

But still he‘s locked into that grand jury testimony that he gave, Dan.  You know, he says he saw this young boy intoxicated on the ranch trying to get on a golf cart.  And when he said, what are you doing?  Are you drinking?  Have you been drinking?  And he said something to the effect of, yes, Michael said, if I can do it, it makes me a man.  So he‘s locked in. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Let me read what you‘re talking about from the grand jury testimony. 

“There was the accuser stumbling around.  And I had said, hey, man, what‘s going on?  I told him, you know, you shouldn‘t be drinking.  And he said, well, I can handle it.  Michael said, if I can handle it, it‘s OK.  It‘s part of being a man.”

You know, this is an insider, Michael.  What would be the motive for him to testify against Jackson?  Are they going to say, oh, it was a bad departure when he left? 

CARDOZA:  Well, you never know what they‘re going to say.  Certainly, they‘ll attack his prior drug conviction.  They‘ll attack the fact that he‘s facing robbery charges down in Vegas.  And they may attack that.  We don‘t know what the background is, why he left Neverland.  But, certainly, they will have to attack that. 

But, within that, I‘m telling you, the jury may well believe someone like that, because here‘s a guy that goes, yes, I‘ve been a convicted narcotic dealer.  Yes, I‘m facing robbery charges, but I‘m telling you what happened here.  Those are the types of witnesses sometimes juries just, in a sense, fall in love with and really believe. 

DIMOND:  And don‘t forget, Dan, this is somebody that Michael Jackson hired to be his bodyguard. 

ABRAMS:  Right. 

DIMOND:  I mean, you go to war with the army you‘ve got here.  And this is somebody that, you know, the prosecution can use.  Is he a bad guy?  Yes.  But he wasn‘t hired by the prosecution.  He was hired by Michael Jackson. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARDOZA:  Right.  And the defense better come up with a motive for him to tell this story or to lie.  They‘ve got to have a motive.

ABRAMS:  I apologize for interrupting.

DIMOND:  You‘re right.

ABRAMS:  We have got some news in connection with the Terri Schiavo case. 

The hearing in federal court where the parents of Terri Schiavo are asking for emergency relief in an effort to have that feeding tube reinstated, saying that they have new evidence that proves that Terri is not in a persistent vegetative state, the hearing is over.  The judge has said he‘s going to take it under advisement, that he will rule not at—at the earliest, in a few hours.  He‘s told everyone to go home for now and that he‘ll let people know when he‘s got a ruling. 

But, remember, this is a case where time is of the essence.  And I think that‘s a huge understatement. 

All right, Michael Cardoza and Diane Dimond, I apologize for cutting that a little bit short. 

That‘s the scene outside, as the waiting continues.  The hearing is over and we‘ll continue to follow any developments in that case. 

And, coming up next, Ashley Smith, remember her?  She got the reward for the capture of the accused Atlanta shooter, finally.  And she speaks out. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  This is a live picture outside of the hospice where—there‘s really other way to put it—Terri Schiavo is dying now that her feeding tube has been removed.

A hearing has just concluded in Atlanta, where the parents of Terri Schiavo—in Tampa, sorry—where the parents of Terri Schiavo are trying to get that feeding tube reinserted, saying that there have been federal constitutional violations and that a new doctor—they have new evidence, they say, that Terri was misdiagnosed.  The attorney for the parents spoke for about two hours.  It‘s a long hearing. 

And the attorney for the other side, for the husband, spoke for about an hour.  We are expecting a ruling from the judge sometime tonight or early tomorrow morning. 

All right, now to Atlanta.  Ashley Smith, the young mom held hostage by Atlanta‘s courthouse shooter, got a standing ovation at the Georgia State Capitol.  She got some money as well.  Remember, we talked about this?  Where is her reward, $70,000, the reward for helping to capture suspect Brian Nichols?

Here‘s what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHLEY SMITH, FORMER HOSTAGE:  The outpouring of support I‘ve received from family members, friends, the city of Atlanta, my hometown Augusta, the state of Georgia and the entire nation, have been overwhelming and, at the same time, humbling for me.

Throughout this journey, I have felt your prayers, and your prayers have sustained and strengthened me.  Yes, my life has changed, but that is a small fraction compared to all the families that lost loved ones during these tragic events earlier in the month.  My heart goes out to all the families of those that are still mourning.

My life is a testimony that God can use us, even in the midst of tragedy, and that miracles do happen.  The hope of the Easter season is my hope.  Thank you for your support and continued prayers as I strive to honor God‘s purpose for my life.  May God bless you all. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I think thank you to Ashley.  We are glad that she finally got that reward that we talked about and demanded on this program.  That‘s for certain. 

All right, we continue to wait for more developments in the Terri Schiavo case.  Again, a hearing has just concluded there. 

Stay with us.  Right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  That wraps it up for us tonight.  The hearing is over in the Terri Schiavo case, waiting for a ruling. 

Be sure to tune into my regular program at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. 

Tomorrow, we will have full coverage of what is happening in this case. 

Up next, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” with Joe Scarborough.  He, too, of course, is going to dealing with the Terri Schiavo case.

Thanks for watching.  See you tomorrow.

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

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