Guest: Richard Land, John Paris, Lawrence Shuer, Robert Raben, Howard Weitzman, Cyrus Mehri
ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of THE ABRAMS REPORT.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: She is being starved to death. She is being dehydrated to death. And that‘s inhumane.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: At the final hour, Jesse Jackson jumps into Terri Schiavo case, heading down to the hospice to support her parents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: This is one of the profound moral, ethical issues of our time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Tonight, the moral dilemma over human starvation. Is it ethical to ever remove a feeding tube? And should a parent have more say in that decision than even a spouse?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S MOTHER: Please fight and give Terri a chance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Plus, the latest in the Michael Jackson trial. A big ruling against his defense team puts former child star Macaulay Culkin back in the spotlight.
And a tribute to my friend, Johnnie Cochran, who died today at the age of 67.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from MSNBC world headquarters, Dan Abrams.
ABRAMS: Hi, everyone. Before we get to the big stories we are covering, let me just say a few words about my friend, Johnnie Cochran, who died today at the age of 67. To most, his legacy will always be the lawyer who got O.J. off, the one who took the case with mounds of evidence for the prosecution and somehow convinced 12 jurors to find Simpson not guilty. For that, many will never forgive him.
But there‘s a lot more to Johnnie Cochran than that. He was a star lawyer well before the Simpson case. And I got to tell you, he was one of the most dynamic, kindest people I have known. I knew Johnnie well. We spoke on the phone once every few months, had lunches or dinners when he was in New York. We even co-hosted a show together on Court TV called “Cochran & Company.” I was the company.
Despite the fact that he was a famous lawyer I was just a backup singer, he always acted as we were equals, deferring to me when I should have just been asking questions rather than answering them. He made sure I didn‘t feel like, well, just the company. Then there was that Cochran charm. When he walked into a room, you could feel it, his laugh infectious, and yet he was self-deprecating and funny. He didn‘t have to be. After all, he was arguably the most famous lawyer in America.
Even his answering machine message was funny. It said, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.” I used to make fun of him, calling him Mr. Johnnie, a nickname he earned after a housekeeper from the Simpson case referred to him that way in court. He didn‘t mind taking some heat for that case. He could handle it. And look, I thought he deserved it.
Johnnie will be missed by the people who knew him best. And my heart goes out to his lovely wife, Dale (ph). We‘ll talk a little bit more about Johnnie later in the program.
Now we turn to Pinellas Park, Florida, where Terri Schiavo is entering her 12th day since her feeding tube was removed. It‘s been another brutal day for Terri‘s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. They‘ve been turned down by the courts, the legislature and their son-in-law. This morning, Bob Schindler updated his daughter‘s condition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S FATHER: I saw Terri earlier this morning, and she‘s failing. She still looks pretty darn good under the circumstances, but you can see the impact of 12 days without food or water, that it‘s having on her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Just over an hour ago, the Schindler family emerged briefly so Mary Schindler could pass a message on to Terri‘s husband, Michael Schiavo. NBC‘s Lisa Daniels is live outside the hospice in Pinellas Park. Hey, Lisa, so what‘d she say?
LISA DANIELS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, she said a very brief statement. We‘re going to get to that in just a moment. But Dan, it‘s been 11 days, 7 hours since Terri Schiavo has had anything, any food, any water. The only exception to that being a tiny drop of sacramental wine that she had this Easter on Sunday as part of a holy communion.
Just want to show you the scene behind me. It looks the same as it did yesterday. You can see the protesters. And if you listen really carefully, you can hear them singing “Amazing Grace.” Police officers still guarding that tent. Usually, they‘re under the white tent, but today, they seem to be moving off from the crowd. Believe it or not, Dan, there was actually a parrot—a parrot right behind me. That‘s how this circus has become. I think they‘re trying to deal with the parrot on the other side, but...
Anyway, there was a flurry of activity, as you mentioned, at 8:00 PM Eastern time. We were expecting a news conference from the Schindler family. Instead, just Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo‘s mother, came up to the podium and said a very brief statement. Listen to it. This is in its entirety.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY SCHINDLER: Michael and Jodi (ph), you have your own children.
Please, please give my child back to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: Now, the day was relatively calm and quiet, but earlier, this guy, a Pinellas County police spokesman, told us that they had received a phone call from a caller threatening that a bomb would go off outside the hospice if Terri Schiavo dies. Well, Dan, police searched the premises. They sent out those bomb-sniffing dogs, and they concluded that there was no merit whatsoever to the threat. But again, that was a flurry of activity at 4:00 PM Eastern time. But again, Terri Schiavo entering day number 12 without any food or water. Dan, back to you.
ABRAMS: All right, Lisa Daniels, thanks very much.
Earlier today, the Reverend Jesse Jackson arrived at the hospice to pray with the Schindlers and to condemn the way he says she‘s been treated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Oftentimes, we ask God for miracles, but we also ask that there be perhaps some legislation. And we appeal to all involved who have the power to make a decision, please help us some way to get food and water to Terri.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: All right. So the question on many people‘s minds now is, Is it wrong for anyone to die this way? My take. There has to be a way for people to say, I wouldn‘t want to live like that. This country is not prepared to allow for assisted suicide, which would make the process quicker. But with that in mind, feeding tube is treatment. To withhold that treatment, while seemingly gruesome, it‘s far less gruesome to me than forcing someone to live a horrific life with little brain function if he or she wouldn‘t want to live that way.
Joining me now by phone, Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Also with me, the Reverend John Paris, bioethics professor at Boston College, and Dr. Lawrence Shuer, professor of neurosurgery at the Stanford University Medical School, chief staff at Stanford Hospital. He frequently treats patients who are in a persistent vegetative state.
All right, so Dr. Land, look, I‘m getting tired of the conversations of this case in a vacuum. Let‘s talk about what needs to happen now. Is it your position that no one should be permitted to remove a feeding tube, and no one, as a result, should be able to die in the way Terri Schiavo is dying?
RICHARD LAND, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: My position is that I would morally object to it, but not legally, if it was the clear, manifest will of the person who is having the feeding tube removed. In other words, I accept that people have a right to refuse medical treatment. And if it was clear that Terri Schiavo had clearly said, I do not want to have a feeding tube if I‘m in this condition—and there‘s some debate about the condition—then I would accept that.
Now, as a theologian and morally, I do not believe that food and water are extraordinary means. And I would, as a pastor, for instance, counsel against their removal. I see it very differently than a respirator or a heart-lung machine, which I believe is a very different category. I don‘t think that food and water, hydration and nutrition, are extraordinary means.
ABRAMS: Reverend Paris, do you agree?
REV. JOHN PARIS, BOSTON COLLEGE: I do not agree at all. I think that Dr. Land‘s understanding that extraordinary is a misunderstanding of what it‘s meant in its 400-year tradition. It‘s never referred to technique or to hardware or to instruments or implements. It refers to what‘s moral obligation. And the issue here is, Is an individual morally obliged to undergo medical interventions to supply artificial nutrition and fluid? And the answer very clearly in moral theology and the law is no.
ABRAMS: Dr. Shuer, is there a medical difference? I mean, well, I know there is. but explain to us, in your mind, what the medical difference is between a respirator, for example, and a feeding tube? Do you view those as two very different issues?
DR. LAWRENCE SHUER, STANFORD NEUROLOGY PROFESSOR: Well, they‘re different issues from the standpoint that a respirator is breathing for someone who cannot breathe on their own. A feeding tube, effectively, is delivering food to someone who is unable to swallow on their own or eat on their own.
ABRAMS: So I assume you have no problem—do you have any problem with someone making that decision for themselves?
SHUER: No, not at all.
ABRAMS: And Dr. Land, what do you say about Reverend Paris‘s comment that even morally, there‘s really no problem with people—again, people making the decision for themselves to decide they don‘t want to live that way?
LAND: Well, I would just quote—just since I‘m talking to Dr. Paris, I would quote the pope, who said the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. I agree with the pope. I‘m surprised he doesn‘t.
ABRAMS: Reverend? Reverend Paris, do you want to respond?
PARIS: Yes. The question is, are you morally obliged to utilize medical means? First of all, there‘s a big debate as to whether or not artificial nutrition and fluid are medical means. The American Medical Association says it is. The California courts, the United States Supreme Court, every court that‘s addressed it, every medical association that‘s addressed it, states very clearly and unequivocally this is a medical measure being utilized. I know nothing in theology which gives theologians an ability more sophisticated than physicians to determine what is and is not a medical measure.
ABRAMS: And let me ask you this, Dr. Shuer. There‘s a poll that was recently taken: “Is it medically ethical to remove Terri‘s feeding tube?” And 77 percent of the doctors said yes, 23 percent said no. Why do you think the 23 percent would say no? Do you think that they just don‘t accept the court‘s finding?
SHUER: Well, I think everybody‘s entitled to their opinion. I think that just reflects probably the diversity of opinion that you‘re finding in society.
ABRAMS: But doctors, I would assume—you know, when you‘re asking a
question, Is it medically ethical, I would think that doctors would have a
· you know, a particularly unique insight into this issue.
SHUER: Well, I do think they have a unique insight, but I think what you‘re finding is that there probably is not one right or one wrong answer. This is an ethical issue. And as you can tell with ethical issues, there could be many debates, and people can take different sides of the issue.
ABRAMS: So Dr. Land, what I‘d like to hear is, I‘d like people to stop claiming that Terri is being starved. And you know why I want people to stop claiming that? Because even you concede that you would support it in certain instances. You don‘t support it in this case, but to claim Terri is being starved, you‘re going to have to apply that to every other person in this country who‘s had a feeding tube removed.
LAND: Well, it‘s—the result is they die of dehydration and malnutrition. And if she is not in a persistent vegetative state but is in a minimally conscious state—which is the last doctor that examined her, a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic, said that he thought she‘d been misdiagnosed—then she does feel pain. She does feel discomfort. And you know, I would just respond by saying, you know, if you deprive a dog or a cat of water and food and they die, you‘re charged with cruelty to animals.
ABRAMS: Yes, I know. And that argument—you know, look, again, Dr.
Shuer, that denies the reality this happens every day.
SHUER: I think that...
LAND: The reality doesn‘t make it right.
ABRAMS: Well, but again, on the one hand, you‘re saying, Well, I do support, and now it sounds like you‘re saying it‘s not right, so...
LAND: No, no. No, you‘re not listening to me.
ABRAMS: I am listening. You said you think it‘s right legally...
LAND: No, I said that they have the legal right to do it if there‘s a clear advance medical directive.
ABRAMS: That‘s fine.
LAND: I think a patient—a patient...
ABRAMS: That‘s fine. Then we should...
LAND: ... has a right to...
ABRAMS: Then we shouldn‘t use the word, in those cases, starvation.
LAND: Why not?
ABRAMS: Because the bottom line is, if you‘re agreeing that it‘s legally OK to do it and that a patient has the right to do it, to claim then that this is starvation of themselves and that it‘s murder and all these other words that are being used...
LAND: Did I use the word “murder?” You asked me if it was starvation. It‘s starvation. And I think a patient has a right to deny medical treatment for themselves if they‘re in a condition they don‘t want to live.
ABRAMS: Dr. Shuer, is there...
LAND: I don‘t accept it morally, but I accept it legally.
ABRAMS: ... pain?
LAND: And the distinction is very clear for those who have ears to clear.
ABRAMS: All right. Dr. Shuer, is there pain?
SHUER: I don‘t think there‘s pain in a condition where a patient‘s in a persistent vegetative state. They have no feeling, so she does not feel pain. She does not feel thirst.
ABRAMS: That‘s what I thought. OK. All my guests are going to stick around because we‘re going to discuss another issue. And that is, Who should get to decide whether someone lives or dies? Should parents have more of a say in the matter?
Plus, the man who introduced Michael Jackson to his accuser takes the stand and talks about what motivation the parents may have had. And what does Macaulay Culkin actually know that could become a big issue in the case?
And more on the passing of my friend, Johnnie Cochran. We‘ll be right back.
ABRAMS: We‘re back with Terri Schiavo living out what could be her final day or days in a Florida hospice. The people closest to her, her parents and her husband, continue to battle. But last week, Terri‘s husband, Michael, told the “Today” show that the parents‘ rights aren‘t at stake here, and neither are his.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S HUSBAND: This is about Terri, not about me, not about the Schindlers, not about Congress. It was adjudicated for seven years. This is Terri‘s wish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Her husband says this is all about Terri‘s wishes, but some say it‘s time to give parents greater rights in cases like these.
Joining me now, in addition to the panel, is Robert Raben, a former assistant attorney general under Janet Reno. He‘s a national advocate for Compassion and Choices.
All right, Dr. Land, I had actually heard you speak about this issue, and it struck me when I heard you speak about this—Do you think it‘s really time to legislate this issue, give parents more rights with regard to control over their children?
LAND: I certainly think that it should be the case in cases like this. This is a very difficult case. And the reason it‘s difficult is because, you know, Michael Schiavo is not exactly the poster boy for a loving, caring spouse who has remained faithful to his wife and is at her bedside seeking to see that her wishes are done and has her best interests at heart and...
ABRAMS: How do you create a law, though? How do you create a—how do you create a law that says—so you‘re going to start evaluating every spouse and see...
ABRAMS: ... are they a good spouse, not a good spouse...
LAND: Absolutely. I think...
ABRAMS: ... have a hearing in every case?
LAND: I think you could draw some pretty clear guidelines. If your spouse has abandoned your daughter or your son and is cohabiting with another person and is producing children with that person and is introducing that person as their fiance, I think that we could draft a law that says that there should be some legal adjudication as to whether the guardianship rights should revert to the parents.
ABRAMS: Even if the parents...
LAND: The parents—the parents...
ABRAMS: Even if the parents approved of that dating, right? I mean, because the parents, as you know, knew that he was dating, actually supported it.
LAND: Well, I‘m just telling you, as a parent. I‘m a parent, and the parents I‘ve talked to are shocked that the parents can get no better redress of what they believe is their grievance. There‘s no question that the Schindlers have their daughter‘s best interests at heart. They want to take care of her.
And you know, if Terri had a living will, where it was clear that these were her wishes, if Michael hadn‘t waited seven years to remember that she said she wouldn‘t want to live like this—this is a very difficult case but, you know, in this country, where we have so many divorces and where people have one, two or three spouses often—I don‘t, I‘ve been married 34 years, but I‘m the exception—you usually only have two parents. And there‘s no question in most people‘s minds, the parents are going to have their child‘s best interest at heart.
ABRAMS: Mr. Raben...
LAND: And I think parents ought to have more rights here than they have.
ABRAMS: Mr. Raben, this doesn‘t sound like a very good way to encourage family values with regard to husband and wife.
ROBERT RABEN, FORMER ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I disagree with Dr. Land on—I agree with Dr. Land on so little in life, I really want to seize the opportunity on something that we do agree on, which is that if Mrs. Schiavo had a living will and a clear expression, certainly written, with an advance directive, we wouldn‘t be in this situation. And if this case means anything, the tragic circumstances...
RABEN: ... it means all Americans who can, go out, get an advance directive, get a living will, make sure your family is...
ABRAMS: All right, but let‘s focus on this issue. OK. Everyone—we‘ve heard it 1,000 times. Everyone needs to—I‘ve got to go get one myself. Everyone does. All right. So let‘s focus on this issue, whether should you start giving parents more rights.
RABEN: I don‘t think giving parents more rights is the problem in this nation, and I say that as a parent. And I feel like I have terrific rights with my wonderful daughter. I think the issue is families need to have conversations among themselves, among their friends, and make their wishes clear. Make your wishes clear. We wouldn‘t be in this situation.
Now, the only thing more tragic than the situation that I think we find ourselves in with Mrs. Schiavo is the notion that Congress is going to come in again and start creating laws about who in our families is going to have first claim to our loved ones‘ wishes.
ABRAMS: Reverend Paris, what do you make of this?
PARIS: Well, I think that bad cases make bad law and awful cases make horrendous law. I can think of no worse outcome from this case than to think that we would disrupt the sanctity of marriage and give parents control and rights over the marital bond.
ABRAMS: What do you make of—what Dr. Land is saying is, though, he effectively wants to evaluate the quality. He‘s saying, Look, if it‘s abandonment or something else, that should change the scenario.
PARIS: You can‘t draft a law that‘s going to authorize courts or legislatures or I don‘t know whom to come in and assess the value and the impact of every single marriage in order to make determinations as to who should have rights. We need to have clear, bright lines in the law as to who has the discretion to make these choices. And clearly, clearly, with marriage, it is the spouse. Man is to leave his mother and father and cling to his wife. Doesn‘t mean the mother-in-law comes in next week to tell him how do it.
ABRAMS: And Dr. Land, my concern is just about the idea of how you go about evaluating—I mean, who‘s going to start evaluating the quality of the marriage?
LAND: Well, first of all, I think that there are going to be some laws drafted in state legislatures, and they‘ll be adjudicated by state courts. But I think it really—you know, no one believes more in the sanctity of marriage than I do. I just wish that Michael Schiavo believed more in the sanctity of marriage, like the vow “Until death us do part.”
ABRAMS: Again, then the parents shouldn‘t have signed off on it.
Honestly. I mean, to keep...
ABRAMS: To keep suggesting that...
LAND: Michael Schiavo is not the poster child for a faithful husband and spouse, and I think there‘s at least serious question whether he continues to have the unreserved best interests of his wife at heart. And I think there ought to be some way for the legislatures and the courts to adjudicate and give the parents more say-so in such situations. And I think many parents would agree with me.
ABRAMS: Yes. I don‘t know. My guess is it would not be a particularly—parents are also husbands and wives, as well. All right, Dr. Shuer, what do you make of all of this? When you‘re involved in these decisions, do you see conflict sometimes? You‘re involved in these life-and-death decisions. Do you see conflicts between parents and spouses?
SHUER: Sure, we see this on occasion. And when it happens in the setting in a hospital, we have an ethics committee that gets together and talks with the family. And in this situation, the person who has the legal right to make these types of decisions in the person who holds the most authority. Obviously, we try to bring consensus where we can, but the husband has the legal right. That is—that is—that has been what has been put through by law, and so the husband is the one who ultimately, in this situation, has the right to make that decision.
ABRAMS: Do you ever see a case where you wish the parents could decide, meaning you kind of said about the spouse, Oh, I don‘t know about this person, and you said, Oh, it‘d be nice if the parents could actually have a—more of a say in this?
SHUER: I don‘t think I‘ve seen such a case, no.
ABRAMS: All right, thanks to all my guests. Dr. Richard Land, thanks a lot for being a good sport. We had you on the phone for the first segment. I appreciate you doing that. We had trouble getting up his picture. Thank you very much for that. Father John Paris, Dr. Lawrence Shuer, Robert Raben, appreciate it.
Coming up: Jurors in the Michael Jackson trial hear from a flight attendant who served Jackson so-called “Jesus juice” in Diet Coke cans, but she says it was her idea. And remembering my friend and colleague, lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who died today, coming up.
ABRAMS: The legal community mourning one of its own tonight.
Johnnie Cochran died this afternoon at the age of 67, best known, of course, as the man who defended O.J. Simpson. But he was also a friend of mine. And, as I pointed out earlier, you know, this is a man who did a lot more than just the O.J. Simpson case. And I actually—I think he was actually trying to distance himself from the O.J. Simpson case by the end.
But let me check in with two people who knew him well, Cyrus Mehri, an attorney who worked together with Johnnie Cochran in recent years to push for more black coaches in the NFL, and Howard Weitzman, who was O.J. Simpson‘s first attorney and also a friend of Johnnie‘s.
All right, gentlemen, thanks for coming on the program.
Howard, in what you saw in Johnnie Cochran in his post-O.J. Simpson life, it seemed to me he was kind of trying to distance himself from O.J. Simpson and that case.
HOWARD WEITZMAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, maybe because Johnnie had a mission in life, and it was to represent people and do his best. He loved his clients. By the way, this was a man I knew for 40 years. I knew Johnnie since 1966. And they just didn‘t come any better.
ABRAMS: Remind us, how you did you end up passing off the O.J.
WEITZMAN: Well, I wouldn‘t say I exactly passed it off. I just passed on it for personal reasons. I was with O.J., as you know, for the first 24 hours. And it just wasn‘t a case that I wanted to be involved in for a host of reasons.
ABRAMS: Thought he was guilty?
WEITZMAN: Well, I clearly have an opinion and I think the jury probably arrived at the wrong verdict.
ABRAMS: All right, Mr. Mehri, you know, look, what I was always struck with Johnnie was, you walk in a room, you go to a restaurant with Johnnie Cochran and it‘s not just the fact that he‘s sort of famous. It‘s the fact that he‘s got this laugh and this charisma about him that was really almost infectious.
CYRUS MEHRI, WORKED WITH JOHNNIE COCHRAN: I agree.
I mean, he was one of the most generous, spirited people you will ever be around. He filled the room. He‘s a great person. And people up close really get a tremendous impression of him because of how not only just, like you said, in terms filling the room, but I just think he‘s just a fine human being. America lost today not only a giant from the legal community, but just a giant in terms of an American citizen.
ABRAMS: Did you ever talk to him about the Simpson case, Cyrus?
MEHRI: You know, I never talked to him about it. I think maybe that‘s one of the reasons why we got along so well, because I always saw him as someone who‘s far greater than just one case.
ABRAMS: But it‘s beyond that.
MEHRI: He was a pioneer from this 40 years ago in terms of police brutality cases. He was a pioneer until the last day in terms of opening doors and trying to represent the disenfranchised.
ABRAMS: I used to make fun of him about representing O.J. Simpson. And I would make, you know, jokes about the amount of evidence in that case and some of the absurd arguments that actually won the day there.
And what I found interesting was, you know, he was—he would let it slide. He was the kind of guy that—you know, this is arguably the most famous lawyer in America. And who am I, right? Particularly when I met him. There I am co-hosting a show with Johnnie Cochran. And it was “Cochran & Company.” I‘m the company. And I‘m just there. And he was always, always treating people as an equal.
I mean, that‘s what I noticed, Howard, is anyone he would meet, he would act as if he knew you for a long time, never treat anyone with sort of a disrespect, I mean, really one of these guys. If he hadn‘t represented O.J. Simpson, I honestly believe that he would go down in history as one of the most likable, important lawyers—he is still going to go down as important, but I just am afraid the Simpson case is going to tar him.
WEITZMAN: See, I don‘t agree.
What did he in the Simpson case was quite unique. He exposed the vagaries in a system. Despite public opinion of Mr. Simpson‘s guilt, my personal opinion, Johnnie put the system to the test. And the system failed. Johnnie did his job. Johnnie always did his job. I tried cases with him over the 40 years. I tried cases as co-counsel. He was smart, innovative and dedicated.
ABRAMS: But, you know, Cyrus, what people say. People say that he played the race card both in and out of the courtroom in that case.
And, look, I can tell you, just from my 6:00 show, when I sort of eulogized Johnnie, I got all these e-mails people telling me how much they hate me now, because I‘m saying Johnnie Cochran is a friend of mine, based on what they saw in the Simpson case.
MEHRI: Well, you wouldn‘t say to Rembrandt, we‘re only going to look at one painting. You have got to look at the man‘s entire career. And it‘s truly one of finest legal careers in American history.
ABRAMS: What do you think is the most important part of his—apart from the generalities, give me specifics. What do you think specifically is Johnnie Cochran‘s most important accomplishments?
MEHRI: To me is that he‘s a civil rights pioneer; 40 years ago, when no one would dare take the cases against the LAPD, he was there.
I saw the man. He‘s the hardest working attorney in America. And I was 20 years younger than him. And I was trying to keep up with him, as he‘d fly around the country. There‘s no client he wouldn‘t travel around the country for. He was so dedicated and hardworking and creative. You just go down the line. You cannot find a better attorney than this man.
ABRAMS: Howard, what would you think is the most important achievement?
WEITZMAN: I agree.
Well, I think the most important achievement is, Johnnie showed people that someone from a so-called minority race gets past whatever the barriers were back in the ‘60s. He zoomed past them. I watched him.
By the way, because I grew up in the same area that Johnnie grew up in
· we went to adjoining high schools. He went to UCLA. I went to USC. We never looked back. It was a wonderful time. And Johnnie was part of that spirit. He helped change the system. He brought the system closer to the people. I mean, he was a wonderful man.
ABRAMS: Howard, let me ask you a tough question. I don‘t know the answer to this, even though I talked to him about the Simpson case. Do you think Johnnie in the end is sorry he represented O.J. Simpson?
WEITZMAN: No. No.
I will say this. And I told somebody this earlier today. The race card, which I totally disagreed with, wasn‘t the reason in my opinion the jury arrived at the verdict they arrived at. The reason they arrived at the verdict they arrived at, even though I disagree with the verdict, is because they weren‘t satisfied the evidence was sufficient. And that‘s...
ABRAMS: No, I don‘t know.
WEITZMAN: And that‘s—well, that is what I think. And that‘s due to Johnnie Cochran.
ABRAMS: Yes, look, but I think that—I think that the reason was, I mean, the whole thing...
WEITZMAN: Juries make mistakes.
ABRAMS: Yes. But with the Fuhrman and all that, that was all part of the race card. It was all part of the things the jurors cited when they came out of there, is they couldn‘t trust Fuhrman and this and that, even though there was no way he could have planted that glove. Anyway, I don‘t want to retry...
WEITZMAN: But it was a credibility issue.
MEHRI: Dan, just going back on what he‘s been doing the last few years.
ABRAMS: Yes. Yes.
MEHRI: It‘s catapulted him, so that he could open offices around the country and represent the disenfranchised, who are otherwise locked out of the system. I mean, he‘s been able to use it. And the generosity of spirit he has, not only dealing one-on-one with people, but in terms of philanthropy and all the other things he did, I think he used it to a tremendous advantage to give back to the community.
ABRAMS: All right, let me say this.
MEHRI: He had an overwhelming personality, overwhelming.
ABRAMS: Let me say this.
Those of you who only know Johnnie Cochran from the O.J. Simpson case, I get it. I know why you think the things you do.
But let me tell you something. From the people who actually followed his career from the beginning to the end, as did Howard Weitzman, Cyrus Mehri, and for people who got know him the way I did, I promise you, there was a lot more to Johnnie Cochran than the O.J. Simpson case. There was a lot of good, a lot of important things that Johnnie Cochran did.
And, again, I salute him. I thank him for everything that he did for me over the years. And I will say it again to his wife, Dale. Our wishes and our condolences out to you.
Cyrus Mehri, Howard Weitzman, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
MEHRI: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the man who arranged the meeting between Michael Jackson and his accuser takes the stand—coming up.
ABRAMS: The man who introduced Michael Jackson to his accuser testified about the boy‘s parents. And what does Macaulay Culkin know about Michael Jackson? That‘s up next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMIE MASADA, WITNESS IN JACKSON TRIAL: She said, I want to get in touch with you. But if I haven‘t talked to you for a few days, be aware of it. I want to get in touch with you. But I can‘t get in touch with you because they won‘t let me make a phone call. They won‘t let me make a phone call do anything. And they‘re listening to my phone calls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: The man who introduced Michael Jackson to his accuser spoke to “Dateline NBC” before being gagged in this case. Today, he told a similar story from the witness stand in Santa Maria supporting the accuser and his family‘s allegations that they were held against their will at Neverland.
Jamie Masada also said it was the accuser‘s father, not the mother, who always had his hand out looking for money. And Masada explained that he referred the mother to a lawyer, not to report molestation, but so the mother, because the mother said she didn‘t want her son to appear in a documentary, that now infamous Bashir documentary.
So, what‘s the significance of all of this?
NBC‘s Mike Taibbi was in the courtroom today. And he joins us now.
All right, Mike, so lay it out for us. Why was Jamie Masada so important?
MIKE TAIBBI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was an important witness, because he knew the accuser and his family before, during and after their experiences with Michael Jackson. As you pointed out, he was instrumental in effecting an introduction to Jackson, getting Jackson to call.
He was there on the other end of the phone right after the showing of that Bashir documentary, when he says the mother called him up and basically said some of the things we saw in that “Dateline” interview before. His testimony was very similar to what he said in the “Dateline” report. He said of the mother that she was upset. She was crying. They‘re holding me here with my kids against my will. And she said it several time.
And Masada said he believed her, that, in the moment—and that testimony was allowed for the state of mind of the mother at that point—it was quite persuasive and, in fact, wasn‘t challenged later on by Tom Mesereau, Jackson‘s leader attorney.
He also said a lot about the mother‘s lack of interest in money. And don‘t forget, a key prong in the defense‘s position here is that this is a family that‘s in it for the money. They‘re going for the gold. And the mother is the leader of the pack. He said, the mother never asked him for money. He never heard her ask anyone for money and that, at one point, he conveyed an extraordinary offer from a mysterious donor, presumably another comic that, from what he told “Dateline,” that included even a house if she wanted, anything she needed.
And he quoted the mother as saying, tell him all I need are friends. I don‘t need money. Tell him thank you, but I don‘t need money, so an important witness. And, frankly, he wasn‘t rattled by Tom Mesereau, who does a lot of rattling of prosecution witnesses and has done so far in this case. Later in the day, I have to tell you, there was another witness, a flight attendant named Cynthia Bell.
And I‘m not quit sure why the prosecution brought her on. She told her story again about serving Michael Jackson wine in Coke cans. We‘ve heard that before. But, when pressed, she said that she could see everything on the plane. It was a small private aircraft. She never saw Michael Jackson share that Coke can with the accuser sitting next to him or with anybody else.
She never saw the kids drink. She never saw Michael Jackson touch inappropriately touch that boy or any other children he was with on several flights where she was serving as a stewardess. And then she said something interesting. She said there was one young boy on the plane who was starting a food fight and was really misbehaved. She said he was a weird kid, unusually rude and discourteous, unintelligent, obnoxious, embarrassing to have on board, actually.
Mesereau asked her if she knew the boy‘s name. She said, no. Could she pick him out from a photograph. She said yes and picked out Jackson‘s accuser. This is also part of the defense case. And this all came out from a prosecution witness, so a day starting out pretty good for the prosecution with Jamie Masada and ending in a somewhat curious way with this flight attendant, who is still on the stand saying things about the accuser which Tom Mesereau is going to have other witnesses say once he begins his case.
All right, joining me now also, prosecutor Paul Pfingst, also an NBC, MSNBC analyst.
Paul, let‘s deal with this flight attendant first. The prosecutors obviously made a mistake, it seems, by calling her. She‘s saying, as a lot of other witnesses say, yes, Michael Jackson drank this wine out of Coke cans, but he never specifically told me to do it. I never saw him serving kids, etcetera, and the accuser was a disaster.
That‘s not helpful to the prosecutor.
PAUL PFINGST, FORMER PROSECUTOR: No.
As a matter of fact, you have to do wonder why you would call a witness like that, because the basics of that witness‘ testimony was already out. So, this witness was more of a corroborative witness. So, the downside seems to have greatly exceeded the upside for this witness. So, it does come back to the question, why? What did the witness offer to help the prosecution? And this may be a tipoff that the prosecutors have to be careful. You can go too far. And that may be very important with these other prior accusations of molest. Do you really want to put them all on? Or will two or three suffice? And just take your best shots. Hit them hard. And then walk away.
ABRAMS: Paul, I assume, on the issue of the Jamie Masada testimony, the most important thing, obviously, is that the mother is calling him and saying, I‘m being held against my will, thereby making it clear she didn‘t suddenly make up this later. But the defense is probably going to say that she‘s nuts, right?
PFINGST: Well, I think what‘s maybe more important than that, Dan, is the fact that the portrait that‘s been played to the jury by the defense is that she‘s money-hungry. She‘s desperate for money and she‘ll do anything for money.
And the statements that she was offered money and turned it down and she didn‘t seem to be constantly asking for money really undercuts the theme that the defense put forward in their opening statement. And that‘s something that I don‘t think this jury was prepared to hear. And having heard that, it may influence them.
ABRAMS: Mike, 15 seconds. How‘s the defense going to respond?
TAIBBI: Well, they‘re going to respond, first of all, by bringing on witnesses when they have their case talking about her going to a newspaper, asking that money be set up in a private account for her, and making direct appeals for money, that sort of thing.
All right, if both of you could just stick around for a minute, because, coming up, the prosecution is hoping an incident involving Macaulay Culkin, you know, the child star, is going to help them make their case. But the question is whether he‘s going to come back to haunt them later in the case.
That‘s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever sleep in the bed with them?
MICHAEL JACKSON, DEFENDANT: No, but I have slept in the bed with many children. I sleep in bed with all of them. When Macaulay Culkin were little, Kieran Culkin would sleep on this side. Macaulay Culkin was on this side. His sister was in there. We all would just jam in the bed, and then we would wake up like dawn, and go in the hot air balloon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: A Culkin sandwich, Michael Jackson in that now infamous interview with Martin Bashir talking about sleeping in bed with lots of children. One of the children, actor Macaulay Culkin. He has grown up, and in the years since he visited Jackson Neverland Ranch, he has repeatedly said that he was never molested.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MACAULAY CULKIN, ACTOR: But, yes, it wasn‘t anything like weird. It wasn‘t anything we thought about. We would go to the movies, and we would do this, we would do that, and it‘s like, OK, you know, just you plop down. You go to sleep. You wake up. It was like—it was just kind of what friends do. I have slept in the same bed as like a bunch of my friends. It‘s kind of just what happens. Like I fall asleep on their couch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: So, Paul Pfingst, prosecutors are going to call some witness who is going to say that they saw something inappropriate happening to Macaulay Culkin, and I assume the defense is going to then call Macaulay Culkin, who is going to say it never happened.
PFINGST: Very dangerous for the prosecutors to do that, because it could cast doubt on the other accusations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate touching.
So, again, pick your best shot, your best two or three, and go with them. If they are going to call Macaulay Culkin, he is going to say, this never happened. It is untrue. Then the jury might wonder whether the rest of the accusations are untrue.
ABRAMS: If he doesn‘t want to testify, could he be forced to testify by the defense?
PFINGST: Oh, yes. If they get him under subpoena, absolutely, he will have to testify. He will have to—ask questions. And he will have to tell the truth.
ABRAMS: So, Mike, why are the prosecutors so set on all these—they have these five incidents that they want to call witnesses about, yet only one of the actual kids is coming in, and at least a couple of the others are saying, nothing happened.
TAIBBI: Well, three of the five, in fact, have said, have been on the record as saying that nothing ever happened to them. But it‘s not just about molestation, Dan.
I think the important thing is that the judge‘s order allows for testimony and evidence about alleged grooming of young boys by Michael Jackson. So, if they have these witnesses talk in a very carefully circumscribed way about just things they saw that fit into what the prosecution theory is about grooming activities by Michael Jackson, that‘s admissible. And they don‘t open up everything else, don‘t open them up to the obvious contradictions that are apparent in some of their testimony that has happened in the past, maybe it will be effective for the prosecution.
ABRAMS: Do we know exactly what the prosecutors are hoping a witness is going to say that he or she saw happening to Macaulay Culkin?
TAIBBI: Well, a lot of it is—I don‘t know what they are going to say specifically happened with Macaulay Culkin, but some of the things I think derive from the scenes and words like you just saw with Michael Jackson saying, I slept between the two Culkin boys, and we would wake up in the morning at dawn and go off.
That, in the minds of many jurors, is in itself, if it‘s just buttressed and fortified by evidence by witnesses who say they saw the same thing, could have a very powerful effect on the jury, if it‘s not effectively challenged.
ABRAMS: Here‘s what Macaulay Culkin said last year on CNN.
“Do you think it‘s a bad rap?”
He said: “I think so. Look what happened the first time this happened to him. If someone had done something like that to my kid, I wouldn‘t settle for some money. I‘d make sure the guy was in jail. It‘s a little crazy and I kind of have taken a step back from the whole thing, because it is a bit of a circus. If the same thing was happening to me, I wouldn‘t want to drag him into it and vice versa. So, I try my best to take a distance from it, but like I said he was still a friend of mine.”
And so, you know, it looks like they are going to move forward. Exactly what they are going to say happened to him, we don‘t know, but this case gets weirder and weirder.
All right, Mike Taibbi, Paul Pfingst, thanks a lot.
TAIBBI: All right.
ABRAMS: We‘ll be right back with more.
ABRAMS: Where Terri Schiavo is living her last hours alive, it seems.
There are the protesters, out in front of the hospice.
That does it for us tonight. Be sure to turn into—to tune—tune into the regular edition of the program every night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. We will continue, of course, to be on top of the Terri Schiavo case. See you back here again tomorrow night at 9:00.
Up next, Joe Scarborough and “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.” Have a good night. I will see you on “The Today Show” tomorrow morning.
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