updated 4/15/2005 4:32:21 PM ET 2005-04-15T20:32:21

Guest: John Bolen, Tracie Potts, Charles Sabine, Abraham Key, Bill Mcmurray

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Dragnet, Operation Falcon.  The Justice Department rounds up over 10,000 murder, rape, and theft suspects in a single week.  So why now, and why haven‘t they done this before?

Baghdad bombs.  Two roadside landmines kill 18 in downtown Baghdad. 

Our Charles Sabine was there.

Yesterday, it was head licking.  Today, it‘s escape from Neverland. 

More memorable testimony from the accuser‘s mom in the Jackson trial.

And how to get in big trouble at work in seven seconds flat.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The 12-year-old is completely out of control, and I can‘t—physically—she‘s as big as I am.  I can‘t control her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  Did you want us to come over and shoot her?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

STEWART:  All that and more on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Excuse me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s a joke.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

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

Whether you‘re a fan of the 1960s‘ TV series or the ‘93 movie starring Harrison Ford, you know one fugitive is tough enough to catch.  Imagine the difficulty for the U.S. Marshals Service to catch more than 10,000.  Well, they did it.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, word out of Washington tonight.  One of the biggest national dragnets ever, and in record time too, all over the course of just one week.  It was dubbed Operation Falcon.

In a moment, we‘ll talk with a U.S. marshal involved in the operation.

But we begin with more on the manhunt from justice correspondent Pete Williams.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  From California...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Open up.

WILLIAMS:  ... to New Jersey, nearly 10,500 local, state, and federal fugitives all arrested in just one week.  That‘s eight times the usual weekly number.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We found that most of these fugitives were not first-time offenders.  More than 70 percent had prior arrest records for crimes of violence.

WILLIAMS:  By far, the largest number arrested were wanted for drug crimes.  But Operation Falcon picked up 162 wanted for murder, 553 for rape and sexual assault, and 68 for kidnapping.

But why now?  While federal marshals arrest hundreds of fugitives every week, they wanted to see how much further they could go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These individuals that‘s been carjacking a bunch of taxis around here.

WILLIAMS:  By joining with police in all 50 states, they multiplied the number of badges on the street and pushed officers to make arrests around the clock.  Joint raids have been conducted before regionally, but not nationwide.  The marshals wanted to prove to Congress that they could do it if given more money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t lie to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK.UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why is he hiding?

WILLIAMS:  Operation Falcon cost over $900,000, one reason, officials say, it cannot happen every day.  And they say it takes thorough planning, because the people they hunt down can be dangerous.

WAYNE WARREN, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE:  When in fact that fear sits in, and they know they‘re about to go away, a lot of them panic.  They don‘t think.  So they‘re going to do anything and everything they can to get away.

WILLIAMS:  Even so, Ben Rena (ph), director of the Marshals Service, says he‘d like to push for more of these all-out roundups.

BEN RENA, DIRECTOR, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE:  We know we can do it now. 

And we hope that, you know, we can do it as often as possible.

WILLIAMS:  That‘s assuming Congress also finds it successful and keeps the money coming.

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  As supervisor of the U.S. Marshals Service in the southern district in Ohio, John Bolen oversaw 59 arrests and 91 case closures during Operation Falcon, and he joins us now.

And I know you were just doing your jobs, but I do want to congratulate you on your efforts.

JOHN BOLEN, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE:  Thank you so much, Alison.  I appreciate being here with you this evening.  And the Marshals Service is extremely pleased with the outpouring of media support that we‘ve had in this endeavor.  Thank you.

STEWART:  So what arrests, which arrests, cases that you were personally involved with, that you were personally proudest of, or you take the most satisfaction in?

BOLEN:  It‘s tough to pick one.  But certainly I have three that I could quickly profile.  We had Tyrone Anthony Wilson, who was wanted here locally in Franklin County on a recent indictment for a double homicide.  Those murders were committed with a handgun.  We arrested him despite best efforts from family members to try to warn him that we were at his doorstep.  They tried to place some discreet telephone calls to him at the last moment, but it was a little too late.  We were there at the doorstep, and we got him without incident.

We also got John Fitzgerald Gibbs, somebody wanted out of the middle district of Tennessee, Nashville, for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, and the bribery of a witness.

And then finally, I probably would be most proud of Wesley Allen Long (ph).  He was wanted for the rape of a 6-year-old child.

STEWART:  Well, it‘s fantastic that so many bad folks are off the street now.  But it‘s so amazing that there were that many out there, when you hear that number, 10,000-plus.  Why are there so many on the loose?  I‘m sure people have this question.  And what‘s not happening that should be happening?

BOLEN:  Well, there‘s a number of reasons.  But primarily, one of the reasons, as I see it, is that there‘s just a lack of resources, there‘s a lack of funding, there‘s a lack of manpower locally, as well as at the state and the federal level.

It‘s very difficult to keep many of these local police departments and sheriffs‘ departments afloat when it comes to budget crunch time.  They‘re usually the first agencies that are hit with those budgetary restraints.  And so the Marshals Service is there to lend a hand, and we also benefit from that relationship as well.  But that would be the primary reason, just not enough resources.

STEWART:  Well, let talk about these relationships.  That‘s something that did work well, was the coordination of all these different departments.  Tell us who was working together, and why everybody played so nice, rather than getting territorial.

BOLEN:  Well, we had more than 960 agencies working nationwide.  Here in Columbus, we had Franklin County Sheriff‘s Department, the Delaware County Sheriff‘s Department, the Ohio Adult Parole Authority, as well as the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.  And we all worked very well together.

The Marshals Service has a longstanding history of working very well with local and state agencies.  It‘s unfortunate, it doesn‘t get publicized very often.  However, because of the common good that resulted from this, is the reason that we worked so well together, everyone working for the same common goal certainly is the primary reason I feel that we worked so successfully together.

STEWART:  You brought up an interesting word, publicity.  Of course, these are great acts.  But I know I got a press release, I saw a press conference and multiple news articles just in the past five hours.  Why do you think there was such a heavy public relations campaign associated with this Operation Falcon?

BOLEN:  Well, without question, these are people that needed to be taken off the street, as you mentioned earlier.  There are tens of thousands still out there remaining.  The Marshals Service has arrested more than 150,000 fugitives since the year 2000, when the president enacted legislation which created our Regional Fugitive Task Forces.

The Marshals Service is always on the job.  We‘re always there performing these duties.  It‘s just unfortunate that we typically don‘t receive the publicity that many of our federal counterparts receive, because we‘re much smaller in size.  But the arrests are being made.

STEWART:  And so what do you hope the lasting effects of this kind of dragnet will be?

BOLEN:  The lasting effects, to me, the most beneficial thing that will come from this is that we‘ve developed those relationships even further with the state and local law enforcements.  And those relationships will continue to net arresting fugitives, both locally as well as nationally.

And so to me, that‘s the greatest benefit, that both the Marshals Service and local and state law enforcement will feel long term from this endeavor, Operation Falcon.

And obviously, we hope to do this on a continuing basis.  This is just the beginning.  I truly feel that the Marshals Service will work more and more as Congress sees the success that this operation had.  We‘ll work more and more together, and have similar result.

STEWART:  John Bolen of the U.S. Marshals Service, many thanks on many levels.

BOLEN:  Thank you so much.

STEWART:  Another nationwide sweep to tell you about tonight, this one for a 13-year-old girl in Florida whose mother, it turns out, not only dated one of the suspects, he also happens to be a convicted sex offender.

Now, in the Tampa area, the search is on for Sarah Michelle Lund (ph) tonight.  She‘s not been seen since Saturday.  Unfortunately, her mother said she thought she was at a friend‘s house and didn‘t call the police until Monday.

Sarah apparently has run away in the past, but her mother says she was never gone for this long.

Police are now questioning this man, David Lee Onstatt (ph).  He is the ex-boyfriend of Sarah‘s mother and one of the two dozen convicted sex offend who live nearby.

Among the hundreds of volunteers who have joined the search for Sarah is the father of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, the Florida girl kidnapped and killed last month.  Another convicted sex offender, John Couey, charged with her murder.

Now, how many mothers would even entertain the thought that they could be living next door to a convicted sex offender, let alone they were dating one?  Because of unsuspecting moms like Ms. Lund and daughters like Jessica Lunsford, lawmakers are now trying to make it a little bit easier to keep track of convicted sex offenders by creating the country‘s first national registry.

Tracie Potts has more on the story from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRACIE POTTS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Convicted sex offender John Couey is charged with killing Jessica Lunsford in Florida.  But 14 years earlier, arrested for exposing himself to another young girl, Couey warned police prison would not help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN COUEY, MURDER SUSPECT:  I got out in three years.  I got a two-year sentence.  I got out in three years, and it doesn‘t really help.  I feel that I need help for myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POTTS:  Studies show about one in five sex offenders will repeat their crimes.  Lawmakers want police to keep better tabs on those labeled high risk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  To say to a high-risk sexual offender who‘s about to be released, and who everyone judges to be at high risk for reoffending, to say, So long, see you later, and that‘s it, it‘s the wrong thing.

STEWART:  Senator Byron Dorgin is sponsoring Drew‘s Law, named for murdered North Dakota college student Drew Shadin (ph).  Her accused killer had just finished a 23-year rape sentence six months before her murder, and he was labeled high risk.

This law would create a national registry of sex offenders like the ones now run by State, monitor high-risk offenders for a year after release, and allow civil proceedings to recommit ex-cons before they‘ve committed another crime.

Legal experts say the courts may not like that idea.

PROF. JAMIE RASKIN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL:  The court‘s been clear that you can‘t dress up criminal punishment in civil clothing and then just assume it‘s going to be OK.

POTTS:  Late last year, a similar bill passed the Senate, but it never made it onto the House floor.

(on camera):  But supporters believe this year, with more time, they can get that bill on to the president‘s desk.

Tracie Potts, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Al Qaeda in Iraq.  Three big car bombs rocked Baghdad, all caught on tape.  A report from Charles Sabine, who was on the scene when it all went down.

And sports and violence meet again, this time at a baseball game.  A 15-year-old boy is killed after words with another kid over the outcome of a Pony League game.

This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  After a month of relative calm, a deadly reminder today from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, three huge bombs, dozens wounded, and at least 18 people killed.  It began when two suicide bombs exploded within moments of each other just outside the Green Zone early this morning.

And while our correspondent Charles Sabine was reporting on those blasts, a third device went off directly behind him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES SABINE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The first suicide bomb exploded near the entrance to the interior ministry compound in central Baghdad at 10:00 a.m.  Forty seconds later, the second bomb detonated just 100 yards away sending a massive fireball into the sky.

Then gunfire was heard.  Witnesses say militants were firing onto the scene from nearby buildings.  There was panic on the streets, this police vehicle careening of control.

This man said the suicide bombers struck at both ends of a police convoy.

The two blasts killed as many as 20 Iraqis.  Nearby hospitals were overrun with injured, many of them children.

(on camera):  I‘m happy to report that no NBC personnel were injured.

(voice-over):  Three hours later, I was filing a report about the attacks when this happened, a third car bomb.  U.S. forces were trying to detonate an unexploded bomb, but it was far larger than anyone had expected, 300 pound of plastic explosives.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the attacks and said Iraqi police forces were the target.

For the second day in a row, police were also the target in Kirkuk today, where five policemen were gunned down by insurgents.  Twelve were killed there yesterday.

According to its Web site, a leading militant group in Iraq, Ansar al-Sunna (ph), teamed up with al Qaeda to coordinate that attack.

(on camera):  These two groups have been responsible for most of the attacks in Iraq in the last year.  If their alliance is real, the fear here is that they may pose an even greater threat to police and coalition forces.

Charles Sabine, NBC News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  It is definitely time for a break from the grim news for those headlines that can sometimes make us feel a little grimy.  The daily dance between good and bad is back on the nation‘s highways.  Oddball is next.

And kids out of control.  A mom turns to 911 for help, and the dispatcher has a less-than-professional solution to the parenting problem.  We‘ll talk about the headache of the 911 operator day after day after day. 

Say what?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart, filling in for Keith Olbermann while he‘s on assignment.  And by on assignment, of course, I mean, at a baseball game.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in L.A., California.  Once again, an innocent car has been stolen and is being manhandled along the 405 San Diego Freeway.  Checking the Oddball scorecard for the year, we can see this guy‘s odds, not so good.  It‘s cops 23, guys who try to escape the cops, nothing.

But Big Daddy in the Caddy is no scoreboard watcher.  Too bad for him.  He might have learned a thing or two, like rule number three of felony evasion.  Don‘t leave the highway for gridlocked traffic on Wilshire Boulevard.  Rule number 39, don‘t get stuck in traffic right at the front door of the federal office building, because there‘s likely to be a bunch of pedestrians with badges and guns, like those guys.

Three armed FBI  agents who just happened to be there were able to bring this chase to an end, force the driver to surrender, and send him off to the Big House, all while they were just on their lunch break.

Ladies and gentlemen, that‘s what I‘m talking about, Operation Falcon.

To Haifa, Israel, for an event that‘s part biblical reenactment, part engineering marvel, part booze-a-thon.  A robot competition sponsored by Israel‘s top technological university, the object is for the robot to cross the 10-foot symbolic Red Sea, get to the other side, and pour a glass of ceremonial wine.  Look, they‘re clapping.

No robot was actually able to part the Red Sea, but a couple managed to get the wine poured at the other side.  The winner took home $4,000 prize and bought a round of drinks for all the other robots.

And finally, to Belgium for the world‘s most prestigious chocolate contest.  It is probably the world‘s only chocolate-makers‘ contest, the chocolate-maker masters.  Only a select few are invited to compete.  They make bonbons and chocolate layer cake.  Then the judges go to stuff their faces for a while.

After naptime, they announce the newest chocolate master.  And, my God, I hope he‘s single.

Another big day in court in the Michael Jackson trial, the accuser‘s mom back on the stand.  Is she helping or hurting the case?  And the return of Michael Jackson Puppet Theater.

Also, a community in mourning in California.  A baseball game ends in tragedy after a 13-year-old pitcher is taunted after a loss.  He kills another teen with a baseball bat.  We‘ll talk to the president of the league.

Those stories are ahead.

But now, let‘s check in with COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Jane Bowen (ph), head of a group of archeologists in Britain, her team discovered some bones in a dig in Suffolk, 2,000 years old.  They were rabbit bones, and they were sitting on a 2,000-year-old plate.  It was a 2,000-year-old rabbit dinner.  It‘s Toby the prequel.

Number two, Moulay Hassan, the infant son of the king of Mohammed of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Morocco.  As a show of solidarity for the young prince and to celebrate his upcoming second birthday, more than 5,000 Moroccans showed up in Casablanca today for a mass circumcision.  Didn‘t think that I would say that phrase this morning.

And number one, a new species of titi monkeys found living in the jungles of Bolivia.  A charity auction was organized to come up with a name for the new breed of monkey, and the winning bidder paid $650,000.  They won fair and square.  And from now until the end of time, the three little one-foot-tall primates will be known as the GoldenPalace.com monkeys.

I am absolutely serious.  Not making that up.  You had to admit, you had to see that one coming.  Joker, joker, joker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  For the second day in a row, the mother of Michael Jackson‘s accuser has taken the stand.  For a second day in a row, as she answered each question, she addressed the 12 jurors directly.  For the second day in a row, there were outbursts of emotion.  Today, however, that came from the DA.  It is number three story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.

Day 514 of the Michael Jackson investigations.  Jackson not the wackiest person in the courtroom this week.  Today‘s bad behavior came as the prosecution was about to play a compilation of surveillance footage of the accuser‘s family allegedly taken by a private investigator hired by the pop star.

In an argument outside of earshot of the jury, senior deputy district attorney Ron Zonzan (ph) called Jackson defense attorney Tom Mesereau a liar.

More on that with “Celebrity Justice”‘s Harvey Levin in just a moment.

But first, the measure of the day came from what the jury did hear, much calmer testimony from the accuser‘s mother, describing how associates of Michael Jackson kept her children from her and allegedly threatened the lives of her parents until she agreed to participate in the so-called rebuttal video to that controversial Martin Bashir documentary about Michael Jackson.

Asked if she really believed the positive things she said about Jackson in the video, she said, quote, “Basically, I was acting,” end quote.  Acting, theater, cameos, the latter also appearing at trial today, that of “THE ABRAMS REPORT,” the accuser‘s mother testifying to hearing a tape of her conversation with the Department of Family Services on the show.  That public service, that is MSNBC‘s “ABRAMS REPORT” tonight on our latest installment of “Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

“ATTORNEY”:  So Madam X, the first tape of the conversations with Children‘s Service, was it taped from what?

“ACCUSER‘S MOTHER”:  I don‘t know whether it‘s a media report, area (ph), I don‘t know what you properly call this show “ABRAMS REPORT.”

“ATTORNEY”:  A show about justice?

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  The program about justice.

“MICHAEL JACKSON”:  Oh, no!  They‘re even watching MSNBC.  Next it‘ll be COUNTDOWN.  I‘m screwed!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  I‘m supposed to keep a straight face now.

As promised, for analysis of the day‘s events, I‘m joined by the creator and executive producer of television‘s “Celebrity Justice,” Harvey Levin.  Harvey, always great to talk to you.

HARVEY LEVIN, “CELEBRITY JUSTICE”:  Hi, Alison.

STEWART:  Calmer testimony from the accuser‘s mother today.  What do you think happened between yesterday and today?

LEVIN:  Oh, I think she got a talking-to.  There‘s no doubt in my mind.  I mean, she was just not playing well to the jury yesterday by being so emotional and seemingly overacting.  That is very clear to me.  They said, Look, you got to take it down a couple of notches.  And you know, this woman, I‘m told, is that dramatic by nature, but it just doesn‘t play well for the jury.  And I think that‘s what she was told.

STEWART:  All right.  No matter what anybody thinks about her demeanor, what do you make of the substance of her testimony today?  Tell us about the credibility of her charges of harassment.

LEVIN:  Well, Alison, her charges are wild.  I mean, you wouldn‘t believe that this could possibly be true on the surface.  But I‘ll tell you something.  I was told by somebody very early on in this case that they thought she was insane when they first heard her allegations.  And this person, who is on her side but somebody in a professional capacity, said the more this person started looking, the more this person believed she was telling the truth.

So if this woman can be corroborated in some way, I think the jury could be stunned and say, Wow, we thought she was crazy, but she‘s telling the truth.  And I will tell you right here and now that I think the one person who the prosecution is putting its fortunes in—and you haven‘t heard his name much before.  His name is Rudy Provencio.  And remember that in about a week, when he takes the stand.  But this guy could end up corroborating some of what she said.

STEWART:  All right.  I wrote it down, Rudy Provencio.  I‘ll look for it next week.  Let‘s talk about the fireworks between the lawyers.  The prosecution plays a surveillance tape.  The defense objects to the way it was formatted.  The DA calls Tom Mesereau a liar.  What, ultimately, is the significance of this exchange?

LEVIN:  Well, I mean, this done—most of it was done outside the presence of the jury because remember what happened was they played, and they literally got to the front slate (ph) of it, and that‘s when the fireworks started.  The bottom line is that the prosecutor was saying, We made a deal with Mesereau that we could put a compilation tape together of these four surveillance tapes and show it to the jury.  And Mesereau basically said, I made no such deal.  You have to play the full tape.

And the DA felt Mesereau was going back on the deal that he made, and that‘s why the fireworks erupted.  And this stuff happens all the time, Alison, in court, where people say they made deals, and I guess, you know, the one rule that lawyers sometimes don‘t follow is, Get it in writing.  And apparently, it wasn‘t done here.

STEWART:  Harvey Levin of TV‘s “Celebrity Justice,” thanks so much for your time tonight.

LEVIN:  My pleasure.

STEWART:  Celebrity trials have become as much a part of American life as suburban Little League games on warm spring nights, but a violent incident at a ballfield in Palmdale, California, has left parents stunned and a community trying to figure out just what went wrong.  A 13-year-old Pony League player had just pitched his first losing game of the season when he ran into a friend‘s older brother at the concession stand.  Fifteen-year-old Jeremy Rourke started teasing the younger kid, who witnesses say grabbed an aluminum baseball bat from his equipment bag and beat the older boy to death.

Our correspondent George Lewis has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Residents of Palmdale, California, held a candlelight vigil last night, a community in shock following the brutal death of 15-year-old Jeremy Rourke, a former Pony League all-star.  Friends and family members tried to comfort Angela Rourke, the boy‘s mother.

KATHY UNGER, FAMILY FRIEND:  Two families are—lives are ruined because of an argument.  I don‘t understand.

LEWIS:  Witnesses said Jeremy was beaten to death with a baseball bat after teasing another teenager about pitching a losing ballgame.  Sheriff‘s deputies took the younger boy into custody.

DEPUTY ALBA YATES, LOS ANGELES SHERIFF‘S DEPT.:  The 13-year-old boy who struck the other boy with the bat, he had just finished playing a game that night.

UNGER:  They were trying to revive him.  He was pretty much gone.  His heart had stopped.  They tried to save him for probably 45 minutes.

LEWIS:  As flags fly at half-staff in Palmdale, Jeremy‘s friends say they still can‘t believe what happened.

RYAN GASPORRA, VICTIM‘S BEST FRIEND:  The kid got mad at him, I guess, and Jeremy will was probably just messing with him, didn‘t try to mean to hurt him.  But I guess the kid just overreacted and got a bat.

LEWIS:  Also stunned are the parents who actively support Pony League baseball here.

KEN CURTIS, PRES., PALMDALE PONY LEAGUE:  Both families have been part of Palmdale Pony for a number of years, and our thoughts and prayers are out to both of them.

UNGER:  I hope that all kids will realize that calling somebody a name, or because you lost your baseball game, is no big deal, and something like this won‘t happen again.

LEWIS:  Now, as the community mourns, the 13-year-old suspect faces murder charges.  George Lewis, NBC News, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  For some insight into the world of Pony League baseball, we turn now to its international president and CEO, Abraham Key, who‘s also a dad.  His 9-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter both play in their local league.  And Mr. Key, thank you for joining us tonight.  I know this is a tough subject.

ABRAHAM KEY, PONY LEAGUE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  Yes, it is, Alison.  Thank you for having me on.

STEWART:  I know you spent the afternoon at a practice today.  Was the story a topic of discussion among many parents?

KEY:  Well, the young baseball team that I spend my time with is a 9 and 10-year-old team, and we really didn‘t have an opportunity to address the subject at hand today.

STEWART:  Let me ask you a little bit bout Pony League baseball because I know it‘s a little different terminology than a lot of people are used to.  How does it differ from Little League?  Are they the same principles?  Are there age requirements, ability requirements?

KEY:  In essence, both organizations are very similar.  We offer grass-roots baseball and girls softball for ages 5 through 18.  Our program goes in two-year age increments: 5 and 6-year-olds play together, 7 and 8-year-olds play together, all the way up through our high school, 17 and 18-year-old age division, as well as our terrifically growing girls softball organization.

There are some philosophical differences.  We allow the opportunity of the local organization to administer and run their own program pretty much free of rein.

STEWART:  And from what I understand about Pony League, everybody gets to play, pretty much, no matter their ability.  Is that correct?

KEY:  Absolutely.  We‘re an organization that believes that every child that wants an opportunity to play the game of baseball should be afforded that opportunity regardless of their skill level.  We do not believe in cutting players from rosters.  Every child that wants to should have the opportunity to participate.

STEWART:  So is there any kind of special counselling that goes on, in terms of teaching the kids to be tolerant of other kids who don‘t play so well?  One of the issues in this case may have been that this kid was taunted for not playing really great.

KEY:  Well, certainly, we try to stress to the parents, to the coaching staffs and to the players all the great attributes of playing organized sports: self-discipline, winning with grace, losing with dignity, and lifelong lessons that we hope will make them happier and healthier adults as they get older.

STEWART:  Some people think that kids‘ sports has just gotten a little bit too competitive, too serious, focused on being really great and winning.  What do you think about that?

KEY:  Well, there‘s probably a certain segment of all organized sport, and academia we can put in there, as well, that there is a lot of pressure to succeed.  You know, in baseball—baseball‘s a terrific game.  It‘s been around for many, many, many centuries, or decades.  And you know, the baseball players—the kids emulate those major league baseball players, want to be major league baseball players when they grow up.  And sometimes parental pressure plays a role in the development of kids, especially at a young age.

STEWART:  Do you think this was an isolated issue, or is this a bigger problem?

KEY:  I believe this is an isolated issue.  In my 25 years with Pony baseball and softball, I never yet have heard of an incident of this nature.  We‘ve had injuries on the playing field.  This was not a playing field-related injury.  This took place off the field after the game between two kids.  We‘ve had altercations between parents...

STEWART:  Yes.

KEY:  ... never resulting in death, but this is the first between two kids in my memory.

STEWART:  Well, let‘s hope it is the last, as well.  Abraham Key, the national president of the Pony League baseball and softball, thanks so much for helping us put this in perspective.

KEY:  Thank you.

STEWART:  Ahead on the COUNTDOWN, another Kennedy family drama.  Joan Kennedy‘s kids have a court order to care for her, and she‘s returning the favor by selling the family home in Cape Cod.  We‘ll show you the letter everybody in the neighborhood got today.  And two sisters inside this home go at it, and the mom decides to call 911 for help.  She did not get Superman on the other end of the line.  We‘ll play you that call.  That‘s all ahead.

Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As a matter of fact, a vibrant society is one that welcomes religious movements.  But China‘s—we‘ve got good relations with China.  Listen, I got to hop.  I want to thank you for your time.  Appreciate your interest.  God bless.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL”:  Well, you know, it‘s a strange city because it‘s the capital city, and it‘s like Harrisburg or Albany.  They‘ve got a much smaller metropolitan area than Washington.  We have—and so I think it‘s going to be a major magnet for the city.  It might be good for bipartisanship, too.

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Yes, nothing like a dancing egg behind you to kind of give that bipartisan...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MICHAEL JACKSON FAN:  Mesereau, we love you!

UNIDENTIFIED MICHAEL JACKSON FAN:  Susie Yu, we love you!

UNIDENTIFIED MICHAEL JACKSON FAN:  Hey, Susie!  Go ahead, girl!

UNIDENTIFIED MICHAEL JACKSON FAN:  Susie!  Oh, my God!

UNIDENTIFIED MICHAEL JACKSON FAN:  Can I get a handshake?  Can I get a handshake?  Can I get a handshake?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  She married into one of the richest, most prominent families in the land.  Then disaster struck: the divorce, the descent into alcoholism, the drunk driving arrests, the attempts at rehab, her own children going to court to get official custody of her.  And now some say she‘s plotting her revenge, trying to sell the historic family mansion out from under them.  Our second story in the COUNTDOWN is not the latest episode from “Days of Our Lives,” it is the latest episode from the Camelot clan.

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny is here with all the details on this new Kennedy family drama.  Hi, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, COUNTDOWN:  Hi, Alison.  We are, of course, talking about Joan Kennedy, the ex-wife of Senator Ted Kennedy, who made headlines at the end of March after she was found by a neighbor on the sidewalk near her Boston home, injured and bleeding in the rain.  And though her friends say it was an innocent fall in a terrible rain storm, family members seem to be suggesting that fall and the repercussions could be the result of a renewed battle with alcohol.  And now to, top it all off, she‘s selling the beloved family home on Cape Cod.

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ADAM CLYMER, EDWARD KENNEDY BIOGRAPHER:  She once described it as a “forever house.”  And the kids grew up there.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  But for Joan Kennedy and her children, forever may be coming to an end, her Cape Cod neighbors receiving this letter in the mail today, a local realtor confirming that Kennedy, the former wife of Senator Edward Kennedy, is in the process of putting up for sale her oceanfront home.  Asking price, $6.5 million, the sale against the wishes of her children, another round in what appears to be a growing family dispute, a battle that may have started last year, when sons Edward Kennedy, Jr., Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy and daughter Kara Kennedy Allen took guardianship of their mother in an attempt to ensure she received treatment for her alcoholism.

CLYMER:  It is not something that is any secret, and I think part of the problem is people not understanding the disease.  A good part of alcoholism is genetic.  And her parents had drinking problems, as well.  And I think, you know, in a much quieter life, she might not have had this problem.

NOVOTNY:  Marrying into the Camelot dynasty in 1958, Joan Kennedy was not destined for a quieter life, forced to battle her demons in the public eye.

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JOAN KENNEDY:  I chose to come to Boston because I felt, and I was advised, that this was a place where I might have a good chance of success in stopping drinking.

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NOVOTNY:  Even after her 1982, divorce, the glare of the media spotlight remained unforgiving.  So this conflict with her children surprising to many.

CLYMER:  She‘s saying in some way or other that, you know, she doesn‘t want to be anyone‘s—she doesn‘t want to be the guardian of anyone.

NOVOTNY:  And son Edward believes Kennedy doesn‘t want the children as her guardians, either, Mr. Kennedy telling “The Boston Globe,” quote, “She‘s basically trying to retaliate against her own children by taking one of the things we love the most, which is Cape Cod.  It is very sad.”

Neighbors say they are disappointed by the headlines.

BRUCE JOHNSON, NEIGHBOR:  I‘m just saddened that she‘s continuing to have the problems that have plagued her, I guess, for some time and—because she‘s certainly been a good neighbor.

NOVOTNY:  All of this just days after a woman found Joan Kennedy sprawled on a sidewalk with a gash on her forehead and a shoulder injury, unable to get up.

SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  This has been a sad time, but I think she‘s—we‘re all hoping for the best.

NOVOTNY:  Son Edward saying the children‘s public intervention is unavoidable.  Quote, “You can imagine how bad the situation has gotten for us to risk angering her and undertaking this legal action against our own mother.”

JOHNSON:  I guess it is inevitable if you‘re in any way connected to the Kennedys, you just can‘t operate in private.

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NOVOTNY:  There are reports that the attorney for the children of Joan Kennedy, Augustus Wagner, has extended their guardianship order, saying now that Ms. Kennedy has no legal authority to sell the house.  However, Mr.  Warner did not return our calls for comment.

STEWART:  Her neighbors seem very sympathetic.  Her friends are standing by her in this.

NOVOTNY:  Yes.  I spoke to a couple friends and a couple neighbors to that Cape Cod home, and they all say she‘s very active in the community.  She‘s very popular.  They know about her problems, but they‘re very supportive of her.  And actually, in that Cape Cod community, they said if she goes, they‘ll be very sad to see her leave.

STEWART:  We should wish this family the best.

NOVOTNY:  Absolutely.

STEWART:  Monica Novotny.  Thank you so much.

We segue now into “Keeping Tabs.”  The celebrity-studded return of baseball to the nation‘s capital, opened by arguably the biggest celebrity in that town, President Bush.  After joking earlier about his tough decision between a fastball or a slider, the commander-in-chief took to the mound this evening and threw—that, thus officially starting the first game for the first Washington, D.C., baseball team in nearly 34 years.

And just days after pop tartlet Britney Spears finally copped to the worst kept secret in Hollywood, that she‘s not really fat, she‘s just pregnant, her publicist accidentally spilled some really juicy gossip.  It‘s a girl.  The gaffe happened yesterday when journalists called spokesperson Leslie Sloan to check on Ms. Spears‘s health after reports that she‘d visited a Florida hospital this weekend.  Sloan replied, quote, “She‘s OK.  Mother and daughter are doing fine.”  I guess old Kevin Federline is shooting X chromosomes.

At least we all know now what to buy for the baby shower, old pink necklace and tutus so the child won‘t clash with her other baby.  That‘s the pet Chihuahua.  A cute family.

Speaking of the joys of parenthood, a frazzled mother in Texas calls the police for help when her daughters start fighting.  But it‘s the 911 dispatcher‘s attempt at humor that gets Mom really mad.  Overreaction or completely understandable?  We‘ll ask a former 911 dispatcher next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  OK, back in the ‘70s, when I was a youngster, we had “Candid Camera.”  Now you get “Punk‘d” by Ashton.  But reality, not reality TV, is the best source of pure voyeuristic gratification for a window into stupidity.  Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the 911 call providing a peek into the mind of the caller and perhaps too frank operator.  This time, the caller a harried mom.  Problem is, she probably needed a nanny much more than an emergency dispatcher, and the dispatcher somehow sensed that but probably went too far.  Randy McIlwain from our NBC station KXAS in Dallas has the report.

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RANDY MCILWAIN, KXAS-TV, DALLAS (voice-over):  The woman who called 911 from this home tells NBC-5 her family is in the midst of an ongoing personal crisis.  She was emotional, desperate and in need of help, or at least advice.

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MOTHER:  The 12-year-old is completely out of control and I can‘t—I physically—she‘s as big as I am.  I can‘t control her.

911 OPERATOR:  OK.  Did you want us to come over to shoot her?  Are you there?

MOTHER:  Excuse me?

911 OPERATOR:  That‘s a joke.

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MCILWAIN:  A joke was the last thing she expected.  She says the dispatcher‘s comment puzzled, then angered her.  And while she doesn‘t want the dispatcher fired, she did meet with police, recommending a reprimand for what she called unprofessional behavior.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MOTHER:  This is really not very funny.

911 OPERATOR:  I know it‘s not, ma‘am.  I apologize.

MOTHER:  Well, guess what?  It‘s not going to be very funny when I go in front of your supervisor and tell him...

911 OPERATOR:  I understand.

MOTHER:  I guess he can just listen to the tape.

911 OPERATOR:  Yes, he can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  And joining me to discuss sometimes serious, sometimes comic reality of the 911 operator, Bill McMurray, a former 911 operator himself who is now a 911 dispatch manager for Marin County, California, and president of the National Emergency Number Association.  Mr. McMurray, good evening to you.

BILL MCMURRAY, FORMER 911 OPERATOR:  Hi, Alison.  How are you?

STEWART:  I‘m doing well, sir.  What do you think of the way that guy handled that phone call?

MCMURRAY:  Well, you know, everybody makes mistakes once in a while, and the really focus here is not this one call, but the reality is, there‘s tens of thousands of dispatchers and call takers across the country and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of calls every day.  And those calls are handled with great professionalism and expertise.  And it‘s unfortunate that the great calls don‘t get the attention that a call like this does.

STEWART:  Now, the kind of call you heard, was that an appropriate call for 911, a mother not being able to handle her daughter?

MCMURRAY:  I would think, normally, it would be handled as a serious call, as a potential domestic violence situation.  An out-of-control 12-year-old can be a handful, and sometimes you need police intervention.

STEWART:  All right.  We want to play for you another one, another phone call.  We‘re hearing a lot of them.  This was a favorite from the Internet.  It questions—not really sure if it‘s real or just really funny.  Let‘s take a listen to this caller, who is supposedly from Orange County, California.

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UNIDENTIFIED CALLER:  I said I am not leaving this spot.  And I said I will call the police because I want my Western burger done right!

911 OPERATOR:  Ma‘am, we‘re not going to go down there and enforce your Western bacon cheeseburger.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER:  Well, that is—you‘re supposed to be here to protect me.

911 OPERATOR:  Well, what are we protecting you from, a wrong cheeseburger?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER:  Well, just come down here.  I‘m not leaving!

911 OPERATOR:  No, ma‘am, I‘m not sending the deputies down there over a cheeseburger.  Ma‘am, this is what I suggest.  I suggest you get your money back from the manager and you go on your way home.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER:  OK.

911 OPERATOR:  OK?  Bye-bye.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

STEWART:  That call apparently went on for about two minutes.  Did you ever get anything that weird?

MCMURRAY:  You know, they get calls every day that a little unusual.  What‘s remarkable about this is the call taker really did a very good job, if you listen to the whole tape.  She did a good job of controlling the call and coming to a solution at the end of it.  And what the public needs to understand is they‘ll get a call like this, and the very next call will be a crisis call.  It could be a cardiac arrest.  It could be a bank robbery, domestic violence.

And one of the things that I want the public to know is that this week, we‘re honoring 911 call takers across the country in a week celebration that we have every April called National Telecommunicators Week.  And this is a time where we‘re honoring the tremendous effort that the call takers are doing across the country.

STEWART:  Well, of course, we all appreciate the folks who are working hard.  What was the most memorable call you ever took?

MCMURRAY:  I would say the most memorable was the very first call I ever took back in 1984.  I was newly promoted to a management position, and I happened to pick up on a 911 call, one of the very first 911 calls that I ever answered.  And it turned out to be my parents‘ house, and it was my mother, who couldn‘t speak.  And it really underscored the value of the enhanced 911 system.  She wasn‘t able to speak.  She had difficulty breathing.  And the address was displayed to the call taker, so we immediately knew where it was.

STEWART:  You saw your own address pop up there?

MCMURRAY:  It was very frightening.  It was my parents‘ address.  And it was very frightening.  Everything turned out fine.  She‘s doing great.  She‘s very healthy.

STEWART:  Glad to hear Mom‘s OK.  Bill McMurray, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us and helping us out.

MCMURRAY:  Thank you.

STEWART:  And that is COUNTDOWN.  Thank so much for being part of it.  I‘m Alison Stewart.  Have a good night.  See you back here tomorrow, same time.

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

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