updated 5/3/2005 2:38:23 PM ET 2005-05-03T18:38:23

Guest: Danny Porter, B.J. Bernstein, Randy Hopper, Susan Filan

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, the runaway bride‘s fiance says he is willing to forgive her.  Will authorities still charge Jennifer Wilbanks?  She is back at home after four days on the run.  Her fiance says he still wants to marry her, but the D.A. is now deciding if he will charge her.  We‘ll talk to him. 

And Wilbanks‘ family, an $100,000 award for information about her disappearance.  Well, she‘s back at home and the search for her cost big bucks, so will they offer up that cash to pay for the search? 

Plus, prosecutors try have jurors follow the money trail in the Michael Jackson case, this as they prepare to wrap the case against Jackson. 

The program about justice starts now. 

ABRAMS:  Hi, everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks, her cold feet back home in Georgia, now facing possible legal trouble.  Being on the run for more than three days, making three phone calls from a pay phone outside of a 7-11 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she could now face some serious charges. 

Here‘s why the phone calls are important.  One to her fiance, one to the Georgia authorities, and this one to the Albuquerque Police: 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DISPATCHER:  What happened?

JENNIFER WILBANKS, RUNAWAY BRIDE:  I was kidnapped from Atlanta, Georgia.  I don‘t know, my finance has been on the news.  I just don‘t know.  I just need them to fly here and get me. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We now know she was lying.  She was not abducted in Georgia and driven cross-country by a couple driving a blue van as she had said.  Jennifer hopped on a bus and took off heading the opposite direction of her upcoming wedding.  But now she could be facing criminal charges, and if convicted, could spend up to five years in prison.  

As for her jilted groom, he says: “Just because we haven‘t walked down the aisle, just because we haven‘t stood in front of 500 people and our I-dos, my commitment before God to her was the day I bought that ring and put it on her finger, and I‘m not backing down from that.” 

Joining me now, the person who will ultimately decide if Jennifer is charged in Georgia, Danny Porter, Gwinnett County district attorney. 

Mr. District Attorney, thanks for coming back on the program, we appreciate it. 

DANNY PORTER, GWINNETT COUNTY, GEORGIA, DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  Sure, Dan. 

I wanted to correct one thing. 

ABRAMS:  Please. 

PORTER:  I wanted to correct one thing.  There was only one phone call to Duluth.  It was—She talked to the chief of police in a continuation of the first phone call.  There wasn‘t a separate phone call. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  So there was the phone call that she makes to her family, and as part of that call she speaks to the authorities, right? 

PORTER:  Correct.  And then she makes the 911 call.  So it really isn‘t going to make any difference. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  And that phone call is the big one, meaning, the call that where she speaks to your officials there, is the reason that she may get charged in your jurisdiction, right? 

PORTER:  That‘s the call that would form the basis of the criminal prosecution in Georgia if we decide to prosecute. 

ABRAMS:  So where do you stand now, are you looking towards prosecuting her? 

PORTER:  I think it‘s too—I don‘t want to sound coy, but it‘s really too early to tell about that.  We‘re still in the fact-gathering stage as far as gathering up the information from FBI and from GBI.  And I want to know what happened while she was out West.  And we have got some interviews to do there.  The only thing I know right now is that it‘s pretty clear—well, not even just pretty clear, really clear, that in Georgia, the jurisdiction or the venue for the crime of false statements or for false report of a crime is where the report is received, not necessarily where it originates.  So I have the ability, there‘s no legal impediment to prosecution.  Now we get into the harder questions, is it the right thing to do under the circumstances? 

ABRAMS:  And what goes into that decision?  You say there‘s no legal impediment so it seems technically it was a crime. 

PORTER:  Well, prosecutors have discretion, as you know, and what we have to do is exercise our judgment under all of the facts and see if this is a case that the criminal justice system really needs to get involved in.  And those factors are the intent of the person when they commit the act, the damage that is done by the commission of the crime, or the reasonable expectation that damage might be done, any showing of remorse.  Those are the kinds of things that the investigation can reveal that we will take a look at in deciding how we are going to proceed. 

ABRAMS:  It just seems to me though that I lost all my sympathy for her when it heard the 911 call, and I understand that that is not—that call specifically is not going to be the basis of any charges.  But you‘re talking about discretion, there she is, calling 911, telling them about some Hispanic guy and his girlfriend driving a blue van and then repeats the story again and again to the authorities.  They have to basically force it out of her that she is lying. 

PORTER:  Well, that is true.  And that‘s sort of one of the factors you have to think about when I talk about the damage that is done.  What you‘re really talking about is police theoretically could have begun pulling over Hispanic males in blue vans all over the Southwest.  I know here in Duluth that the police were following up leads on kidnapping.  We talked to a lot of people who were potential suspects.  John Mason was put through the ringer as a potential suspect.  And those are the things that you have got to look at.  You‘ve also got to look at is, I kind of hear the voice saying, well, I didn‘t know all of this would happen, and you have got to decide whether or not it‘s reasonable that a grown person would not understand the consequences of their acts. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, and just my personal opinion, I‘m not particularly sympathetic to that once I hear about the 911 call.  And I know one of the issues that you‘re taking into consideration is the possibility of premeditation.  Have you figured out when she bought that bus ticket? 

PORTER:  She bought the bus ticket a week before she left. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So she did not just at the last minute decide, oh, my gosh, I can‘t deal with this.  You‘re now telling us that she was premeditating this.  She had decided it a while back. 

PORTER:  Well, she at least purchased the bus ticket a week before. 

ABRAMS:  In her own name? 

PORTER:  No. 

ABRAMS:  In somebody else‘s name? 

PORTER:  In someone else‘s name. 

ABRAMS:  Anyone she knew or just she made up a name? 

PORTER:  It was a made-up name. 

ABRAMS:  I assume that‘s.

PORTER:  So you can draw your—a jury will have to draw conclusions from that and you can draw your own conclusions from that.  The evidence is just there. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  But that makes me think, based on our conversation on Saturday, you were talking about premeditation was going to come into play.  Now you have the premeditation, or it seems, and you have the phone call to your authorities, that sounds like it‘s a case you are going to be making. 

PORTER:  Well, again, I don‘t really want to sound evasive here but I really don‘t like to make decisions without all of the facts in my hand and without a chance to really digest all of the facts.  I mean, I‘m aware of most of it and I know the facts but I think it‘s really irresponsible to try and predict what you‘re going to do until you take a look at everything that is there and I‘m not going to do that. 

ABRAMS:  Fair enough.  Did she have any help getting there?  There is no bus station in Duluth, right? 

PORTER:  It doesn‘t look like it at this point based on statements that were made in Albuquerque and based on statements that have recently been made.  It appears that it was a prearranged taxi trip. 

ABRAMS:  Sp how did she get there, to the bus? 

PORTER:  By taxi from a location here in Duluth to the bus station. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  I want to play a piece of this 911 call, again, this is in Albuquerque.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DISPATCHER:  And what kind of vehicle was he driving?

WILBANKS:  It was a blue van, like a work van.

DISPATCHER:  Was it a conversion van or a small minivan?

WILBANKS:  It wasn‘t a minivan, it was like a painter work van. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So that‘s part of the 911 call, she is saying it was a Hispanic man and a white woman.  And yet the New Mexico authorities are saying no charges here are going to be filed.  Does that have any impact on your decision-making? 

PORTER:  Not really.  They clearly had the jurisdiction and made the discretionary decision not to prosecute.  As I said, I‘m not quarreling with their decision.  They didn‘t have much involvement in the case, they didn‘t have really any stake in it.  So when you think about it, all they could have charged her with was a misdemeanor, although the federal agents could have charged her.  I think they really sort of said, this really all originates out of Georgia and we‘re going to let Georgia deal with it, and I can respect that decision. 

ABRAMS:  And in Georgia, as you pointed out to me on Saturday, there‘s a possibility of a misdemeanor charge, but there‘s also the possibility of a felony charge, right? 

PORTER:  That‘s correct.  There‘s a false report of a crime and there‘s also the charge of what we call false statements that is a felony. 

ABRAMS:  You and I talked earlier about the fact you have been getting a lot of e-mails on both sides of this? 

PORTER:  Yes.  It varies.  The last count was 386 e-mails today and yesterday.  I haven‘t read them all.  But the overwhelming majority of people are urging me to prosecute.  There are about—it‘s about seven-to-one for prosecution and then there‘s about the same number of people that are against prosecution that think I am a publicity hound that is just seeking media attention. 

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  And you told me that—of course, that is not going to come into play at all in your decision out here as we know. 

PORTER:  Well, it really can‘t.  I mean, the e-mails were from all over the country, and although I appreciate people expressing their opinion, it really can‘t be a factor in my decision. 

ABRAMS:  One final question.  Has the family said to you one way or another as to whether they—I assume they don‘t want her to be charged, have they expressed that to you? 

PORTER:  There‘s been no contact between the family and my office or an attorney on her behalf and my office. 

ABRAMS:  There‘s not, you said? 

PORTER:  There has not been. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  All right, Danny Porter, thanks for coming back on the program.  We appreciate it. 

PORTER:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Coming up—all right, so that‘s what he says, you know.  The question we‘re going to  have to address now is, well, should he charge her?  Do you remember Audrey Seiler?  She faked her disappearance last year, she was charged.  Her lawyer joins us next.  And her family offered a big reward for information about Audrey.  Should they pay that money instead to the city to help cover the cost of the search for Jennifer? 

Believe it or not, tomorrow is the last day of the prosecution case against Michael Jackson, who is the defense going to call?  You‘re going to be surprised to hear some of the witnesses. 

Abramsreport@msnbc.com, the e-mail, please include your name and where you‘re writing from (INAUDIBLE).  

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN KELOY, DULUTH COMMUNITY MEMBER:  From a personal standpoint, I find it to be a little selfish, to put your parents through something like this, whether she was aware of it or not.  I feel for them.  And my thoughts go out to them. 

CLAUDINE WILKINS, DULUTH COMMUNITY MEMBER:  She should have canceled the wedding if she was upset and worried and depressed or whatever.  But just disappear and get the entire police force and friends and family to look for her was just over the top. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Residents in Duluth, Georgia, reacting to the news that Jennifer Wilbanks was not really missing last week.  She just had cold feet about her wedding.   (INAUDIBLE) a community that came together to try and help find a woman they thought could have been dead.  Authorities, you just heard it, now deciding whether to charge her, just talked to the D.A., a recap. 

Last Tuesday around 8:30, she left her home in Duluth, Georgia, left behind her wallet, cell phone and engagement ring.  We now know she actually purchased a ticket on a Greyhound bus a week ahead of time.  We just learned that, heading for Vegas.  Early Wednesday morning, her fiance, John Mason, called police to report that she was missing.  Later that day authorities and more than 100 volunteers began a search of the area. 

On Thursday, the police announced they were treating Wilbanks‘ disappearance as a criminal investigation.  The FBI offered its assistance.  And on Friday, after an exhaustive search of the area, police call it off but continue to investigate.  The Wilbanks family announced a $100,000 reward for information. 

Next, late Friday night, a break.  Wilbanks calls her fiance claiming she was kidnapped, doesn‘t know where she is.  She then calls 911, tells the operator she was abducted by a Hispanic man and Caucasian woman driving a blue van.  Authorities then trace the case to a pay phone in Albuquerque, pick her up for questioning. 

Finally 7:20 in the morning on Saturday, police announce wasn‘t abducted, she made it all up because she had cold feet about the wedding. 

My take:  She should be charged.  If she had just left town, I would say, no way.  But by lying about her abduction and causing the police to search for innocent people matching the description she gave, a Hispanic man and a Caucasian woman in a blue van, she should have to pay a price. 

And it seems it was premeditated, meaning she had purchased that bus ticket in someone else‘s name making it worse.  I‘m not talking about serving serious time here.  But a stiff fine and maybe even a short jail sentence might be appropriate.  Joining me now is Randy Hopper, attorney for Audrey Seiler that was (INAUDIBLE) who faked her abduction last year; former Gwinnett County, Georgia, assistant D.A. B.J. Bernstein, who used to work with my last guest, Danny Porter; and Connecticut prosecutor Susan Filan. 

All right, B.J., it seems to me that not only is this a technical violation of Georgia law in that she spoke to Georgia authorities and lied to them, when you look at the totality of the circumstances here, the 911 call, the premeditation, I think they have got to go forward. 

B.J. BERNSTEIN, FMR. GWINNETT COUNTY, GA., PROSECUTOR:  You know, no.  And I will tell you a couple of reasons why, Dan.  First of all, the premeditation part doesn‘t really contribute to what all happened here in the sense of, had this girl shown up in New Mexico and just said, I had a freak out, I had to leave, there would be no crime. 

Now I hear what you‘re saying about the 911 call in Albuquerque.  But at the same time it‘s clear that something is very wrong with this young woman. 

ABRAMS:  But, you know, here is my concern.  My concern is that we‘re looking at what is wrong with this young woman only because she is an attractive upper middle class white woman.  And I don‘t think we‘re looking at—this is not the way we deal with criminals generally.  We don‘t say, oh, is this person troubled?  The bottom line is, there was a violation of the law here that led to very serious consequences. 

BERNSTEIN:  You know what, actually, sometimes we do worry about what is going on with the person.  And part of the problem here is that the very media coverage that you need to find someone who is missing is now the curse on this young woman in terms of how we‘re dealing with it.  Because things happen like this all the time, and it doesn‘t turn into something (ph) crazy. 

ABRAMS:  Well, people all the time—I‘ve got to tell you, federal courts, as you well know, you start lying to the authorities and you‘re in big trouble.  You start making up stories about blue vans and Hispanic men, you‘re in trouble. 

BERNSTEIN:  True.  But at the same time a lot of people say things initially to the police and then they are properly examined by the officers and they‘re not charged after it‘s over. 

ABRAMS:  Randy Hopper, you represented Audrey Seiler, she was charged. 

Is this so much different? 

RANDY HOPPER, ATTORNEY FOR AUDREY SEILER:  I think there are a lot of differences between the cases, Dan.  By the way, it‘s good to be with you again. 

ABRAMS:  Good to see you. 

HOPPER:  It‘s been a while.  First of all, Audrey Seiler, as you know, was a young woman, 20 years old. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s a reason not to charge Audrey Seiler and a reason to charge Jennifer Wilbanks, right? 

HOPPER:  Well, and I have heard your point of view.  I think that the cases are strikingly different.  I‘m not going to do a recitation.

ABRAMS:  No, you don‘t have to.

HOPPER:  This is not about Audrey Seiler‘s case.  And you didn‘t ask me that.  But I like what the prosecutor said a moment ago when you interviewed.  He is doing his due diligence.  He‘s doing all the right things.  And he‘s waiting—as any good lawyer worth the briefcase he or she carries, is waiting to see and get all the facts in before he makes a final decision.  And that‘s what a prosecutor should do.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t blame him for that.

HOPPER:  . as B.J. said, and that‘s what any lawyer who may defend her, if, in fact, she is charged, should do. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But, Susan, the bottom line is, look, the prosecutor is

being politik (ph), as he should be, he shouldn‘t be racing because then

people will claim later he just rushed to judgment.  But the bottom line is

·         it is clear to me, I‘m predicting to you right now, based on what I have heard from that prosecutor, that he is going to charge her with something, maybe it will be a misdemeanor, maybe it will be a felony, and he will be right to do it. 

SUSAN FILAN, CONNECTICUT PROSECUTOR:  He should charge her.  There‘s no reason not to charge her.  She should be charged with the misdemeanor and the felony.  What she did was clearly a crime.  What everybody is talking about goes to sentencing, it doesn‘t go to the charge.  So maybe she doesn‘t get imprisoned, maybe she gets community service, probation, restitution, that $100,000 should be paid back to law enforcement. 

But what she did was a crime.  And there are other unintended victims here.  How about women who exercise, who go for a walk or go for a jog, and every time a car slows behind them they get the chill of fear around their heart because that‘s your worst fear, that somebody is going to pull you into their car.  Not only that, like you said, to blame a Hispanic man, it‘s heinous. 

ABRAMS:  And Randy, what do you think about my point earlier, that if she were not an attractive white woman, if she were even a man who had faced similar circumstances, I think that people would be much more likely to say, charge him. 

HOPPER:  Well, I don‘t know if you brought this forward either last year when Ms. Seiler was charged or even in this case yet, but I noticed the prosecutor talked about all these e-mails that had come in.  Quite frankly, we knew this at the time when Ms. Seiler was charged, the overwhelming majority of those e-mails are coming in from people who are strident, who hold extreme positions, and they typically watch, quite frankly, conservative talk shows or conservative radio shows. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, the e-mails are irrelevant. 

HOPPER:  There‘s no question about that.  And I was glad to hear him say that they‘re irrelevant.  I don‘t think her gender or her looks and whether she is attractive or anything or not weighs into this.  I could tell this prosecutor is being very balanced about this.  And I think the bottom line—and I disagree with what the former prosecutor, who spoke a moment ago, says, the bottom line on this is whether or not in that prosecutor‘s discretion, he is going to decide if she broke—you know, broke many people‘s hearts versus breaking the law.  And that‘s the bottom line.

ABRAMS:  Well, there‘s no question—but see, there‘s no question she broke the law, the question is, is that technical violation worth prosecuting?  Because as you know, all the time prosecutors decide not to prosecute, even though there have been technical violations of the law. 

HOPPER:  Well, one of the things that he is doing, Dan, is he is looking at the law and he is trying to apply the facts as they‘re coming in to the law in Georgia.  Because as the other two lawyers on the show here know, that each state statutory scheme has a different set of criminal statutes that apply to false representations made by—to police officers. 

ABRAMS:  What does your client get in terms of the sentence? 

HOPPER:  She got probation.  And probation for three years, 250 hours of community service, she is doing that with the Jacob Wetterling Foundation.  And she is making good progress with her counseling and the other things that the judge ordered her to do. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me take a break here.  The more I hear about this case, the more details I heard just now from the prosecutor, the more I think that if they don‘t move forward with some sort of prosecution, that this is going to be perceived as favorable treatment to an attractive white woman.  But we will ask in a minute, if Jennifer is not charged should she or her family have to pay?  Remember the family offered a $100,000 reward.  The city spent tens of thousands of dollars looking for her. 

And prosecutors bring out the big bucks in the Michael Jackson trial as they wrap up the case.  The defense expected to start on Wednesday by asking the judge to throw out the case entirely.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, should Jennifer Wilbanks or her family donate the $100,000 reward that they had offered to local authorities now?  First the headlines. 

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE SATTERFIELD, WILBANKS FAMILY SPOKESMAN:  The family has established an initial reward of $100,000.  We love Jennifer very much.  We would give our life and everything that we own to have her return. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Jennifer Wilbanks‘ family was willing to pay $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of her kidnappers.  Now that we know she was never kidnapped, should her family give that reward money to the authorities who spent about that much money searching for her? 

And we‘re also learning that, apparently, according to the mayor in town there, the television show “A Current Affair” said, “Hey, mayor, you make this deal happen, they do an interview, Jennifer does an interview with us, we‘ll pay you $100,000.” 

I don‘t know.  It doesn‘t sound like such a bad idea. 

But Susan Filan, what do you think of this?  I mean, should the family

·         I mean, look, she is 32-years-old.  I mean, it‘s not as if her family is responsible for, you know, paying for what she does, right?

SUSAN FILAN, CONNECTICUT PROSECUTOR:  I hate the idea.  What that message sends is, “Hey, cut a check, and you don‘t get prosecuted.”  If restitution‘s the key, it should be part of the sentence.  But to pay it back upfront in order to perhaps not be prosecuted, I think, as you said, sends a terrible, terrible message. 

ABRAMS:  But who says it‘s not to get prosecuted?  I mean, it could just be because it‘s the right thing to do. 

FILAN:  Look, I don‘t like the idea of paying ahead like that.  I just think it‘s clearly inappropriate.  It‘s improper.  It doesn‘t smell right to me.  It doesn‘t feel right to me.

ABRAMS:  BJ, what do you think?

BJ BERNSTEIN, FMR. PROSECUTOR:  I think you‘ve got a point, that it‘s OK to go ahead and do the right thing by taking care of any restitution.  And then the other part of all this—I‘m going to kind of break conventional wisdom as a criminal defense lawyer—is this may be one instance where you do want your client, you do want Jennifer to talk to law enforcement or folks to explain what was going on in her mind, because it may change the idea that this is a felony. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, look, I mean, I would love for her to do an interview here.  And, Jennifer, you are invited here to come on the program about justice.  We‘ll give you the hour to talk about everything that happened, et cetera. 

If you‘re not going to do that, why not get paid, Randy Hopper?  I mean, you know, if she is not going to come on the program about justice, why not go make the $100,000 in an interview and use that as restitution?

RANDY HOPPER, ATTORNEY FOR AUDREY SEILER:  Well, the question is whether—which has been raised here—whether there‘s a moral imperative to do it or whether there‘s a legal obligation to do it.  Some state statutes don‘t allow for a municipality or a political subdivision to seek a claim for restitution. 

That was the case in Wisconsin.  There was no basis in law for the prosecutor to seek restitution. 

We did it anyway because we felt it was the appropriate thing to do.  And as someone mentioned, we did it as a part of sentencing.  And the prosecutor, in our agreement, felt that it was not appropriate to strap a 20-year-old young lady with a $100,000 debt for the rest of her life.  She probably wouldn‘t have been able to ever satisfy it, anyway. 

But it was probably the right thing to do, and she wanted to do it to offer something to the city of Madison.  And I think that that may be something that‘s very worthwhile to consider in this instance, whether she is prosecuted or whether she is not. 

ABRAMS:  BJ, are you surprised that the hubby still wants her back? 

He says he put that ring right back on her finger.

BERNSTEIN:  Well, you know, that‘s a really personal, personal thing.  And you know, he did ask her to marry him.  And I‘m sure it won‘t be tomorrow.  But again, it depends on what was the problem with this young woman that precipitated this. 

If it was, you know, her husband, that‘s one thing.  If it‘s a mental health issue that could be handled, then he may be open to resolving it. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, there‘s got to be some—yes, there‘s got to be some sort of mental—I mean, it can‘t just be—you can‘t blame the guy that she goes and says that some Hispanic man in a blue van abducted me because I didn‘t like the guy I was supposed to marry. 

BERNSTEIN:  Right.  That one you and I agree on. 

ABRAMS:  Susan, what do you think?  Are you surprised that he is taking her back and putting the ring already back on her finger?

FILAN:  Won‘t it be great how they can talk about how he took a lie-detector test on their honeymoon?  They can share that together.  I think that‘s very special. 

But I‘m going to agree with BJ  I can‘t go there.  That‘s between them.  But as a legal matter, again, prosecutor, what are we debating?  Again, this all goes to sentencing.  But as to whether to charge her, what are we debating?

ABRAMS:  All right.  You know, look, I agree with you that—but we will see.  It‘s prosecutorial discretion, and we shall see.  I think the prosecutor will.  I think he will and should.  But again, it doesn‘t mean she is going to serve some long sentence.  I mean, it‘s going to be a criminal fine.  Again, people.

FILAN:  Exactly, or a diversionary program where she doesn‘t have a criminal—she doesn‘t even have to have a conviction...

BERNSTEIN:  And not a felony.  Not a felony.

ABRAMS:  No, all right.  Maybe a misdemeanor.  But there should be charges. 

All right.  Randy Hopper, BJ Bernstein, thanks very much.  Susan Filan will stick around for our next segment.

Coming up, prosecutors in the Michael Jackson case wrapping up.  The defense expected to begin this week.  Will we see M.J. testifying?  Will he give the peace sign on the stand? 

Your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name, where you‘re writing from.  I‘ll respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  MSNBC keeps you up-to-the-minute every 15 minutes.  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.

Italy says stress, inexperience and fatigue among U.S. soldiers played a role in the shooting death of an Italian agent in Baghdad two months ago.  He was riding with a just-freed Italian hostage when U.S. troops fired on their car as it approached a checkpoint.  Italy released its report tonight.  A U.S. report cleared American soldiers of any wrongdoing. 

Pope Benedict XVI marked one month since the death of Pope John Paul. 

Pope Benedict prayed at John Paul‘s tomb beneath St. Peter‘s Basilica. 

And NASA has announced a new launch window for the Space Shuttle Discovery.  Blastoff is now set for between July 13th and 31st

Now back to THE ABRAMS REPORT. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, first a space shuttle, then Michael Jackson. 

Leaving court earlier today, more than two months in its opening statements, and the prosecution expected to rest its case tomorrow.  Tomorrow.  Then the defense goes on the offensive.  In the last days of testimony, prosecutors try to shore up their case in the conspiracy. 

Today, a witness told jurors that one of the unindicted co-conspirators cashed two checks totaling $1.5 million shortly after the alleged conspiracy to hold the accuser‘s family captive.  The checks were from Neverland Valley Entertainment, an account that had only two signatories, Mark Schaffel and Michael Jackson. 

Prosecution would like jurors to believe this was a payoff and that Jackson is behind the conspiracy to contain the damage from the documentary where Jackson admits sharing his bed with boys. 

Attorney and senior correspondent with “Inside Edition,” Jim Moret was inside the courtroom today. 

Jim, before we get to what we‘re expecting from the defense, and this could be a very interesting defense case, I don‘t really get why this is so important.  So someone has taken out some money, and that shows what?

JIM MORET, “INSIDE EDITION”:  That‘s the big question.  What does it show?  The prosecution didn‘t offer anything, frankly, to explain the $1.5 million.  Presumably, however, Dan, this was simply to pay for the shooting and the production of this rebuttal video. 

And frankly, I don‘t know—if you say that Michael Jackson was involved in orchestrating this rebuttal video, then he is guilty of conspiring to create good P.R.

ABRAMS:  Right, so what?

MORET:  Big deal.  That‘s what I say.

ABRAMS:  Yes, so what?  He wanted to put out a rebuttal video because the first visit made him look bad. 

MORET:  And also, don‘t forget, according to the prosecution‘s own timeline, the alleged molestations didn‘t even occur until after this rebuttal video was shown.  So...

ABRAMS:  That we‘re going to get to.  And that‘s a big one. 

All right.  Very quickly, Jim, prosecution wrapping its case tomorrow?

MORET:  I don‘t believe it. 

ABRAMS:  No?

MORET:  I tell you why.  Because they spent all day—this was perhaps—I‘m glad to be on your show because that means I‘m not in court right now.  It was a painful day. 

Dan, I have never seen a day where even the defendant‘s own mom nodded off twice in the morning session alone.  I had a reporter at my left and a reporter at my right nodding off because almost all day was spent with these Byzantine charts to show the phone activity between these alleged co-conspirators and the defense really defused it with one question. 

They asked one of the detectives, “Is there anything to indicate whether Michael Jackson personally made or received any of all of those phone calls?”  And the answer, “No.” 

ABRAMS:  If it‘s that boring, I don‘t even want to talk about it.  I want to move on. 

But Jim, stick around, because we are going to move on. 

Joining me now, criminal defense attorney Rikki Klieman—a famous Rikki Klieman—and Connecticut State Prosecutor Susan Filan. 

All right, so—I mean, Rikki, I‘m right, right?  We can move on.  I mean, you‘re an anchor.  You‘re on TV.  I don‘t have to talk about what happened today, do I?  It‘s not important. 

RIKKI KLIEMAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well, only to say it‘s almost Shakespearean, a flurry of activity signifying nothing. 

ABRAMS:  OK, all right.  So let‘s move to the defense. 

Susan, can I move on?

FILAN:  You may, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  All right, all right, thank you.  All right.  So let‘s move on now the defense case, all right? 

Let‘s put up number one.  This is essentially what we‘re going to see here.  This is going to start on Wednesday, probably.  Jim says maybe a little later.  But the window for the molestation is a very small period of time.  They‘re going to try and show perhaps as few as four nights, and on one of those nights that Jackson returned to Neverland at 1:00 a.m. and, as Jim pointed out, remember, the alleged molestation doesn‘t occur until after the family makes that rebuttal video. 

So it‘s not as if they‘re conspiring to keep them there to get them to lie.  They‘re conspiring to keep them there, I guess, to sort of tell something of the truth, and then Jackson molests them later.  That‘s the biggest, biggest problem for the prosecutors. 

This is from Mike Taibbi, this part that we‘re reading here.  But the rest of that was my own analysis.

All right, as early as their first visit to Neverland in 2000, the accuser‘s mother talked in a greedy way about Jackson and what Neverland could mean to her family.  She also reportedly talked about the 1993 case back then showing great curiosity about all the details.  And there‘s a time when the mother apparently went to get some sort of body wax when she says that she was being imprisoned at Neverland. 

She talked about her failed marriage and other intimate details of her personal life, not a bad word to say about Michael Jackson, and she seemed eager to return to Neverland.  Those are all things that Mike Taibbi reports the defense witnesses are expected to say. 

But Susan, the biggest problem for the prosecutors is the timing, is the idea that there‘s this conspiracy to keep all of the family members there at Neverland so they will get on this rebuttal video and say nice things about Michael Jackson.  And then, once they say it, that‘s when the molestation starts. 

FILAN:  You know how we got to skip talking about the phone records? 

Could we skip talking about the timeline, too?

ABRAMS:  Yes, it‘s a big problem, right, for the prosecutors?

FILAN:  The only way I could argue this—and don‘t call it spin, Dan, because it‘s an argument, OK?  It‘s that he is molesting this boy allegedly after the rebuttal video because the rebuttal video isn‘t the impetus to either molest or not molest. 

He is grooming him all along.  The rebuttal was part of the grooming.  They get very close and very lovey-dovey in that rebuttal.  The boy says things, supposedly from the heart or scripted—which way it cuts I‘m not really sure—and that forms the basis for this connection that gives Michael Jackson the opportunity. 

And the last thing I will say on this is that Michael Jackson, from what I have been able to observe inside that courtroom and throughout the course of this trial, marches to a different drummer.  And so timeline to him, where somebody else wouldn‘t do it if the world is watching, Michael doesn‘t operate that way.

ABRAMS:  All right, well, you know, Rikki, maybe that‘s the argument. 

But boy, this timeline is a problem.

KLIEMAN:  Well, I think Susan—the timeline is a problem.  And Susan is very articulate, and she does a good job, probably as good as any prosecutor could do, with these particular circumstances. 

But let‘s be realistic.  Let‘s look at all of the dry testimony today, this flurry of activity, these frenzied phone calls.  Everybody is trying to shore up Michael Jackson‘s life, Michael Jackson‘s empire after the Bashir documentary in February of ‘03. 

That‘s the time he decides he will have a little frolic with the youngster?  That makes not only no sense, it completely contradicts the false imprisonment claim using these phone records. 

ABRAMS:  But what about the claim that, you know, Susan is sort of making which is that, you know, Jacko is kind of wacko.  And as a result...

KLIEMAN:  Jacko may be wacko, but there‘s a certain thing about him that is not suicidal.  You have everything that is happening to him with all of his handlers all around him trying to do the best thing for him which is to put out this rebuttal video to try and save his business life, let alone his personal life.  You really have to be wacko to the fifth power to decide this is your window of opportunity to molest a child. 

FILAN:  But, Rikki, he does live in a place called Neverland.  And he

is not grounded in reality.  And he is not—you know, forgive me for

saying this, he is not all there.  And so he really isn‘t on the same plane

·         the analysis that you gave applies to this, quote, “reasonable man.” 

Michael Jackson doesn‘t fit that. 

ABRAMS:  Very quickly, Jim Moret, final thought?

MORET:  Well, I think that the rebuttal video, frankly, I don‘t believe, was grooming.  I think it was a direct response to the horrific mistake Michael Jackson made in appearing in this Martin Bashir video.  And this was simply a P.R. scramble at the last minute to get this video made.  And I don‘t know if that rises to the level of a criminal conspiracy. 

ABRAMS:  No one is talking about this.  This is the biggest problem that the prosecutors have in this case.  It‘s a simple issue, the timeline. 

We‘ll follow it.  Jim Moret, Rikki Klieman, Susan Filan, thanks a lot.

Coming up, his fiancee ran off wanting some time for herself.  John Mason still wants to get married.  Apparently, love conquers all.  He is not the only one.  It‘s my closing argument. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My closing argument, I think Pat Benatar said it best when she said love is a battlefield.  And that‘s often reflected in how much people are willing to endure for love. 

The latest case, John Mason, the fiance of runaway bride, Jennifer Wilbanks.  His wife runs out on him.  He has to take a lie-detector test, becomes a suspect in her murder, frantically worries for days.  She calls and concocts some story about being abducted.  And he‘s still eager to put that ring right back on her finger. 

How about Rusty Yates?  His wife, Andrea, drowned their five children one-by-one, stood by her throughout her trial, and only now, four years later—she‘s behind bars—is he finally filing for divorce. 

Remember Mary Joe Buttafuoco?  She got shot in the face by her husband‘s lover, Amy Fischer.  She welcomed him back after his four-month jail sentence for statutory rape in ‘91, then again in 1995 after he served two months for trying to pay an undercover cop for sex, finally divorcing in 2003. 

Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, these two have equally fought the love battlefield.  In 2003, Whitney called the police after Bobby allegedly slapped her during an altercation.  Still Whitney showed up to court, holding Bobby‘s hand, saying, “We are still together.” 

I guess what comes around goes around, as Bobby had to stand by Whitney through bouts of drug abuse, including the time Whitney allegedly tried to smuggle pot on an airplane at a Hawaii airport. 

But you know what?  While many of us may not be able to understand why these people would stick around, maybe in the words of Janet Jackson, that‘s just the way love goes.  

Coming up, your e-mails.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  I‘ve had my say.  Now it‘s time for your rebuttal. 

Mixed reactions on the runaway bride, Jennifer Wilbanks. 

From Denver, Lorin Phillips:  “Jennifer didn‘t report herself missing. 

Her family did.  I don‘t think she owes law enforcement an apology at all.”

Oh, really?  How about calling up and concocting the story about being abducted and then sending them on a wild goose chase?

Martha Kiel writes:  “Should she have called home?  Yes.  But you, Dan Abrams, and the national media bear most of the responsibility for making this a federal case.  You don‘t know anything about her personal situation, yet you judge her.”

Oh, really, Martha?  Well then I hope every time someone commits a crime, you demand to know about the person‘s, quote, “personal situation.”  I‘m not going to. 

From Minneapolis, Robert Oliver:  “Where‘s the accountability?  This is a 32-year-old woman, not a 13-year-old child.  What‘s wrong with our society today that no one wants to hold someone accountable for their actions and instead look for explanations as to why they did what they did?”

Lisa Voorhees in Hellertown, Pennsylvania:  “Yes, valuable resources were wasted, but how many times a day are the police and authorities lied to?  Why are people so concerned with this particular instance?”

So wait, Lisa, that makes it OK?

From Lansing, Illinois, and Nick Mazza:  “I‘m tired of the pooh-poohing about this poor girl who was under so much pressure.  Funny, but if this was a guy, the sentiment would be 180 degrees.”

Durham Ellis:  “If you‘re looking for someone to prosecute in the case

of the bride with cold feet, look at the family.  Did they obstruct justice

by saying that she would never just run away?”

No, they didn‘t obstruct justice, Durham, for saying what they believed.  Come on. 

From San Francisco, Jim Greene:  “If I‘m not mistaken, all she did was try to avoid getting married.  I only wish I had Jennifer Wilbanks‘ guts and was able to ditch my yenta wife at the alter 25 years ago.  If I did, I‘d be able to watch a ballgame now and then and have sex at least once a year instead of being condemned to the daily torturous hell that is my pathetic life.”

Linda Gavin wrote in Friday before Jennifer was found:  “I predict that Jennifer Wilbanks at the bottom of the river, put there by her fiance, John Mason.”

Linda, it appears you owe John a big apology.

From El Toro, California, Stephanie:  “Will you take me to my senior prom?”

I‘m so flattered, Stephanie, that you asked.  You know, I don‘t think it‘s appropriate though, I have to say.  You know?  Please.  Maybe next year, or maybe 10 years after that. 

Your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show. 

Oh, please!  It‘s a case of the munchies gone bad for 21-year-old John Heier in Fargo, North Dakota.  It seems pizza delivery man Atif Yasin figured, Heier fell asleep after ordering a medium pizza and a soda.  He knocked on the door, called Heier on his cell phone. 

Eventually, he answered the front door in boxers.  It didn‘t take long before Yasin figured out it wasn‘t sleep that made Heier forget about his order.  They couldn‘t gather enough cash to pay for the pizza.  Heier tried bartering pot for pizza. 

Yasin just said no, and told Heier the hash-for-cash program wasn‘t going to work.  Apparently, marijuana is not always a calming drug.  Heier yelled and punched Yasin in the face.  He called the police. 

Heier was charged with robbery, since he assaulted Yasin while committing a theft, allegedly.  Talk about fighting for your right to party. 

That does it for us tonight.  Thanks for watching.  See you tomorrow.

END

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