updated 5/3/2005 2:47:50 PM ET 2005-05-03T18:47:50

Guest: BJ Bernstein, Susan Filan, Danny Porter, Jim Moret, Rikki Klieman

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, late-breaking details about how the runaway bride disappeared.  Her fiance may have forgiven her, but authorities still deciding whether to charge her. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  She‘s 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‘ll charge her.  We‘ll talk to him. 

And Wilbanks‘ family offered a $100,000 reward 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 tried to 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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Hi, everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks, the 32-year-old who fled four days before her wedding day, could be in some real legal hot water after falsely claiming she was abducted by a Hispanic man in a blue van.  She even called 911. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DISPATCHER:  What happened?

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

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  In the past two hours, the authorities explained exactly what happened, how and when she bought a bus ticket, and what she said in the past 24 hours.  Now, before we talk to the D.A. about how he‘ll decide whether to charge her with a crime, Police Chief Randy Belcher laid out a timeline of what they‘ve learned. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF RANDY BELCHER, DULUTH POLICE DEPARTMENT:  Ms. Jennifer Wilbanks went for a jog last Tuesday at approximately 8:30 p.m.  She didn‘t come back home after she went for that jog.  Her husband, approximately at midnight, advised us.  She called the Duluth Police Department, stated his fiancee went for a jog and has not returned.  He was concerned for her safety. 

At that point, my department began doing an investigation, searching the area in which we thought that she had run.  As everyone knows from watching the press, we then, the next day, started a manhunt with over 150 law enforcement officers and several hundred volunteers.  We set up a command center. 

We searched approximately five square miles of the city.  We recovered what we believed to be several pieces of evidence.  One piece of evidence that we did locate was a clump of hair that was located by the library, near the library off of Park Bluff Lane in Duluth—I‘m sorry, not Park Bluff, but Postal Lane in Duluth. 

We had no luck at that point in time locating Ms. Wilbanks.  The following day, we continued to search.  Again, we had no luck locating Ms.  Wilbanks.  Up to this point, we really had no crime.  We did not have a body.  We did not have any reports of anything that has taken place. 

Friday night—or actually Saturday morning, approximately 2:00 a.m., I received a phone call from my office stating that Jennifer was on the telephone with her fiance.  I was just minutes away from their home.  When I arrived, I got onto the telephone and began talking to Ms. Wilbanks. 

Up to this point, Ms. Wilbanks has not violated any Georgia law. 

There was nothing at this point that she could be arrested for. 

During my conversation with her, I asked her several direct questions.  One of them is, where are you at?  She was unable to answer that at that time.  One of the other questions I asked, were you injured?  She stated she was not injured. 

I asked her then what had happened.  She stated to me that she was jogging, she had her headphones on.  She wasn‘t exactly sure where she was at, but a Hispanic male and a white female jumped her from behind and placed her in a van and drove off.  And she was not sure where she was at. 

At this point, she did violate Georgia law by advising me of this situation she was kidnapped. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes, she sure did.  And the other new information—we got this from the FBI—about their first meeting with Jennifer and what she told them about why she left. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER BRANK, FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  She was somewhat remorseful for what she had done.  She didn‘t come right out and apologize.  She didn‘t feel like she‘d really done anything wrong. 

But she did, in her way, make somewhat of an apology.  She cried a little bit, showed some emotion.  She didn‘t come right out and apologize.  She appreciated the fact that a lot of people were working and trying to find her and, you know, understood that people had worked hard.

But you know, she didn‘t come to a full apology.  But she was, as I said, somewhat remorseful.  She cut her hair in order to—well, to try to disguise her identity. 

QUESTION:  Why did she do that?

BRANK:  Well, just so that she could not be found.  She felt that that would help keep people from identifying her.  She was under a great amount of stress.  And due to that stress, she, you know, just felt it necessary at that time to use that story. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right, my take.  She should be charged.  If she had left town and that was it, I‘d say, no.  All right.  But by lying about her abduction and causing the police to search for some innocent people matching the description she gave, a Hispanic man, a Caucasian woman in a blue van, there should be a price to pay. 

It also seems that it was premeditated.  She bought the bus ticket a week in advance.  That makes it even worse.  I‘m not talking about serving serious time here, but a stiff fine, maybe even a short jail sentence might be appropriate. 

Joining me now, former Gwinnett County Georgia Assistant District Attorney, BJ Bernstein, who used to work for the man who will be deciding whether to charge Wilbanks, and Connecticut State Prosecutor Susan Filan. 

All right, so, BJ, look you have got premeditation.  You have got the fact that she‘s buying this bus ticket in advance.  You‘ve got the fact she‘s calling 911 in New Mexico.  That may not be a technical legal violation.  The technical legal violation, as you heard from the chief there, is the fact that she‘s lying to him on the telephone.

Technically, he‘s in Georgia.  That means it‘s a violation of Georgia law.  Why not charge her?

BJ BERNSTEIN, FMR. GWINNETT COUNTY PROSECUTOR:  Well, first of all, the premeditation part goes to her premeditation to leave the wedding, not her premeditation to go to a false report of the crime. 

And then you have got to look at the circumstances.  She had been gone all these days.  We don‘t know what her mental state was...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Why do we care what her mental state was?  Why do we care?

BERNSTEIN:  We do care, because we look at cases on an individual basis.  It‘s not just looking at the statute.  You have got to look at the intent and what‘s going on in her mind. 

ABRAMS:  But you‘re not suggesting she was criminally insane, right? 

You‘re just saying—right?

BERNSTEIN:  I don‘t know what it is.  I mean, you got to say, it‘s a little bizarre to cut your hair... 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Yes, a little bizarre is not...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN:  Yes, that‘s an understatement, I realize.

ABRAMS:  But that‘s not criminal insanity.  Criminal insanity is not understanding the difference between right and wrong, right? 

BERNSTEIN:  Right, but in the end, determining what you should do and not blowing this case out of proportion with what another instance that didn‘t receive as much attention as this one would have. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Susan, I want to play this piece of sound. 

Because, you know, we hear BJ say that the premeditation doesn‘t matter.  But when the D.A.—you‘ll hear from my conversation in a minute—it‘s going to come into play. 

Here, let‘s listen to what the chief said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BELCHER:  Ms. Wilbanks, on April the 19th, purchased a ticket at the Greyhound bus station in Gainesville.  The destination of that ticket was going to be Austin, Texas, with departure on the 26th of April.  That is the day that she disappeared. 

She got on the bus—or, let me back up.  She called a taxi here in the city.  The taxi met her at the Duluth library.  She took the taxi to Atlanta at the Greyhound bus station near the airport.  She got onto the bus.  She rode the bus to Dallas, Texas. 

She changed buses, went to Las Vegas, Nevada.  She spent a little time in Las Vegas, got another bus ticket, took it to Albuquerque, New Mexico.  She spent several hours in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at which time she then contacted her fiance‘s home by a collect phone call. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And then talked to the chief.  And Susan, there‘s no question that‘s a technical violation of the law.  And I think we would all agree that there‘s a technical violation of the law.

The question becomes prosecutorial discretion.  And I don‘t really see why we have to feel so sorry for her.  I‘m not saying make her serve some long prison sentence, but you‘ve got to file the charges, make her pay a criminal fine, at least.

SUSAN FILAN, CONNECTICUT PROSECUTOR:  Dan, I can‘t agree with you more.  Prosecutorial discretion has to do, I think, with how the case should be handled once she‘s arrested.

It goes to sentencing.  It goes to whether it should be a lengthy period of incarceration, suspended sentence and probation, community service, restitution.  But to not charge this woman who has clearly committed a crime is to send a clear-cut message to the American public that right and wrong in this case is going to be blurred because she‘s a pretty runaway bride. 

ABRAMS:  Well, that‘s right, BJ.  And that‘s my concern, is that if she weren‘t a white, attractive woman, we‘d be having a very different conversation.  If it was some—you know, if it was an African-American man who had done this and then sent the police on a wild goose chase in New Mexico, lied to them and then lied to the Georgian authorities, you know, my concern is she may be getting special treatment if she‘s not charged. 

FILAN:  Well, that may well—I can see your point there, but then, at the same time, it also explains why this has been an attractive media story.  Had this girl just disappeared like so many other people disappeared...

ABRAMS:  Yes, but, so what?  But that‘s a media analysis.  That says nothing about whether the prosecutors have to go forward with the case.

FILAN:  But there is pressure on the prosecution to do something, otherwise—I mean, we‘ve had news conference, after news conference, after news conference, when normally with a crime like this, it would just be quietly decided as to what to do and not so much explanation. 

ABRAMS:  But let‘s listen...

FILAN:  But...

ABRAMS:  Hang on one second.  I want to listen to the 911 call again. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DISPATCHER:  And the person that did this to you, was it a he or a she?

WILBANKS:  It was a Hispanic man and a Caucasian woman.  It happened in Duluth.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  BJ, that doesn‘t bother you, right?

BERNSTEIN:  Well, I mean, it‘s not good, but, you know, what I‘m concerned about in particular here is that it‘s not a felony.  At most, as you said, a technical violation, a misdemeanor violation.  But there‘s consideration now.  There‘s talk about a felony.  And you scratch your head and say, a convicted felon over this?  It doesn‘t make sense. 

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know.  To me, this is not nothing.  It is a big deal to me to send the authorities on a wild goose chase where some innocent Hispanic man in a blue van could have gotten pulled over. 

Let me take a quick break here.  Susan and BJ are going to stick around. 

Coming up, we‘re going to talk about also the money issue.  The authorities announced in the last two hours that they‘re going after payback, $40,000 to $60,000 worth.  They want it back. 

And my conversation with the D.A. who‘s deciding whether to charge Wilbanks, Danny Porter. 

And believe it or not, tomorrow‘s the last day of the prosecution case against Michael Jackson, at least it‘s supposed to be.  So who is the defense going to call? 

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)

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BELCHER:  The city of Duluth is looking at its options to take civil matters against Ms. Wilbanks to recoup approximately $40,000 to $60,000 worth of taxpayers‘ money that we spent to search for her. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes, well, that was the chief in the last couple of hours saying, yes, they should be paying up for the fact that she told them she was, you know, abducted.  And remember, there were three days there where she hadn‘t said anything.

So BJ Bernstein, are they going to get that money?  I mean, I‘d assume that‘s the sort of thing that the Wilbanks‘ lawyer would say, “Look, look, we‘ll pay you.  We‘ll pay you,” right? 

BERNSTEIN:  I think so, absolutely.  I mean, that‘s got to be done.  And I think the family will step forward, or she‘ll step forward and do that at the appropriate time. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  What about the fact that, you know, that some people—and some of our viewers are writing in saying, “Well, so she ran away.  Look, no one told her”—even you, you blamed the media a minute ago. 

I mean, the bottom line is that they were searching all those days, you know, because there was a lot of pressure, et cetera.  Any argument on the other side?  I don‘t think there is.  But any argument on the other side of that?

BERNSTEIN:  I mean, I can see what your viewers are saying in that—it‘s what the chief had said.  Had she not lied at the very end, there would have never been a crime.  And you know, as strange as it is to just disappear, you are entitled to just disappear, so to speak. 

But I think, in terms of handling this case, and doing the right thing, and putting together a total picture of what should happen, you know, clearly the city shouldn‘t be out the money.  Those folks, you know, they had outpouring—you know, that‘s what‘s gotten people angry down here. 

It‘s not the lying so much over in New Mexico that has folks angry.  Folks here in Georgia are angry because they were out looking for her and they spent the money to do so. 

ABRAMS:  Here‘s the uncle, remember the reward that was offered?  They were offering more than $40,000 to $60,000.  This is on Friday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE SATTERFIELD, JENNIFER WILBANKS‘ UNCLE:  The family has established an initial reward of $100,000.  We love Jennifer very much.  We would give our life and everything that we owned to have her returned. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  What do you think, Susan?  I mean, should they be giving up the full $100,000?  I mean, the search costs $40,000-$60,000, they should $40,000 to $60,000, right?

FILAN:  The problem I have with this case is they write a check and it goes away?  This young woman invoked the ghost of Laci Peterson and had the whole country galvanized around finding her.  Her intended is going under lie-detector tests, retaining counsel, trying to see whether his second polygraph‘s going to be videotaped or not.  And this is all going to be OK because mom and dad write a check?

ABRAMS:  Why are you connecting the two?  I mean, basically, the police chief is saying it‘s separate from the decision about criminal charges.

FILAN:  Because, very often when prosecutors take into consideration how they‘re going to exercise their discretion, and they look at the total circumstances, for example, in some types of larcenies, if restitution is made up front, they don‘t press charges.  That‘s the problem that I have. 

I think it stinks in this case.  And I can‘t stand it, frankly.  I think the woman needs to be prosecuted for no other reason than from what I‘m hearing, it doesn‘t sound that she gets that what she did was wrong.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t think that this D.A.—and you‘ll hear from him in a minute—but I don‘t think that this D.A. is going to say, “Oh, so they paid the $40,000 to $60,000.”  He is making it pretty darn clear that he‘s going after this woman.  I mean...

FILAN:  Then why isn‘t restitution part of the resolution of the criminal case?  Why are we talking about it separately as if they can write her a ticket and she can cut a check?

ABRAMS:  But BJ, it‘s a separate issue.  I mean, she‘s basically—the police chief, entirely separate from the criminal charge, is saying we want to be paid back. 

BERNSTEIN:  You‘re right.  Exactly.  That‘s what he‘s saying, and that‘s—you know, I hear what your other guest is saying is, it could be part of restitution in the criminal case.  But regardless of what happens criminally, the city has an understandable concern of wanting to be reimbursed. 

ABRAMS:  All right, let me play a little bit more of the 911 tape, because, again, let‘s be clear.  If charges are filed, it‘s not—because New Mexico authorities are saying, “Oh, we‘re not filing any charges.”  I don‘t really know why, but that‘s what they‘re saying. 

So the charges are going to be because she lies in a conversation with the chief real briefly.  But I have got to tell you, when they listen to these 911 tapes, I think this is going to have an impact on the prosecutor.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DISPATCHER:  Did they have any weapons on them?

WILBANKS:  Yes.  They had a huge pistol and a small hand gun.

DISPATCHER:  Do you know if they were real?

WILBANKS:  Yes.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, you know, BJ, you know, think about the Martha Stewart case, right?

BERNSTEIN:  Right. 

ABRAMS:  The case there was about lying to—there it was the federal investigators who were...

BERNSTEIN:  A lot of folks didn‘t like that prosecution, either. 

ABRAMS:  But you know what?  This case to me seems a lot clearer than that one. 

I mean, that one, you can say, “All right.  So she‘s sort of—she‘s lying.”  And she was lying.  I mean, look, she was convicted of lying.  The jury did the right thing there. 

But the bottom line is, there it was lying about something nowhere near as significant as the possibility that some innocent people are going to get pulled over on the road and accused of murdering or kidnapping someone. 

We just lost BJ, OK. 

Susan, you agree with me, right?

FILAN:  I do, Dan.  I mean, I think this is utterly outrageous.  And I have to be quite frank.  I don‘t really get what all the debate and hand-wringing is about.  To me, it‘s just incredibly clear. 

She broke the law.  She broke it technically.  She broke the spirit of it.  What she did was awful.  Arrest her, prosecute her, and let the discretion play out on how we‘re going to sentence her. 

Maybe it‘s suspended sentence and probation.  Maybe it‘s community service.  Maybe it‘s psychological treatment.  Obviously, I mean, to not want to get married so badly that you‘re going to blame two people with guns—there‘s a problem here.

ABRAMS:  BJ, you‘d agree with me that this is worse than Martha Stewart, right?

BERNSTEIN:  It certainly is a very different situation.  The hard part about this is...

ABRAMS:  It‘s worse.  It‘s worse. 

BERNSTEIN:  ... is that, you know, everyday, there are people who go into the police who say things to the police, they‘re interrogated for an hour or two.  And it turns out what they said was a lie...

ABRAMS:  This is not just—this is not just saying, “I didn‘t have anything to do with the crime.”  This is saying, “There are people out there who did this to me,” and as a result, the authorities go out and send people to try and find this guy.  And, you know, you want to...

BERNSTEIN:  And that‘s why I‘m back to, at most, it‘s a misdemeanor.  And again, carrying it onto the extent that it‘s a felony or false statements under Georgia law, it just doesn‘t fit the statute. 

FILAN:  But the statute does contemplate these facts and has made them felonious.  So why are we being so parsimonious...

BERNSTEIN:  It adds just a misdemeanor. 

FILAN:  Why is this so insignificant?  It‘s very serious. 

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to finish this up.

Let me just—John Mason, the fiance, here‘s what he says.  “Just because we haven‘t walked down the aisle, just because we haven‘t stood in front of 500 people and said our ‘I do‘s,‘ 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.” 

That‘s what he said in the last 24 hours.  You know, love.  I mean, Susan, I mean, come on.  Are you surprised?

FILAN:  Ain‘t love grand?  I mean, you know, if that‘s what he wants do.  You think he‘s going into it now at least with his eyes wide open.  I mean, the rest of the country is scratching their heads saying, “Who is this girl?  And what makes her tick?”  If he‘s hanging by her, that‘s up to him. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, let him do what he wants.  But later in the program, I‘ll talk about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN:  But you know what the real truth is?  We don‘t know everything yet. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, we don‘t know.

BERNSTEIN:  I mean, everyday we keep learning something new and there may be something else to explain this.

ABRAMS:  There‘s nothing new we‘re going to learn that‘s going to change my mind about this case.  I can‘t even picture what it would be. 

FILAN:  They can have pillow talk about how he took a lie detector for her. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, all right.  BJ Bernstein, thanks a lot. 

Susan Filan‘s going to stick around.  Coming up, the D.A. talks about whether he will charge Jennifer Wilbanks.  He comes up next. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, will charges be filed against runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks?  I‘ll ask the D.A., up next.  First, the headlines. 

(NEWSBREAK)

(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:  Yeah. 

The person who will ultimately decide whether runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks is charged in Georgia, Danny Porter, Gwinnett County district attorney.  I spoke to him just a short time ago, and asked him how he‘ll decide.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANNY PORTER, GWINNETT COUNTY DA:  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:  Let me play - 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. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Thanks to Danny Porter.  Coming up, prosecutors in the Michael Jackson case wrapping it up.  The defense expected to begin this week.  Will we see him on the witness stand?  That‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  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.

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

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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