updated 6/9/2005 2:22:48 PM ET 2005-06-09T18:22:48

Guest:  Susan Filan, Geoffrey Fieger, Daniel Horowitz, Nilton Lacle, Lydia Sartain

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, Michael Jackson‘s fate is now in the hands of the jury. 


ABRAMS (voice-over):  The day ends with Jackson wiping away tears as the jurors head back to begin deliberating.  This only moments after prosecutors replay a tape of the young accuser seemed to be reluctant to tell authorities Jackson molested him. 

And a massive search in a resort area for a missing teenage girl, last seen by her friends on their senior trip to Aruba five days ago. 

Plus the first call from runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks on tape as she frantically calls her fianc’ and tells authorities she‘s been kidnapped.  We‘ve got the tape and we talk to her lawyer. 

The program about justice starts now. 


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, the Michael Jackson case is in the hands of the jury.  And many here now believe Jackson could be in trouble.  That‘s right.  That a guilty verdict is no longer a major long shot.  Remember, guilty on all counts could land him in prison for a long time.  With sisters Janet, Latoya and Rebbie joining brothers Randy, Tito and Jermaine in court, each side had its final opportunity to speak directly to the jurors. 

Inside the courtroom, Jackson‘s attorney, Tom Mesereau, pulling no punches, repeatedly attacking the accuser and his family.  Quote—“He is a liar.  He‘s a perjurer.  They‘re actors, con artists, liars.”  He went on to say how many lies does this guy have to tell before you begin to see what‘s going on? 

That he suggested is a conspiracy to extort money from Jackson.  He pointed out inconsistencies in each family member‘s testimony, and there was a lot to work with. 

Quote—“They‘re trying to take advantage of Michael Jackson.  They‘re trying to profit off of Michael Jackson.  They‘ve almost pulled it off.  They‘re waiting for one thing, your verdict.”  If they win this case, they‘ll be multimillionaires, he said.  They‘re waiting for the biggest con of their careers.  They‘re just waiting for you to help them.  That‘s all. 

So how are they all keeping their stories straight?  Mesereau said—quote—“They‘ve all been scripted by their attorneys.”  And while Tom Mesereau came out strong, I‘m not so sure that it was smart that he ended his closing argument by replaying clips of Michael Jackson on tape. 


MICHAEL JACKSON, CHARGED WITH MOLESTATION:  God knows in my heart how much I adore children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Isn‘t that precisely the problem?  When you actually invite children into your bed, you never know what‘s going to happen? 

JACKSON:  When you say bed, you‘re thinking sexual.  They make that sexual.  It‘s not sexual.  We‘re going to sleep.  I tuck them in.  We—I put little like music on, little story time, read a book.  It‘s very sweet.  Put the fireplace on.  Give them hot milk.  You know we have little cookies.  It‘s very charming, very sweet. 

People say why is he always with children?  Well, I was raised in a world with adults.  When kids were playing in bed, asleep at night I was up doing clubs.  I was doing club dates, 3:00 in the morning.  The striptease would come on after us.  You know I was—we were performing and we weren‘t—we didn‘t have friends.  My brothers were my friends, but we worked.  We worked.  We worked. 

There was no Christmas.  There were no birthdays.  We were very strict Jehovah‘s Witnesses, so I‘m compensating—nature made sure that I compensated for the loss.  So when you come behind my gates you‘ll see an amusement park, you‘ll see animals.  You‘ll see everything I never got to do.  There‘s candy everywhere.  It‘s fun. 

I‘ve said many times my greatest inspiration comes from kids.  Every song I write and every dance I do, all the poetry I write, it‘s all inspired from that level of innocence, that consciousness of purity and children have that.  I see God in the face of children.  And man, I just love being around that all the time. 

If I come home from a hard day at the studio, and I come home to my deer or my chimps, and I can hug them, and they don‘t ask you anything.  They don‘t complain.  You know they don‘t gossip.  They just want a hug and some love, and you get on with it. 

Peter Pan to me represents something that‘s very special in my heart.  You know he represents youth, childhood, never growing up, magic, flying, everything I think that children and wonderment and magic, what it‘s all about.  And to me I just have never, ever grown out of loving that or thinking that it‘s very special.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You seem very lonely.  Is that true? 

JACKSON:  I used to be very lonely, painfully lonely—so bad.  You have no idea.  I used to walk the streets looking for people to talk to. 


ABRAMS:  That‘s sort of the gist of what the defense played.  They played a lot more.  And they played some pieces of sound that were almost the identical ones you heard there.  But that‘s really the sense of what they did at the end of the case.  I‘m just not so sure that that was such a good idea.  I mean their effort there was to say Michael Jackson is odd.  Michael Jackson is a little bizarre, but that he‘s ultimately a kind person who wouldn‘t want to hurt children.  But at one point they played a tape where Michael Jackson talked about how much he liked the innocence of children.  Well OK, maybe that‘s why the prosecutors would say he molested children. 

My panel tonight, great attorney Geoffrey Fieger is back, and in the courtroom today, NBC‘s Mike Taibbi, MSNBC legal analyst and former prosecutor Susan Filan, and criminal defense attorney Daniel Horowitz. 

All right, first of all, Susan, you were in the court with me, I just didn‘t think that that was such a great way to end it.  Because every time I heard Michael Jackson say something about children‘s innocence and how much he liked it, it made me cringe. 

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Yes.  I thought it was a good thing on Mesereau‘s part, here‘s why.  The elephant in the room for Mesereau is what in the world is this man doing in bed, a 46-year-old with 13-year-old boys?  How could it possibly be innocent?  All Mesereau could do was let Michael Jackson try to explain to you in his own words what alternate universe he actually lives in.  And with the whole thing about wanting to throw celebrity animal parties for Bubbles the chimp and Benji, if the jury is able...


FILAN:  ... to suspend disbelief for a while and go there in his mind, it‘s the only shot he has of being acquitted, because I don‘t think otherwise they‘re going to be able to understand the irrationality of a guy in bed with a little boy. 

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to tell you, I had forgotten about that quote that they played on tape of Michael talking about throwing the celebrity party for animals.  I mean I know we talked about it, but I forgot that he was saying it was for Bubbles, and he was talking about...

FILAN:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... how many of the old star animals, like Lassie, et cetera, were actually still alive, who might be able...

FILAN:  And Benji...

ABRAMS:  ... to attend Bubble‘s party. 

FILAN:  Right.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Mike Taibbi, what did you make of it?  Did you like the way that they ended this with Michael Jackson? 

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think that Tom Mesereau had to bring this case back to what Susan correctly characterized as Michael Jackson‘s alternate universe.  Because if he didn‘t he would have had his feet held to the fire for not doing that.  That‘s the elephant in the room, that Michael Jackson is so weird in so many ways. 

And I have to tell you, just the way the two of you, you and Susan, were just laughing at that story about the celebrity animal party, I looked at the jury box when that story started, because I knew what the story was, we all knew, two jurors smiled, one of them laughed with a sound that was audible.  I looked (UNINTELLIGIBLE) opened her mouth, smiled, and they were all studying that tape...


TAIBBI:  So, you know, I think that Mesereau made a calculated move at the beginning of his defense case saying I‘m going to tell you the whole story of Michael Jackson.  We‘re not afraid of it...


TAIBBI:  ... the defense is not afraid of it.  We believe it‘s an innocence story.  It is unusual in all of our experience—yours, too, you jurors.  And...


TAIBBI:  ... you either accept it or you don‘t.  And don‘t forget...

ABRAMS:  But Geoffrey Fieger...

TAIBBI:  ... when that tape played in—yes...


ABRAMS:  Yes, go ahead quickly, Mike.  Yes.

TAIBBI:  Yes, in that tape he also had the very poignant statements by Jackson repeated for the jury about how you know he trusts children because they‘ve never betrayed or deceived him, while adults have let him down. 


TAIBBI:  He told that story about at the height of his fame, after “Thriller”, walking into strange towns, walking up to strangers and asking...

ABRAMS:  Right.

TAIBBI:  ... will you be my friend.  It was really quite poignant to hear that the first time and I think again to hear that on the last presentation, the last thing this jury will hear...

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey...

TAIBBI:  ... from Michael Jackson. 

ABRAMS:  ... is this a desperate move from the defense?  I mean does this tell us that the defense feels that they‘ve got their backs up against the wall? 

GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well I don‘t think Mesereau ever really thoroughly thought out what his defense was.  And that‘s evidenced, Dan, by the fact that at the very beginning of the trial, he promised the jury that he was going to put Jackson on the stand and he clearly...

ABRAMS:  He didn‘t really...

FIEGER:   He—oh yes he did and that‘s silly.  You know he did.  Go back to the transcript.  He said you‘ll hear from...

ABRAMS:  I remember.  He said Michael Jackson will tell you that—and there were a couple of things he said Michael Jackson will tell that you you‘re right.  Michael Jackson never told us on that tape...

FIEGER:   So...

ABRAMS:  That‘s true.

FIEGER:   ... and the defense is what, now?  He puts two guys on and said he slept with me, and he didn‘t molest me.  He‘s a guy—now he has all the opportunity in the world, and he‘s a guy out of his own mouth who said I slept with the victim, but I didn‘t molest him.  I mean if there‘s anybody on that jury who‘s got any strength at all that says that‘s absurd, and I‘ve heard from other people who he did molest under the same circumstance, he‘s going to get convicted. 

Now the only thing that works in Michael Jackson‘s favor is his celebrity.  He gets a different trial than Joe Smith.  If Joe Smith comes to trial looking like Michael Jackson and says I sleep with children, I got pornography, but I didn‘t molest this kid who says I did, and other victims come out and said yes you did, you get convicted in two seconds.  But Michael Jackson...


FIEGER:  ... gets a little more of a break because he‘s Michael Jackson.  That‘s it. 

ABRAMS:  Michael—I‘m sorry - Daniel Horowitz, here was the heart of the defense, all right, Thomas Mesereau saying that this boy is angry that Michael abandoned their family and didn‘t take care of them for the rest of their lives.  Michael was not going to be a benefactor for the rest of their lives and that‘s when the trouble started.

DANIEL HOROWITZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Dan, I felt that was not very well made as a point.  I don‘t quite understand how this kid knew for sure that Michael was going to abandon him.  On the other hand, there were very strong points made by Mesereau.  You know Dan, at this point in a trial, and watching the closing here, I realize everything became simplified. 

It really came down to do you believe young Gavin—young man—I‘m sorry, I said his name—or do you believe Michael?  And they had the videotapes of both of them battling it out at the very end.  Now Mesereau had to know that this young accuser would be on the videotape in the prosecution rebuttal.  And pictures portray more emotion and more information than all the words in the world. 


HOROWITZ:  So I think in the end it‘s going to be a battle of these two...


HOROWITZ:  ... protagonists.

ABRAMS:  And we‘ll talk about that in a minute.  I‘ve got to tell you I was influenced by that tape.  I had not seen the tape of the young boy, first telling the authorities, seemingly reluctant to tell the story.  In my “Closing Argument” I‘m going to tell you how that sort of I think shifted the entire playing field of this case. 

Everyone‘s sticking around.  Because coming up, prosecutors got the final word.  They wrapped up with a tape.  We were just talking about it.  The accuser reluctantly telling police about Jackson he says molesting him. 

Plus an 18-year-old disappears on her senior trip to Aruba.  Last seen leaving a nightclub early Monday morning.  There is a development in this case.  The FBI are working it.  We‘ve got more on it.

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



ABRAMS:  We‘re back at the Santa Maria, California courthouse where the evidence is in.  Arguments have been made and the jury in the Michael Jackson case has started deliberating.  The last words jurors heard from either side—quote—“You will find as you deliberate that these accusations are not false.  These accusations are entirely truthful, and you will return guilty verdicts as to all counts.”  That was from the prosecution. 

It was a battle of the videos in that courtroom.  The defense showing a video of Jackson professing his love for children and his animals, as well as talking about his lost childhood and his love of Peter Pan, an effort to show his softer, more naive side.  Prosecutors left the jury with the image of a 13-year-old boy claiming he was molested by Michael Jackson, video of his first police interview.

After playing seven minutes of the tape, Prosecutor Ron Zonen said—quote—“You have just witnessed the seven worst minutes of this young boy‘s life.”  And he responded to the defense contention that the boy and his family made it up to get money from Jackson. 

Quote—“I‘m telling you your common sense will tell you otherwise. 

This is an absolutely sincere revelation.”

You know Susan, I said yesterday that I thought that Ron Zonen was good, but I wasn‘t willing to give him the A-plus.  I thought today he was really good.  I thought that today he really addressed the crucial issues in a very conversational, folksy way that I think could mean trouble for the defense. 

FILAN:  I agree.  I smell blood in the water.  And Dan, I watched you watch that video of the accuser, and I saw the impact it had on you.  And I watched the jury as well.  And it was an incredibly powerful close to an incredibly powerful closing argument.  What it did is it brought this case back to the jury in terms of the charges and not the nonsensical sideshow that Mesereau‘s tried to make this.  Mesereau has got some defenses and he‘s got some points to work with, and he did some decent things, but Zonen just methodically in an organized fashion and with passion and fire...


FILAN:  ... addressed pretty much every single solitary allegation that the state has to prove and it did meet its burden of proof if you can find that the credibility of the accuser survives the attack on the credibility of his mother. 

ABRAMS:  Now, Daniel Horowitz, how do you deal with this?  And this is number seven.  This is one of the points that Zonen made in his rebuttal argument.  This child was sleeping in bed with Michael Jackson for one year, talking about one of the boys.  This is not the accuser in this case. 

That‘s not a friendship.  That‘s a relationship.  In your entire life you‘ve never heard of a middle age man doing that with a child.  He was in love with that child.  I‘ve got to tell you, I found that to be a powerful argument phrased in exactly the right way. 

HOROWITZ:  Dan, it affected me the same way, but then I started to analyze it in terms of the evidence that was actually presented in the courtroom.  And the bottom line is that that very same young man who was used in terms of having a relationship with Michael came into the courtroom and said nothing untoward ever happened.  And he wasn‘t the only one. 


HOROWITZ:  Macaulay Culkin and the other one said the same thing.  So if you‘re a juror, you have to say well I understand Ron Zonen‘s argument, but the evidence does not support beyond a reasonable doubt his implication. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I don‘t know.  I mean look, he‘s not on trial, Geoffrey, for these other boys, but I‘ve got to tell you...

FIEGER:   Yes, he is...

ABRAMS:  ... and I‘m going to talk about this later, but if he—if these jurors are convinced that he molested a child, they‘re going to figure out a way, I think, to convict him.

FIEGER:  Yes, he is on trial for the other cases.  That‘s why they let the similar acts in because...

ABRAMS:  No...

FIEGER:   ... I know, but...


FIEGER:   ... listen, you can...


FIEGER:   ... talk all the legalese you want, Dan, but the fact of the matter is, is once the jurors hear the similar acts and know he‘s made payments, he‘s on trial for those acts, and he acted consistently in this case with those, and they‘re going to believe that.  Dan, that‘s how normal people think. 

ABRAMS:  I agree...

FIEGER:   Forget about legal distinctions...

ABRAMS:  I made the same point. 

FIEGER:  Normal people think that.  And if I was Michael Jackson—let me just ask you—would you be staying around now waiting for this verdict if you were Michael Jackson?  I wouldn‘t.

ABRAMS:  Well you know, I‘ve got to tell you, I actually made a point along those lines earlier today and let me ask Mike Taibbi about that.  You know Mike, I‘ve got to believe because you talk to the authorities here or people close to the authorities here, and you know a lot of them have expressed concern that Michael Jackson might flee.  Do we know anything about whether they‘re keeping an eye on Jackson in any way?  I mean he is free on bail.  The judge told him you can go home.  Do we know anything about whether there‘s someone sort of just keeping a peek, a little eye on Neverland? 

TAIBBI:  No, there‘s no information or indication from any source, official or otherwise that there is a surveillance at any level on Michael Jackson.  Don‘t forget, what has been demonstrated in this case to this point, over three and a half months of trial, is that all the predictions by some of these same law enforcement sources that Michael Jackson would never make it through a trial, that when he was late and had the infamous pajama day, he would be jailed for the rest of the trial, none of that‘s come true.

This is a client who has been under the control of his defense team, who has understood—did understand at some point that this is for his life.  It does not get more serious than this and he has been a participant in his defense.  From all of my discussions with defense sources, he was visibly a participant over the last several days, passing notes, making suggestions to Tom Mesereau et cetera and is, I think, exhibiting as serious an attitude as can be. 

And one more point about what Geoffrey said and some others said, yes, Ron Zonen was an extremely articulate person in his final argument.  He was.  But at the end of the day what Ron Zonen did was to say, see all this?  See the booze.  See the pornography.  See these other unproven allegations from the past.  They‘re not friendships.  They‘re relationships. 

And not just relationships, they‘re sexual relationships because there is no other explanation.  And Mesereau, on the other side basically said saying doesn‘t make it so.  And saying it is all we‘ve had for 12 years, and all we have in this case.  And in this case, look who is saying it.  If you think the people saying it are liars, con artists, and actors, the...

ABRAMS:  Yes, but all of them? 

TAIBBI:  ... words used all day long—then you can‘t believe them. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, that‘s the question...


ABRAMS:  It would have to be all of them.  It would have to be more than just—more than just this family.  It would have to be a lot of other people...

TAIBBI:  Right.  Right...

ABRAMS:  ... lot of other families coming in...

TAIBBI:  That‘s right...

ABRAMS:  Right.

TAIBBI:  Right, but what Daniel said there‘s a lot of these old—so-called old unproven case witnesses who talked about the victims, past victims of Michael Jackson were contravened because the alleged victims themselves came in and said it never happened.  So the juror has to ask...


TAIBBI:  ... each juror has to ask him or herself do I believe Macaulay Culkin?  Do I believe Brett Barnes?  Do I believe Wade Robson or do I believe the person who paid—who got paid off by a tabloid, sold the story several times, sued Jackson and lost, or sue Jackson and lost that one, or do I believe these people who are saying it didn‘t happen? 


TAIBBI:  It does come down to a credibility problem on several levels. 

FILAN:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me ask you—Susan, let me ask you a question...

FILAN:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  ... about the courtroom today. 

FILAN:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  In the front row in the courtroom today there was Latoya Jackson, Rebbie Jackson...

FILAN:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... Janet Jackson, the three Jackson sisters.  And I can tell you I saw...

FILAN:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... one of the jurors look over when she arrived in that courtroom...

FILAN:  I did too.

ABRAMS:  ... and smiled...

FILAN:  I did too.

ABRAMS:  ... and smiled seeing those familiar faces sitting in the front row.  As soon as the defense finished its closing arguments, before Ron Zonen stood up to begin immediately, meaning there was no break.  He was standing up to begin his rebuttal, the three of them got up and walked out of court. 

FILAN:  Exactly.  It was like they were staging a protest.  And I thought it signaled a real message of disrespect to the jury.  But look, they were making a point.  They were saying we‘re sticking by our brother...

ABRAMS:  The message was we support Michael. 

FILAN:  Yes, we‘re not going to...

ABRAMS:  We support Michael was the message.

FILAN:  Let me make another point here.  Mesereau did something I thought very unusual in his cross—in his closing argument.  And I don‘t think it was proper, but here‘s what he did.  He put the jurors on trial.  He said to them, he threw down the gauntlet and he said look, these are grifters.  These are con artists.  Do you guys want to be conned, too?  Do you want to participate in the biggest con job of their lives? 

ABRAMS:  Yes...

FIEGER:  That‘s a real dangerous defense...

FILAN:  Look, you‘re being used by them. 

FIEGER:  That‘s a dangerous defense...


FILAN:  ... put the jurors on trial.  And the other thing he said was he said look, these jury instructions are sacred.  Read them.  Take note of them.  Don‘t trample them.  Be real careful with them and then he misled them about what the instructions said.  So if they take him up on his word and they actually study them, they‘re going to find that he sold them some swampland in Florida on a couple of passages that he tried to use to his own good.  But he put those jurors on trial today, too. 

FIEGER:  Can‘t do that. 

ABRAMS:  Yes...

FIEGER:  You do that...

ABRAMS:  Let me just read one...

FIEGER:  ... you‘re in trouble...

ABRAMS:  Go ahead Geoffrey.

FIEGER:  If you do that, if you challenge the jurors, instead of bringing them with you, and instead of reaching out and saying this is what we will do together, instead say you‘ll be the victims if you do that and literally push them away, you‘re actually doing a disservice and you‘ll end up getting your client convicted. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me take a quick break here.  When we come back, the prosecution making an interesting argument that this mother is too dumb to put together this conspiracy.  What do we make of that? 

And coming up, got the Jennifer Wilbanks story, the runaway bride caught on tape.  Her first phone call home to her family after she was on the run.  We‘ll play it for you and we‘ll talk to her lawyer, coming up.

Plus, new developments in the search for a missing teenage girl, last seen Monday on her senior trip to Aruba.  Stay with us.


ABRAMS: The jury‘s got the case.  Michael Jackson‘s back at Neverland.  The question, what are the lawyers doing now?  What‘s Michael Jackson doing now? 


ABRAMS: Michael Jackson wipes tears, it seemed to me, from his eyes, immediately after the jury walked away to get the case.  I saw him dabbing a tissue on his eyes.  Then when he walked past me, his eyes certainly looked glassy, even after that point.  He continues to look frail and weak.  But he is now home for the weekend, as are these jurors.  They will be back on Monday. 

But the prosecution, I think, made a couple of interesting arguments with regard to this mother.  The mother of the accuser, who is the pi¤ata in this case for the defense—and you know I think rightly so—here are two of the points that the prosecution made.  About all the money she was supposedly trying to hustle from all these celebrities, Ron Zonen said none of the celebrities said they were asked for money by the mother and none of them gave her any money. 

And then went on to say, the accuser‘s mother can‘t string two complete sentences together that make sense.  Do you think she constructed this elaborate fraud so that she can one day make money?  This is a family frightened about taking on Michael Jackson and all who work for him.

What about that, Daniel Horowitz?  I thought those were two pretty strong arguments for the prosecution.

HOROWITZ:  You know, Dan, I didn‘t.  Those were the points where he lost me, because the whole conspiracy and these accusations only turns on one thing, getting the young accuser to say Michael inappropriately touched me.  Everything else just comes from their own relationship with Michael.  The police can help them.  And you know the best point that Mesereau made in response was, look, when your child has been molested, where do you go?  And the obvious answer is to the police.  And he said...

ABRAMS:  But wait a sec...

HOROWITZ:  ... in this case they went to...

ABRAMS:  ... but the defense has made this whole case—wait, the defense has made this whole case around mom being such a hustler, right?  And yet...


ABRAMS:  ... he points out, OK, but she didn‘t ask anyone for money. 

She didn‘t ask Michael Jackson for money.  So...

HOROWITZ:  But Mesereau made the point, Dan...

ABRAMS:  What‘s going on when they‘re supposedly hustling celebrities?

HOROWITZ:  Because the way they hustled—and Mesereau made this very clear—he repeated this point about seven or eight times.  She ingratiated herself.  She was overly loving, overly effusive emotionally.  And when she bonded with the people she just made the need for money so evident...


FIEGER:  Dan...

HOROWITZ:  ... that people just would reach out and give it.  So she had that level of sophistication. 

ABRAMS:  I think the point he was making was—that Mesereau was making is that she develops a relationship long-term to sort of guilt them into it.  Very quickly Geoffrey.

FIEGER:  Dan, the reason...


FIEGER:  ... that breaks down is she‘s not the person bringing this case.  The police and prosecutor are.  The jury has to believe that the police and prosecutor are—have been conned and that they‘re bringing a phony case, and jurors don‘t believe that.  They never virtually believe that...

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Very quickly—I want to get a real quick prediction.  Susan Filan, after listening to the closing arguments has your opinion changed about the outcome? 

FILAN:  No, I don‘t think so.  I still think it‘s about five to seven days of court deliberation.  I still think they‘re going to hang on something.  They might—yes, I guess it‘s changed a little bit—they might now convict on two counts of child molest, but I still think they‘re going to hang on the conspiracy. 


FILAN:  I guess I said earlier they might (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 


FILAN:  You know what?  I have changed my mind.  I don‘t know anymore. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and that‘s why it‘s probably going to be a hung jury. 

Mike Taibbi, have you changed your mind at all after closing arguments?

TAIBBI:  No, it hasn‘t changed my mind at all.  And I‘ve said to people here, Michael Jackson may or may not be a child molester, I don‘t know whether that‘s true, but I‘ve listened to every minute of all the testimony in this case for three and a half months, and were I a juror I would not be persuaded to that standard beyond a reasonable doubt that the case for molestation has been proven or conspiracy has been proven or for providing booze for the purpose of committing a felony has been proven...

ABRAMS:  All right.

TAIBBI:  ... beyond a reasonable doubt, but who knows what...

ABRAMS:  Daniel Horowitz...

TAIBBI:  ... if they believe he‘s a child molester.

ABRAMS:  Very quickly, Daniel...



HOROWITZ:  ... the accuser and his—no, the accuser and his brother have been shown to be untruthful in court and it‘s going to be not guilty I say Monday afternoon. 

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey? 

FIEGER:  In the real world he gets convicted in a second.  In California, who knows? 


ABRAMS:  And all of my California viewers, you can send your mail to Michigan care of Geoffrey Fieger.  All right, Geoffrey Fieger, my prediction is coming up in my “Closing Argument”.  I have been pretty influenced by these closing arguments, I must say.  So Daniel, Susan, Geoffrey, Mike, thanks a lot.

FIEGER:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  New developments in the search for an Alabama high school student missing in Aruba, last seen getting into a car late at night with three local men.  Her parents are offering a reward.  That‘s coming up. 


ABRAMS:  Coming up, the latest on a search for an Alabama high school student missing in Aruba.  There may be a break in the case.  The latest coming after the break. 


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  She‘s been missing for five days.  Eighteen-year-old Natalee Holloway went missing after leaving a bar restaurant on the island of Aruba, a Dutch territory off the coast of Venezuela, and now we‘re learning three boys held for questioning in her disappearance are being officially considered persons of interest.

NBC‘s Kerry Sanders has the story.


KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Dutch Marines on the Caribbean island of Aruba have now joined police in their search for 18-year-old Natalee Holloway.  She disappeared Monday as she left an island nightclub, with a man police believe she befriended there.  Laurie Mehere (ph) is the local NBC affiliate reporter on the island. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  The teenager was last seen leaving this establishment on Monday morning at 1:30.

SANDERS:  Nicknamed “Hootie”, Natalee went to Aruba on a senior trip with more than 125 other students from her high school.  Her parents flew there and are now appealing for help on island TV. 

BETH HOLLOWAY TWITTY, MOTHER:  She‘s approximately 5‘5”.  She weighs about 110 pounds.  She has blue eyes and she‘s very petite. 


Aruba is a friendly island, but it‘s a safe island too.  We can‘t accept that this happens in a crime form, so we are hopeful that the girl is somewhere still alive. 

SANDERS (on camera):  Government authorities and police on Aruba are taking this extremely seriously, not only because there might be a crime here, but because it could directly impact the economy of their island, tourism. 

(voice-over):  The FBI has also dispatched a team to Aruba to help in the search. 

CARMEN ADAMS, FBI:  Any time a child is missing, I‘m certain that‘s the parent‘s worst nightmare and the longer they‘re gone, the more difficult it becomes for their family.  But I don‘t think you should give up hope.  I mean no, don‘t give up hope. 

SANDERS:  This Caribbean Island is about the size of Wichita, Kansas.  It‘s more than 1,800 miles from the United States.  Back in Natalie‘s Alabama hometown, classmates who went on the senior trip are now holding prayer vigils. 

MALLORY SYLVESTER, NATALEE HOLLOWAY‘S FRIEND:  I can‘t believe something like that would happen because we all went down there I mean just to have fun and then like the next day we come back—we like—we‘re about to leave and we can‘t find her.  And it was just—it‘s very shocking. 

SANDERS:  Prayers and hope that the girl they call “Hootie” will turn up, no matter what the story of why she disappeared. 

Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami.


ABRAMS:  Nilton Lacle is executive editor of Aruba‘s “Diario” newspaper and he joins us now on the phone.  Thanks very much for coming on.  We appreciate it.  So what‘s the latest with these three people that are being now considered persons of interest? 

NILTON LACLE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, “DIARIO” (via phone):  Yes, and the “Diario” newspaper was the first to report on Wednesday that the police have some persons of interest just to interview them.  They turned out to be three young men, one of them from Holland and two others from the country of Surinam in South America.  The police did interview them, compiled some information and later released them.  And this does not mean that they are cleared of any wrongdoing. 

What matters is that the police have their information, and they are following up on this.  They are gathering more details.  If the evidence stacks up, surely they can be arrested any minute today or this weekend.  The police, however, isn‘t giving any details and they have impounded the car, but they did search it for evidence.  And...


ABRAMS:  Mr. Lacle, let me ask you this.

LACLE:  If they have evidence in the car...

ABRAMS:  Mr. Lacle, are they...

LACLE:  They have...

ABRAMS:  ... are they convinced...

LACLE:  ... to Netherlands.  We don‘t have a forensics lab here.

ABRAMS:  Are they convinced that this is a crime, I mean at this point? 

LACLE:  You know, in the beginning the authorities say that there was no evidence that Natalee was abducted.  But now after four or five days, we are beginning to feel that a crime has been committed, yes. 

ABRAMS:  Well, I think the family‘s probably keeping up the hope that maybe not.  Maybe as in some cases we‘ve seen here at home that what initially looks like a crime turns out not to be.  But we‘ll continue to follow it and we‘ll please ask you to come back with more breaking information that your newspaper obtains.  Nilton Lacle, thank you very much. 

LACLE:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  Up next, the first phone conversation between runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks and her fianc’ after she—quote—“escaped from alleged kidnappers”, coming up. 



ABRAMS:  No more running away for runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks.  True, she did wear running shoes to her court date Thursday, but once inside Wilbanks pled no contest to lying to police and was sentenced to two years probation, ordered to perform community service, stay in therapy, and pay some $2,500 in restitution.  All for claiming she had been kidnapped and assaulted when she was apparently just running away from her wedding.  We‘ve got the tape of the first call Wilbanks made to fianc’ John Mason and her conversation with the police.  We start with a call to her fianc’.  The first male voice you hear is Mason‘s father, Parrish Wilbanks.


OPERATOR:  You have a AT&T collect call from...

WILBANKS:  Jennifer.

PARRISH:  Jen, where are you?

WILBANKS:  I don‘t know. 

PARRISH:  Tell me where I can find you.

WILBANKS:  I don‘t know where I am.

PARRISH:  Are you by yourself?

WILBANKS:  I am now.  Where‘s John?  Where‘s John?

PARRISH:  Right here.  You want to talk to him?  Hold on. 


JOHN:  Hello.  Hello.  Baby, where are you? 

WILBANKS:  I don‘t know.

JOHN:  Oh my God, where...

WILBANKS:  I don‘t know where.

JOHN:  Are you OK?


JOHN:  All right, sweetie, are you alone?


JOHN:  Are you hurting?


JOHN:  Settle down baby.  Where have you been?

WILBANKS:  I don‘t know.

JOHN:  You don‘t know, OK, we‘re going to find you, OK.  We‘re going to get you back home tonight.  Oh baby, I love you so much. 


JOHN:  We‘re going to get you home.


ABRAMS:  Lydia Sartain is Jennifer Wilbanks‘ attorney.  Thank you very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.  First, let me just ask you, in terms of an overview here, in terms of the way that this case was resolved, it seems like a pretty fair resolution to me.  Do you feel the same way? 

LYDIA SARTAIN, JENNIFER WILBANKS‘ ATTORNEY:  I do, absolutely.  I believe the resolution struck a good balance.  The district attorney has a prosecution conviction he can claim.  And Jennifer is going to be allowed to continue her treatment and do some community service and go on with her life.  So it was a good resolution. 

ABRAMS:  I‘ve heard you say that you thought that it was overreaching by the prosecutor to charge her with a felony. 

SARTAIN:  I do.  I did.  I‘ve maintained that all along.  And in fact I advised Jennifer that I thought she had good, valid defenses.  There was an issue about venue, about whether this rose to the level of a felony.  In our—in Georgia, Dan, we have this—if the same offense could be treated as a felony or a misdemeanor, the courts say it has to be treated as the misdemeanor, and I felt that that was what we had here.  However, Jennifer made the decision to waive those objections and those issues and go ahead and enter a plea. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, I think that was a smart move on her part.  This is the call that really got her into trouble.  This is when she is speaking to the police department, Chief Randy Belcher.



BELCHER:  Are you OK?


BELCHER:  OK.  How did you get where you are at?

WILBANKS:  A Hispanic man and a Caucasian woman had me.

BELCHER:  I‘m sorry.  Calm down a little bit so I can understand what you‘re saying.  Can you tell me now how you got where you‘re at?

WILBANKS:  I was running up on the road past where John lives and I turned up there by the post office going towards the Laundromat and they approached me down there and that‘s when they got me.

BELCHER:  OK.  How did they get you?

WILBANKS:  The guy just grabbed me from behind and I had on my headphones so I didn‘t even hear anything until he grabbed me.

BELCHER:  How did you get away?

WILBANKS:  They just let me go.  They said at the hotel that they wanted money.  They want—and I said we didn‘t have any.


ABRAMS:  This is the same story basically she gave to the New Mexico authorities.  Apart from the legal issues, did she explain to you sort of what she was thinking when she made those calls and when she called 911 in New Mexico? 

SARTAIN:  It‘s important to point out that the call—the conversation with the police chief is the result of the same phone call she made to her family. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

SARTAIN:  As she‘s talking with John and the family the chief comes over to the house and gets on the phone, so she didn‘t make a separate call.  And I believe that later on while she‘s having that conversation with the chief she‘s also calling 911 in Albuquerque.  And you can hear—you know that this is a woman who is very emotional and very distressed and is telling a story about—making now we know a story up, but clearly is a woman with a lot of distress. 

ABRAMS:  You know, I‘ve said, and you were a former prosecutor—in fact you were D.A.—you were the D.A. when she was being prosecuted for shoplifting, charges that were eventually dropped—but you know you have to, I think, make it clear that, yes, ok, so you can sort of talk about how she ended up speaking to the police there, but calling 911, making a false report, I think that you know in other cases, in federal cases when people lie to the authorities it‘s considered real serious business.  And we don‘t always look into what‘s going on through the head of the person at the time in the decision making as to whether the person‘s charged or not. 

SARTAIN:  Well, always with the criminal charge you do have to know.  You have to establish the basics.  I agree absolutely with you that what she did was very serious.  My issue was that was a crime committed?  Was it committed in Albuquerque or was it committed in Gwinnett County?  You have to establish venue, and then you have to establish each and every element of the crime.  That‘s what has to be done in each and every case, and that‘s what I did not believe really was done here.  However, again, Jennifer and I agreed that it was wisely...


SARTAIN:  ... agreed to waive those issues, but they were very legitimate. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but I think you gave her good advice in terms of settling this case.  Very quickly, are they still getting married? 

SARTAIN:  Everybody‘s interested in that.  And that‘s what I get asked the most often, but that‘s a very personal and private decision.  And I‘m deferring to John and Jennifer to make those decisions or to announce those.  I just simply wish them both...


SARTAIN:  ... much happiness in whatever they choose to do. 

ABRAMS:  I knew you were going to say that.  I‘ve heard you say...


ABRAMS:  I had to ask because my viewers would have said to me, how come you didn‘t ask her about that?  Anyway...


ABRAMS:  ... Lydia Sartain, thanks very much for coming on the program.

SARTAIN:  Yes, thank you.  It‘s been my pleasure.

ABRAMS:  Appreciate it.  Coming up, just how did the closing arguments impact my view of the Michael Jackson case?  I‘ve got to tell you, it‘s changed a lot for me.  It‘s coming up. 


ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—I‘m starting to question whether Michael Jackson will be able to leave this courthouse a free man.  Before the case started, I predicted he would likely be acquitted or there would be a hung jury.  But now the evidence is in and I‘ve listened to the closing arguments.  I have to say I am leaning toward just the opposite outcome.  A hung jury or a conviction on at least one of the most serious charges against him.  One of the charges that would guarantee him time behind bars.  Why?  Because the prosecution has made out a pretty compelling case that Michael Jackson molested another child, one of the other children. 

Regardless of the specific law, if these jurors are convinced he‘s a child molester, I think they‘ll figure out a way to convict him.  The defense‘s closing just glossed over the allegations from other boys, merely saying that Jackson may have been na‹ve or immature.  That he may have had problems with his personal life, but they didn‘t specifically address those allegations.  That could mean trouble.  Jackson says his bedroom at Neverland was just an innocent place for the kids to enjoy milk and cookies, a bedtime story, but the defense never explained why this innocent childlike man had all those porn magazines and books with naked boys in the bedroom.  And prosecutors were fairly convincing when they pointed out that Jackson‘s only long-term relationships were with children, children who often slept in his bed, not just for a night or two, but one boy for a full year. 

And the tape, the prosecution played the accuser first telling authorities about the alleged abuse, pretty powerful.  I hadn‘t seen it before.  And either that boy was reluctantly telling a difficult story about abuse or he was—has a bigger future in Hollywood than his mother thought.  This mother has major issues when it comes to her credibility and if this case comes down to her, Jackson will walk, period, and that‘s still a possibility.  But prosecutors were smart to point out that she was not the brightest bulb but still could have pulled off this massive conspiracy to bring an international celebrity down without first asking for money.

I‘ve covered my share of high profile trials.  This is the closest call I‘ve seen yet, but we shall see.  A stronger case than I thought.



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