updated 7/18/2005 7:35:17 AM ET 2005-07-18T11:35:17

Guest: Sharon Hall, Wes Skoglund, Ellen Strauss, Joanne Gongora, Nikhil Deogun, Tim Miller

DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Coming up, late breaking developments in the search for Natalee Holloway.  What some had thought might be a key piece of evidence, a barrel found off the Aruban coast.  A tourist tips off a private search team to the barrel just off the shore.  Investigators are on the scene now.  We‘ll get the latest and we‘ll hear from Natalee‘s mother.

And he admits killing a man and dismembering him but a jury found him not guilty.  Today, multimillionaire Robert Durst drives out of prison in a stretch limo.  We‘ll talk with one of the jurors from his trial and to a friend of Durst‘s ex-wife who believes Durst may have killed her as well. 

Plus, he‘s been accused of killing a mother, two of her sons and her boyfriend and of repeatedly molesting eight-year-old Shasta Groene.  But Joseph Duncan would have been locked up at the time of the crime if a judge hadn‘t let him out on bail.  Is it time to change the law?  The program about justice starts now. 

Hi everyone.

First up on the docket tonight, breaking news out of Aruba.  Just off the beaches, within the last hour, part of the search team looking for Natalee Holloway came across what many thought could be a major fined.  A heavy barrel near the shore of one of the beaches there.  Dozens of people got into the water forming a human chain to try and pull it out of the sand.  As you can see, it was almost what appeared to be a tug of war as they tried to lift this very heavy barrel out.  That‘s the barrel. 

Tim Miller is the head of Equusearch and was on that beach only moments ago and he joins us now. 

Thanks very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it. 

So tell us, what did it turn out to be?

TIM MILLER, EQUUSEARCH:  Well, a tourist got a hold of us yesterday actually and told us his concerns on that and that he contacted I think somebody with the fire department on Tuesday and nobody had showed up.  So we sent some divers   some of our divers out there just to take to look at it.  We knew that it had concrete at one end.  After the storm came in, the water was dirty.  We really couldn‘t see that well.  So we decided maybe we better go ahead and bring this barrel in. 

We knew it was a barrel.  We knew there was concrete.  We knew it was in an area that, you know, Natalee was probably last seen at.  And so, you know, we wanted to eliminate it.  We worked on trying to get it out for probably about three hours.  It was down deep in the sand.  We took shovels out there trying to dig through it.  Tried to pry it up.  Finally went and got a heavy rope and basically made a human chain and pulled it out slowly hopping that if something was in there we wouldn‘t destroy anything.  And apparently it‘s just a barrel full of concrete.

So, you know, it‘s one of them things that you get your hopes up on and   but you try not to set yourself up for disappointments.  And it‘s something that we feel needed to eliminated.  It‘s eliminated and Natalee‘s not in it.  So, you know, we move on to other things. 

ABRAMS:  Let‘s be clear, Mr. Miller.  You have looked throughout this.  There is no chance that there is any relevant evidence, et cetera, in the concrete, correct?

MILLER:  Well, I‘m not going to say that.  I‘m going to say I‘m 95 percent sure there isn‘t any.  The police commissioner said that he is going to go ahead and load it up and take it to the police station.  But, you know, it appears as though it‘s something that holds some of the buoys down or something like that here in the water.  So we did our job on getting it out and I truly don‘t believe that it has anything to do with Natalee‘s disappearance myself.  But, you know, that‘s for them to determine.

ABRAMS:  Is this the first time that you‘ve found something that gave you some amount of hope that it might be something relevant to the case?

MILLER:  No.  There are some other things where we found what looked like a grave site two days ago.  It gave us some hope.  I‘m not totally convinced that that did not have something to do with her disappearance at this time. 

ABRAMS:  Wait.  Just before you move on.  Before you move on from there, let me ask you about that.  You say you found a grave site that you‘re not convinced had   is not related to her disappearance?  Tell me about that. 

MILLER:  Well, there wasn‘t any evidence in it.  It‘s one of them things that it was in soft sand.  It was in a remote area.  A guy actually told us where to go.  And it was on the other side of the island.  So when we got that lead and we went there and we saw what looked like certainly a grave that . . .

ABRAMS:  Really?

MILLER:  The size of a human grave.  And so, we got the detectives out there.  They went out and they sifted through the sand.  And we wonder if   we still wonder if maybe she was buried in the soft sand for a day or two until possibly dug up and moved to a spot that, you know, she can‘t be found.

ABRAMS:  What was it . . .

MILLER:  So there have been a few things that . . .

ABRAMS:  What was it   I‘m sorry   I apologize for interrupting you.  I just want to understand this a little bit better.  But what was it about that soft sand that made it look like a grave to you?

MILLER:  Well, it was six foot long.  It was four-foot deep.  Dirt was piled on the side of it.  If anybody‘s ever went to a funeral and see what a grave looks like, that‘s basically what it looked like.  Again, it was in a remote area.  An area that‘s easy to pull up, carry something maybe 100 feet at the most and get rid of it.  An area where nobody could have seen somebody doing something. 

At the end of it, law enforcement and detectives said they cannot explain really what it neither. They know it wasn‘t done by animal.  It wasn‘t done by nature.  There‘s no explanation that somebody could have possibly been just digging for treasures or anything there.  But without any evidence of Natalee being there, of course, it‘s one of them mysteries that‘s probably going to stay a mystery until she‘s found. 

ABRAMS:  And let‘s be clear, the authorities went there and I assume that they tested it for trace evidence, et cetera, right?

MILLER:  I‘m not in the detective business on this.  We‘re searchers. 

So, you know, I don‘t want to speak on their behalf. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right, we‘ll check in with them about that. 

All right.  Are you planning on sticking around on the island?  I know there‘s been some questions as to when you‘re going to leave, et cetera.  Any plans at this point?

MILLER:  Right now we‘ve got plans to get out of here on Sunday.  I was actually thinking about leaving today, but now I‘m leaving Sunday.  I think we need to get off the island right now and kind of clear our heads a little bit.  We‘ve got somebody that‘s coming back next Thursday, bring the ground penetration unit in with two other people and doing some things that we‘ve got some interest in. 

So I anticipate we‘ll be back and forth for a while.  And with us leaving, that doesn‘t mean we‘re done with the search for Natalee.  Believe me, this search will continue.  We‘re trying to put some other things together.  So we need to clear our own heads.  I mean, we‘ve worked around the clock for I don‘t know how many days and weeks and months. 

ABRAMS:  And I think it‘s important for people to remember that you all are volunteers and how much your help really means to the Holloway family and the Twitty family.

Thank you so much, Tim Miller, for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

MILLER:  You‘re welcome.  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  All right.  So you know what I want to do, I want to make sure that our producer on the scene there, Brian Cone (ph), tries to get in touch with the local authorities to find out if they‘ll tell us anything about whether they tested this area that Tim was just talking about, this what he thought might be a grave.  I want to find out if they‘ll give us any comment as to whether they tested it for trace evidence. 

In the meantime, NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski, who was also on the beach today.

Michelle, first let me just ask, you don‘t know anything about this site that he‘s talking about, do you?  That Tim Miller‘s talking about?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  We do.  We do.  We saw this site and we had pictures of it from Wednesday they went out there.  And talking to some of these searchers, you know, they say they they just stopped in their track when is they found it.  And they were dumbfounded.  They said they couldn‘t speak for a couple of minutes.  As Joe Houston, another one of the main searchers from Equusearch said, this was exactly something like what they would have been looking for in a case like this. 

But they said, you know, when they dug through the soft sand it seemed very obvious that something was buried there.  And one of the ways that was obvious was roots of a tree nearby were cut on the top level of those roots, as if a shovel or something had been banging around there, but then the lower roots of the tree were not cut.  So that‘s one of the reasons they think something was buried there. 

Also, there was just this depressed area filled with softer sand.  So the evidence was there that something had been buried but they said there was just no trace of Natalee.  Not a hair.  The dogs didn‘t hit on it in any way.  Authorities were notified.  But it was one of those things that came up. It looked good at first.  But once again, you know, disappointments that nothing was found.  And that it just doesn‘t mean anything.  And some of the people we talked to said maybe it was drugs.  You know, there is some drug trade on this island.  It could have been a place for somebody to stash who knows what. 

ABRAMS:  Michele, they did test it for trace evidence, right?

KOSINSKI:  We were told that authorities know about it.  That they had known about it at the same time searchers did.  But it is tough to get some information detailing the investigation.  So we don‘t know the details about what exactly was tested.  But we do know that searchers went through there and they themselves found absolutely no evidence of Natalee Holloway. 

And other people, locals said, you know, it looked to be   it was in a national park.  A very, very remote area.  And when you talk to locals, they say, you know what, that‘s one of those places where people might bury drugs and then, you know, take them out later and sell them. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Fair enough. 

KOSINSKI:  So it‘s one of those tough things that looks so suspicious. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Yes, I know.  I mean you listen to Tim and the search

. . .


ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me ask you about the ruling yesterday.  The lead suspect in the case not going any where.  A court rules that Joran van der Sloot will stay in jail.  They‘re not   though the court is not going to order two others rearrested who were originally held as suspects.  The family had wanted those two rearrested.  Of course, they wanted Joran to stay hand bars.  So sort of a mixed bag for the family.  You got a chance to speak to Natalee‘s mother after that court ruling.  How did she react?

KOSINSKI:  Well, it‘s interesting.  Before we talked to her, we were able to talk to her attorney, Benvinda De Sousa, and she described this as a big sigh of relief for the family.  But then when we talked to Beth Holloway Twitty later on in the night, she said, well, I‘m relieved but, you know, it‘s just one more thing that moves very slowly.  So I guess at first it felt like this was something   something progressing the case.  But then when you look at the fullness of what‘s been going on in this island for more than six weeks, it‘s just tough for her to feel anything but, you know, resignation at this point that something‘s being done. 


BETH HOLLOWAY TWITTY, NATALEE HOLLOWAY‘S MOTHER:  I‘m very pleased at the judge‘s decision on the ruling regarding Joran.  I‘m very, very pleased.  And, you know, I think that was the right decision. 

You know, as far as the Kalpoe brothers, I certainly would have liked to have see, you know, at least one of them rearrested.  I do feel they have some information and    you know, but one thing I keep reminding myself of is, they are suspects.  So they can be re-arrested at anytime and, you know, in regards to this investigation. 

We still have three individuals we need to keep in mind that have been constantly changing stories.  We not only have Joran, but we also have back to the early morning hours of May 31, we not only had him, but we had also one of the Kalpoe brothers who was giving incorrect information.  You know, was stating that he had dropped my daughter off at the Holiday Inn and that simply did not happen. 

So we have to take it back to the beginning.  You know, they can‘t disclose to me all of the information that they have or the evidence that they are accumulating against Joran.  But, you know, that does give me the assurance that they do have definitive information and that‘s huge. 

I think where I am is that I‘m pleased with the decision and, you know, I just will have to experience the next few days as to where I‘ll go from here and to how I might feel and what might happen from here.  This was a huge movement for us, for Natalee‘s family and for everyone that‘s been involved and watching.  So I think that now that we will just have to hope that the investigation will only continue to evolve.  And with new information.  And if there are new persons of interest involved, that they be pursued aggressively. 


KOSINSKI:  You can imagine the range of emotions, especially when something suspicious is found and that it turns out to be nothing.  The overwhelming emotions here among family members seems to be exhaustion and frustration. 

Dan, back to you.

ABRAMS:  All right, Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much.  Appreciate it.

Coming up, Robert Durst leaves prison in a limo.  Found not guilty of murder, even though he admitted killing a man and chopping up his body.  We‘ll talk to one of the jurors and to a friend of his ex-wife who believes Durst killed her as well. 

And police in Egypt make an arrest that could be tied to the London bombings, while American authorities are looking to Israel to try to help profile potential suicide bombers here. 

Plus, convicted sex offender Joseph Duncan, accused of despicable crimes against children and adults, authorities believe he terrorized and murdered four people, kidnapped and molested little Shasta Groene and her brother.  But could a change in the law prevent something like this from happening again?

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



ABRAMS:  Cross-dressing, multimillionaire Robert Durst suspected in the disappearance of his first wife in 1982 and the suspicious death of his publicist friend in 2000 and was actually tried for murdering his 71-year-old neighbor, chopping up the body, dumping it in the bay in 2001.  Things he admits.  But jurors found there was not enough evidence to convict him of premeditated murder. 

Durst spent five months in federal prison on charges related to the case but today he‘s free.  Leaving prison in style this morning.  That‘s right.  A black stretch limo.  Durst lawyer, Chip Lewis, on the program last night, told us today, “he‘s in great spirits and glad to be on the right side of the bars.”  Lewis also said Durst will stay in “humble accommodations at a secure but undisclosed location” in the Houston area. 

He‘ll be on parole for two years.  He‘s wearing an ankle monitoring bracelet.  He‘ll be confined to his living quarters.  Can only leave home to worship, exercise or go to the grocery store.  He will be subject to random urinalysis and will have to report in at least once a week with his parole officer.  Lewis also says Durst is hiring a licensed peace officer to guard him 24 hours a day.  Unclear if he‘s guarding him or protecting him from himself. 

The disappearance of Durst‘s wife, Kathie, in 1982 actually became part of his 2003 trial.  Durst saying he was on the run from a New York prosecutor who he feared was going to charge him in that case. 

Joining me now is Ellen Strauss who was a friend of Kathie Durst and who has followed Durst‘s movements since Kathie‘s disappearance and suspects that Durst was involved.  And Joanne Gongora, one of the jurors who acquitted Durst of killing his neighbor. 

Thank you both very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

ELLEN STRAUSS, KATHIE DURST‘S FRIEND:  Thanks, Dan.  I‘d like to interject one thing though. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  But hang on.  Just hang on one second.  I‘ll let you clarify everything you want.  But let me just ask Miss Gongora a question to start, and that is about the trial itself.  The trial that you were a juror on.  And I don‘t really   I mean, I‘ve heard all the jurors, I‘ve spoken with a lot of you about the evidence or what you view as the lack there of in the case.  Let me ask you a broader question.  Do you think that   well, let me ask it to you differently.  Are you concerned about Robert Durst being a free man?

JOANNE GONGORA, JUROR IN DURST TRIAL:  No, I‘m not concerned about him being a free man. 

ABRAMS:  Even though, in your case, he did admit to chopping up the body and to running from the law, dressing as a woman, et cetera.  And now, of course you know that he‘s a suspect in the ‘82 case.  He might be a suspect in the 2000 case.  All that together doesn‘t say to you, oh, this is a guy that‘s going to be walking the streets?

GONGORA:  Well, in our particular case, he admitted to chopping up the body, but the charge that we as the jury had leveled against us was how did Morris Black die.  And there was no proof that it was a premeditated murder.  That there was a level of suspicion there as to what happened but there was no evidence.  So we did   we had to vote not guilty because there was no direct evidence of the murder that occurred. 

ABRAMS:  Because he had disposed of the body and the head never washed up on shore?

GONGORA:  No.  It was a case of self-defense.  And just the moment in time in the apartment as to what actually went on, that there was reasonable doubt as to there being a tussle over the gun and it accidentally discharged versus an actual premeditated murder. 

ABRAMS:  But I don‘t get it.  I mean a couple of the jurors, Chris Lovell and others, maybe yourself, have said that they didn‘t believe Robert Durst‘s testimony and, as a result, it was sort of thrown out effectively by some of the jurors because he didn‘t seem credible.  And yet you did believe that it was self-defense. 

GONGORA:  Well, I was part of that group with Mr. Lovell that you talked about.  And we did meet after the verdict.  But what we‘ve always contended is, based on the evidence that was produced to the jury, at that moment in time as to how Morris Black died, was itself defense or was it actual murder, there was no evidence to say it was an actual murder.  Yes, Robert Durst did admitted to cutting up the body, but that‘s not what he was charged with in the particular trial that I was a juror on. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I mean, look, you can certainly view that as consciousness of guilt but you were set there for the whole trial. 

Let me ask Ellen Strauss the bigger picture question.  I‘m nervous about Robert Durst being on the streets here. 

STRAUSS:  You ought to be. 

ABRAMS:  And you wanted to clarify something.  Go ahead.

STRAUSS:  I wanted to clarify the fact that he‘s not moving to humble digs, he‘s moving to a ritzy, high-rise apartment off Allen Parkway in Houston, my sources in Houston tell me. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And, look, I‘m with you on this.  I‘m nervous about this guy being a free man.  Tell me why you‘re so convinced that he was involved in the ‘82 killing of your friend. 

STRAUSS:  He had a violent temper.  Kathie used to tell us all the time, if anything ever happens to me, look to Bob, Bob did it.  And it was sort of a dichotomy there because at the same time that she was afraid of him, she also thought, Dan, that she could handle him.  And when we continued our friendship after we graduated college, she went   I went on to law school, she went on to medical school.  It was the same story.  And I just advised her, get out now.  You can deal with the divorce and the settlement later.  But get out of harm‘s way.  But like I said, she had that dichotomy and she thought she could handle him. 

ABRAMS:  And I said this to Chip Lewis last night, his attorney.  I said, boy, this guys‘ really suffered a lot of unfortunate coincidences, right?

STRAUSS:  Really.

ABRAMS:  His wife dies in 1982 mysteriously.  No one knows.  2000, his publicist somehow mysteriously disappears.  Then his neighbor in this mysterious incident where he chops up the body afterwards.  I mean, you know, you can sit here and talk about the legality of it.  But when you look at the big picture, this is extremely disconcerting. 

STRAUSS:  Well, I knew Susan Burman (ph).  In fact, I had dinner with her many, many years ago with Kathie one night in New York.  And she was a very good friend of Bob‘s but he thought she was going to rat him out just before she died.  About four-and-a-half weeks before she died, I begged the D.A.‘s office in Westchester and the police out there to go out and visit her.  I even sent them a map to her door.  I found her because I was able to trace her back to when I knew her on Beakman (ph) in New York and to where she moved in Los Angeles.  Four-and-a-half weeks before she died.  I still have the fax. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  This is   all right.  Well, look, I‘m going to stay on top of him.  I‘m going to figure out what he‘s up to and we‘ll continue to watch this case.  Ellen Strauss and Joanne Gongora, thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate.

STRAUSS:  Thanks, Dan, for having us.

GONGORA:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Turning now to the latest on the London terror bombings.  From Cairo, police are questioning this man.  Magdy el-Nashar, a 33-year-old researcher who studied chemistry at NC State, North Carolina State University, and taught at Leeds University in England.  The same city three of the alleged London bombers came from.  And it‘s where British officials say el-Nashar rented a house where explosives had been made. 

Now according to Egypt‘s interior ministry, “el-Nashar denied having any relation with the latest events in London.  He pointed out that all his belongings remained in his apartment in Britain.”

In Pakistan, police detained four suspect in the city of Thiselabad (ph) where one of the alleged London bombers reportedly met a contact from an Islamic linked to al Qaeda two years ago.

Closer to home.  U.S. authorities turning to Israel for help in stopping suicide bombers like the men you‘re about to see.  Both captured by Israeli security forces before they could launch attacks. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, (through translator):  I had absolutely no fear at all.  I knew I‘d be fighting in God‘s name and I would die as a martyr defending my land. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, (through translator):  I feel regret because I was arrested and didn‘t die a martyr.  If I had, I would now be in a better place.  Here in prison, I‘m helpless. 


ABRAMS:  Today‘s “Wall Street Journal,” there‘s a story about how agents from the FBI and the ATF have been meeting with their Israelis counterparts every three months to try and develop profiles of potential suicide bombers but that it‘s not easy. 

Nikhil Deogun is “The Wall Street Journal‘s” Washington bureau chief. 

Joins us now.

Thanks very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

All right.  So how are they going about doing this?  They‘re going to Israel and they‘re trying to, what, match up what the Israeli‘s have found work. 

NIKHIL DEOGUN, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Right.  You know, the Israeli‘s spend an enormous amount of time looking at how to identify potential suicide bombers.  Now, of course, what the Americans have found   the good news is, they‘ve spent a lot of time studying this.  The bad news is, it‘s very hard to profile suicide bombers. 

It‘s not like serial killers.  They don‘t share many of the same, you know, characteristics.  It‘s not just your stereotypical, young Arab male.  It could be, you know, it could be women, it could be older men, it could be younger men.  It‘s kind of all over the map.  So they try to find out more what the behavior aspects are.  So, you know, bulky clothing in warm weather for instance or things like that.  But it‘s a pretty tough road. 

ABRAMS:  But the article also points out that the Israelis have an edge in the sense of what they can do, meaning profiling on Arabs and Muslims, they have a network of informants in the West Bank and Gaza, extended interrogation and searches of potential suspects at checkpoints in airports.  Awareness, retaliation, including loss of homes and deportation for suicide bombers families. 

DEOGUN:  Yes, our correspondent in Israel was telling me, I mean you could not even be Arab, you could be a journalist or a diplomat who‘s visited Palestinian territory.  You could come in to the airport, you know, they‘ll just strip search you.  And it‘s   and there isn‘t the reaction from civil liberties groups and others and from general citizens that you would get over here because a lot of Israelis consider the government‘s first role a role of security.  And so when you see what happened over here in the post 9/11 era, yes there was a lot of legislation passed, there was a lot of efforts done but those pale in comparison to what happens in Israeli.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right, Nikhil Deogun, it was a good article. 

Thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

DEOGUN:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, could a convicted child molester‘s alleged murders and rapes of children in Idaho have been prevented if Minnesota had different laws on bail, coming up.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, he‘s been accused of killing a mother, two of her sons, her boyfriend and repeatedly molesting eight-year-old Shasta Groene.  But he would have been locked up at the time of the crime if the judge hadn‘t let him out on bail.  Is it time to change the law?

First, the headlines.

CASSIDY:  MSNBC keeps you up to the minute every 15 minutes. 

Good evening, everyone.  I‘m Colette Cassidy.  Here‘s the latest. 

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. has sided with the Bush administration military tribunals.  They‘ve ruled that war criminals can be tried by a military tribunal and can be held at Guantanamo Bay without fill POW protections.  Earlier proceedings had been stopped by a lower court judge who said that was unconstitutional. 

There‘s been a settlement in a major lawsuit facing Enron.  Today, the bankrupt energy company agreed to pay more than $1.5 billion to settle claims of price gouging.  California and other western states accused Enron of driving prices to eye-popping levels during the 2000, 2001 energy crisis. 

And Jamaica is bracing to get hit tomorrow by Hurricane Emily which weakened today.  It‘s now a category two storm with maximum sustained winds of 105 miles an hour.  Forecasters say it could hit the coast of Northern Mexico or Southern Texas sometime next week. 


ABRAMS:  We‘re back. 

The case of convicted sex offender Joseph Duncan is the kind of case that changes laws.  Duncan, suspected of repeatedly molesting young Dylan and Shasta Groene, charged with killing their mom, bother and family friend.  Since Duncan‘s arrest two weeks ago, it‘s becomes clear it might have been stopped well before he put on a pair of night vision goggles and staked out their home. 


DETECTIVE BRAD MASKEL:  He was driving by, glanced over and saw her playing in the yard with her brother and noticed that she was wearing her bathing suit.”

ABRAMS, (voice over):  Little Shasta Groene has seen things an eight-year-old should never have to see.  A witness to and victim of multiple violent crimes.  Missing for six weeks, she was finally spotted at a Denny‘s restaurant near her Idaho home with convicted sex offender Joseph Duncan.  In newly released tapes, Shasta recounted her ordeal for police. 

MASKEL:  She recalled being awoken from sleep by her mother, Brenda, who asked her to come into the front of the home and this man forced her, her brother and the rest of her family into ligatures where they were secured.  Shasta described subsequently thereafter being carried from the home by Mr. Duncan, as well as her brother.

ABRAMS:  Her mother, 13-year-old brother, Slade, and her mother‘s boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, all killed. 

MASKEL:  Mr. Duncan actually showed Shasta a hammer, a rather large hammer that he held up and he explained to her that that item was what he used. 

ABRAMS:  She said Duncan took her and her nine-year-old brother to at least two campsites in Western Montana. 

MASKEL:  Shasta described during her stay at the campsites, her and her brother both repeatedly being sexually molested. 

ABRAMS:  Dylan Groene was found dead in a remote Montana park. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This needs to stop here.  People like this should not be allowed out in public. 

ABRAMS:  And that is the question.  Why was Duncan free?  1980, he pled guilty to first degree rape after repeatedly raping a 14-year-old boy at gun point.  He was later diagnosed as a dangerous sexual psychopath but still released in 1994.  He violated parole, was back in prison in 1998 and released again in 2000 after serving his full sentence.  In March of this year, charged in Minnesota, second degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly fondling and then attempting to fondle two boys in a playground, but then released on $15,000 bail. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The purpose of bail is simply to make sure that a defendant shows up in court.  The defendant voluntarily came to the courthouse. 

ABRAMS:  Now both the Minnesota prosecutor and judge say they didn‘t know Duncan had violently raped a child in the past. 

SHARON HALL, MINN.  DISTRICT JUDGE:  The problem is, is that after that decision is made, sometimes the facts turn out to be different than we were told, different than anybody knew or that that person whose behavior you‘re attempting to control through conditions of release is not controllable. 


ABRAMS:  Joining us now is Minnesota State Senator Wes Skoglund, who helped write Minnesota‘s sex offender registration law.  He‘s seeking longer sentences for sex offenders in Minnesota.  And Minnesota District Judge Sharon Hall, chair of the Minnesota Judge‘s Association.  You just saw here there in the piece.

Thank you both very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

All right, Judge Hall, let me start with you. 

I think that there is a misconception out there that somehow the judge in this case blew it.  Even if they had know that he was a violent sex offender in the past, the law really presumes bail.  And, as a result, it seems that the best that could have happened is that they would have imposed higher bail.  Even if it had been $150,000, he‘d come up with all the cash, he would have put $15,000 down and still be free. 

SHARON HALL, MINN.  DISTRICT JUDGE:  Dan, that is my understanding as well.  You are correct about that. 

ABRAMS:  So could a judge have, with the information that the person was a violent sex offender, have said no bail?

HALL:  No, I do not believe a judge in Minnesota could have said no bail.  I believe that the only time that a judge has the ability to set no bail is when a person is coming back into court on a probation violation, where they‘ve already been convicted of the crime that they are coming to court for. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  And before I talk to Mr. Skoglund about changing the law, I‘ve got to tell you, I do, though, have a hard time accepting the notion that neither the prosecutor nor the judge knew about his violent past.  Because both of them are saying, oh, well I didn‘t know.  And the other one‘s saying, well I didn‘t know.  How is it possible that neither the prosecutor, nor the judge, knew about his violent past?

HALL:  I can‘t talk about the particulars of this case.  But it‘s my understanding that a Minnesota person charged with a crime in Minnesota, that the authorities would check the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Conviction records to see if there is a conviction.  To the best of my knowledge, there isn‘t an ability on a nationwide basis to check whether or not the person has convictions in other states. 

ABRAMS:  Wow.  Well that‘s   all right, that‘s something we‘ll deal with on a national level.  But let‘s deal with Minnesota, Mr. Skoglund.  Bottom line is, I think, based on the law that the judge is right, and that the problem is the law and not the judge   although I have to tell you, I don‘t buy this notion that neither of them knew.  They should have asked questions, et cetera. 

All right, put that aside for a minute.  Let‘s assume that the judge is right, that, you know, they couldn‘t have said no bail legally in a case like this.  Are you going to seek to change that?

WES SKOGLUND, MINN. STATE SENATOR:  The constitution of the State of Minnesota requires bail for everybody.  And so it‘s not just law, it‘s the constitution and it requires a constitutional amendment to change that.  I have co-authorized a bill to try to do away with our   of always being able to be bailed out requirement but we haven‘t been able to pass that.  However, I have to say, $15,000 of bail for a guy who‘s charged with a crime like this and who has a horrible history like he has, is far too low.

ABRAMS:  I agree with you.

SKOGLUND:  I just . . .

ABRAMS:  There‘s no question about that.  But, you know, the problem is, focusing on that, the came with $15,000 in cash.  So even if they‘d made it $150,000, he could have gotten a bail bondman and put of 10 percent and he‘d still been out. 

SKOGLUND:  He may have . . .

ABRAMS:  Right?

SKOGLUND:  He may have gotten a bail bondsman.  You know, a guy like this, he does have a long criminal record.  It‘s on the Internet.  He was a registered sex offender in North Dakota, a registered sex offender in Washington state.  That‘s all public information.  That‘s information that they could have found.  And so, you know, I‘m willing   I don‘t know that a bail bondmans would have done it for $15,000. 

ABRAMS:  Well, who are you blaming here?  Because the prosecutor was asking for $25,000.  The defense attorney was asking for $10,000.  The judge gave $15,000.  Are you saying it‘s the judge or the prosecutor‘s fault?

SKOGLUND:  Well, I‘m not in the blame game but I am in the game of saying that somebody should have checked.  He was a registered level three sex offender in North Dakota and that information was available on the Internet.  A simple Internet background check would have found it.  I don‘t think you would have had to look too far in whatever city he was in   was from in the Washington state, whether it‘s Seattle or Tacoma or Spokane or whatever and found a history of his criminal offenses twice (ph). 

ABRAMS:  And with that said, Judge Hall, I mean, can‘t a judge say, if someone is a threat to public safety   I mean, we keep talking about bail but the only purpose of bail is to make sure the person shows up.  Well, it‘s not the only purpose.  I mean it‘s also to say, this person‘s a threat to public safety, we‘re going to pull them off the streets. 

HALL:  Actually, under the federal constitutional, the only purpose of bail is to reassure their reappearance. 

ABRAMS:  So the bottom line is that   are you sure that bail has never been interpreted to mean that you can revoke someone‘s bail if you view them as a threat to society?  That‘s not true. 

HALL:  Well, when you look at what the possible conviction and penalties would be for an offense, you do consider that because the harsher the penalty, the more likely that person has a reason not to return to court.  So on . . . 

ABRAMS:  But with that said, but it‘s not true that the only purpose of bail is to make sure the person shows up.  I mean it‘s also to say, if the person is a threat to society   when someone is charged with murder, for example, and let‘s say that they can be sure the person‘s going to show up, they may say, sorry, no bail, because the person‘s just too much of a threat to society. 

HALL:  In Minnesota you cannot set no bail for a murder charge.  On a murder conviction, you are looking at the possibility of lifetime in prison without parole and so there you would have a situation where a person who‘s charged with that crime may have a reason not to come back because it‘s such a serious penalty.  Given that charge, given the possible conviction, that is a person who may not return to court and so bail can be higher because you‘re not so concern that person will return for their court appearances. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Bottom line, Mr. Skoglund, it sounds like you‘ve got to make some charges about the bail situation in Minnesota.  I mean, every time we talk to someone in Minnesota and they talk about the presumption of bail, the presumption of bail, presumption of bail. 

SKOGLUND:  Well, I agree.  But I think bail could have and should have been set higher for this individual.  He would have been charged as a patterned sex offender in this state.  That‘s a 30-year sentence.  And bail should have been that way   been like a life sentence, the same as for a murder.  But the reality is, they didn‘t charge enough bail.  They simply didn‘t do it, Dan.  And we are fighting . . .

ABRAMS:  Yes, maybe.  But again, I‘m not sure that would have made a difference, that‘s the problem. 

SKOGLUND:  Well, you can find people who are homeless in Minnesota who have higher bail set than this person.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  That‘s (INAUDIBLE).

SKOGLUND:  This individual didn‘t live in our state.  He didn‘t even live here.

ABRAMS:  I‘m not going to challenge that his bail should have been higher.  The notion that I‘m saying is, I don‘t know that that would have led him to be behind bars.  And I think the bottom line is, the law needs to be changed.  And I think just blaming the judges on this one isn‘t necessarily fair. 

All right.  I‘ve got to wrap this up. 

HALL:  And I agree with both of you, bail does need to be reviewed. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Good.  All right Senator Skoglund, get on top of that.  We‘ll talk to you about how you do on that.  Thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

And Judge Hall, thank you. 

Coming up, after months of speculation about his retirement, finally Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist announces his plan for the future. 


ABRAMS:  Coming up, one of Washington‘s summer mysteries is solved. 

It relates to Chief Justice Rehnquist.  The details after the break.


CASSIDY:  MSNBC keeps you up to the minute every 15 minutes. 

Good evening, everyone.  I‘m Colette Cassidy.

NASA says it will be at least late next week before it attempts again to launch the space shuttle Discovery.  Meantime, the seven astronauts plan to return to Houston tomorrow.  They‘ll wait there while engineers try to fix that fuel sensor problem that forced the cancellation of Wednesday‘s launch. 

And Secretary of Agriculture Michael Johanns says imports of Canadian cattle should resume within days.  Yesterday a federal appeals court lifted a two-year imposed after Canada‘s first case of mad cow disease. 

And with a final flourish, Jack Nicklaus ended his illustrious career.  He birdied the 18th hole in the second round at the British Open.  However, he failed to make the cut for the final round. 


ABRAMS:  One of Washington‘s biggest summer mysteries appears to be over.  William Rehnquist, the Supreme Court chief justice, now says he has no plans to retire and that he‘ll stay on the job as long as his health allows.  Joining me now, NBC Justice Correspondent Pete Williams live at the Supreme Court. 

So, Pete, what exactly does this mean for Rehnquist and beyond?

PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, for the chief justice in the short-term, Dan, it ends all the rumors and it gets the crews off his lawn, which I think was a big problem for him.  He‘s left no doubt about his plans.  His message in his three-sentence statement that came out late last night is very simple.  Will he stay on the bench as chief justice as long as he‘s able to do the job. 


WILLIAMS, (voice over):  Chief Justice Rehnquist was back at work today, slowed a bit after a short hospital stay with a fever, facing concern about his health but no longer facing questions about his plans.  “I am not about to announce my retirement,” he said late last night, an extraordinary statement for a sitting justice.  He said he‘ll continue to perform the duties of chief justice as long as his health permits.  Rehnquist said he wanted to end what he called the speculation and unfounded rumors of his eminent retirement.  They peaked last week as President Bush was returning from his trip overseas.  Columnist Robert Novak made this flat prediction on CNN.

ROBERT NOVAK:  And the time of retiring is going to be as soon as the president is back in the country.  As soon as Air Force One lands in the country. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can we expect any news about your retirement today, sir?

WILLIAMS:  Such speculation kept photographers on watch at his house.  Last night‘s statement seemed intended to put a stop to that too.  With Rehnquist staying, the White House now knows it has just one vacancy to fill, the seat held by Sandra Day O‘Conner.  That takes a politically appealing option off the table, balancing two nominations to please different groups of voters. 

STUART TAYLOR, NATIONAL JOURNAL COLUMNIST:  For example, if they nominated a fervent conservative to replace Rehnquist, then maybe the right would accept someone a little bit less conservative, someone on the more moderate side to replace O‘Connor. 

WILLIAMS:  And it means both liberal and conservative pressure groups can now focus all their energy and money on a single front. 

STUART ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST:  The problem for the president is that both sides, both the right and the left, are as much after the blood sport as they are after the nomination. 


WILLIAMS:  Even though President Bush has just one seat to fill now, it‘s likely he‘ll have another chance to move the court further to the right with probably one more vacancy at least before his term expires, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  I love that little slam on Novak, though, sitting there with his prediction, so certain. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, you know, it did make a big difference because you may recall that these rumors were coming from Capitol Hill.  They were coming from the pressure groups.  Not notably from the White House because it‘s clear they didn‘t know anything.  But then when Novak made that prediction with sort of you can set your watch about when he‘ll step down, I think that‘s when things really got out of control. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Pete Williams, thanks very much.  Appreciate it.


ABRAMS:  Coming up.  A few of you think that I made a darn good “Harry Potter” impersonator on the show last night.  Your e-mails coming up.


ABRAMS:  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for your rebuttal.

Last night we looked at the tight security surrounding the release of the next “Harry Potter” book Saturday at 12:01 a.m. and, in the spirit of the release, I wore Harry Potter style glasses and a lightning bolt on my head. 

In Tabernacle, New Jersey, Alice Miceli.  “I must say, you sure did look like a nerdy Harry Potter, grown up that is.  I love your sense of humor.”

What?  You mean nerdier than Harry Potter?  I‘m a nerd but nerdier than him?

Finally, from Seattle, Doug Jacobs.  “When you put on those glasses, all of a sudden we thought we were watching Harry Potter.  I‘m not kidding, Dan.  When you go out Saturday to get the book, wear the glasses.  You‘ll be mobbed, not for Dan Abrams, but for Harry Potter.”

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

Be right back.


ABRAMS:  We‘re out of time.  There‘s a first tonight.

Coming up next, HARDBALL with Chris Matthews. 

Have a good night.  I hope those lines for the “Harry Potter” books aren‘t too bad.  Have a good weekend.


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