updated 9/29/2005 11:33:11 AM ET 2005-09-29T15:33:11

Guests: Dick Deguerin, Brad Beers, John Carter, Paul Burka, Brian Wice, Jim

Nolan, Clint Van Zandt, George Peterson, Dean Johnson

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay indicted.  In another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive, his lawyer is with us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  The charge, conspiracy.  He says a rogue Democratic D.A. is playing politics.  As a legal matter, how strong is the case?  Could he actually serve time? 

And a twist in the case of missing Virginia student Taylor Behl.  He was named a person of interest in the investigation, now he‘s telling police he was kidnapped the same night Taylor disappeared. 

Plus, Laci Peterson‘s mother takes Scott Peterson to court.  She wants the money from Laci‘s life insurance, but he‘s fighting, on what grounds? 

The program about justice starts now.   

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, Tom DeLay, the hammer gets hammered.  Tom DeLay, the Republican majority leader of the House of Representatives until today, a Texas grand jury has indicted Delay and two associates on conspiracy to violate Texas election laws.  DeLay forced to give us his leadership role in the House.  He insists that‘s temporary. 

In a moment, I‘ll tell you exactly what I think of the charges as a legal matter and we‘ll have an exclusive with his lawyer.  But first, Ronnie Earle is the Travis County Texas district attorney who filed the charges.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONNIE EARLE, TRAVIS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  The indictment describes a scheme whereby corporate money, which cannot be given to candidates in Texas was sent to the Republican National Committee where it was exchanged for money raised from individuals and then sent to those Texas legislative candidates.  Criminal conspiracy is a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. 

I think that the great issue facing the American public is large aggregations of wealth, whether they be corporate or private that are used in the political process.  Texas law forbids the use of corporate money and makes that a felony.  And again, as I‘ve said at the outset, my job is to prosecute felonies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But DeLay says Ronnie Earle is a road prosecutor and a Democrat who sees his job as punishing Republicans. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM DELAY ®, TEXAS:  This is one of the weakest, most baseless

indictments in American history.  It‘s a sham and Mr. Earle knows it.  It‘s

a charge that cannot hold up even under the most glancing scrutiny.  This

act is the product of a coordinated, premeditated campaign of political

retribution, the all-too predictable result of a vengeful investigation led

by a partisan fanatic. 

Mr. Earle is abusing the power of his office to exact personal revenge for the role I played in the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign in 2002 and my advocacy for a new, fair, and constitutional congressional map for our state in 2003.  Mr. Earle, an unabashed partisan zealot, with a well-documented history of launching baseless investigations and indictments against his political enemies has been targeting a political action committee on whose advisory board I once served. 

During his investigation, he has gone out of his way to give several media interviews in his office, the only days he actually comes to the office I‘m told, in which he has singled me out for personal attacks in direct violation of his public responsibility to conduct an impartial inquiry.  Despite his long-standing animosity toward me, and the abusive investigation that animosity has unfortunately rendered, as recently as two weeks ago, Mr. Earle, himself, publicly admitted I had never been a focus or target of his inquiry. 

Soon thereafter, Mr. Earle‘s hometown newspaper ran a biting editorial about his investigation, rhetorically asking what the point had been after all if I wasn‘t to be indicted.  It was this renewed political pressure in the reigning days of his hollow investigation that led to this morning‘s action, political pressure that also came from Democrat leaders.  Now, let me be very, very clear.  I have done nothing wrong.  I have violated no law, no regulation, no rule of the House.  I have done nothing unlawful, unethical, or I might add, unprecedented.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ouch, some harsh words there from Tom DeLay.  Well now in another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive, joining me now is Dick Deguerin, one of Tom DeLay‘s attorney.  Dick, thanks for coming on the program.  Good to see you.  So, is it...

DICK DEGUERIN, TOM DELAY‘S ATTORNEY:  Sure Dan, nice to see you too.

ABRAMS:  Do you think is it a risky tactic for him to go after the D.A. so overtly.  Does it make you as a lawyer, nervous to hear your client going after a D.A. in that matter? 

DEGUERIN:  Not at all.  In fact, it needs to be done.  Ronnie Earle needs to be exposed for what he is.  And that is he‘s a partisan prosecutor, using the grand jury, using the power of his office to try to destroy someone who‘s been elected by the people.  Now, you might not like what Tom DeLay has done with politics.  He‘s changed the face of politics in Texas.  But that doesn‘t mean that a D.A. needs to get in and try to destroy him by use of an indictment. 

ABRAMS:  Is it not true that Ronnie Earle has prosecuted a lot more Republicans—sorry prosecuted a lot more Democrats than Republicans? 

DEGUERIN:  That‘s true.  And that‘s the old saw that he hauls out every time he‘s criticized about this.  But the problem is that for a long time, there weren‘t anything but Democrats in Texas, so there wasn‘t anybody else for him to prosecute. 

ABRAMS:  But still, I mean if he‘s going after Democrats, you know, if the claim is that this is a guy who‘s out to get Republicans because he‘s such a partisan, doesn‘t it help his case that there are so many more Democrats he‘s gone after than Republicans?

DEGUERIN:  No.  What it means is he‘s going after his political enemies, whether they be Democrats or more of them along time ago than there were Republicans.  He goes after his political enemies and he uses the power of his office to try to affect politics.  That‘s what I disagree with so strongly. 

He did this with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison when she was about to change the complexion of politics in Texas and he failed and now he‘s trying to do it with Tom DeLay, who did change the complexion of politics in Texas. 

ABRAMS:  Dick, you‘re one of the best-known attorneys in Texas.  You have dealt with a lot of prosecutors in the state of Texas.  Have you ever gone after a D.A. almost this personally in response to an indictment? 

DEGUERIN:  Well, it needs to be done, Dan.  Yes, in Kay Bailey Hutchison‘s case, we did the same thing because it was so blatantly political and it needs to be done here.  I don‘t like to attack a prosecutor personally, if that person is acting as a professional ought to act.  But even against, I think, the advice of his own lawyers in his own office, Ronnie Earle has secured this indictment, basically because Tom DeLay gets punished before going to trial.  He gets removed as the majority leader in the House... 

ABRAMS:  That‘s corruption.  But Dick, isn‘t that...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  That‘s corruption that you‘re accusing him of, right?  I mean if he‘s doing it for political gain and indicting someone for political gain, that‘s just pure, unadulterated corruption. 

DEGUERIN:  It‘s not corruption in the sense that he‘s getting a payoff from somebody paying him money, but it certainly is misusing his office by this indictment.  We‘re going to demonstrate that because Tom DeLay didn‘t do anything.  He didn‘t do anything wrong. 

ABRAMS:  All right.

DEGUERIN:  He didn‘t do anything.  In fact, if you look at this indictment, it doesn‘t really accuse Tom DeLay of doing anything. 

ABRAMS:  Let‘s look at the indictment. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Let‘s talk about exactly what the allegations.  They‘re

saying that this group, Texans for Republican Majority, gathered $190,000

in corporate contributions.  They say that—and this is the illegal part

that that ends up in the hands of the Republican National Committee. 

They‘re saying it was too close to the election, it‘s coming from a corporation and therefore, it violates election law.  It‘s then given to seven Republican candidates for the Texas House of Representatives.

DEGUERIN:  No, wrong.  No, that‘s not true.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  That‘s wrong about the allegation...

DEGUERIN:  That‘s not what happened. 

ABRAMS:  Well that‘s the allegation. 

DEGUERIN:  Those are not the facts and that‘s not...

ABRAMS:  Well that‘s the allegation...

DEGUERIN:  Those are not the facts...

ABRAMS:  Right.  That‘s fine...

DEGUERIN:  I don‘t care what the allegations are. 

ABRAMS:  OK, fine...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I just want to make...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I just want to clarify...

DEGUERIN:  Wait a minute...

(CROSSTALK)

DEGUERIN:  Hold on.  Hold on a second, Dan...

ABRAMS:  I‘m sorry.  It‘s important to me.  You‘re not saying that I‘m misstating the facts.  You‘re saying that Ronnie Earle is charging him with something he didn‘t do. 

DEGUERIN:  That‘s right...

ABRAMS:  OK.  All right, go ahead...

DEGUERIN:  ... something that didn‘t happen and Ronnie Earle has been given the proof that the $190,000, there was actually more than that—that came from corporate contributions to TRMPAC, came at a lawful time.  TRMPAC kept that money separate.  It went to Washington and it was spent there on states, which allow corporate contributions.

No money, no corporate money came to candidates in Texas that came from corporations.  Only money that came from individuals who contributed to individuals, so no law was broken.

ABRAMS:  Why did—I was interested in the indictment seeing that Tom DeLay through his counsel, waived the statute of limitations.  Why do that?

DEGUERIN:  He did that because he didn‘t have anything to hide and he thought that with --  if they just spent a little more time with Ronnie Earle and showing him what the facts were --  by the way, Tom DeLay cooperated throughout this investigation, gave up documents, went in and even subjected himself to interrogation by Ronnie Earle.  And so, he waived those statute of limitations because Ronnie Earle said if you don‘t waive the statute of limitations on this day, I‘m going to indict you on this day, so he waived it and wanted another chance to go in and try to explain to Ronnie Earle that there wasn‘t a crime, but...

ABRAMS:  Dick, you surprised...

DEGUERIN:  So that‘s what happened.

ABRAMS:  ... were you surprised --  you weren‘t even surprised by the indictment though were you?

DEGUERIN:  No.  No, I‘ve expected it for quite some time.

ABRAMS:  All right, Dick Deguerin, Tom DeLay‘s got a good lawyer on his hands.  Appreciate you coming back on the program.

DEGUERIN:  Thank you.  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  All right, so DeLay says this is political.  The D.A.‘s a Democrat in the heart of one of the most liberal parts of Texas, but and --  you know, as you just heard, this is a D.A. who‘s prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans.  But wait until you hear how they pick a grand jury in Texas.  We‘ll talk about whether politics could really end up in a jail sentence.

And a bizarre twist in the search for missing college student Taylor Behl.  One of the last people to see her alive, who police have been questioning, says he was kidnapped the same 24-hour period that she disappeared.

Plus, Laci Peterson‘s mother takes Scott Peterson back to court, fighting for the money from Laci‘s life insurance.  How does Scott claim he‘s entitled to it now?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DELAY:  In an act of blatant political partisanship, a rouge district attorney in Travis County, Texas named Ronnie Earle charged me with one count of criminal conspiracy, a reckless charge, wholly unsupported by the facts.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Tom Delay charged with criminal conspiracy today in connection with campaign contributions, facing the possibility of up to six months to two years in a state jail, a fine of up to $10,000.  He has said repeatedly that this is all political. 

Now, “My Take” as a legal matter, I‘ve been very tough on Tom DeLay in the past.  I‘ve criticized his attacks on the judiciary, his foolish intervention in the Terri Schiavo case.  I‘ve called for a House Committee to thoroughly investigate his alleged ethics violations, but this criminal case appears very thin to me. 

This indictment hardly explains what DeLay allegedly did as part of this criminal conspiracy.  I understand the allegation about his alleged co-conspirators passing checks to the Republican National Committee in 2002.  They‘re saying it was too close to the time of the election and presumably from a corporation.  If true, that‘s a technical violation of the election law.

If the check had been written a couple of weeks earlier, there might be no case.  As a practical matter, reports show this was happening pretty routinely back in 2002, before campaign finance reform.  So I think you have a somewhat obscure allegation and nothing in the indictment that explains what DeLay did to further the crime. 

Joining me now is Congressman John Carter, one of Tom DeLay‘s fellow Republicans from Texas, Paul Burka, executive editor of the “Texas Monthly” magazine, Brad Beers, a former prosecutor from Harris County, Texas, which includes part of Tom DeLay‘s district, and Brian Wice is a criminal defense attorney from Harris County. 

Brad Beers, what am I getting wrong? 

BRAD BEERS, FORMER HARRIS COUNTY TEXAS PROSECUTOR:  Well you‘re not getting anything wrong with regard to what Tom DeLay actually did in terms of collecting or not collecting checks. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s a pretty...

BEERS:  What Tom DeLay did is on the first page of the indictment, is that he made the agreement with these other fellows.  They are the ones that actually went out and did the deeds. 

ABRAMS:  But doesn‘t that—knowing how political this was going to get, wouldn‘t you think that the D.A. would want to have more than that to go after Tom DeLay? 

BEERS:  He absolutely would love to have more than that, but in a typical situation, whether it‘s political or nonpolitical, if you have a person who is directing an operation, an activity, typically, the king pin wants to stay out of the limelight and has henchman that actually carry out the deeds, so there‘s nothing unusual about that. 

ABRAMS:  Representative Carter, is it possible that this D.A. is just over zealous and possibly looking for a headline as opposed to purely political? 

REP. JOHN CARTER ®, TEXAS:  Absolutely.  I understood what my colleague just said there, but the question is, where is the evidence?  There is no evidence in this case.  This case has been brought before now either six or seven grand juries for a period now of over two years.  Ever grand jury has examined these facts and now as the statute of limitations is about to run out, they‘ve got a very, very weak case that‘s been presented to the grand jury and the politics is prevailing and of course, I honestly believe that they would have never gone to this much trouble if it hadn‘t been for the House rule that the Republicans (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said that he would step down from office, which he, of course did.

ABRAMS:  Paul Burka look, you‘ve been following all the investigations, the case against DeLay, et cetera, are you surprised based on what you‘ve seen in the indictment that the D.A. Ronnie Earle has gone forward? 

PAUL BURKA, “TEXAS MONTHLY”:  Well, not really.  I think that Ronnie Earle was personally offended by the entire transactions that took place here, the manipulation --  what he saw as the manipulation of an election by corporate money.  That‘s not a crime.  So what he did was, I think this is a very technical crime.  It‘s kind of a got-you violation of the law and I think that the people who make the argument that it‘s political will have that going for them.  On the other hand, Ronnie Earle is not a political guy.  That‘s not been his history.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s Ronnie Earle again talking today about the indictment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EARLE:  The indictment is an allegation.  It‘s not proven.  The law says that the duty of the prosecuting attorney is not to convict, but to see that justice is done.  We have over the years prosecuted a number of elected officials and last count, that totals 15, 12 of whom were Democrats and three of whom were Republicans. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Brian Wice, I thought the duty of the prosecutor was to bring a case that you were pretty convinced you could win.

BRIAN WICE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Absolutely, Dan and I want to tell you something.  Twenty-six years of practice, this indictment may not be the weakest I‘ve ever seen, but it‘s the leader in the clubhouse.  You can look at this indictment and frankly, not see anything that Tom DeLay did wrong.  Anybody who‘s ever seen an indictment alleging a criminal conspiracy understands that rule one in the play book is you set out in big, black, italic type, the overt act of the defendant allegedly engage in. 

Dan, it is not enough that Tom DeLay knew what was going on or that he was present when all of this was allegedly happening.  Unless you can show he had a role, managed, directed, assisted or aided in the commission of this offense, he‘s not guilty.  And I want to tell you something, it‘s one thing for Ronnie Earle to talk about all those people, those politicians he‘s prosecuted.  But the last time they teed up in Tarrant County in Fort Worth against Dick Deguerin, who your viewers just saw, Ronnie Earle‘s office trying to prosecute Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison got beat like a rented mule.  It‘s one thing to indict. It‘s another thing to convict.  And Ronnie Earle‘s track record...

ABRAMS:  All right...

WICE:  ... makes his office the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

ABRAMS:  All right, fine, Brian, but is it fair—is it a fair criticism that he‘s political.  I mean a guy who has prosecuted so many more Democrats than Republicans—I mean look, maybe you can make the argument, look, he thought that DeLay‘s tactics were unfair, that what he did was wrong, et cetera, and now he‘s saying there‘s got to be a way to get him for that.  Whatever the case may be, but is it fair to say this is purely political? 

WICE:  Whether it‘s fair or not, Dick Deguerin made a sealant point, Dan.  Back in the day, we didn‘t have Republicans.  They didn‘t exist.  Texas was a one-party state.  So when Ronnie says that he‘s indicted 12 Democrats and three Republicans, get him to say when it was that all happened...

ABRAMS:  But does that matter?  I mean if he was so political, if he‘s

again, if he‘s a guy who wants the Republicans out of office, then why would he even bother to investigate these Democrats?

WICE:  But again that‘s ancient history.  The people in power now are Republicans and ultimately what happened in this case coming down to the last day of this grand jury‘s term, to try to throw some Hail Mary, to try to get some indictment, again, whether it‘s political or whether it‘s bogus or whether it‘s B.S., you can call it whatever you want to.  Again, it‘s definitely one of the weakest indictments I‘ve seen in 26 years. 

ABRAMS:  So Brad, explain to me as a legal matter, what you would presume they are going to have against DeLay, specifically. 

BEERS:  I would expect specifically, since the indictment quite frankly has more facts contained in it than a typical state court indictment and the facts are not out yet.  That‘s why we have trials and I know that Dick is going to do a fabulous job of representing him like he does all of his clients.  But what I would expect him to have is some direct evidence to show that an agreement was made at the outset.  Here‘s why or how we‘re going to set up this committee.  Here‘s what we‘re going to do. 

(CROSSTALK)

BEERS:  Texas has a very simple law that says corporations cannot make campaign contributions to candidates and that‘s whether you do it directly or indirectly. 

ABRAMS:  But Brad, don‘t you generally get that from co-conspirators testifying against them?  In this case, it‘s two of his close friends who are almost certainly not going to testify against him. 

BEERS:  I don‘t disagree with that.  I don‘t know what the situation is going to be with the co-defendants but you‘re right.  Typically, the—we all sat down in the room and said testimony comes from somebody that‘s named in the indictment.  But I would expect something is going to have to come forward in the way of direct evidence to show that Mr. DeLay had a role in saying we‘re going to get around Texas law in this fashion and here‘s how we‘re going to do it, even though he may not have physically gone out and said give me the check or write the checks in a certain fashion.  The king pin never does the details. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Congressman, let‘s talk politics for a moment. 

Does this hurt the Republican Party? 

CARTER:  Republican Party is moving forward exactly as if this hadn‘t happened.  We follow the rules—our rules, which only pertain to the Republican Party.  The Democratic Party does not remove its officers should they be indicted.  Only the Republicans do that.  We take the high ground. 

On this issue, what everybody‘s missing here is the one element that they should see is the rule back in Washington that says he has to step down as the real driving force behind this 11th-hour indictment...

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER:  ... and I agree, very weak indictment.  The prosecutor in this group is presuming some things that there‘s no evidence that‘s there.  I was on the bench for 21 years and it takes evidence to win these cases and an indictment is an accusation and yet today Tom DeLay was forced to resign because of a very, very weak accusation. 

ABRAMS:  Well, but it was also a grand jury indictment. 

CARTER:  A grand jury indictment is a legal accusation...

ABRAMS:  Right.

CARTER:  ... telling the state what it has to prove, telling the defense what he‘s charged with...

ABRAMS:  But it...

CARTER:  It‘s a charging instrument for the...

ABRAMS:  Right, but let‘s be clear.  It wasn‘t just the prosecutor filing a piece of paper as you can do sometimes.  He had to go in front of a grand jury, although Texas has an interesting grand jury system...

CARTER:  Well actually...

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER:  ... in reality he went before seven grand juries, tried six and failed and kept going.

ABRAMS:  Well, Brad Beers, is that true?

BEERS:  I don‘t know if he went in front of seven grand juries, but frequently what happens is you use the grand jury to collect information and evidence and you may not ultimately present your case until a significant period of time has passed...

ABRAMS:  Paul Burka...

BEERS:  ... so thank goodness, there are confidential proceedings so nobody on your show today knows what was said in any of the grand juries or what action was taken in front of any of those grand juries.

ABRAMS:  Paul Burka, was it six or seven grand juries? 

BURKA:  This investigation has been going on for almost three years, so each time presumably every six month there‘s been a new grand jury or there‘s been an extension.  So it could very well have been six or seven grand juries.

ABRAMS:  All right, let‘s talk about how this grand jury works.  Brian, very interesting in this area.  Basically, it‘s not just random citizens who are chosen to serve on the grand jury, right? 

WICE:  Absolutely not.  It‘s the so-called grand jury commissioner system, Dan, which has made its way back and forth to the United States Supreme Court, essentially as a district judge, as Judge Carter will tell you in Williamson County where he served, you appoint three or more grand jury commissioners.  They call up their friends, traditionally people would have nothing to do during the day.  They come down.  They sit in a room. 

They determine whether or not—it‘s more likely than not—that a crime was committed and the defendant was the one responsible for it.  And we‘ve all known, anybody that has seen this show over the years, Dan, love to hear the expression that a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.  Not only is that true, but it‘s more true in Texas.  I‘ve served on a grand jury and I can tell you that that grand jury essentially doesn‘t do anything that Ronnie Earle didn‘t want it to do...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

WICE:  ... which is why it came down to the 11th hour...

ABRAMS:  Yes, Brad Beers look, I‘ve covered a lot of Texas cases and yet I had forgotten about that and was kind of surprised when I saw that there‘s this system, which really you could argue, is very political in terms of who serves on the grand jury. 

BEERS:  Well political if you want to call it that, Dan, but then you‘re going to have to implicate the district judge in a grand jury proceeding that he has somehow appointed people that are going to appoint people who have a bias against a particular individual.  The historic problem we‘ve had is, is that grand juries were made up of one race and there were not representative cross-sections of the community and that has been a more predominant problem with the grand jury system...

ABRAMS:  All right...

BEERS:  ... in the years gone by than today. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Interesting stuff.  We shall follow this case.  That‘s for sure.  Congressman Carter, Paul Burka, Brad Beers, Brian Wice, thank you all.  Good conversation.

BEERS:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Appreciate it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the search for missing college freshman, Taylor Behl, authorities‘ first person of interest now says he was kidnapped around the same time she went missing.

And Laci Peterson‘s mom wants the money from Laci‘s insurance policy.  Why is she being forced to fight Scott in court for it?  Can a convicted killer get the proceeds?

And our continuing series “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike again.  We continue in Arizona.  Authorities would like your help in locating level three sex offender Michael Furry, convicted of sexual conduct with a minor, he‘s 51, 5‘6”, 130, hasn‘t registered with the state of Arizona. 

If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please call the Department of Public Safety Sex Offender Compliance Unit, 602-255-0611. 

We‘re back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a new twist in the search for missing college freshman Taylor Behl.  He‘s the only person to be named a person of interest in the investigation, now he says he was kidnapped the same night Taylor disappeared, first the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with a strange twist in the case of a missing Virginian college freshman, Taylor Behl.  A man police had once named as a person of interest in her disappearance now says he was kidnapped just hours after Taylor vanished from her college campus in Virginia on September 5.  Ben Fawley arrested on unrelated child porn charges last week is admittedly one of the last to see Taylor Behl alive.  He says he was with her until 9:30 that night and then says he was abducted early the next morning. 

The police report says—quote—“He was walking along an alley when he was robbed by an unknown number of people.  He was struck in the stomach area by an unknown object and as he doubled over, he was pushed to the ground by someone who put a bag over his head.  He was then put into a vehicle and driven to an unknown location and pushed out of the vehicle onto a dirt road.”

Joining me now is Jim Nolan from the “Richmond Times-Dispatch”, the attorney for Taylor‘s family, George Peterson, and former FBI profiler, MSNBC analyst, Clint Van Zandt. 

All right, so Jim, are the police really taking this seriously, the notion that he was abducted hours after Taylor goes missing? 

JIM NOLAN, “RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH” (via phone):  Well Dan, he filed a police report, so like any report, they do have to take it seriously.  However, I will tell you that the police and investigators are somewhat perplexed by the report.  They say that they can‘t go forward until Mr.  Fawley gives them a few more details about the case. 

The word unknown keeps cropping up in that report and they say they really need more details and frankly I think it troubles them with regard to the Taylor Behl investigation because they need more specifics.  They‘re trying to piece together the whereabouts of people of interest in the case, from the time Taylor was last seen to the time they were last seen and that‘s one of the troubling aspects of this case. 

ABRAMS:  But doesn‘t the police report say—quote—“it is my belief that the victim was attacked”.

NOLAN:  Yes, it does and Mr. Fawley had some minor injuries and what we have to really figure out is what those injuries came from, what kind of abduction it is, and what they‘re saying is until we know more about the people who attacked him and the nature of the attack and the location of the attack and the person who is supposedly helping him get back into his home in Richmond an hour or so later, they‘re going to have a very difficult time moving forward. 

ABRAMS:  Clint, wouldn‘t this be almost an O.J.-esque (ph) coincidence if he had nothing to do with Taylor‘s...

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... disappearance as his—the man who had been his lawyer said on this program, and then hours later he is abducted and kidnapped and has a bag put over his head. 

VAN ZANDT:  You know, Dan, you as an attorney, me as a former FBI agent, we don‘t like coincidences.  We have to explain them.  And you know all these unknowns, he was abducted by an unknown person, hit with an unknown weapon, bag over his head, he was robbed, he was taken to an unknown location and then he goes on and suggests an unknown Hispanic male picks him up and gives him a ride back in town and to show his appreciation he buys the guy gas. 

Well wait a minute, he said he got robbed.  Where did the money come from to buy gas?  You know there‘s all these holes that the FBI agents, the local police that are working this case, unfortunately, 10 days after it took place before they got into it.  They have to take what he says on his Web site, the statements he‘s made to police, what he said to other people and kind of layer these together and it‘s coming up kind of as a holy umbrella at this point. 

ABRAMS:  Well and keep in mind, this is also a guy with a criminal past.  1986-1990, convicted five times of charges...

VAN ZANDT:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... ranging from theft to receiving stolen property to aggravated assault to disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment.  Since 2003, convicted three times of misdemeanor assault and battery on a family member.  2004, convicted of destruction of property.

George Peterson, is the family beginning to think that this may be the guy?  I understand that there‘s another person who you think it‘s important to investigate as well? 

GEORGE PETERSON, ATTORNEY FOR TAYLOR BEHL‘S MOTHER:  Well, I think the police are investigating a number of people.  We obviously would like them to focus on Ben Fawley to the extent possible.  The one thing we don‘t want to lose sight of the fact is that Taylor is still missing some 23 days later after she was last seen.  We want to make sure that the focus stays on that.  Whether Ben Fawley had anything to do with it or not, we don‘t know.  Certainly, however, there are some suspicious circumstances around his story, not only his attempted or his alleged abduction, but also with respect to the timeline that his attorney Chris Collins had gave for the night before. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

PETERSON:  And I think there are a number of factors—number of issues with that timeline. 

ABRAMS:  And we just put up, by the way, the tip line.  Again, if anyone‘s got any information, we‘ll put it up one more time because I know that‘s why you‘re here -- 804-514-8477.  That attorney for Ben Fawley told us that he had had a sexual relationship with Taylor.  Is that true? 

PETERSON:  I can‘t comment on that.  We don‘t have Taylor here to tell us or disprove that.  If that in fact is what he‘s admitting to, however, he‘s admitting to a crime under Virginia law. 

ABRAMS:  What about this other possible person of interest?  What do you know about him? 

PETERSON:  Well, I don‘t know if the police are characterizing him as a person of interest, but as you may know, Taylor‘s car was found about a mile and a half from campus on September 17.  And they had a dog come in and track the scent from that car to a house nearby.  When they went to that house, they asked the couple who lived there if anyone else had access to that house.  And they said their nephew who lived down the street did.  That nephew‘s name is Jesse Schultz.  And police went and investigated him.

They subsequently arrested him for possession of cocaine.  It‘s my understanding, however, that he took a lie detector test, that the Richmond Police Department administered, and failed it in two key respects.  One, whether he knew Taylor Behl, two, whether he had ever been in her car. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

PETERSON:  The important thing—I don‘t think this has ever been tied together—is that the initial report that we had was that Taylor Behl left her dorm room that night to go skateboarding with three people and one of those three people apparently was supposed to be Jesse Schultz.  It is too big of a coincidence in my mind that the police would not be focusing in on him. 

ABRAMS:  All right, so Jim Nolan, do you have a sense of who the prime person of interest, as they like to call it these days, is? 

NOLAN:  Well they‘re really trying to stay away from that, Dan, but they are talking to several people who they believe have a possible connection to knowing her whereabouts within the day or two before she‘s known to have disappeared.  They are looking at a group of skateboarders.  They clearly have expressed an interest and you can tell that by the search warrants and even to some degree by the arrest in Mr. Fawley. 

And so those are two tracks that they‘re pursuing.  Whether those tracks intersect, whether or not an individual from one of those two groups decided that someone who is the last person to have known what happened to Taylor Behl, whether that comes up or not is still undecided.  The important thing to remember is the Richmond police have no evidence that a crime has been committed and...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Wait, wait, wait...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Except for the fact that they found her car with different license plates on them.  You could argue that that could show that she wanted to get away or something.  But they have found her car a mile and a half away from where she was last seen...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... with license plates that were stolen on the car... 

NOLAN:  The most compelling and troubling aspect of this case, Dan, is the fact that Taylor Behl has been missing for 23 days and no one has heard a word from her, no one has seen here.  There has been no trace of her.  That is what is giving the police and frankly the family cause of great concern for her safety.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right, there‘s the number.  If you‘ve got any information that could be relevant, please call the authorities.

Jim Nolan, George Peterson, Clint, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

VAN ZANDT:  Thanks Dan.

NOLAN:  Thank you Dan.

PETERSON:  Thank you...

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Scott Peterson, fighting Laci Peterson‘s mom from behind bars.  He says I‘m not ready to give up the money from Laci‘s life insurance policy quite yet. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Scott Peterson says he‘s entitled to Laci‘s life insurance policy.  Really?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Even from death row, Scott Peterson making headlines.  He‘s fighting Laci‘s mother for Laci‘s $250,000 life insurance policy.  Under California law, a convicted killer is no longer entitled to the benefits, that is, if there is a final judgment of conviction.  Scott Peterson‘s attorney is refusing to give up the money until all of his appeals are exhausted, which could be decades. 

Joining me now former California prosecutor Dean Johnson.  Dean, good to see you again.  All right, so what...

DEAN JOHNSON, FORMER CALIFORNIA PROSECUTOR:  Nice to see you Dan.

ABRAMS:  What do you make of this argument from Scott Peterson‘s  attorney who says well, this isn‘t actually a final judgment. 

JOHNSON:  Oh, it‘s not only incorrect, but it‘s self-defeating.  They‘re arguing that the case is on appeal, therefore, the judgment is not final.  Under California law, a case can‘t be appealed until it is final.  This was a final judgment when Judge Delucchi said it was final and pronounced judgment and sentence. 

You were there.  I was there.  It is a final judgment now and the only problem is that the Rocha‘s lawyers forgot to bring a certified copy of that final judgment to put into evidence.  That‘s the only reason that this hearing was really delayed. 

ABRAMS:  So they‘re going to bring that certified document and then this is a non-issue, Laci‘s family gets the money and Scott gets nothing? 

JOHNSON:  Yes, it should go very smoothly.  In fact, I would volunteer to walk across the street from my office and get them a copy of that certified judgment and send it to them if it would help them. 

ABRAMS:  All right, you‘ve heard the—you heard the offer, I‘m sure they can get it themselves, but Dean Johnson is offering.  Here‘s the law, a named beneficiary of a life insurance policy who feloniously and intentionally kills the principal obligee or the person upon whose life the policy is issued, is not entitled to any benefit under the policy and it becomes payable as though the killer had predeceased the decedent.

I mean the problem is, Dean, if you‘re always going to leave open the possibility for appeals, theoretically, there are always possibilities for future appeals. 

JOHNSON:  Oh, absolutely and when you think about the last person who was executed from California‘s death row, that took nearly 30 years.  It could be over a generation before all of the appeals, including the state appeal, habeas corpus and so on...

ABRAMS:  Right.

JOHNSON:  ... are exhausted.  By that time, the beneficiaries would be in an old age home.

ABRAMS:  Bottom line, the Rochas are going to get the money.  Good to hear.  Dean Johnson, good to see you again.  Thanks.

JOHNSON:  Nice to see you, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, I don‘t ever want to hear officials say that a hurricane is unprecedented again.  My swing in the blame game is coming up.

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike again.  The focus, this week, Arizona. 

Authorities need help finding Silvano Morales, age 36, 5‘7”, 175, level three sex offender, convicted of child molestation, had not registered with the authorities.  If you‘ve got any information on where he is, call the Arizona Department of Public Safety Sex Offender Compliance Unit, 602-255-0611.

Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—I‘ve said on previous shows that we need to figure out who is to blame for the response to Katrina?  Not just to ensure we learn lessons but so that we can get rid of the incompetence.  Now it appears it‘s not going to be an easy task. 

We‘ve seen former FEMA Director Michael Brown blaming local officials.  Local officials have generally blamed the feds.  So you get so political that we may not get the answers we need and as I‘ve said before, to blame everyone is to effectively blame no one.  But the blame game is only part of the solution.  The other more important part is taking steps now to prepare. 

Are there new plans in place in the event another hurricane strikes the region?  Weeks after Katrina, the Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson said on this show that Hurricane Rita was—quote—

“unprecedented” and that explained why there were not better—they were not better able to prevent the 100-mile long traffic jams outside of Houston.  Unprecedented?  How could that possibly be the explanation weeks after Katrina? 

From now on, no government official should be defending inaction or poor planning by saying a hurricane is unprecedented.  Massive hurricanes will hit the area again, period.  New buildings near the coast should be built to withstand major winds.  Evacuation plans should be in place to effectively move hundreds of thousands of people.  Contracts should be signed well ahead of time for companies to engage in the clean up. 

That will keep the prices down and prevent politically connected companies from getting sweetheart deals as may have been the case in Mississippi.  We need solutions to the problems of communication in the aftermath of disaster, solutions as to how to better coordinate the response.  I‘m afraid as everyone points at everyone else, that few are going to make concrete changes, and that when the next major hurricane hits, we‘ll hear again that it was unprecedented.  And then we‘ll have nothing more than a card in the blame game, which says go back to start. 

Coming up, we had a heated debate last night about the blame game and those now trying to blame the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which I thought was ridiculous.  You respond up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Yesterday we debated those trying to shift the blame about the response to Katrina to the media, ranging from what I said was the “L.A.  Times” to former FEMA Director Mike Brown.  I took on the media critics.

Sharon Allen from Charlottesville, Virginia, “Oh please, I saw no hysterical coverage of Hurricane Katrina.  I did see the city, state and federal government fail the people in New Orleans for almost a week and then try to back pedal blame.”

Jerry Bell from New York, “You, the media created the story and cast your emotional reporters as the stars, shrieking into microphones and cameras and sanctimoniously shouting blame at the federal government for causing something that nature and years of congressional neglect and Louisiana corruption and graft had caused.  Shame on you for your knee-jerk defense of the media.”

K. Patterson from Alpharetta, Georgia, “The media is damned if they do and damned if they don‘t.  The media has caught so much blame for not asking the administration harder questions about weapons of massive destruction and the entrance into the Iraq war, now they‘re being blamed for being in New Orleans and reporting what was being said and seen by people surviving this disaster, which has been deemed hysteria and inaccurate.”

Carrie Taranova from Lakeland, Florida, “How dumb do they think we are?  They try to blame the media.  Well the media is forcing them to either be exposed or be honest and they don‘t like it.”

Nancy Hagen from Quakertown, Pennsylvania specifically responds to the allegation that the media misreported there were 40 or 50 murders in the convention center and Superdome.  “I take exception to the shift in the blame game to the media.  I watched CNN and MSNBC almost all my waking hours for the whole first week.  I never heard any media report of 40 or 50 murders, and the New Orleans attorney speaking on your show should put up or shut up.  Let him name the date, time and network that made those reports.  From my recollection, the media talked about dead bodies at various places around the city and victims from the Superdome, alleged certain crimes, rapes and misconduct.  The media did the most effective job I‘ve ever seen.” 

Andy B. from Virginia Beach, “It‘s unfortunate that instead of recognizing your mistakes and correcting them that you choose to deny they occurred while still lauding self-praise.”

Michael Rodker from Hillsborough, New Jersey, “You guys were there.  You saw the events unfold firsthand and reported in a fashion that set new benchmarks for media coverage.  I was exceptionally proud of our media for the first time in a long while.”  Me too, Michael.

Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show.  That does it for us tonight.  Go nowhere, please. 

Tom DeLay joins Chris, plays “HARDBALL” coming up right now.  Thanks for watching.  I‘ll see you tomorrow. 

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

Copy: 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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