Guest: Pam Bondi, David Schwartz, Michelle Suskauer, Matthew Mangino, Ted
Simon, Patrick Davis, Sean Hejna, Donna Newman, Doug Burns
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, Florida teacher Debra Lafave agrees to a plea deal and stays out of jail all together even though she had sex with a 14-year-old student.
ABRAMS (voice-over): Prosecutors agree to the deal after the victim apparently says he doesn't want to testify. Lafave must now spend three years under house arrest. Did she get off too easy? Is there a double standard and if so, is that so bad?
And the 14-year-old girl who ran off with her 18-year-old boyfriend after he killed her parents says she left voluntarily. But did she know what he had just done? Could she face charges now?
Plus, police track down two Louisiana prisoners who escaped during Katrina and ended up in a Tennessee fraternity hanging with the fellows, even dating coeds. One of their frat brothers joins us.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone. First up on the docket tonight, a 25-year-old Florida reading teacher will not serve any jail time despite admitting that she had sex with a 14-year-old middle school student. Debra Lafave pleaded guilty today to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery, was sentenced to three years of house arrest and seven years probation. Prosecutors in Hillsboro County said they wanted to take the case to trial but at the last minute they agreed to the plea deal at the request of the victim's mother who didn't want her son to have to testify.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE SINACORE, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR: The victim's family relayed to us that they wanted this case over with. Unfortunately, the intense media coverage in this case has put the victim in even more of a spotlight than could have been anticipated. We do respect their requests, your honor, and that's why we have rescinded from our earlier position in plea negotiations and have agreed to this plea offer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: For the next three years Lafave will have a 10:00 p.m. curfew, should stay at least 1,000 feet from schools, day care centers or any place kids congregate. She has to enroll in an outpatient sex offender treatment. She's also forbidden from having any contact with the victim and has lost her teaching certificate for life. She will also have to register as a sex offender. She is not entitled to make any money off her crime. Her attorney had said his top priority was keeping his young attractive client out of jail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN FITZGIBBONS, LAFAVE'S ATTORNEY: To place an attractive young woman in that kind of hell hole is like putting a piece of raw meat in with the lions. I'm not sure that Debbie would be able to survive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: He had said his client planned to plead insanity arguing that emotional stress kept her from knowing right from wrong.
Joining us now is Florida prosecutor Pam Bondi who was in the courtroom this morning to hear Lafave's plea, Florida criminal defense attorney Michelle Suskauer and criminal defense attorney David Schwartz. Thank you all for coming on the program.
All right. Pam...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
ABRAMS: ... fair result here?
PAM BONDI, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR: No, Dan. We felt strongly that she should go to prison in this case. We still do. However, it's our position that in the end, of course, we have to look out for the victim and his family. And this basically all fell apart yesterday when the victim's mom said enough is enough. It had had intense, as you know, media scrutiny and she is a wonderful woman who is doing a good job raising her kids and wants him to have as normal of a life as possible after all of this.
ABRAMS: Here is what the victim's mother said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
“SALLY”, VICTIM'S MOTHER: Debra Lafave needed to be punished. What she did was wrong. And I believe that she is being punished. There is no guarantee that if we had gone to trial that she would go to prison.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Would you have backed off in this way, Pam, you think if this had been a man teacher?
BONDI: Dan, that's tough to say, if a victim's family came to us...
ABRAMS: ... same scenario...
BONDI: Yes, absolutely...
ABRAMS: If the teacher was a man, same result?
BONDI: Dan, absolutely and here's why. We don't want to further victimize a young child, a 14-year-old in this case and that happens. That happens, the defense attorneys can tell you, in sex cases around this country, but I think this got so much media attention because she is a female, she is an attractive female, but we felt she should go to prison.
Mark Ober, our state attorney, felt very strongly that she should go to prison and in fact met with the victim's mother 9:00, 10:00 last night to express our position in the case. But I guess in the end, it is the right thing. The victim can go on with his life. And, you know, we will see.
ABRAMS: David Schwartz, see, here's what I think happens in a case like this. I think that the prosecutors have to go after a woman the same way they would go after a man because as a legal matter you can't distinguish, but when push comes to shove and the end of the case comes around, I think a lot more people are willing to accept a lesser sentence for a very attractive young woman than they would for some, you know, older guy.
DAVID SCHWARTZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Absolutely, Dan. You are 100 percent right. There is a double standard here and it's not that big of a deal. It really isn't, Dan. This is a 15-year-old boy. We have to look at what the victim impact is here. And what is the victim impact really, Dan? Come on, he was probably the hero of his school...
ABRAMS: He is a little young. Look, I—on the issue, there is another case that we have been talking about a lot lately and that's the one of Pam Geisel in New York where mostly 17-year-olds, one 16-year-old, she had sex but they were like her friend—the friends were watching and they were all laughing about it behind her back. I felt sorry for her. I thought she was essentially the victim. That's what the judge thought. And, you know, I did apply a double standard there. Here, this is a young kid. This is a 14-year-old boy. I don't know that I'm willing to say that here.
SCHWARTZ: Look, but there is punishment here, Dan. They have a felony conviction. She is going to be on probation for seven years. She has sex offender status for the rest of her life...
ABRAMS: She was a teacher...
ABRAMS: But she was a teacher...
SCHWARTZ: And she is going to pay for that...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
SCHWARTZ: ... crime. She is going to have this felony for the rest of her life. It's just not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of criminal cases and to blame it on the media, to say that this deal took place because of the media is ridiculous. Either you have a case and you want to go forward to trial or you don't. You don't sit here and blame the media as the reason why you entered into a plea deal. It's ridiculous.
ABRAMS: Michelle, what do you make of this?
MICHELLE SUSKAUER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There is absolutely a double standard in the way that men and women are treated in these types of crimes. I represent men all the time that are charged with these types of crimes and they are in prison if there is a plea deal or they are found guilty...
ABRAMS: But in most of these cases...
SHUSTER: ... but there's no question...
ABRAMS: ... the women are imprisoned too. I mean this is an exception to the rule I have to say. I mean even Pam Geisel, the one who had sex with a 16-year-old who was almost 17 had to serve six months.
SUSKAUER: Well, she served six months, but I think most of it was time served...
SUSKAUER: ... and there was some women last year in Palm Beach County where I practice who did serve some time, also. But it's significantly less than what she was even initially offered...
ABRAMS: Do you have a problem with that that they served less?
ABRAMS: Do you have a problem with that?
SUSKAUER: No. You know, I don't think—I think her sentence was fair and appropriate but I think that women get treated differently than men...
ABRAMS: But is that...
SUSKAUER: ... so why should men have to go to...
ABRAMS: ... wrong? I'm asking you whether it's wrong.
SUSKAUER: Yes, I do think it's wrong. Yes, I do think it's wrong.
ABRAMS: Because the point David is making...
ABRAMS: ... David is saying, look, he's coming clean. He's saying I think there is a double standard and he is saying I understand the double standard and I think it's OK.
SUSKAUER: No. I think that there still—then you are saying that there is no harm that's ever going to be done to a boy...
ABRAMS: No, he's saying there's less harm.
SUSKAUER: ... a 14-year-old boy.
ABRAMS: He is saying there is less harm.
SCHWARTZ: I do think...
SCHWARTZ: Dan, I do think there is less harm here...
ABRAMS: Right. No I know...
ABRAMS: I'm just clarifying what you are saying to Michelle. He's not...
ABRAMS: See, again, it's not all or nothing. He is saying it's less egregious with a woman and an older boy than it is with a man and a girl.
SUSKAUER: No. I don't agree. I think you still have—you still have harm that's done. But what I'm saying is I think her sentence is fair and appropriate, but when you look at the men, the teachers who are in a position of authority, who are in a position of loyalty and trust who are charged with the exact same thing, same age difference, whether they are attractive or not, they are treated differently...
ABRAMS: So you think that they should all get less—lower sentences. The men and the women should all get lower sentences.
SUSKAUER: I just think that maybe we need to reevaluate how we handle these cases. I think that they need to be a little more uniform. And I think because of maybe her race, the fact that she is attractive, and the fact that she is a woman, she was treated differently...
ABRAMS: Pam, you work in that office.
ABRAMS: Is that what happened?
BONDI: Dan, absolutely not. I was there. I was involved in this the entire time. It had nothing to do with the way she looks. In fact, those statements offended us when people have been saying she was too pretty to go to prison. What happened here was a young victim and his mother came to us, did not want to go forward. We're not blaming this on the media.
That went into their thoughts and their reasoning as to why they didn't want to go forward because of the intense media publicity in this case. And we listened to them. And I guess the question is, in any case, do you force a victim to testify when, you know, when they don't want to...
BONDI: ... and their mother doesn't want to. And we discussed that at length.
SUSKAUER: The state does that all the time.
ABRAMS: Hang on...
SCHWARTZ: Dan, you need to hash this out though. You need to hash it out in the beginning, Dan. You can't sit here midway through the trial process the case is ready to go to trial and then all of the sudden say oh the victim wants—they don't want no part of it.
ABRAMS: But that happens.
ABRAMS: That happens.
SCHWARTZ: It shouldn't though.
SUSKAUER: It happens all the time.
BONDI: ... changed his position.
ABRAMS: Here's a little tape of...
SUSKAUER: This happens all the time.
ABRAMS: Here's the boy and Debra Lafave caught on tape.
BOY: I'm a little worried though.
BOY: Like I don't want you to like get pregnant or anything. I was just thinking about it and I was just thinking if next time, now that we've had sex about three times, if I should have a condom or something.
LAFAVE: Oh, you're being weird.
ABRAMS: You know, David, you got to admit I mean this is gross.
SCHWARTZ: Gross. I'm not justifying the conduct. However, this is a fair plea deal. And my point before was...
SCHWARTZ: ... very clear. You need to hash this out in the beginning of the process...
SCHWARTZ: You can't go forward—look, if you have a case, you've got tapes, you've got a criminal act, and you've got a witness, then go forward with the trial, but don't decide at the eleventh hour take a tough stance and then say all of a sudden oh the victim doesn't want to go forward. At that point it's a little bit too late. You got to decide in the beginning of the process.
ABRAMS: Pam, go ahead.
BONDI: Well it's obviously not too late because we did work this out late last night and it was a plea today, so I'm not certain he's making absolutely no sense. We felt strongly about our position. We still do, but as time went on it wore on this victim and his mother. And we respected that and again, we met with them for—Mark Ober, our state attorney, met with them at length last night...
BONDI: ... to strongly, you know, express our position in the case. But in the end, at the end of the day our—we have to look out for what's best for that boy...
BONDI: ... and hopefully to have a future and go to college and do well.
ABRAMS: Bottom line, this is a—I say a different case in the case of Beth Geisel, the one in New York, the one who was—had sex with this almost 17-year-old and the other 17-year-olds in that school I think that the judge is right there that those boys, it sounds like, took advantage of her. It was a statutory issue. This is different. This is a kid and I do think that there is a difference and you know what's interesting is of course that she's not serving any time and Beth Geisel served...
ABRAMS: ... six months, but that's the way it...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dan...
ABRAMS: Very quickly...
ABRAMS: I got to wrap it up, but Pam Bondi and Michelle Suskauer and David Schwartz, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, more documents just released in the case of the teen who killed his girlfriend's parents. We now know she left with him willingly. He's charged with murder. What about her?
And he was accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack in this country, held as an enemy combatant without charges. As the U.S. Supreme Court got ready to hear his case, now he suddenly is charged with planning holy war overseas. What happened to the claim that he was going to attack here at home?
Plus, two convicts back in prison tonight after breaking out during Hurricane Katrina. It turns out they were hanging out with the brothers at a Tennessee fraternity who had no idea who they really were.
Your e-mails email@example.com. Please include your name and where you're writing from. I respond at the end of the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD GARIPOLI, WARWICK TOWNSHIP POLICE CHIEF: The main concern right now with them is to get back Kara here to her family and that is my main concern also. She is the victim in this case until I hear otherwise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Nine days after the murders of her parents, 14-year-old Kara Borden has told authorities that she left the scene of her parents' murder willingly, voluntarily jumping in the car with her 18-year-old boyfriend David Ludwig after he shot her mom and dad to death according to papers filed late yesterday in Pennsylvania. Ludwig is facing double murder charges for the murders of Michael and Cathryn Borden, Kara's parents.
Quote—“After killing Mr. and Mrs. Borden, Ludwig was not able to find Kara Borden. He fled the residence and drove around in his car in an effort to locate her, saw Borden running down the road towards him. Ludwig then opened the car and Borden got into the car. She told him that she wanted to stay with him and they drove west with the intent to get as far away as possible, get married and start a new life. At no time did Ludwig force her to go with him after he shot and killed her parents. Rather she acknowledged going with him of her own free will.”
In addition to the two murder charges police had also filed kidnapping charges against Ludwig alleging he forcibly took her across state lines into Indiana where he was caught and arrested just over 24 hours later. But yesterday, the Pennsylvania D.A. prosecuting the case said the kidnapping charge against Ludwig would be dropped.
Joining us now is Meredith Jorgensen, a reporter for the NBC affiliate WGAL, who joins us from the Lancaster County Prison where David Ludwig is being held. Matthew Mangino, the D.A. in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Ted Simon.
All right, Meredith, let's start with you. The D.A. has just filed some new documents in addition to the ones from last night. What do they say?
MEREDITH JORGENSEN, WGAL-TV REPORTER: Dan, that's right. There are important details included in these two new court documents we've obtained late this afternoon in the Borden double murder case and these papers include more conversations between 18-year-old murder suspect David Ludwig and police after the November 13 murders.
First, Ludwig tells police it wasn't that difficult to kill the couple early that Sunday morning in the Borden's home. The documents say he drew the pistol and shot Mr. Borden as he was going down the hallway. Ludwig says—quote—“I did not aim. I have a lot of shooting experience and I usually hit what I shoot at.”
After the shootings, we've learned Ludwig's girlfriend, Kara Borden, fled with him willingly. The court papers say according to Ludwig he and Kara decided to get as far as possible, get married and start a new life. When asked if Kara ever asked him to kill her parents he said no.
Now this is a major development as far as Kara Borden is concerned in this case, Dan. It shows that she was not a part of these apparent premeditated murders and we've spoken with Kara Borden's attorney, Bob Beyer, here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and he says Kara was not an accomplice in these murders and that getting in the car with Ludwig after he apparently committed these crimes in and of itself is not a crime and that's the latest we have learned from these two motions filed today in court—Dan.
ABRAMS: All right, Meredith, if you can stick around for a minute.
All right, so Matthew Mangino so what? So the boy says she didn't know about it, her lawyer says she didn't know about it, but I assume they are still going to investigate, right?
MATTHEW MANGINO, PA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I certainly think they will. That's not unexpected. You know the boyfriend may certainly be trying to cover for his girlfriend and what do you expect from her attorney to say anything different than that. I would assume that this investigation is going to go on and the charges could possibly be filed against Kara as this investigation develops.
ABRAMS: But, Ted Simon, her age is an incredibly important factor here, is it not?
TED SIMON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Oh, no question. She is quite young, youthful, impressionable, probably very vulnerable. It was a shocking, stunning and some may say even inexplicable act, but to consider her a potential defendant I think at this point is a far cry. I mean the law enforcement indicated she was a victim.
They charged him with kidnapping at the outset. We don't know anything to change that situation. So she easily is one, either a victim under some strange situation or, two, she could even be a heroine in the sense that she got in the car to go away so he wouldn't then come back in the house and perhaps kill others.
So you know, we don't have any evidence yet that would suggest that she was aware of any illegal act that he was considering and in Pennsylvania, the law is very strong in that the essence of a conspiracy you have to show an agreement. There is nothing to show any kind of prior agreement...
ABRAMS: All right.
SIMON: ... nor is there any evidence to show there's any aiding and abetting...
ABRAMS: That's what I was going to—well forget about prior to, Matthew Mangino. What about after the fact? I mean if she's witnessed these murders and she then gets in the car willingly with this guy and says oh, let's go you know live our lives. Let's go get married and she goes off with him, is she not then aiding in his escape?
MANGINO: Oh she certainly is. And if the prosecutor in Lancaster County was going to charge that, certainly they'd have to charge her as a juvenile because of her age.
ABRAMS: Why would he have to? I mean is Pennsylvania law you are not allowed to be charged as an adult if you are 14?
MANGINO: That's correct. You could attempt to certify her as an adult, you know, into the adult court, but initially you'd have to charge her as a juvenile. She cannot be charged as an adult with any of these crimes absent homicide.
Now if they decide to charge her with homicide they can, in fact, charge her as an adult and the law says that homicide is not a delinquent act and therefore, she can be charged in that regard. But any other charge, aiding, abetting, even conspiracy to commit homicide would require the prosecutor in Lancaster County to certify her to the adult court because she is 14 years of age right now.
ABRAMS: All right, Ted, let's assume for a moment then that she is some sort of juvenile proceeding. I mean if she's witnessed her parents just being killed, and then gets in the car willingly with the murderer to go supposedly live their lives together, criminal?
SIMON: Well, “to live their lives together”—quote, as I understood the reporter was coming from the mouth of Ludwig. So I'm not sure what she is saying about it. She got in the car clearly willingly and traveled with him. That in and of itself does not make one an accessory after the fact and, therefore, not liable.
She would have to do much more to become an accessory after the fact. And, frankly, unless there is some significant evidence that shows she had some knowledge prior, either in e-mails or something like that, I think she's—it would complicate the case far too much to try to say she is anything else but a victim or, you know, youthful but not necessarily criminal.
ABRAMS: Meredith, are you getting any sense from the folks there as to how seriously they are investigating Kara?
JORGENSEN: As of this point, the district attorney here in Lancaster County is still saying they are in the investigative stage as far as Kara Borden is concerned. Definitely with David Ludwig he's in prison here at the Lancaster County Prison. They went from investigating to prosecuting. But at this point, as far as Kara is concerned, they are still just investigating if she really did have more to do with these murders than she is saying.
ABRAMS: Yes and Matthew the way you go about doing that is you grab all the computer records, you take everything that they've sent to one another and you try and assess what did she know before all this happened.
MANGINO: Right. There is no question. And I think that those e-mails, for instance, are very important. There are some things that were said in those e-mails, for instance, that you know we're going to take care of this. You know, Mr. Ludwig could go to jail, those kind of issues in the e-mail I think are very important with regard to her state of mind what she knew before this action actually took place and if in fact she knew that there was going to be a murder committed there, she could be charged as an adult with murder.
SIMON: Well, all of those things are impossible and I know the district attorney there moved for the—he had an order granted to secure all the contents of all the electronic correspondence, but it's a far cry to suggest that merely because those are going to be acquired that there's going to be anything of value in those e-mails...
SIMON: ... and in fact the way this played out, you know, she was discovered lying to her parents that she was with Ludwig as opposed to sleeping over at some other house and they called Ludwig in to say to talk about it. This was somewhat spontaneous. There wasn't that much time, an hour or two.
SIMON: He comes over. She doesn't necessarily know he has a gun. She doesn't necessarily know this is going to happen. And he may not know that he's going to do it until the father says you are not going to see your, you know your love anymore. So this could very well even not be a first-degree murder case for Ludwig.
MANGINO: I don't think that's the case at all.
ABRAMS: He brought over some guns...
SIMON: He sure did.
MANGINO: But there is no question this is a first-degree murder case with regard to Ludwig.
MANGINO: And she may be just as culpable if, in fact, she planned with him to have these murders...
ABRAMS: Lots of ifs, was it someone like Howard Cosell if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we'd all have a merry Christmas...
ABRAMS: (INAUDIBLE) Meredith Jorgensen, Matthew Mangino, Ted Simon, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Dan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening.
ABRAMS: Coming up, two cons back behind bars tonight. Look at these guys. They escaped during Hurricane Katrina and turned up partying at a Tennessee fraternity, hanging out with the fellows, dating coeds and getting money destined for Katrina victims.
And the feds charged suspected dirty bomber Jose Padilla trying to wage holy war overseas. What happened to the claim he was trying to blow up hotels in this country?
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to help find missing sex offenders before they strike again. Our search today in Iowa.
Authorities need your help finding Brian Fifer, 42, 5'8”, 127, convicted of kidnapping and sexual abuse in '91, has not registered with the state. If you've got any information on his whereabouts, please call the Iowa Sex Offender Registry, 515-281-4976.
Back in a minute.
ABRAMS: Coming up, two Louisiana prisoners who escaped during Hurricane Katrina ended up in a Tennessee fraternity partying hard with the brothers. They are back under arrest. Wait until you hear how they were caught. First the headlines.
ABRAMS: Some students at the University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus just got a graduate course in getting conned. The two con men, two slick-talking Louisiana convicts picked their way out of prison before talking their way into a university frat house pretending to be refugees from Hurricane Katrina.
NBC's Kerry Sanders has the story.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During the Katrina crisis with New Orleans under water, law enforcement stretched thin, residents fleeing across the nation, two men showed up on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville with a student I.D. from Tulane in New Orleans. The Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity opened its doors and hearts.
PATRICK DAVIS, LAMBDA CHI ALPHA FRATERNITY: They had very credible stories. They presented themselves as just—as true brothers of this fraternity.
SANDERS: But they were far from fraternity brothers. Twenty-two-year-old Zachary Arabie and 31-year-old Steven Ridge were two enterprising inmates at a Louisiana prison. They escaped using a Popsicle stick to pick a cell door lock. They wound up in Knoxville attending fraternity parties, even dating coeds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were very generous with their money.
SANDERS: The duo who were serving time for forgery and armed robbery allegedly had resumed their old lives too, Ridge was arrested after trying to pass off forged $10 bills at this gas station. Arabie was picked up outside the college library. Police believe both men obtained $4,000 in Hurricane Katrina aid. Real Katrina victims in New Orleans are outraged.
KAREN COHEN, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: My life has pretty much fallen apart here and these guys were out having a great time.
SANDERS: Back on campus, the experience, a course in life, no one signed up to take.
BRETT SKYLLINGSTAD, LAMBDA CHI ALPHA FRATERNITY: I'm going to definitely second guess every other person and it's sad.
SANDERS: Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami.
ABRAMS: Patrick Davis is a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity at the University of Tennessee who spent time with the fugitives you just saw (INAUDIBLE). And Sergeant Sean Hejna of the Knoxville County Police helped make both arrests. Thanks very much, appreciate both of you coming on the program.
All right, Patrick, let me start with you. Give us a sense of how these guys come in. I mean the first time they show up, what, they say they are actually in your fraternity but down at Tulane?
PATRICK DAVIS, KNEW KATRINA FUGITIVES: Yes, sir, they did. They came to our doorsteps posing as refugees from Hurricane Katrina and you know given the circumstances and everyone's desire just to lend a helping hand, we took them in. And they said that they were members of our fraternity and we just decided not to ask too many questions because we didn't want to seem rude or unwelcoming.
ABRAMS: How long did they stay? Did they stay at your fraternity house?
DAVIS: Yes, sir. They actually lived at the house for a little over a week.
ABRAMS: So that was it? It was just a period of one week?
DAVIS: Yes, sir.
ABRAMS: So in this one week they were able to start dating coeds, too?
DAVIS: Well, it's my understanding they then moved out of the house and rented an apartment with the funds they were receiving from the Katrina aid.
ABRAMS: (INAUDIBLE) so, what, then they start just coming back for parties, et cetera, to the fraternity?
DAVIS: After they left, they actually kind of distanced themselves a little bit. I found that they actually got jobs at local establishments close to the campus and apparently did become involved with people outside of the chapter.
ABRAMS: They didn't go to class or anything, did they?
DAVIS: No, sir. It was my understanding that they were actually seeking admission into the university though. How far along in the process they actually were in you know that of applying I'm not sure.
ABRAMS: Blatant idiots. They are actually trying to get into the university. That's a strong move. All right. Sergeant, you got these guys because, what, one of them tries to pass off a fake $10 bill at a gas station.
SGT. SEAN HEJNA, KNOXVILLE COUNTY POLICE: Basically that's it. (INAUDIBLE) David Powell and I along with another investigator were on our way back, Jeff Sellers (ph), we were on our way back from lunch one afternoon and we stopped at a local convenience store and he passed a counterfeit bill in front of Investigator Powell. Investigator Powell, of course, was in plain clothes, became very nervous, which led our questions to be a little bit deeper. He tried to run from us. He assaulted both of us, taken into custody, so...
ABRAMS: Well let me be clear. So it wasn't that the—that someone, an attendant noticed that it was a fake $10 bill. One of your people saw him literally handing over the $10 bill could tell from looking at it that it was a fake?
HEJNA: No, sir. No, sir. I'm sorry. The attendant actually marked the bill with a counterfeit pen and they had a discussion and Investigator Powell overheard the conversation, which heightened his...
ABRAMS: Got it.
HEJNA: ... yes, his suspicions.
ABRAMS: So why was no one looking for these guys if they were escapees?
HEJNA: Well, to be honest with you, we didn't have any information at all from Louisiana that they were on the run and possibly headed up this way.
ABRAMS: Do you know why? I mean I'm not blaming you guys, but do you know why the Louisiana authorities didn't say hey, there are two guys who picked their way out of a prison cell?
HEJNA: Well, and they may have locally down there. I think it was the understanding of the locals in the area that these guys were probably still in Louisiana. So I'm sure that they put out BOLO's down there and probably sent out teletypes. It just didn't make it to Tennessee.
ABRAMS: Patrick, they seem like nice guys (INAUDIBLE)?
DAVIS: They actually really were. That was kind one of the most surprising things about it. They were—they seemed to be genuinely nice guys granted, you know, we didn't even know their true names. They gave us false aliases. They were very generous with their finances and their resources and just kind of I guess attempted to fit in as best they could and they did a pretty good job of it.
ABRAMS: You know I remember when I was in college there was a guy who faked he was part of the Rothschild family and fooled the fraternity down at Duke and almost, almost like gave them all sorts of things but eventually, you know, when you go to one of these highfaluting schools and you claim you are a Rothschild, someone says oh yes, I knew Steve Rothschild and the guy gets busted.
Anyway, blah, blah, blah, blah. Patrick Davis and Sergeant Sean Hejna, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
DAVIS: Thank you.
HEJNA: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the U.S. citizen initially held in the dirty bomb case finally indicted today more than two years later for not for what we thought. His lawyer joins us next.
And later not many people know what it's like to be found not guilty in your wife or ex-wife's murder trial, but then liable for her death in a civil trial unless, of course, you are O.J. Yes, he's giving advice to Robert Blake. It's my closing argument.
Your e-mails firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and where you're writing from. I respond at the end of the show.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the feds finally charge suspected dirty bomber Jose Padilla, but not for planning an attack on this country. What happened? We will talk with Padilla's attorney up next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ASHCROFT, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: It's a frightening claim by former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a plot by al Qaeda to set off a radioactive bomb possibly in Washington. The bomber, an American named Jose Padilla, once a teenage gang member in Chicago implicated in a murder when he was 13. After a stint in Florida jails, a convert to Islam. The government says Padilla went to Afghanistan to train in Osama bin Laden's camps before coming home to attack America.
President Bush declared Padilla an enemy combatant without the right to have his case heard in the courts. Padilla's lawyers fought that for three years while he was held in military jails. Well his case is about to come up before the Supreme Court on Monday, the government changed course. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announcing a Florida grand jury indicted Padilla as part of a conspiracy with four other suspects.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to murder individuals who are overseas. The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting and violent jihad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Padilla could get life in prison if convicted, but there was no mention of any plot to set off a dirty bomb here or his court papers later allege blow up apartment buildings. We don't know what happened to the government's case. Was Padilla's status as an enemy combatant over? Attorney General Gonzales wouldn't say.
Donna Newman is Jose Padilla's attorney and Doug Burns is a former federal prosecutor. All right, Donna Newman, I've never heard of a case where a lawyer and probably a client are celebrating the fact that the person has been indicted.
DONNA NEWMAN, JOSE PADILLA'S ATTORNEY: That is true. We are celebrating. We have been asking for this for three and a half years. We only wanted our day in court. And we are going to get it and I know that in the end we will be successful in that.
ABRAMS: Now, is the way that the government got a lot of the information from Jose Padilla himself?
NEWMAN: Well, I wouldn't know that, but I will say that the indictment stems from charges from 1993 through 2001, having nothing to do with the allegations that they put forth through the press for three and a half years now. And what is really disturbing to me is that they refused to answer for holding an American citizen for three and a half years in solitary confinement and simply to say, well, you know, that's not relevant here.
It is irrelevant. Well, I can tell you that it is not irrelevant. It is not irrelevant to America that a citizen can be held for three and a half years and the government simply say well, we are going to bring other charges.
ABRAMS: Yes. Doug, I got to tell you I'm troubled by that. I really am. I'm really troubled by the fact that the government comes forward and says we have stopped a dirty bomb attack effectively...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
ABRAMS: ... and we are going to hold this guy and then they hold him for three and a half years and now they are charging him with something completely having nothing to do with that.
DOUG BURNS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, yes. I mean to break down the legal analysis the Justice Department maintained all along, Dan that if he is an enemy combatant, even if he is taking out of the combat zone because don't forget he was arrested in Chicago at O'Hare Airport and he's a U.S. citizen that they can hold him under executive authority.
The courts were split on it, though, OK. The Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court determination that said you couldn't do it and it was headed for the Supreme Court. So I think, you know, without me analyzing the motivations, there is no doubt that this action was to avoid a showdown in the Supreme Court over it.
BURNS: I agree with you.
ABRAMS: But OK, let's assume that that's the case. But you know isn't there some—let's assume that this was done to avoid a showdown in the Supreme Court.
ABRAMS: Isn't there something troubling about the fact that the attorney general of the United States is going on television, announcing—this is serious stuff. I mean to me there's almost nothing more serious that our government can tell us that they've -- than they've stopped...
ABRAMS: ... a dirty bomb attack on an American city.
BURNS: I'm sorry, Dan. I misunderstood you and you are exactly right. For the former attorney general to throw that type of bomb scare in and then there is no charge to that effect...
BURNS: ... I agree that is somewhat disturbing, yes. But the new indictment, which I perused today, is very serious. It says that he was a member of a northeast you know serious terrorism cell and, again, it's interesting from MS. Newman's point of view this is what they wanted all along. Now, he has been transferred, by the way, from military custody into regular federal custody and he gets all the rights, a trial, subpoena power and all of it...
ABRAMS: And let me ask you the reverse, Donna Newman. Here's...
ABRAMS: ... part of the indictment. The purpose of the conspiracy was to advance violent jihad including supporting and participating in armed confrontations in specific locations outside the United States and committing acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming for the purposes of opposing existing governments and civilian factions and establishing Islamic states.
Is there an argument that this actually supports the government's theory here, which is they say, look, the reason we hold people as enemy combatants is because we don't know exactly what charge they would face in a courtroom. We want to question them. We want to interrogate them. We know that they are opposed to the policies of the United States and they want to kill—they are part of the radical Islamic movement that wants to kill Americans and we want to make sure that they can't harm anyone until the time that we are ready to charge them and that's exactly what we did here.
NEWMAN: Well we can turn the criminal justice system on its head and say we don't need it anymore. Let's have a new criminal justice system or a new system in which we simply make allegations and we don't have to ever prove them in court. That's not what we have. We have what's known as a democracy thank you very much in which I believe in. And the fact that we don't have a totalitarian government in which says, well, you know, for security reasons, which is exactly, by the way, what they said in Nazi Germany when they “arrested”, in quotes, people they called enemies of the state and they would not release them under the same theory. So I disagree. And I do want to pick up on something that was said.
ABRAMS: Quickly, yes.
NEWMAN: As soon as the government is pushed to the wall, in this case, the Supreme Court served position...
NEWMAN: ... they changed courses. They did that with Hamdi. They fear the court. We do not. We welcome the courts.
ABRAMS: Yes. All right. Well, look, I think this is one of those cases that is probably the least popular among the American public when it comes to the government's action. I think that generally the public has been very supportive of the government's actions, whether you are or not. When it comes to fighting terrorism people are sort of willing to give the government a bit of latitude, but this case I think has really been troubling to a lot of people.
Donna Newman and Doug Burns, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
BURNS: Thank you.
NEWMAN: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, Robert Blake found liable for his wife's death now getting advice from O.J. He was also found not guilty of his wife's murder and liable for her death. Seems O.J. thinks Bobby Blake is getting a raw deal, “Closing Argument”.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to help find missing sex offenders before they strike. This week Iowa.
Please help authorities locate Donald Sheets, five-four, 5'9”—sorry, 54, 5'9”, 210. Sheets was convicted of assault to commit rape—is that what it's called—in 1998. He was convicted of rape with force in 1970. Sheets hasn't properly registered with the state. If you've got any information, that's the number, 515-281-4976.
Be right back.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—imagine for a moment that you are Robert Blake, a semi celebrity who has just been found responsible for the death of your wife, ordered by a civil jury to pay $30 million, this after you were found not guilty by a criminal jury. Who is the last person you'd want out there publicly defending you? OK, it's fair to say you wouldn't want Michael Jackson, but there's one person worst, the only guy who went through the same experience with even more evidence against him.
No conviction by a criminal jury, but found responsible for killing your wife or ex in his case by a civil jury. You got it, O.J. Rather than continuing to relish his good fortune that he is not behind bars for life, O.J. is speaking out against the system that found him and Blake responsible.
Quote—“I still don't get how anyone can be found not guilty of murder and then be found responsible for it in any way, shape or form.”
About the lower burden of proof in a civil case, having to only prove it was more likely than not rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, O.J. added If that was the standard in criminal trials, only 51 percent and so many people would be convicted that we'd have to build more jails.
That's right, O.J., but it's not the standard in criminal trials, despite the fact that this is just usually, you know the usual sort of O.J. nonsense, it's a concept worth explaining. In a criminal trial, it's not the victim versus the alleged perpetrator. It's the state. In these cases of California, saying this person's freedom should be taken away, the standard of proof higher.
And only the state can try to take someone's freedom away. The victims aren't parties to the criminal case. Both criminal juries found they didn't believe there was enough evidence to take away O.J. or Blake's freedom. OK. A civil case is a victim's only chance to take on the person who wronged them, money, the only real punishment available.
With no one's freedom at stake, it's just a case between two individuals or groups who is more likely right. And in both the Blake and Simpson cases, the jurors just used their common sense to reach what I believe were the right verdicts. So they are two very different types of trials. Now O.J. is also offering up other advice for Blake on life after the verdict. Let me chime in with a little advice for “Baretta”. Don't listen to O.J.
Coming up, many of you on my case for saying that I feel sorry for that Albany teacher sentenced for having sex with her 16-year-old student. Coming up.
ABRAMS: I have had my say, now it's time for your rebuttal. The founder of the Crips gang Tookie Williams convicted of killing four people, schedule to be executed next month, pleading with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for clemency. His supporters including many celebrities say he's turned his life around behind bars, helping people avoid gangs. We asked should that matter.
Karen Roy says no. “Although it's great that he's written books and inspired Snoop Dogg, I think it sends a bigger message to children not to join gangs by letting him fry.”
But Sareen Anand from Stanford, Connecticut, “This man should have a second chance. If our prisons are created to rehabilitate those in them, shouldn't matter what you did in the past to get a second chance.”
I spoke to the Reverend Jesse Jackson who claimed Williams didn't have a jury of his peers. I said legally he's not entitled to one.
Garry Gibson in Black Forest, Colorado, “If Reverend Jackson insists that Mr. Williams was not tried by a jury of his peers, should the jury have consisted of 12 black gang members?”
Also last night a New York teacher sentenced for having sex with a 16-year-old at her school. She pleaded guilty to one count of rape. The judge and I felt bad for her because this boy was part of a group along with 17-year-olds who took advantage of her weakness and alcoholism.
Pat writes, “The idea that the teacher raped the male student is absurd. It's an insult to the male students in this particular case and to the public in general.”
Gina Reynolds in Phoenix, Arizona, “You basically endorsed this kind of heterosexual behavior between young women and teenage boys. This woman deserves a lot harsher sentence than she got and you deserve at least 40 lashes with a wet noodle.”
A wet noodle? But seriously, I'm not endorsing anything. I feel sorry for her. To those who want her to fry then believe it would be impossible for a group of 16 and 17-year-olds to rape a woman? Not that that was the allegation here, but they do seem to have taken advantage of her. A wet noodle?
Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com. We go through them at the end of the show.
That does it for us tonight. Coming up next, another man who needs to be hit with a wet noodle, Chris Matthews.
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