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'The Abrams Report' for Jan. 4th

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Dr. Robert Cohen, Vince Richardson, Tim Bailey, Victor Schwartz, Susan Filan, Larry Kaye, Jim Nolan, Clint Van Zandt

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, joy to horror as family members of the miners trapped in a West Virginia coal mine learn the truth about what happened. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Tell me why they done this to our families.

ABRAMS (voice-over):  First they are told 12 miners were rescued alive but then hours later the truth, only one made it out alive.  So how did he survive? 

And another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive, new details about what happened the night honeymooner George Smith disappeared.  A preview of my exclusive interview with the ship‘s captain. 

Plus, a Virginia murder mystery, a husband and wife and their two daughters found bound with their throats cut in their home on New Year‘s Day. 

The program about justice starts now. 


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket, the 12 West Virginia coal miners dead after an explosion in the mine left them trapped for nearly two days.  It was an emotional roller coaster for the families of the miners.  Initially word got out that 12 of the 13 had survived.  That relief extinguished hours later when officials announced there was actually only one survivor. 

Here is how it unfolded last night. 


RITA COSBY, “LIVE & DIRECT” HOST:  We are just getting word now some breaking news, crossing the AP wires at this moment that apparently they have located one body inside the mine. 

BEN HATFIELD, INTL. COAL GROUP, INC. PRES. & CEO:  Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to identify and confirm the deceased miner‘s identity.  Plans are to bring the body out as soon as possible and identification may precede removal of the body. 

COSBY:  We have some stunning news that we have just learned.  NBC News and The Associated Press are confirming information that the 12 miners, remember 12 were missing as of a few moments ago that they are alive.  This is incredible news that we are just learning. 




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you hear the church bells? 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Praise the Lord, they are alive, they are alive. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We were sitting here in the vehicle and somebody come running down here screaming, they are all alive...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All we heard was praise the Lord, we got them out. 

That‘s all we heard. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It wasn‘t very hopeful beginning. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We was pretty well wondering what was going to happen and now we got our hope. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right now we‘re going go to NBC‘s Ron Allen with some late breaking news.  Ron, what is going on?  

RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  What‘s happening it seems to be terrible, and I just want to make sure that we‘ve got this right.  There is a big meeting going on at the church where all the families are.  They are coming out.  They are distraught.  One relative said that they are saying that there are not a lot of survivors.

COSBY:  I have been talking to family members, Bill, and if this is indeed the case now that they are finding out after being told that 12 of them are alive and now finding out that 11 are dead, what a roller coaster, what a horrible experience for these family members. 

HATFIELD:  The initial report from the rescue team to the command center indicated multiple survivors.  But that information proved to be a miscommunication.  The only confirmed survivor is Randal L. McCloy Jr., who has now been rushed to a local hospital in serious condition. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Let me tell you people, this is wrong. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We were told that there were 12 survivors. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They straight out lied to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) millions of people watching and all the families here.  As you can tell there is probably 20,000 people waiting for good news and we got it and it was nothing but lies. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I call this unjustice and I will tell you all right here right now, I plan on suing. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We don‘t even know if there is a Lord any more. 

We had a miracle and it was taken away from us.  What happened, people? 

Tell me.

HATFIELD:  What happened is that through stray cell phone conversations, it appears that this miscommunication from the rescue team underground to the command center was picked up by various people that simply overheard the conversation, was relayed through cell phone communications without our ever having made a release. 

GOV. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  Let me just say that we were hoping for 13 miracles and we‘re still clinging on to one miracle. 


ABRAMS:  All right.  Joining me now with the latest from West Virginia, MSNBC‘s Rita Cosby who was bringing us breaking news into the early morning hours of today.  Rita, before we talk about your conversations with a lot of the family members—I know you have been spending a lot of time with them and so you‘ve gotten a real good sense of how they are feeling now—let me just ask you a little bit about last night. 

I mean it sounds like this kind of spread like a game of telephone meaning—to the officials, I‘m not talking even about the media.  The point is here that you were talking to senior-level officials there and people who work at the mine, et cetera, and they are all giving you the same information, right? 

COSBY:  Indeed, Dan, we got it from multiple sources.  We got it from the fire chief who was on the scene, who got it from the command center.  We got it from the head of the West Virginia Coal Mining Association who also spoke to people at the command center.  We got it from multiple sources, even from the hospital. 

We had a spokesperson from the hospital on our air saying that she was told a number of survivors were en route and now we just got some more clarification.  In fact, they just finished a press conference here right in front of the Sago mine where officials walked us through a little bit of the timetable, Dan. 

And what they are saying is that a little bit before midnight they had gotten word and there are about 30 people, they said, that heard this transmission on the command center sort of intercom system from the rescue crews below, they thought that the transmission said that 12 are alive.  Then they said that about 30 to 45 minutes later, they realized that that was an erroneous report, that they may have misheard the people and that now they were getting information that there was only one survivor. 

The big question today, Dan, is why did they let it go so long when they heard the church bells ringing...

ABRAMS:  Right.

COSBY:  ... the families elated.  And that‘s the anger today. 


COSBY:  The families were celebrating for three hours. 

ABRAMS:  And the family members were getting the informing not from the media, right?  I mean they were getting it straight from officials from the company? 

COSBY:  Yes, in fact there was a mine foreman who we are hearing about notified some family members and friends in the church, family members were telling us that they were being notified that their loved ones, the miners who were alive were actually coming over and greeting family members and in addition to the family members, we were told from numerous officials. 

And as we just heard from the head of the International Coal Group, which owns the mine, they even confirmed that they were hugging each other, all these dozens of people at the command center were cheering and jubilating, even hugging the governor saying they are all alive. 

ABRAMS:  Rita, this has got to be so tough for those family members.  They have been through so much.  But there are really two issues here, aren‘t there?  I mean there‘s—number one there‘s the issue of safety at the mine.  And number two is the issue of the bad information. 

COSBY:  Yes, you know you point out there are two fold and then now they‘re also dealing with, of course Dan, the horrific loss of 12 of their loved ones.  I mean everybody in this community you know knew some of the miners.  This is just a real tight-knit community.  That‘s first and foremost. 

And then as you point out, the safety issue of the mine.  More than 200 violations and if you look at it, it had a very bad track record.  Multiple violations.  The question was were these much more egregious than other mines.  That‘s being looked at significantly.

And also did it contribute?  We don‘t know if that at this point what exactly caused the initial explosion.  That at this point they surmise release some deadly carbon monoxide gases that they believe at this point is the cause and ultimately took the lives of these people.

In addition to that you point out the communications.  I mean talk about a double tragedy.  I was here as you just saw throughout the night, and you know and as a journalist who covers the stories and you want the best for these wonderful people who are just praying and hoping that their loved ones are alive. 

And when we found out and we were getting word that 12 of them were alive, you know everybody was cheering...

ABRAMS:  Oh yes.

COSBY:  Everybody was hugging.  And you just—your heart just went out to the family.  And then to find out that this company knew for three hours and now we‘re learning at least two and a half hours or so that that report was erroneous...


COSBY:  ... and that they let it happen.  These family members are livid.

ABRAMS:  All right.  And look, we are all going to demand some answers on this one, that‘s for sure. 

COSBY:  You bet.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Rita is going to have more on this tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.  Rita thanks a lot.

Now the question, how and why did that one miner survive?  Twenty-seven-year-old Randal McCloy, the sole survivor, rushed to the hospital in critical condition.  Doctors hopeful because he showed no immediate signs of brain damage or carbon dioxide poisoning and he seemed to respond to some stimuli. 


DR. LAWRENCE ROBERTS, WV UNIVERSITY RUBY MEMORIAL HOSP.:  The progression of the disease of having been laying still for so many hours and poorly hydrated for that period of time has resulted in some kidney dysfunction.  His kidneys are not particularly working right now.  We‘re instituting hemodialysis, which is a filtration process, which will start here momentarily, and we assume that will be a temporarily phenomenon while the kidneys recover. 


ABRAMS:  Joining me now Dr. Robert Cohen of Cook County Hospital in Chicago.  He‘s also the medical director of the Black Lung Clinic and on the CDC‘s Mine and Safety Research Committee.  Thanks a lot, Doctor, for coming on the program. 

First let me ask you, based on what you have heard about this miner‘s condition, he would be expected to survive, correct? 

DR. ROBERT COHEN, MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF BLACK LUNG CLINIC:  It sounds like he would, especially if his neurologic status was intact, if he was moving and responding to commands and it sounds like he has a good chance. 

ABRAMS:  What could it be that would have led him to survive and none of the others, assuming that they were all in the same basic area, could his age have been a factor?

COHEN:  Certainly the younger you are then the less chance you have of having heart disease or other problems that would make it more likely that the toxic carbon monoxide would cause a problem.  But also it‘s a question of how quickly you get yourself rescuer, your escape respirator on and activated.  And that also may have a factor. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, the breathing equipment really could have been—played a big role here, although supposedly it only provides about an hour to two of oxygen or purifying ability.  Here‘s what they said today in the press conference about that equipment. 


HATFIELD:  The miners carry by law what is called be a SCSR, which is an independent oxygen supply.  And it lasts for a specified period of time. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Roughly how long? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Normally an hour. 

HATFIELD:  Normally an hour in aggressive walking.  Obviously if you are in a position of repose and rest, you can stretch the supply for a longer period.  But they clearly made use of the SCSR breathing apparatus to try to protect themselves. 


ABRAMS:  NBC News analyst Bob Hager joins us as well.  He‘s covered numerous mine incidents as a NBC News correspondent.  He‘s there on the scene. 

Bob, I‘m hearing that his breathing apparatus may have been functioning when he was found?  Have you heard that? 

BOB HAGER, NBC NEWS ANALYST:  I did hear that, yes.  And I don‘t know that that has been pinned down precisely but it may have been, so there may be some idiosyncrasies in some of these where one might last longer than another.  But on that subject of why he survived and the others didn‘t, what they said at the briefing that they heard from one of the doctors, so presumably one of the first doctors that examined him at the first hospital before he jumped off down to the Morgantown Hospital was that he might have been able to conserve air apparently it can make a huge difference by how you ration out the breathing.

If you manage to stay in a position of repose and breathe very, very carefully and space out the breathing, that you might be able to do it.  So the conjecture was that because he was 27 years old, in such good health, and may be able to space out that breathing, that that could have helped.  Otherwise, just the idiosyncrasy of his own physical condition and perhaps the condition of that breathing equipment. 


HAGER:  I think that‘s going to be a key—go ahead, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  No, I was just going to ask Dr. Cohen to follow up on that point because you know he deals with this issue all the time, working with the Black Lung Clinic.  Is that possible, that he could have been so careful in the rationing of his unit that it could have lasted over a day and a half? 

COHEN:  It‘s possible.  If he was completely at rest, if the other guys were the ones that were trying to build the burlap containment area, that they were doing more physical labor and they would have been breathing faster, using it up more, if he wasn‘t.  And there have been other cases—

I was at a mine explosion in Ukraine where one miner out of 83 survived carbon monoxide exposure because his colleagues put his self-rescuer on first and they took more deep breaths of the very toxic carbon monoxide immediately after the explosion.  So it really is a question of getting that self rescuer in your mouth and activate it immediately because even just a few breaths sometimes can start building up the levels in your blood. 

ABRAMS:  Bob, I‘m sorry.  What were you going to say before?

HAGER:  Well I think that will be a key part of this investigation is just what kind of oxygen device they are required to carry.  Can that be improved at all?  I think here is a key question too.  Some mines have little safety stations with additional oxygen available.  It‘s unclear whether there were any back in this area—the area of this mine and they wouldn‘t comment on that as they left the briefing, trying to ask them about that.  But it is true that some mines make that a practice to station additional supplies of oxygen at various places behind the barricades. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Dr. Robert Cohen and Bob Hager, thanks a lot. 

Coming up, this mine had hundreds of safety violations last year, more than 40 in December alone.  How unusual is that in the mining industry?  Can the families sue and how about suing over the inaccurate information they received? 

And a preview of my exclusive interview with the captain of the cruise ship that that honeymooner George Smith disappeared from.  We‘ve got new details about what happened that night. 

Plus, Virginia police searching for clues as to who murdered a family on New Year‘s Day.  A mother, father, two daughters, found bound in their basement with their throats cut. 

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



JOHN BENNETT, FATHER DIED IN SAGO MINE ACCIDENT:  A lot of us can‘t understand, in 2005, this mine alone had 208 safety violations.  My dad would come home at night and tell me how unsafe the mine was.  Been numerous mine falls here.  They would be shut down multiple days at a time to clean them up. 


ABRAMS:  No question mining is a dangerous job.  You got men working in dark, dank places, deep underground, and your toxic gases and it can ignite unexpectedly.  The questions are being raised at whether the Sago mine was as safe as it could have been, maybe even more dangerous than other mines. 

According to government records, the Sago mine had been cited 273 times in the past two years for safety violations.  A third of those were classified as—quote—“significant and substantial”, possibly making the mine more prone to accidental explosions or collapses.  Sixteen violations found in the past eight months were listed as—quote—

“unwarrantable failure.”

That label apparently reserved for very serious safety infractions or in some cases, they‘re outstanding violations the mine operators had already been warned about.  A review ending just last month found the Sago mine was cited for 46 violations including concern over an accumulation of combustible material and steps for safeguarding against roof falls. 

Worries about the water sprinkler system and the quantity and location of firefighting equipment.  The question how common are these safety violations at mines?  Were the violations here really out of the ordinary?  If they were, who is responsible? 

Joining me now Vince Richardson, former underground coal mine manager in West Virginia who spent 20 years working in the coal mining industry, attorney Tim Bailey from West Virginia who‘s experienced representing families in mine accidents, and leading toward expert and trial attorney Victor Schwartz.  Thanks to all of you.

All right, Mr. Richardson, bottom line, how out of the ordinary is this many violations? 

VINCE RICHARDSON, FORMER WV UNDERGROUND COAL MINE MANAGER:  Dan, this number of violations is not out of the ordinary, but what we need to look at is the types of violations, were there patterns of repetition for the violations, and how many of the violations were severe as you mentioned earlier? 

ABRAMS:  Well, we listed them and based on what I just laid out in terms of the number that are being considered unwarrantable, the number that are considered serious, how does this mine compare? 

RICHARDSON:  I think that again, we‘d look at mines of this size, in the area, in that particular coal scene, do the comparisons and this is probably not an excessively high number of violations. 

ABRAMS:  Why is that?  I mean why do all these mines have so many violations?  I mean it sure sounds pretty daunting. 

RICHARDSON:  As we know and it has been said multiple times, coal mining is a very, very dangerous industry.  It is a very highly regulated industry, and these mines are frequently inspected.  There are many times where conditions occur between examinations and the event occurs between examinations.  We know the mines are dynamic.  They change.  We have change in roof conditions, change in air conditions, change in water conditions and in many of these cases the violations may occur between examinations made by the mine examiners. 

ABRAMS:  Tim Bailey, do you expect lawsuits here? 

TIM BAILEY, ATTY. WHO HAS REPRESENTED MINER FAMILIES:  Well, I think it is too early to tell.  I think—I kind of have a different opinion as to this mine‘s safety record.  I think these violations, they are not just 104A violations.  These are 104D violations, which you get when you‘ve got an ongoing problem that mine management is not addressing. 

This mine has a very troubling safety record and if the sort of things that we were seeing as recently as December were continuing to occur at the time that these unfortunate miners went underground, then I think there may be causes of action filed on behalf of these families who basically suffered a horrible loss, horrible.

ABRAMS:  What about the fact that the information that came out was inaccurate?  That‘s not really a cause of action, is it? 

BAILEY:  Well, we do have a cause of action, a negligent (UNINTELLIGIBLE) emotional distress which if you look at the definition of what forms the basis for that action certainly it would be foreseeable.  That if you would allow something like this to happen to a family that the amount of distress that you would put them through would certainly be unconscionable. 

So you know I think it would take a lot more research.  I‘m not willing to commit to that right now, but certainly these are—under these circumstances, any lawyer that would be trying to do everything he could to help a family would certainly want to look into that. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Victor Schwartz, let‘s take the other side of this.  You‘re on the defense side often.  First on this issue of the bad information that the families got.  They are angry.  They are furious now, in addition to being heartbroken and sad.  Would you be concerned as an attorney representing the mining companies about that kind of cause of action? 

VICTOR SCHWARTZ, TRIAL ATTORNEY:  Well, I don‘t think it would be a separate cause of action.  First, it is just fundamentals, when you are in a workplace and you‘re hurt, you get an automatic recovery if you are injured, it‘s automatic and it‘s called Worker Compensation.  You don‘t have to prove fault or anything else.

Under West Virginia law, as Mr. Bailey probably knows very well, there is an exception when you can bring a suit against a employer.  And it is very unusual, most states don‘t allow it.  But if the employer absolutely knew there were violations and those violations related to this accident, then claims might arise.  But you just hope that lawyers like Mr. Bailey and others will give this a little rest period before soliciting the families. 

ABRAMS:  Did you want to respond Mr. Bailey? 

BAILEY:  Well certainly I‘m quite familiar with respecting coal miners injured here in West Virginia.  It‘s what I do.  I‘m proud of it.  And certainly if the level of activity, if this coal company had a pattern and they intentionally or knowingly exposed these men to hazardous conditions and they are subject to liability here in West Virginia, which is a very, very powerful worker protection here in West Virginia.  A lot of these companies if all they have to look at is a simple slap on the wrist by a regulatory agency, as you can see from this company‘s history, it doesn‘t necessarily change their behavior...

ABRAMS:  Mr. Schwartz...

BAILEY:  But here in West Virginia...

ABRAMS:  Mr. Schwartz...

BAILEY:  ... we can have...

ABRAMS:  Sorry, go ahead.  Finish up Mr. Bailey, sorry.

BAILEY:  But here in West Virginia, if you take the attitude, a cavalier attitude toward worker‘s safety and you ignore federal, state...

ABRAMS:  Right.

BAILEY:  ... or industry safety standards, then that family, that family that suffered that loss can hold you accountable.  And to me that is a very, very wonderful...

ABRAMS:  Mr. Schwartz, I don‘t think...

BAILEY:  ... protection we have in West Virginia...

ABRAMS:  ... there is no question here, Mr. Schwartz, if you are representing the mining company that you‘d be looking to settle this case.  I mean you wouldn‘t be ignoring this and sort of treating this cavalierly, right, you‘d be saying we are in deep here. 

SCHWARTZ:  That‘s right.  We want to have an attitude of constructive work with the family.  There have already been a number of problems and it‘s better to have these things resolved without putting families through trials and all those things...

ABRAMS:  Does it matter that...

SCHWARTZ:  But there are complicated things as Mr. Bailey knows in Virginia law.  Again, in most states if you are hurt in the workplace, no matter how badly, you get an automatic recovery if there‘s going—for worker comp.

ABRAMS:  Right.

SCHWARTZ:  There‘s more—and lawyers only get 10 percent of that.  There is more money in a lawsuit.  And you look very carefully at the facts if you are representing a defendant to see where you are, but you would want to have discussions, but let the families rest.  I think that the lawyers for a while ought to give the families peace of mind.  There is a federal law in aviation crashes that says there has got to be a delay period...


SCHWARTZ:  ... before the lawyers rush in and I think that is important. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Bailey, does it matter that the mine was recently purchased, that there is a new company in charge of it in the last couple months? 

BAILEY:  Well, I don‘t think it really does at this point.  It is just once you take over the operation of this mine, you are the entity responsible for the safe operation of this mine. 


BAILEY:  So, I think that the owners on the day are the ones that are ultimately responsible for the health and the safety of these miners.  And I too want to say that we should and we all do respect the time that these families are going to need and I would certainly join anyone in saying that we don‘t need lawyers down here trying to drum up business.  I‘m not here for that.  I‘m simply here to answer some questions about the status of West Virginia law and to make some information available.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Vince Richardson, Tim Bailey, Victor Schwartz, thanks a lot.

Coming up, new details about what happened the night honeymooner George Smith disappeared and why some of the men with him that night were kicked off the ship later.  Coming up.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive.  I sit down with the captain of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship where honeymooner George Smith disappeared.  What happened that night?  Where was his wife?  Many of those questions answered, first the headlines.



JENNIFER HAGEL SMITH, HUSBAND VANISHED FROM HONEYMOON CRUISE:  It is nothing scandalous, I can say that, if that‘s what people are wondering.  Sometimes you know the answer or the truth is more basic or more simple than people like to think it is.  So, people can you know read into that as they will. 


ABRAMS:  The wife of George Smith who disappeared on his honeymoon cruise in July saying the FBI told her not to talk about even what she was doing the night her husband went missing on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  His death still a mystery.  Did he fall over?  Was he murdered? 

What were the three men doing who were seen coming from his room after 4:00 a.m.?  Well in another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive I sat down with the captain of the ship, he believes Smith simply fell overboard.  The Smith family does not buy that and they have even sued Royal Caribbean. 

His wife had been very critical of how she was treated in the hours after she learned her husband was missing.  The captain told me something troubling about those men seen leaving George Smith‘s room that night.  Those very men a couple of days before Smith disappeared were apparently drinking, making noise, and according to the captain, using foul language and he says they were warned that if they got out of hand again, they could be kicked off the ship.  You will be surprised to hear what happened. 


MICHAEL LACHTARIDIS, RETIRED ROYAL CARIBBEAN CAPTAIN:  We talked to their parents and we talked to the Yankees, so to behave, not to drink, not to be noisy and not to use foul language. 

ABRAMS:  And a few days after George Smith went missing, those same young men...


ABRAMS:  ... were accused of raping...

LACHTARIDIS:  Well this is...

ABRAMS:  ... a woman on the boat? 

LACHTARIDIS:  ... this is under investigation, I cannot say more about this. 

ABRAMS:  They were kicked off the boat, weren‘t they?

LACHTARIDIS:  Yes, they were kicked off the boat. 

ABRAMS:  Why did you decide to kick them off the boat? 

LACHTARIDIS:  Because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it was too much now.  I mean you have like pre-warning, you have a warning and then you cannot call them any more.  That‘s it. 


LACHTARIDIS:  Even the Italian police they say that for them was not the case. 

ABRAMS:  What do you mean? 

LACHTARIDIS:  Was not a rape case for them. 


ABRAMS:  We were able to reach the attorney for two of men kicked off the ship and they had no statement on the captain‘s allegations. 

Joining me now maritime attorney Larry Kaye and former Connecticut prosecutor Susan Filan.  We‘ll play more of that tomorrow.  We got another byte to play today.  I‘ll be on the “Today” show tomorrow with more of that. 

But Susan, just based on what you heard there, that is—I mean, I don‘t know what to make of it.  I mean it‘s interesting, is it not, that the same men seen coming from George Smith‘s room had been warned beforehand about their behavior and then eventually get kicked off the ship after a woman accuses them of rape.  Now the Italian authorities said they didn‘t think there was anything to the accusation but it still is all interesting. 

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:   Well, this corroborates what law enforcement have been saying all along about these young men, particularly the two Russians who are perhaps implicated in George Smith‘s disappearance.  And it is significant that they are at the center of the controversy surrendering his disappearance the night before. 

They‘re then at the center of the controversy alleging sexual misconduct. 

Very, very serious sexual misconduct.  The woman later recants her story.  Now is it because of the way she‘s treated by the Italian authorities or did the Italian authorities conclude there was no sexual assault because she recants?  But the allegation was certainly leveled against these two.  She did make that complaint and it was not followed up with because she recanted. 

ABRAMS:  But Larry Kaye, does this really tell us anything more in and of itself about what happened to George Smith? 

LARRY KAYE, MARITIME ATTORNEY:  Well Dan, I think it does tell us a lot more about what we don‘t know.  The person who seems to be in the best position to give us information about where the Smiths were in the hours leading up to this tragic loss, where specifically Mr. Smith was, who he was with, where Mrs. Smith was, were they together? 

Did they spend those hours together?  Is Mrs. Smith—and although she has chosen to appear on national television and talk about certain things, she claims she is unable to talk about any of these things, and even Mr.  Smith‘s family, I think is frustrated in the lack of information.  Because she really should be able to answer a lot of these questions but hasn‘t. 

ABRAMS:  Well, I think that at least according to the captain, there may be an answer for why she can‘t explain a lot about what happened that night.  The captain says that they did everything by the book.  He told us initially they thought it was Jennifer Hagel Smith who was missing because of where the new bride had been found—never before heard—the night before at about 4:30 in the morning. 


LACHTARIDIS:  She was found on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on deck nine, far from her cabin.  And then they escort her to her cabin...

ABRAMS:  She was literally sleeping in the middle of the hall? 

LACHTARIDIS:  Sleeping in the hall, yes. 

ABRAMS:  Sleeping meaning she was drunk?

LACHTARIDIS:  I don‘t know.  She was sleeping.  They were found here asleep.  So and then the report say that they took a wheelchair to bring her to the cabin. 


ABRAMS:  How about that, Susan?

FILAN:  Well, again this corroborates what law enforcement sources have been saying all along that she was found passed out on the night of heavy, heavy drinking.  What I want to know now is when she goes into the cabin—I guess what is it 4:30 in the morning now, according to what the captain is saying...


FILAN:  ... is George there?  Does she not notice...


FILAN:  ... that he is missing? 

ABRAMS:  I‘ll tell you...

FILAN:  This certainly...

ABRAMS:  He‘s not—well, I‘ll give you a clue, he‘s not there.  I‘m going to play...

FILAN:  I can‘t wait to hear the rest of it, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to be playing that tomorrow on the program.  Here‘s what Jim Walker, Jennifer Hagel Smith‘s attorney said in response to that last piece of sound we just heard. 


JIM WALKER, JENNIFER HAGEL SMITH‘S ATTORNEY:  They found Jennifer unconscious on the ninth floor, deck nine of the cruise ship.  There were five Royal Caribbean employees who have personal knowledge of this, and actually took Jennifer back while she was unconscious, took her into the cabin, didn‘t provide her with any medical treatment, didn‘t determine whether she was unconscious due to something like Rohypnol or liquid ecstasy or GHB, made a decision to provide her with no medical treatment and unceremoniously dumped her in this cabin, in the same cabin where there are noise complaints and evidence of foul play.


ABRAMS:  Larry Kaye?

KAYE:  Well, it‘s what we usually get when people lawyer up.  The best offense is a good defense or the best defense is a good offense, I should say.  And here we have accusations being leveled against the cruise line that as far as I can tell have absolutely no merit whatsoever.  These people were heard partying and playing drinking games. 

They had been partying throughout the cruise and despite the picture that has been portrayed of them as the beautiful, perfect American couple on their honeymoon, they spent much of their time apart.  I understand that Mr. Smith didn‘t always stay in the same cabin as his new bride...

ABRAMS:  Yes and we will talk about that as well tomorrow with the captain...

KAYE:  So...

ABRAMS:  ... captain talking about the fact that the—that Jennifer Hagel Smith said something along those lines when she was found, when they were paged on the ship. 

KAYE:  So would you test a person for involuntary inducement of drugs because you find them after partying for hours...


KAYE:  ... in a hallway?  No, I don‘t think...

ABRAMS:  Susan, final word on this.

KAYE:  ... cruise ship.

FILAN:  Yes, I kind of have to agree with that.  I mean that is a little bit odd for him to be taking that position.  She‘s passed out.  They get her back to her deck and they‘re suppose to test her?  I find that a little bit odd.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Larry Kaye and Susan Filan, thanks.

All right.  Look, you can see a lot more of my interview with the captain tomorrow morning on the “Today” show.  And then even more of it right here on MSNBC at 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Coming up, murder mystery in Virginia.  A family of four found bound and gagged in their smoke filled basement on New Year‘s.  Their throats slit.  A horrible story.  Coming up.

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


ABRAMS:  Coming up, Virginia police searching for clues as to who murdered a family on New Year‘s Day, mother, father, their two daughters found bound in their basement.  Their throats cut. 


ABRAMS:  Now to a disturbing murder mystery out of Virginia.  A family of four found bound in their smoke-filled basement on New Year‘s Day.  They were suppose to be having a party.  Their throats were slit.  The Harvey family, Bryan and his wife Kathryn, along with their two children, 9-year-old Stella who was in the third grade and 4-year-old Ruby who was in preschool. 

Now Bryan Harvey was a member of the critically acclaimed two-man band House of Freaks.  Kathryn Harvey was the co-owner of a local gift shop and was the half sister of Steven Culp who played Rex VanDeKamp on “Desperate Housewives”.  The question is what happened here? 

Joining me now Jim Nolan from “The Richmond Times-Dispatch” and former FBI profiler and MSNBC analyst Clint Van Zandt.  Thanks for joining us.  All right, Jim, what do we about this? 

JIM NOLAN, “THE RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH”:  Well, Dan, right now we know the police are basically going over all the interviews they‘ve done and they are still looking to talk to several other people in the extended family of the Harveys.  They‘re also canvassing the area to find—see if they can pick up any clues as to what might have happened and whether the killer might have left any evidence, either in the vicinity, in the neighborhood, or on the scene at the house. 

ABRAMS:  Any sign of robbery?  Anything missing from the house? 

NOLAN:  No.  Interestingly enough, Dan, there is no sign that there was a robbery at the house or a burglary at the house or that the house was ransacked or even that there was a forced entry into the house. 

ABRAMS:  And there was a party, right?  They were having a party at 2:00 and...


ABRAMS:  ... literally the—someone first discovers the fire about five minutes before the party is supposed to start? 

NOLAN:  Right.  There are really two significant events here, both of which are obviously tragic revelations for the people involved.  The one being earlier in the day at 10:00 a.m. Stella returns from a New Year‘s Eve sleepover with the mother and daughter friend and is met at the front of the house by Mrs. Harvey, who appears agitated and disheveled and pale, obviously under some sort of distress. 

Stella runs straight down into the basement where of course we know the murders were later committed.  And the woman asked Mrs. Harvey whether she was feeling OK and she said she was just feeling a little ill and not wanting to intrude, they left.  Of course, not knowing that that might be the last time they saw them alive. 

Now, what happens later, of course, is that about 20 minutes before the New Year‘s Day chili party that the Harveys were hosting for a couple of dozen people, a friend and former band mate, in fact, a partner of Bryan Harvey‘s in House of Freaks named Johnny Hott, shows up at the house 20 minutes early with his daughter to help set up for the party. 

He goes in, is immediately encountered with the smell and presence of smoke.  Finds nothing cooking on the stove for the party, assumes the family has gone out for a walk or left, but then goes across the street, call—asked a neighbor to call 911.  The firefighters arrive. 

They actually remove a couple of the bodies from the basement thinking they might have some victims who can be resuscitated.  It‘s only after they get them outside that they realize that they have a crime scene. 

ABRAMS:  Clint, when you‘re talking about people‘s throats being slit...


ABRAMS:  ... that‘s a very violent way, particularly when you‘re talking about an entire family bound and children, the whole thing.

VAN ZANDT:  Well it‘s a very close and personal nature of a crime, Dan.  This is not only cruel.  This is sadistic.  This is grisly.  This starts to suggest someone either significantly under the influence of drugs who would do this or someone who had a personal vendetta against the family who came in, again to commit this crime and realize that you‘ve got four people, two adults and two young children lined up. 

So whoever did this crime, he or they, in multiples, perhaps, perhaps just one.  This is someone who didn‘t just you know fall off the berry truck on committing crimes.  This is somebody who either has a significant history of drug abuse or criminal behavior in their background.  But remember, Dennis Rader, BTK, the serial killer from Kansas, his first victims were a family of four. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Jim, they don‘t have any significant leads though right?

NOLAN:  Well they‘ve been working around the clock on this investigation and it‘s our understanding that they do have a couple of directions, as many good investigators do.  They‘re following a couple of different tracks.  One of the things that seems to be of less of a possible factor, however, is the possibility of a random attack. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Right.

NOLAN:  And that is news...


NOLAN:  ... that helps...


NOLAN:  ... certainly the community, which is traumatized by this.  Woodland Heights is a nice suburb.  More shed break-ins and car vandalism than anything else. 

ABRAMS:  Jim Nolan and Clint Van Zandt, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

NOLAN:  Thank you, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the finger pointing has already begun about who is to blame for the family members, the miners, first being told most of them were alive, then later being told, well, actually they‘re not.  I say it should serve as a reminder to the media as well.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike again.  We continue our search in Maine. 

Authorities need your help finding Ricky Quellette.  He‘s 46, brown eyes, 5-11, 190.  Convicted of unlawful sexual contact in ‘99.  Has not registered with the authorities. 

That‘s the number if you‘ve got any information, 207-624-7270.  Be right back.


ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—a lesson for all of us in the press from the mine disaster reporting.  This morning, many newspaper headlines across the country announced the survival of 12 of 13 trapped miners.  Last night, that was reported on TV as well.  It turns out it wasn‘t true.  Only one survived. 

Exactly how the inaccurate information got out is still unclear.  It seems it was a combination of overheard phone calls and misinterpreted messages that were repeated by local officials.  That information ultimately got to the families of loved ones.  The media critics are already asking, how could the press have gotten it wrong?  Well to me that‘s less interesting and far less important a question. 

The press got it wrong because local officials who should know and even family members are saying, they‘ve been told 12 miners had survived.  Those are hardly reckless sources.  The more significant question is why were the families given false hope?  Not only did they have to endure a day and a half of fear and uncertainty, but then they were thrown an unnecessary emotional curveball. 

A celebration of a miracle, followed hours later by the shock, anger and grief that stemmed from the truth.  I want to know why and how that happened, but it should also serve as a reminder to those of us in the media about how important it is to get it right.  While in this case, it seem the families were relying on officials‘ inaccurate reports, there are going to be other cases where family members with everything at stake will rely on what we report. 

It is not fair to them to get it wrong.  They deserve better.  Yes, mistakes happen.  We‘ve all made them.  But this should serve as a reminder, whenever we‘re reporting on life and death, we need to think about the faces of those heartbroken families. 

Coming up, yesterday lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion, now he‘s helping the government in a corruption probe that could involve up to 20 members of Congress.  Many of you writing in about it.  Your e-mails are up next.


ABRAMS:  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last  night lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion.  Now he‘s helping the government in a corruption probe could involve up to 20 members of Congress. 

Dan Haring in Southgate, Michigan sharing the same sentiment as many of you.  He writes, “Is the Congress of the United States of America incapable of functioning as a legislative body without the influence of lobbyists?  Don‘t we elect our Congress people with the assumption that they have the intelligence to make decisions on our behalf without being bought off?”  Go, Dan!

Abramoff‘s relationship with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is already under investigation.  Last night I spoke to DeLay‘s attorney, Dick Deguerin. 

Dan Patterson in Ohio, “Mr. Deguerin just said about Jack Abramoff that we‘ve all had friends who got into a little trouble.  Now wait just a minute.  How many of us viewers out here in the hinterlands have friends who defraud the government and bribe elected officials?  That attitude is just why the culture of corruption has lasted so long.”

Your e-mails abramsreport—one word --  We go through them at the end of the show. 

That does it for us tonight.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Don‘t forget, tomorrow on the “Today” show, I‘ve got that exclusive interview with the captain of that cruise ship, the missing honeymooner.  A lot of new information.  We‘ll have more of that interview on this program tomorrow.

See you then.


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