Guests: Ragan Ingram, Bob Kohn, Daryl Cagle, Loren Ghiglione, Beth Holloway Twitty, Michelle Suskauer, William Fallon, Tom Thurman, Dan Alexander, Fletcher Long
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, fires rip through four more rural Alabama Baptist churches.
ABRAMS (voice-over): Two churches destroyed, two others damaged just days after five others were burned in suspicious fires. What‘s going on?
And more violent protests throughout the Muslim world over a political cartoon, now almost no major media outlets here in the U.S. will show the world what‘s causing all the stir. Is that the right choice?
Plus, the parents of Aruban suspect Joran van der Sloot had some tough words for Natalee Holloway‘s mother, Beth Twitty. Beth joins us to respond.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everybody. First up on the docket, four more Baptist churches found burning in rural Alabama early today only days after police announce they are hunting an arsonist in last week‘s string of suspicious church fires in the southern part of the state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM CAVANAUGH, ATF SPECIAL AGENT: It‘s ugly. This is ugly. You know this is ugly, criminal behavior.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Investigators still not certain whether today‘s fires set in three sparsely populated counties are linked to five fires set last week in Bibb County, south of Birmingham, but Alabama police now investigating a total of nine suspicious church fires within the last week with five churches completely destroyed, the other four badly damaged.
The fires set in both black and white congregations or at least in predominantly so. The ATF agent in charge tells NBC News he does not think the fires are racially motivated.
So joining us now by phone from Alabama once again is Ragan Ingram, assistant commissioner of the Alabama Department of Insurance. They are investigating the fires. Thanks for coming back to the program. All right, you got any leads?
RAGAN INGRAM, AL DEPT. OF INSURANCE (via phone): Well, on the fires overnight—we‘re just getting into the beginning parts of the investigation. The Bibb County fires, there have been several leads that the investigators are working. I know they‘ve been very busy today and we‘re hopeful that something will break soon. We don‘t know—we don‘t have a timetable for it...
INGRAM: ... but they‘re working very hard at pursuing every lead available to them.
ABRAMS: The ATF had said today that there are two possible suspects, while males in a dark SUV. Do you know anything about that?
INGRAM: Well we know about an SUV. I wouldn‘t say two suspects. I can‘t confirm that. But what I can say is that we are looking for people who might have seen a dark SUV that was in the area of at least one of the churches last Friday morning or late Thursday night.
ABRAMS: These most recent fires were in very rural areas, right? They would be really hard to find, these particular churches, unless you were looking for them.
INGRAM: Well in fact, to be honest with you, Dan, we did not find out about one of the fires until a little later in the morning. It had not been discovered and it had obviously was one of the two that had burned to the ground, because it was in such a isolated area in rural West Alabama.
ABRAMS: And it‘s impossible I guess to know whether they‘re all linked or maybe have a copycat situation or something like that.
INGRAM: We don‘t know yet. That‘s obviously something we‘re very interested in finding out and getting to the bottom of.
ABRAMS: All right, Ragan Ingram, if you get any pictures, any composites, anyone you‘re looking for, please let us know. We‘ll try and put them on the air...
INGRAM: We‘ll be sharing, for sure.
ABRAMS: All right. Thank you once again.
All right, now to the growing international controversy over the cartoons in a Danish newspaper featuring the Islamic prophet Mohammed. One depicting him wearing a turban shaped as a bomb. They have sparked violent protests in the Muslim world from Afghanistan to Thailand.
Police shot and killed four protesters in front of a NATO base in Afghanistan today. In Tehran, a massive protest targeting the Danish embassy, Iran‘s best selling newspaper today launched a competition to find the best cartoon about the Holocaust. That‘s nice.
Back here at home almost every major media outlet including NBC News has chosen not to publish or air the cartoons that have caused all the outrage, “The New York Sun” and “The Philadelphia Inquirer” among the few U.S. newspapers to publish. So the question, is this situation really so special that the rules should be changed?
“My Take”—we can talk about journalistic ethics until we‘re blue in the face, but if a paper or TV stations employees could be at risk because of a decision to air something, then you have to think long and hard about whether it‘s worth it. With that said, the reasoning most have provided is that the cartoons are offensive to some, but isn‘t there a lot of news that‘s offensive to various people or groups?
Others have said that the cartoons can be adequately described with words, so can a lot of things that we show. Look, if this is about safety or security, I support not showing them. Any other reason, it seems a bit hollow to me.
Joining me is media critic and author Bob Kohn, who does not think U.S. papers should be publishing the cartoons. Medill School of Journalism professor and attorney Loren Ghiglione, who supports “The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s” decision to print, and Daryl Cagle, the most widely syndicated political cartoonist in the world and author of “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year”. He also has a cartoon site on msnbc.com, which features cartoons about the recent controversy.
All right. Thanks to all of you for coming on the program. Bob, why should the U.S. media treat this one differently?
BOB KOHN, MEDIA CRITIC: Well they‘re not treating it any differently.
You know freedom of speech is something we all believe in is not absolute. Speech has consequences. You know when you yell “fire” in a crowded theater it‘s going to elicit behavior that might actually hurt people and that‘s why it‘s illegal...
ABRAMS: So how do you go about deciding, if you‘re running, you know a newspaper or a magazine, do you start deciding what you‘re going to publish or not publish based on who‘s going to be offended by it?
KOHN: I think it depends upon the circumstances. There‘s no hard and fast rule here. But there is a war on terrorism going on and there‘s a parallel cultural war going on, and obviously there are a lot of people who are offended, whether it‘s making fun of your prophet or making fun of Jesus or making fun of Moses or whatever it is. I think the newspapers have to exercise some responsibility and I think...
ABRAMS: But using your philosophy and it‘s something that I‘m certain I disagree with, but using that philosophy, if you—you‘re basically encouraging violence and you‘re saying if there is violence, then we‘ll respond. If there isn‘t, then we won‘t.
KOHN: No. No, I think—you got to be very careful. “The New York Times” and I rarely agree with “The New York Times” has it right in its editorial page this morning, you can describe these pictures with words and get the story across without offending half the planet. That‘s what they do. I‘ve learned...
ABRAMS: See, do you...
ABRAMS: See Bob, I guess I don‘t believe that half the planet is so offended. I think this is a few troublemakers who basically sort of impassioned many who care enormously about their religion...
KOHN: Well look there is a lot of violence going on in the world...
ABRAMS: Yes there is...
KOHN: ... you can‘t deny that and it was sparked by these...
ABRAMS: No question about that. Daryl Cagle, what do you make of that point?
DARYL CAGLE, MSNBC.COM POLITICAL CARTOONIST: You know I think if your average viewers would look at these cartoons, they would come away saying, what, people are getting upset about this? This isn‘t interesting. It‘s banal. There‘s nothing offensive that I see here.
And by describing these cartoons as so terribly offensive and not showing them, I think you‘re giving people the false impression that it wasn‘t such a small spark that set off this big bomb. Another element that we‘re seeing now is that there are a whole lot of truly offensive Mohammed cartoons finding their way around the Web and blogs and being passed around.
And when you don‘t show the cartoons and people go on the Web and see these truly offensive cartoons, they get an entirely wrong picture of the provocation that started this story.
ABRAMS: You are now—you have been sort of satirizing the whole situation. One of the cartoons that you did recently, this one here, how to draw Mohammed and you have got an empty piece of paper. Another one, where you know I actually—this is very similar to—your next one is very similar to one—my “Closing Argument” from yesterday, says outrage over some cartoons. Blasphemy. Death to cartoonists.
And then on the other side a guy who is sort of sitting back—outrage over the treatment of women, hostage beheadings, suicide bombings, honor, killings, oops, getting late, got to go. I think that one really is quite telling. Professor Ghiglione...
ABRAMS: Go ahead...
CAGLE: I should point out that those were written by Sandy Hefiker (ph) and Thomas Bolt (ph). I didn‘t draw those two.
ABRAMS: OK. I‘m sorry. I had bad information about that, but I think...
CAGLE: But they are on our site on MSNBC.
ABRAMS: Yes, they are. All right. Professor Ghiglione, what do you make of it?
LOREN GHIGLIONE, MEDILL SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM: Well first, just to correct the record, I‘m not an attorney, although I‘m a law school graduate. For me it‘s a close call. I think “The New York Times” position is reasonable, OK, we can put into words. But I‘m not so sure we really can put into words the image of a cartoon or a photograph. And I think I would come down on the side of what I understand “The Philadelphia Inquirer” position to be, that is they were not just arbitrarily publishing this cartoon.
They went to their Muslim community, they thought deeply about this, they were trying to inform, not inflame their readership. And you cannot understand these cartoons—I‘ve looked at 12 of them on the Internet today—until you actually see them. You may not find them—I‘m not a Muslim, so you know to me these cartoons are not blasphemy. And I wanted to say that. You know there is a context here.
It‘s unfair to voice my views on others. But we do have a First Amendment. We have a tradition of satire...
ABRAMS: But isn‘t the reality...
GHIGLIONE: ... art.
ABRAMS: Professor, isn‘t the reality that a lot of things...
GHIGLIONE: ... we just have to recognize...
ABRAMS: Isn‘t the reality that a lot of things that the media does is offensive to people? And there are people who are offended based on their very deeply held religious beliefs, based on certain things that are said in newspapers and said on television, et cetera, and yet it‘s still said and it‘s still done in so many cases.
GHIGLIONE: Well I—I‘m not sure I understand where you‘re going, but I just think we have to worry about the tradition of self censorship in this country...
ABRAMS: That‘s my point...
GHIGLIONE: ... which is very strong.
ABRAMS: My point is that we‘re treating this differently than we have just about any other news event/debate and we‘re basically saying this is so sensitive, so much more sensitive than other allegations that have been made in the past about insensitivity to the Holocaust or insensitivity to certain Christian symbols, et cetera. We‘re saying this one is so much different that we can‘t even show it to you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dan...
GHIGLIONE: That disturbs me because I thought the First Amendment was about publishing repugnant and repulsive images and words as well as other kinds. And so...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dan...
ABRAMS: Go ahead, Bob.
KOHN: Dan, the circumstances are different, OK. Remember the concept of civil defense. I mean World War II, I think the newspapers and each citizen had their least of duty not to do anything that makes our government job—government‘s job harder in fighting a war. Well we are fighting a war today and we‘re trying to win the hearts and minds of people around the world to help us win this war...
KOHN: A lot of it has to do with the reaction of the Muslims around the world to what is going on in this back and forth struggle.
KOHN: So I think...
ABRAMS: But see, Bob, we‘re not gaining anything. You‘re not
suggesting that we‘re actually gaining something in the war for the minds -
the hearts and minds of people around the world by not publishing, are we...
KOHN: I‘m not saying—wait, I‘m not saying the newspapers should be doing something affirmatively to help the—I don‘t think they should be doing something to be affirmative to help the war effort, but they shouldn‘t do anything that detracts against the effort.
ABRAMS: You‘re suggesting that it‘s almost treasonist for newspapers to publish pictures...
ABRAMS: ... of this because certain people have decided that it‘s offensive to them.
KOHN: Well let‘s put it this way. You know Justice Blackmun, who wrote the Roe v. Wade decision that a lot of liberals agree with—and I, you know I don‘t have an opinion on that, but Justice Blackmun also wrote the dissent in the Pentagon Papers Case, saying that “The New York Times” should be prevented from publishing the Pentagon papers. Why? Because it was in a time of war and would have made the government‘s job...
ABRAMS: But that has nothing to do with this...
ABRAMS: Wait. Wait...
KOHN: It has everything to do with it.
ABRAMS: Wait. Wait. You‘re saying...
KOHN: Of course it does.
ABRAMS: Wait. You‘re saying to me that the Pentagon Papers Case, which was an issue of releasing papers that would effectively reviewed...
KOHN: It was stopping...
ABRAMS: ... how the Vietnam War...
KOHN: No. It was stopping speech. It was telling “The New York Times”...
KOHN: No, wait, wait, wait. It was the government forcing it. I‘m not even suggesting that today. All I‘m suggesting is...
ABRAMS: We‘re not talking about government involvement here, Bob.
KOHN: I know that. I‘m not suggesting that.
ABRAMS: So what‘s the relevance?
KOHN: I‘m saying the newspaper should act responsibly. The newspaper is a different situation...
ABRAMS: You want to talk about the Pentagon papers, as it turns out nothing that was in the Pentagon papers actually harmed national security...
KOHN: Yes, but Blackmun—my point is that Blackmun actually suggested the government had a right to stop “The New York Times” from publishing it, even though it had no effect...
ABRAMS: I still don‘t know what that has to do with anything we‘re talking about.
KOHN: Well think about what I‘m saying here. I‘m not suggesting the government is involved. I‘m suggesting the newspapers should act responsibly, as any citizen should...
ABRAMS: Look, I agree. And I agree with that. I said this at the beginning. I said that I think...
ABRAMS: ... that the newspapers have to take into consideration the impact in terms of the safety and security of their employees. I don‘t...
KOHN: And their employees...
ABRAMS: I don‘t accept the notion...
ABRAMS: I don‘t accept the notion that somehow the descriptions are sufficient and therefore we don‘t even have to discuss it.
KOHN: The editors of “The New York Times” are citizens, also, like the rest of us...
ABRAMS: Again, you keep changing your argument. So now it‘s that we‘re bad citizens if they were to publish...
KOHN: I‘m not...
KOHN: I‘m not suggesting they‘re bad citizens.
KOHN: I‘m suggesting they have a duty not to make things worse during time of war.
ABRAMS: And so—and making it worse in a time of war would be by publishing the cartoons...
KOHN: That‘s right, saying fire in a theater.
ABRAMS: That sounds kind of absurd to me, but—all right...
KOHN: No, absolutely not.
ABRAMS: Bob Kohn, Loren Ghiglione and Daryl Cagle, thanks a lot.
KOHN: Give it to some thought.
ABRAMS: Appreciate it. Coming up...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
ABRAMS: ... the parents of Aruban suspect Joran van der Sloot break their silence with some tough words for Natalee Holloway‘s mother Beth Twitty. We talk with Beth next.
Your e-mails firstname.lastname@example.org. Why do I get the feeling a lot of you are going to have a lot of thoughts about that last segment? That‘s the address, email@example.com. Please include your name and where you‘re writing from. I respond at the end of the show.
ABRAMS: The parents of Dutch teen Joran van der Sloot, one of the suspects in the Aruba disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway say they‘re outraged in an interview with “Good Morning America”. The teen‘s parents, Anita and Paul van der Sloot, said their son has been unfairly singled out. His mother says in addition to all the letters of support they get, they‘re still getting hate mail.
Quote—“They threaten to murder him, to kidnap his brothers and torture them.”
They also had tough words for Natalee‘s mother, Beth Twitty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL VAN DER SLOOT, JORAN‘S FATHER: I think when she wants to talk we will talk. But of course she has to explain something. I think she has done a lot of damage to Joran and our family. That she‘s not giving up for her girl, that‘s understood, but (INAUDIBLE) she is calling our son a rapist, that‘s awful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Joining me now is Natalee Holloway‘s mother, Beth Twitty.
Beth thanks for coming back. All right, let me just let you respond.
ABRAMS: What do you make of those comments?
BETH HOLLOWAY TWITTY, NATALEE HOLLOWAY‘S MOTHER: You know, Dan, I am only sharing information that Joran has given to witnesses and police that that is, you know these are his own admissions of that things that he has done to Natalee, he and Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, you know sharing the information is not causing damage to Joran. Joran caused the damage to himself by admitting these things that he committed against Natalee.
ABRAMS: You know—right, if they were sitting here they would say no he never admitted that he raped her. No, he didn‘t rape her.
TWITTY: Well, he—there are numerous police statements. There were, you know Joran gave admissions of these acts that he committed against Natalee in front of witnesses, so I mean they‘re simple facts. And I‘m sorry that, you know that they can‘t see through and find the truth in this.
ABRAMS: How did you feel when you saw the interview with them?
TWITTY: It was very difficult, Dan. And you know the van der Sloots know that Joran has committed these acts against Natalee. The father—we have statement from Joran and from Deepak Kalpoe of Paulus van der Sloot‘s involvement in the disappearance of my daughter, and it‘s just unbelievable how he seems to be so confident, to me, and that he‘s almost just moving past it.
I mean now he‘s already been sworn in as an attorney. And I just don‘t see a man that is even concerned about an upcoming search of the sand dunes or any repercussions. He seems as if he‘s in the home stretch now and that just really surprises me. He must be getting a lot of support from the government and the officials on the island of Aruba.
ABRAMS: Do you want to see Joran‘s father re-arrested?
TWITTY: Oh, you know I don‘t even know if they‘d have to re-arrest him, but you know just to, you know re-question him. And of course you know Joran van der Sloot needs to be—I mean he definitely needs to be rearrested. There was evidence that was brought forward. You know just from the taped interview from Deepak Kalpoe, there had been, you know, alibis destroyed over a period of months, so yes.
ABRAMS: This is Anita van der Sloot back in June saying that she doesn‘t think this is about Natalee anymore.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANITA VAN DER SLOOT, JORAN‘S MOTHER: This is not about Natalee anymore. This is about enormous pressure from the states, media pressure, this is political, economical—it‘s just they don‘t know what to do. And they need their victims. So—it‘s really unbelievable what‘s going on. And it‘s really not about Natalee anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Beth, what do you—I mean she echoed those comments again on her interview with “Good Morning America.”
TWITTY: You know when I sat down with Anita and Paulus van der Sloot, I told them that they are the ones who are responsible for holding Aruba captive and they are the ones who are responsible for the financial strain that has occurred within their government and their country. And that they alone can fix this.
They have the information. Paulus van der Sloot knows that Joran has the information and he is the one who is single handedly responsible for all that has happened, Dan. And doesn‘t—it doesn‘t have anything to do with Natalee, that‘s correct, because Joran van der Sloot and Paulus van der Sloot are the perpetrators in her—in this crime committed against her.
ABRAMS: Beth, if you can just stick around for a minute. Let me bring quickly in Bill Fallon and Michelle Suskauer. Michelle, what do you make of the strategy here of the parents of Joran van der Sloot to go public in this way?
MICHELLE SUSKAUER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I said yesterday, Dan, to you that I think it—for them, it‘s sort of about time that they came out and that they spoke about this. Because their son was, although he was with Natalee, he was the first person to see her alive. He was not charged.
And in Aruba, in that type of society, where it‘s so prosecutorial-oriented, he still wasn‘t charged, even with all of the interrogations without attorneys, even with being held for as long as he had. So, you know, their son, they—because he wasn‘t charged, even though there still may be an investigation going on, they want—they‘re trying to protect their son.
They want him to move on with his life. He‘s going to college out of the country, and so they‘re doing what they—they‘re in protective mode. So they‘re doing what any parent would do for their child.
ABRAMS: Before I ask Bill, Beth, were you surprised that they went public again?
TWITTY: I was a bit surprised that almost nine months later—of course, we had—you know everyone has begged them to come forward. So I‘m a little bit curious as to you know what has motivated them at this point. And I just don‘t know where they‘re headed in this direction. But I am glad that they‘re coming out and speaking out. I wonder where they have been for the past nine months.
ABRAMS: Bill, what do you make of it?
WILLIAM FALLON, FORMER ESSEX COUNTY MA PROSECUTOR: Well I have a different version of this than Michelle. If they were my client, Dan, and I were defense counsel for their son, who clearly had some information here, if not the involvement, I would tell them let‘s use a little of that censorship that we talked about in the earlier segment here.
They should be shutting their mouths. You might love your kid. You might not—you might believe him—or better yet you might not believe him and try to have it go somewhere else. There‘s clearly a missing girl here. In many people‘s minds there‘s a missing girl here that had foul play come upon her. There are very few people who think she just went for a midnight swim.
And I actually think this brings more direction and focus back to their son, so I personally think this type of thing backfires. Nobody‘s going to suggest that a girl who is missing and potentially dead—and I hate to say that—or a victim of a heinous crime—and this guy, who told false stories—remember, they‘re talking about their son like all of a sudden their son was walking down the street and somebody said hey come here, we have to pick someone up.
There was an investigation that led to them. And Michelle, you‘re right. They didn‘t get charges yet and they may never get charges, but we live very differently...
FALLON: ... about missing girls, whether it‘s Laci Peterson, whether it‘s the girl in Massachusetts...
FALLON: We do not start saying because they‘re missing there‘s no crime.
ABRAMS: All right. Let me take a quick break...
ABRAMS: Because speaking of that...
ABRAMS: ... what I want to do when we come back is Anita van der Sloot made some other comments also about speaking out, it seems, for other missing children, basically saying that the families of other missing children should be upset at the amount of attention this case is getting. Is that fair? Everyone‘s going to stick around, please. We‘ll talk about that.
And coming up later, a father‘s testimony could be the key to prosecutors trying to convict a man of murdering his wife, even though they don‘t have a body. Perry March‘s dad says he helped his son helped get rid of the body. Amazing why he‘s talking now.
And who‘s going to stick up for Britney Spears after this photo? She‘s driving there, on the highway. Well, I am sort of going to. Not really, sort of.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike. Our search today is in Mississippi.
Authorities are looking for Ronald Anderson. He‘s 64, five-nine, 160, was convicted of touching a child for lustful purposes, not registered his address with the state. If you have got any information on his whereabouts, please contact Mississippi. They want to hear from you, 601-368-1740.
Be right back.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. They‘re on the attack. There‘s more on the parents of Joran van der Sloot, one of the three suspects in the May 2005 disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway. They say they are outraged at the media‘s coverage of her disappearance. Let me read you—this is what they said on “Good Morning America.”
Why are people doing this? Is this only about ratings? This is not about truth at all. How many people are missing all over the world in the states? And if this attention that this case gets from the media, I think every parent of a missing child should deserve the same attention.
Beth, I assume that you are not unhappy with the fact that the media has remained focused on your daughter‘s disappearance.
TWITTY: Well, Dan, you know I‘ve heard this comment you know a couple, you know several times, and—but what I was getting from the feedback is that you know really missing persons cases in general, how they have changed or how they‘re handled now is completely different. And a lot of this is due to Natalee. And I‘m thinking if that is true and that she has changed how missing person cases are handled, then you know what a sacrifice that Natalee and Jug and I and her father Dave and his wife Robin have had to make.
ABRAMS: What a great point that is. You know I hadn‘t even thought of that. That‘s really an interesting point.
Bill Fallon, what about that? I mean look, the media has to make choices all the time about which stories to cover and some stories become symbolic. They come to represent other stories like them and look, you know I‘ve deal with the—addressed the criticism people have levied against this program and others for covering the story, et cetera.
I don‘t want to quite get into that. I want to talk specifically though about Anita‘s comments that oh you know every child, every missing person deserves this sort of attention. Well you know, I don‘t know that it‘s so smart of her to be talking about how much coverage other cases should be getting when her son happens to be the focus in this one.
FALLON: Well, Dan, that seems to be why I said before, I don‘t know why she‘s speaking out, where she‘s getting this advice. Well yes, I agree it would be better to have more missing children networks that would have more information. This is a little different as well. We have Natalee—it‘s a symbol—she became a symbol, I think, as her mother just said.
She was kind of the American dream girl. And the American dream girl turned into the American nightmare vacation. And then we did have people involved here. This just wasn‘t a missing person who fell off a ship and we know that‘s getting a lot of coverage for those things.
There were people involved in here, people who told different stories. So all of a sudden it became even more sinister than just missing. And I will say I think Beth‘s point is very valid. People now do look a little more closely at...
FALLON: ... not just another missing girl, I wonder if she‘s on the street somewhere. They are looking at what happens to these children everywhere.
ABRAMS: Michelle, do you disagree with that?
SUSKAUER: Well, no. I mean I agree that it has become somewhat symbolic. And certainly I can‘t fault Beth for anything that she‘s done, because as a mother I would do exactly the same thing. But switching hats to the other side and looking from the other perspective, certainly it sounds like there‘s nine months or so of bubbling up frustration and aggravation and just pure anger at the entire situation.
I don‘t know why they pick this particular time. I don‘t know why this particular time is special...
SUSKAUER: ... that they came out to speak. But certainly because their son was in charged, because he was the focus, I can say why she‘s throwing out these angry comments. But again, they want him to live his life and move on.
ABRAMS: I know. I know, but I think that‘s the concern that many have. Beth, what‘s next?
TWITTY: Well you know, Dan, I have no idea. I just—when I see Paulus van der Sloot, I‘m thinking he just doesn‘t appear to be a father who is concerned about some upcoming searches in the sand dunes. It just really concerns me that you know we‘re headed somewhere, but I‘ll tell you, I don‘t think we‘re headed towards any type of prosecution or even a re-interrogation of these suspects. I just don‘t think it‘s going to happen, Dan.
ABRAMS: I got to wrap it up, Bill, but we will—we‘ll see. We‘ll follow it and Beth, thanks again for taking the time. I appreciate it. Bill and Michelle, thanks to you as well.
SUSKAUER: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, big developments in a 10-year-old murder mystery in Tennessee. The father of an accused killer of his wife reaches a plea deal with prosecutors and says he‘s going to testify. My son killed his wife with a wrench and dad‘s going to admit helping to hide the body. Lawyers for both sides join us next.
And later, is this photo really a reason to question Britney Spears‘ general fitness as a parent? It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: Coming up, major developments in a 10-year-old murder case. A man accused of killing his wife, his father now says he‘ll testify he helped his boy get rid of the body. Details up next.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. It‘s a decade-old murder mystery in Nashville and now it seems the father of a man charged with killing his wife is ready to help put his boy behind bars for a long time. Seventy-eight-year-old Arthur March has apparently come clean, telling investigators that his son, Perry, killed his wife, Janet, back in 1996 with a wrench, and that he later helped his son get rid of her body. Here‘s the background.
August 15, 1996, Janet March disappears. Her husband Perry tells relatives they had an argument before she took off. Two weeks later Perry March reports his wife missing to police.
September 12, 1996, police announce they‘re treating Janet‘s disappearance as a homicide. Perry March sticks around for another few years before moving to Mexico with his two children in May of 1999, the same town where his father lived.
Finally on December 7, 2004, a grand jury finally indicts Perry March for second-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. About eight months later he‘s picked up in Mexico. All right, here‘s the real twist. This is where it came.
It came last October. Perry March and his father Arthur were indicted for hiring a hit man to kill Janet March‘s parents. Apparently they were going to testify against Perry. So now dad and son were in trouble and now it seems dad is ready to give up his son for a shorter sentence.
Just yesterday Arthur March pled guilty to soliciting a hit man. In exchange he gets only 18 months in federal prison, but he has to testify against his son. Last week Arthur March was spotted with authorities on a farm in Kentucky, where it‘s believed Arthur buried Janet‘s body.
Wow. Joining me now is Tom Thurman, deputy district attorney of Davidson County, Tennessee, who is handling this case. Sir, thank you very much for coming on the program. We appreciate it.
Let me ask you—first question about this plea deal with the father.
How important is it to your case?
TOM THURMAN, DAVIDSON CTY. DEP. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well obviously we feel Mr. March could be a very significant witness in our case. I can‘t really comment on anything else, other than he has been added to the witness list and has agreed to cooperate based on his plea agreement.
ABRAMS: But you have not found the body yet, is that correct?
THURMAN: That‘s correct.
ABRAMS: He had been charged for hiring a hit man to kill the parents of Janet March, the victim here. What testimony could the parents have offered that might have led to this?
THURMAN: Well, Mr. March did plead guilty. Arthur March did plead guilty to conspiracy or basically solicitation to hire a hit man across state lines being his part in that. Actually, the Levines are very critical witnesses to the murder case, as far as all the background, as far as the marriage and what was going on in the marriage at the time of Janet‘s disappearance and murder.
ABRAMS: Can you tell us how you came to find out about this plot to kill the parents?
THURMAN: Well I really can‘t comment on that, because we still have the case pending against Perry March, so I really can‘t comment on the evidence at this time other than what was listed in federal court yesterday.
ABRAMS: Are you worried about his health? I mean he‘s 78. He‘s—there have been health issues in the past. Are you worried about him remaining well enough to testify in August?
THURMAN: Obviously that‘s a concern. We have a witness in a serious case like this. We will keep an eye on what his health is doing. And there is a provision in Tennessee. We can ask for a deposition to be done if we feel that his health is significant enough—his bad health significant enough that he might not be able to testify later. So we can file a motion and request a deposition to be done to preserve his testimony for a later date.
ABRAMS: Mr. Thurman, thank you very much for taking the time to come on the program. We appreciate it.
THURMAN: You‘re welcome.
ABRAMS: Joining me now are Arthur March‘s attorneys, Dan Alexander and Fletcher Long. They are in Nashville. Gentlemen, thank you for coming on the program. All right...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Dan.
ABRAMS: ... Mr. Alexander, let me start with you. Why was it that your client decided to plead guilty?
DAN ALEXANDER, ATTORNEY FOR ARTHUR MARCH: Well there‘s a number of factors, Dan, and it involves a great deal. His health is part of it. And I think Fletcher could probably better handle that question.
ABRAMS: All right. All right, Mr. Long, is he concerned? I mean is he reluctant to testify against his own son?
FLETCHER LONG, ATTORNEY FOR ARTHUR MARCH: Well, Dan, basically, I think that we looked at what the strength of the government‘s case would be against Arthur March and determined that it might be a good idea to approach the government about a proffer. That is not uncommon in federal criminal defense at all. And he has agreed to give assistance to the government‘s investigation. That may include testifying or it may not include testifying. It‘s kind of in the government‘s court...
ABRAMS: Well look, it‘s pretty clear that if he‘s offering incriminating testimony that the government is going to ask him to testify and if that‘s the case, is he willing, ready—and ready to do it?
LONG: Oh yes. When I heard I went to Colonel March first to ask him what his proffer would be and when I heard what he intended on proffering to the federal government, I advised him at that time that I was of the opinion that his testimony would be required. And so he‘s certainly willing to testify, if that be the case.
ABRAMS: Does he—how does he feel about his son?
LONG: Well, he loves his son. I point out that Perry March is not Arthur‘s only children. He has a daughter named Kathy Brytowich (ph) and a son Named Ron March and so I mean he has other things to consider other than that. But you know he loves his son. But it may have been time to come clean with the circumstances as they presented themselves.
ABRAMS: Here‘s what John Herbison, the attorney for Perry March, said on the program in August.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HERBISON, ATTORNEY FOR PERRY MARCH: Well he is consistently and adamantly denied any involvement in whatever may have happened to his wife after she left their home back in August of 1996. As to any theory of the case that we might present, that‘s going to be based upon what evidence is presented. And it‘s premature to say at this time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Mr. Alexander, are you concerned that the defense team for Perry March may try and point the finger at poppa?
ALEXANDER: Well, Perry March has two of the finest lawyers in Tennessee representing him and they‘ll do whatever they can do consistent with ethics and the facts of the case to assist him. And we knew that all along. We‘ll just have to see where the chips fall.
ABRAMS: All right. Dan Alexander, Fletcher Long, thank you very much.
LONG: Thank you.
ALEXANDER: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, excuse me. This picture of Britney Spears driving along a highway with her baby on her lap not strapped into a car seat is causing quite a stir. Should that really lead to a national debate about her ability to be a good parent? It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—nobody else is willing to do it, so I‘m going to take a crack at defending those absentminded, alter-minded and sometimes just boneheaded celebrities who suffer greatly for relatively minor transgressions. It‘s not the sort of P.C. populous argument you might hear from other cable hosts, but here goes.
First up, Lindsay Lohan, not only does the bulimic car accident prone pop star‘s dad get thrown in the slammer, but now pages from her personal diary are apparently being shopped around. Doesn‘t anyone else feel sorry for her? It seems after a night of particularly hard partying in New York City her personal diary was either lost or swiped and then returned with pages missing. But not before those pages ended up in some gossip columnists hands. Her lawyer is now fighting to keep those pages secret.
I know. What was she doing drinking at her age? Look, 19 years old make mistakes. And the rest of us don‘t or didn‘t risk having our most personal thoughts about boys and girls relationships and spats with friends being published in the newspaper. A big price to pay for a little mistake.
The same goes for the ever-embattled Paris Hilton who does so much to bring scorn upon herself. But that does not mean we should celebrate the fact that personal items she placed in a storage unit were put on the auction block by a pornographer and may be sold for $20 million. Someone forgot to pay the bill for her storage facility in Los Angeles, now her 18 personal diaries, nude photos and videos were sold to some sick unidentified buyer.
Sure, it‘s hard to feel bad for someone when the problem stem from a member of her entourage failing to pay a bill. But even for Paris, does the public humiliation fit the crime? And then there‘s the most recent offense. Pop star Britney Spears driving away from paparazzi with her 4-month-old son, Sean Preston, in her lap, but not in a car seat, which means not only has she done something really dumb, but she‘s broken the law.
Babies don‘t ride in your lap in a moving vehicle, even if you‘re driving a very souped up black Lincoln Navigator. But now Britney‘s effort to escape the paparazzi has created a national debate about her fitness as a parent. One report even says Britney‘s being investigated as—by Child Services. Please, for short drives, many of us take shortcuts. That doesn‘t mean it‘s OK or irrelevant. It matters.
But the punishment, in addition to a fine, the nation questioning her parenting skills, a tough price to pay. OK, with all that said, I appreciate the fact that it‘s hard to pity any of these people, but like a good lawyer, I‘m giving it a good shot.
Coming up, last night we said it was pretty incriminating that Neil Entwistle left his wife and daughter home with no car while he went to England. Many of you writing in with your theories.
ABRAMS: Welcome back. I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. Last night in my “Closing Argument” the violent protests by some fanatical Muslims across the Middle East and Europe over cartoons printed four months ago in a Danish newspaper. I said that they‘re just silly caricatures, much like the ones that regularly appear in the Arab press, demeaning Jews and these violence riots are just an excuse, a way for a few fanatics to take advantage of the deeply held religious views of many others.
Val McCleod in Miami Lakes, Florida, “Could you imagine in the expression of freedom that an American or European journal permitted a vile depiction of a Holocaust crematory or a slave ship? This would be considered blatantly offensive. Once someone is insulted, his or her reaction cannot be predicted or controlled.”
Yes, it would be offensive and protests or boycotts would be in order, but you‘re just apologizing for the violence by saying when some is insulted, his or her reaction cannot be predicted. That‘s an excuse, plain and simple. This reaction is inexcusable.
From Tarrytown, New York, Karen Johnson, “One of the problems with our American culture is an unwillingness and inability to try to respect and understand other cultures. However, we expect other cultures to respect and understand ours. I don‘t agree with or support the riots. I abhor violence, but I do respect their rights to rebel against the insensitivity and lack of respect shown to their faith and way of life.”
Oh Karen, stop it. I will not respect the right of anyone to react this way. And you and the others who say in passing, I‘m not justifying the violence but are justifying it. This has nothing to do with cultural differences. It has to do with a group of troublemakers, preying on others who love their religion.
Also last night, the “Boston Herald” reporting that Neil Entwistle, remember him, that he may have left his family stranded, taking the family‘s only car to the airport, seems to have left it before flying to England. The car was found the day after the bodies of his wife and 9-month-old baby were found shot to death in their home. It sure seemed incriminating that he had taken the only car to the airport. Many of you offering up possible innocent explanations.
Sharon Starsen in Honolulu, “How about this? Mrs. Entwistle wasn‘t able to drive him to the airport for some reason, last minute trip, she was busy, she or the baby didn‘t feel well, had hands full with baby, didn‘t want to take the baby out. Who knows? So instead, she told him to just take the car and she would make arrangements with family or with a friend to take her at a later time to pick it up.”
But the question, then, is of course, where are those family or friends talking about that?
From Nashua, New Hampshire, Richard Schwartz, “Perhaps the wife didn‘t drive. Think about it, a one-car family in an upscale suburb. That‘s pretty rare.”
From New Jersey, Matthew Dillon—I don‘t think this is Matt Dillon.
ABRAMS: “Could not someone very close to the Entwistle family have murdered Rachel and child? Then after dropping off Neil Entwistle at the airport, simply left the car there or perhaps committed the murders and returned the car to the airport to make it look like the husband abandoned the family car and fled the country.”
I guess, but that is a pretty tortured explanation.
Shirley Lyn Thistlethwaite in South Carolina, “It is frustrating to hear defense attorneys keep saying that Neil Entwistle is doing the right thing by not talking to investigators. The right thing for whom? He certainly isn‘t doing right by his murdered wife and daughter.”
Amen, Shirley. I don‘t know how many times I‘ve said that on this program, that you know defense attorneys can give advice, that‘s fine. That‘s only looking out for what‘s in his interest, but what about in the interest of justice? What about in the interest of his daughter? What about the interest of his wife?
Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com. We go through them at the end of the show.
Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. I‘ll see you tomorrow.
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