Guests: Davidson Goldin, Michael Gaynor, Clint Van Zandt, Kathy Reichs, Joe Tacopina, Jim Moret, Leslie Crocker Snyder, Michelle Suskauer
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, New York police continue a frantic search for the man who bound, raped and tortured a New York graduate student.
ABRAMS (voice-over): Could this man be a suspect? He‘s wanted in connection with another sexual assault.
And Aruban suspect Joran van der Sloot hires a high-profile attorney to represent him in the civil suit filed against him by Natalee Holloway‘s parents. We talk with Joran‘s new lawyer, Joe Tacopina.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don‘t seem really choked up. You don‘t seem really upset that he‘s gone. I find that kind of...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m very, very, very upset.
ABRAMS: The interrogation tape of Susan Polk, accused of murdering her wealthy husband. She‘s representing herself in court. So how will she explain saying then she didn‘t do it but saying now it was self-defense?
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone. First up on the docket, could this man have something to do with the murder of 24-year-old criminal justice graduate student Imette St. Guillen? The “New York Post” reporting the NYPD comparing details of a sexual assault allegedly committed by the man in this sketch last month with details of the brutal sex attack and murder of St. Guillen earlier this week.
They‘re hoping to find a link, according to “The Post”. Now on Saturday morning police were led to St. Guillen‘s body in a deserted area of Brooklyn, New York by an anonymous male 911-caller. She had been tortured. Her genitals apparently cut. There were signs of sexual assault.
She‘d been suffocated and strangled. Her hands and feet bound. Her head wrapped in sort of clear packing tape. She was reportedly almost mummified.
Joining me now “New York Sun” columnist Davidson Goldin. All right, so what do you—first let‘s deal with this new development, the “New York Post” putting this guy up. What are the authorities telling you about the possible connection to this case?
DAVIDSON GOLDIN, “NEW YORK SUN” COLUMNIST: Authorities say there is no connection whatsoever. They credit “The Post” with being creative and trying to find a link. Cops, city officials, and everybody in overdrive today, trying to discredit this report, saying they believe there‘s absolutely no relationship between the man in that sketch.
And the story behind that, Dan, is during a blizzard a few weeks ago a woman in Brooklyn hailed a cab trying to get to the JFK Airport. Cab driver—turned out it was a fake cab driver they believe and forced her to perform a sex act in the taxi. There is no relationship police say now between that incident and the incident with Imette over the weekend.
The one thing that they have in common is they‘re both in Brooklyn. And they both occurred near JFK Airport, where Imette‘s body was discovered. People familiar with New York could locate it near JFK Airport. Otherwise cops saying don‘t at all relate these two crimes.
ABRAMS: Here‘s what Mayor Bloomberg had said about this earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: We‘re investigating, it‘s very tragic, it‘s getting a lot of publicity, some of the stories on the front page of the papers, I don‘t—from my understanding there‘s not a lot of evidence that they‘re true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: David, are they looking though at the possibility that this is connected to other crimes in the New York area?
GOLDIN: They‘re looking at every possibility. They‘re trying to look back at people with known criminals who have behaved in this sort of way, other types of patterns and so far they‘ve found absolutely none. This is, as you‘ve described on your show in the last few days, this is a horrific crime, unlike most any other similar crimes that anybody has ever seen in New York or elsewhere.
So finding a pattern it seems like will be impossible because there‘s not yet at least part of a pattern. One area that the police are very much trying to figure out now is this blanket that she—her body—that Imette‘s body was wrapped in. It‘s described to me as not even being warm. The kind of blanket you would find covering a cheap motel bed. Perhaps, the kind of blanket...
ABRAMS: There it is.
GOLDIN: ... you might use if you‘re moving. You can see it here on the screen...
GOLDIN: ... apparently. If you‘re moving, the kind of blanket you might throw over your stuff, so one possibility is had somebody moved recently and happened to have this lying around their car? Did the person maybe work at a laundry wear, you know fly by night motel did their laundry and had access to this. So this blanket is the best piece of evidence cops say they have so far, so they can figure out where it came from. It may lead them to the person who did this, but at this point cops don‘t have much to go on.
ABRAMS: Before we go to the panel on this, let me just ask you about where the body was found. This is a quote from today‘s “New York Times”.
“Few people are familiar with the spot where Ms. St. Guillen‘s body was found. Mr. Pierce said—he‘s a profiler—noting its proximity to an area that has been used for drag racing. The area is also known as a lover‘s lane, he said, and also as a dumping ground for bodies after other murders.”
GOLDIN: Well there you have it. Few people, but obviously not no people, people have found it before for drag racing. People have gone there—couples to hang out together. And certainly it‘s an area that‘s been a known dumping ground as it was described to me, not just to dump a body, to dump anything you might want to get rid of and one thing, Dan, worth pointing out is in terms of where Imette‘s body was found.
It was just 15 feet from an embankment and the feeling is that if the person who had left her there had not wanted the body to be found, it would have been very easy to have walked that 15 feet and thrown the body over the embankment. The question now being, was the body left to be discovered or was the person in a rush and simply didn‘t take the time to look around, just knew that this area was desolate, rushed in there, dumped the body and ran out.
ABRAMS: All right, Davidson, stick around. Joining us now to go through some of this is Michael Gaynor, a former NYPD detective, now a private investigator with his own firm, East Coast Detectives, and former FBI profiler and MSNBC analyst Clint Van Zandt, who also writes a column for our Web site.
All right, Michael, look, you‘ve been following at least what we know publicly about the evidence so far. Bring us behind the scenes. What is the NYPD doing right now?
MICHAEL GAYNOR, FORMER NYPD DETECTIVE: Well the NYPD is investigating every possibility, as your former guest just stated, and not eliminating any possibilities, but there is a lot of forensic evidence going to be available in this case. An autopsy was conducted earlier today. The results aren‘t in yet. I‘ve been in touch with the Brooklyn North Homicide Squad and the (INAUDIBLE) Precinct Detective Squad that‘s working on the case. And they have a lot of help on it. They‘ve got detectives from Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens all working on the case. They‘re looking into every possibility...
ABRAMS: Are they close?
GAYNOR: Well they‘re not going to say they‘re close until the case is solved. They‘re not going to eliminate any possibility or anyone until the case is solved. But I think there‘s a very good chance that they‘ll wrap this up in a pretty reasonable period of time.
GOLDIN: That depends on how you define reasonable, Dan. I just want to point out, people I‘ve talked to today say they‘re not close at all. They have very little at this point...
ABRAMS: And here are some potential clues, though, from the body, which could be used. They‘ve got skin under the fingernails, possible clues. They could have blood under the fingernails. They could have different DNA, which might indicate more than one perpetrator. Again, we don‘t know that they have this, but this is the sort of evidence that they would be looking at.
All right, Clint, we‘ve been talking about this each day. Today‘s developments lead you to what conclusion?
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Well, part of it is, Dan that today we‘ve heard that the victim, when she left her friend at one bar and eventually went to another bar, she was seen in this second bar around 4:00 a.m. or afterwards. She was sitting by herself, having a drink by herself, and she had left by herself, so that does not suggest at that point she either left willingly, she was picked up, she picked somebody up or she was taken under duress.
So when she gets outside you got to figure it‘s 4:30, 5:00, some time like that in the morning. What would she logically do? If she wasn‘t taken by force, she would look for a cab. She would look for a ride, some way to go home. So that‘s one of the things you have to see. Can we put her on the street and how would she have tried to go to her apartment from that point?
ABRAMS: But David, my understanding is now that the authorities are really looking at a possible stranger who abducted her.
GOLDIN: That is what it looks like at this point simply because they know nothing else. As Clint pointed out, she did not leave. They‘re certain of this. She did not leave with anybody. She did not make any more phone calls.
She did not receive any more phone calls. So the question is where did she go right at the moment that she left? If she did try to hail a cab, was she abducted? Did she get into the wrong cab? They don‘t know. What they do know is that it appears that it was not somebody she knew or somebody she chose to leave with.
ABRAMS: And here‘s her sister speaking on MSNBC a couple of nights ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEJANDRA ST. GUILLEN, IMETTE ST. GUILLEN‘S SISTER: I would just plead with anyone who knows anything. Imette was so, so loving and you know, her whole commitment to criminal justice and to, you know, just her belief in what was right and you know I just ask that people honor that and honor her commitment to justice and you know, know that if she had seen anything, if this had happened to somebody else and she had seen anything, she would call and she would come forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: David, you were just pointing out to me that this precinct where she was found...
GOLDIN: The most dangerous precinct in New York City. Detective Gaynor talked about that there are lots of detectives working in that precinct. There are already a lot of detectives in that precinct. Number one, in murders and shootings over the years and that‘s an area that the cops in fact are divided into three special patrol zones to try to keep killings down and one thing the cops will be looking at now is was she killed in that precinct.
ABRAMS: Yes. Detective Gaynor, I mean the fact that she was taken from Manhattan and brought to this area that seems to be notorious, at least notorious for being desolate, at worst notorious for being a place to dump bodies, does seem like you‘re dealing with someone who knows the city and knows sort of the criminal element in New York City.
GAYNOR: Well, chances are very good that whoever did this knew the area where they dumped the body, but we don‘t know yet where she was murdered. It may have happened in Manhattan. It may have happened in Brooklyn.
But one thing about the forensic evidence that may or may not exist in this case is I think they‘ll find a lot with the autopsy, especially as you suggested, Dan, underneath the fingernails. These are defensive wounds on her hands that might tell a whole lot. The irony here is that she was a forensics science—student herself at John Jay and the forensics in this case may very well have a lot to do with solving the crime.
ABRAMS: And also, there‘s of course the tape and the comforter...
GAYNOR: Absolutely. There‘s a lot to work on.
ABRAMS: ... that were found. I mean there you could find—and from my understanding, Clint, I mean you could find fingerprints. You could find hair. You could find blood. You could find fibers.
VAN ZANDT: Yes.
ABRAMS: You could find DNA.
VAN ZANDT: Yes, there‘s going to be a wealth of forensic evidence here, Dan, hopefully. And the challenge is this doesn‘t appear to be the work of a first-time offender. The offender has spent it would seem some amount of time with her and the torture that he put her through, whether he, she, they, the fantasy that this offender or these offenders had, that they didn‘t just fall off the serial killer sadistic you know cart. They‘ve been around for a while. The question is, what other crimes have they been committing...
VAN ZANDT: ... that would lead up to this?
ABRAMS: And I think that‘s why Detective Gaynor points out that if they could find something under the fingernails they may be able to link it through a DNA database or fingerprints...
VAN ZANDT: Absolutely.
ABRAMS: ... or whatever the case may be. All right, everyone is
going to stick around for a minute because up next, you ever seen the show
the new show “Bones”? We‘re going to talk with a forensic anthropologist who created it and get her take on this gruesome case.
And you‘re never going to guess who Joran van der Sloot‘s new attorney is. That‘s right, our friend Joe Tacopina. He joins us for his first interview to tell us what he thinks about the civil suit filed against Joran and about how he feels about Joran doing the media rounds.
Plus later, Susan Polk on trial for the murder of her husband. She admits she did it, says it was self-defense. But well that‘s not what she said when police questioned her after the murder. We‘ve got the interrogation tapes.
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: We‘re back. This young woman, an aspiring criminal justice expert should be celebrating her 25th birthday today. Instead her family is planning her funeral and police are searching for her brutal killer. Imette St. Guillen‘s body was found bound, battered, her head wrapped in packaging tape less than a week ago in an area of Brooklyn, New York, notorious for dumping bodies. Here‘s what we know.
She and her friend Claire Higgins went to a place called the Pioneer bar at about 10:00 p.m. Friday. At about 3:30 a.m. they split up. St. Guillen went apparently alone to another bar, The Falls, a few blocks away. At about 3:50, Higgins called to make sure St. Guillen was OK. She told her she‘d be going home soon.
St. Guillen was seen leaving that bar alone at about 4:00 a.m. The next night, Saturday night at about 8:30 p.m. an anonymous man called 911 from the Lindenwood Diner in Brooklyn and reported a body near the highway. A short time later about a mile away, police found Imette‘s brutalized body wrapped in a blanket. She had been beaten, sexual assaulted, suffocated, strangled.
Joining the legal team, Kathy Reichs, forensic pathologist—sorry—forensic anthropologist and author and creator of the FOX show “Bones” which is based on her real role in real life. Thanks a lot for coming on the program. We appreciate it.
All right. So you‘ve been probably listening to this conversation.
Provide us with some insight on this. What is your take on this?
KATHY REICHS, FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGIST: Well I agree with the two previous speakers. I think there‘s probably going to be a lot of forensic evidence in this case. I‘m usually involved in the analysis of the victim him or herself at the autopsy, for example, and what you‘re going to do there is you‘re going to try to narrow the window of exactly what took place. You‘re going to—you‘ve got pretty good information right up until she last speaks with her friend and then leaves the bar, but the body itself may give you information that will more clearly narrow down the time of death with greater accuracy.
You‘re going to look at that body for anything extraneous to it that might help you narrow down where she was killed. You know where the body was found, but you don‘t know where she was killed. If you can find any extraneous fibers, for example, that would tie the body to a car, tie the body to a particular home, later, that‘s going to be very valuable when you have a suspect in mind. So you‘re going to try to figure out more accurately from the body when she was killed, where she was killed, how she was killed.
ABRAMS: Here‘s what we know about the body. This is again according to the “New York Daily News”. They‘ve been following this case very closely. Nude, the hair was—her hair had been cut. Hands and feet bound, a tube sock stuffed in her mouth. Her face taped from forehead to chin with clear packing tape. Her genitals lacerated, marks on the chest, wrapped in a floral commercial grade comforter, sexually assaulted, strangled and suffocated. Do those facts in and of themselves tell you anything?
REICHS: Well yes, they do tell you something. This is a very savage crime and it‘s someone who took a long time to do it. We have a 17-hour period between the time she disappeared and the time she was found. The fact that the hair has been cut and that could be a very valuable piece of information too. That will go to your hair expert who‘s going to look at the tips of those hairs that were cut see if you can tie them to a particular implement.
And that tape is going to be very valuable. Again, it may yield, as you said, bodily fluids. It may yield blood. It may yield fingerprints. You may be able to tie it to the roll from which it was cut, that sort of thing. So the pattern of what was done to this young woman is not just something that‘s done quickly.
REICHS: This is a very savage and a very...
ABRAMS: All right.
REICHS: ... sadistic type of...
ABRAMS: Let me...
REICHS: ... sexual component.
ABRAMS: Let me do this before we continue. What tends to happen with these cases is I sometimes feel like we start to talk about these victims in this antiseptic way and let me—I want to make sure we keep remembering not just the details of the crime of exactly what occurred, et cetera, but a little bit about who she was. This is her mother on MSNBC a couple of nights ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAUREEN ST. GUILLEN, IMETTE ST. GUILLEN‘S MOTHER: I used to call her (INAUDIBLE), you know the queen, because just the way she carried herself and she really had such a presence about her. If you talk to anyone, they‘ll tell you that she was just—she was like—when she walked into the room, the room just lit up. And she was just—she just made things fun and you just felt so much better in her presence. She was a beautiful girl, but she was a bright girl, and she was a good person, such a good person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Michael Gaynor, she was a criminal justice student. Does this, though, just seem like a coincidence in that sense?
GAYNOR: Yes, I imagine that part is just a coincidence. The only thing is, you know, although Clint is correct that it has all the earmarks of being a serial murder and if it‘s not the beginning of a pattern, it may be part of a pattern that already exists. There‘s also the possibility that someone else that she knew that might have been looking for her, that might have known her, some way or another saw her and offered her a ride and obviously she was not killed on the sight that her body was found. It would have taken too much time to disrobe her, tie her up, all the things, all the gruesome things that were done to Imette.
ABRAMS: And also because of where that is. I mean, David, where that bar is...
GAYNOR: Yes, you wouldn‘t have a whole lot of time either in the bar or in the dumping ground to do all the things that were done.
ABRAMS: I mean even at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, it‘s not going to be crowded but there are going to be people.
GOLDIN: There will be people out. Presumably she wasn‘t—she didn‘t...
ABRAMS: You‘ve been to this place, right?
GOLDIN: I‘ve been in the area...
GOLDIN: ... Pioneer bar. A friend of mine had a birthday party there a few years ago.
GOLDIN: The point is the place she was drinking for—they say between 10:00 and about 3:00, 3:30 in the morning, it‘s sort of a very popular post collegiate crowd. It‘s a big bar. As I said to you the other day on the show, it‘s not where you go and sip a glass of wine and discuss life.
It‘s the kind of place you go—people there are drinking and they‘re there for a long time and they‘re there to meet people and to socialize. The odd part of this story is that her friend went home and she went out by herself.
GOLDIN: And we‘ll see this weekend, Dan, in New York how crowded a lot of these bars are with women who might decide to stay home.
ABRAMS: Yes. Well, all right. Kathy Reichs thanks a lot for coming on the program. Michael Gaynor and Clint Van Zandt and Davidson Goldin, appreciate it.
Now to Joran van der Sloot, the 18-year-old Dutch student, likely the last person to see Natalee Holloway alive the night she disappeared in Aruba. He wants to clear his name. All right, he‘s been doing a number of interviews, talking about how he met Natalee, what they did together, where he left her that night, et cetera.
This as Joran and his father are facing a civil lawsuit filed by Natalee‘s parents claiming that Joran assaulted and abducted Natalee. He was served with papers on a trip to New York last month.
Joining me now is Joran van der Sloot‘s new attorney in his first interview, our pal Joe Tacopina joins us. Joe, good to see you. All right...
ABRAMS: Before we start talk about the specifics about the case, how did you come to represent Joran van der Sloot?
JOE TACOPINA, ATTORNEY FOR JORAN VAN DER SLOOT: He reached out to me. He and his father, we‘ve had many conversations over the last week or so, and we just came to a meeting of the minds. You know happen to believe in him and I believe the lawsuit that‘s been filed against him in New York is without merit, both from a legal standpoint and from a factual standpoint. And you know I like challenging cases and this one seemed like something I‘d be interested in and I really do believe in him, Dan. I really do.
ABRAMS: Is part of your goal now, Joe, to rehabilitate his imagine? Because regardless of what you think about his—whether he was guilty or people say I‘m not sure, but I kind of think he‘s guilty, et cetera. I mean you‘re a guy who‘s also a high-profile lawyer. Is part of the reason they‘re coming to you to say look, we just need to not just defend the civil lawsuit, but we want to try and clear his name?
TACOPINA: Yes, I think so. I mean that‘s been part of our discussions and I mean it‘s obvious because Joran went on these shows before I was representing him to do—to try to do exactly just that you know...
ABRAMS: How do you think he did?
TACOPINA: I think he (INAUDIBLE) quite well. I mean on—the show I saw last night on -- (INAUDIBLE) show, I think he did very well. I mean you know the magazine piece for ABC, Chris Cuomo did a very good interview but you know it‘s truncated. It‘s sort of condensed, but I think he—don‘t forget.
He‘s 18 years old, Dan, and this is a kid who, let‘s presume innocence for a second because there‘s not one shred of evidence that points to him being involved in her disappearance and/or murder, not one shred after all of this searching, all this passage of time. You know here‘s an 18-year-old kid, who was 17 at the time, whose life has pretty much been ruined.
And you know and in some way and there is grief for the Holloway family, without question Dan, but there‘s also—you know let‘s look at Joran van der Sloot and assume that consistent with the lack of evidence, he‘s innocent. His life has been ruined too and in a sense he‘s a victim. So...
TACOPINA: ... I can understand why he wanted to go out there...
TACOPINA: ... and do what he did. I do.
ABRAMS: You can understand—the family, you know they say he was the last one seen with her and he lied, he admits he lied about what happened at the outset of this investigation. He‘s told a number of stories, et cetera, and he‘s also made comments in his interviews which are somewhat insulting to the family, et cetera, about things Natalee supposedly said about her mother, et cetera.
TACOPINA: Yes, I mean look, he‘s just telling, you know, what he was told. Whether it‘s something that you know, with counseling, you know maybe, it didn‘t have to be aired. That‘s really neither here nor there. We don‘t mean to be insulting and he certainly doesn‘t mean to be insulting, but he needs to defend and with all due respect to Ms. Holloway, I understand her desire.
Dan, I have five kids. I‘d do the same—I would want to find—do exactly what she‘s doing, but I think enough is enough now. I mean look, even the investigators in Aruba, the police investigators have said she‘s crossed the line, gone too far. They‘re now—they filed the suit in New York that alleged all sorts of things about Joran that‘s just not true.
They call him these names. I mean I think in a quasi you know publicity stunt fashion call him a predator. It‘s just wrong. Here‘s an 18-year-old boy who‘s—there‘s—look, three countries have investigated this, Dan, the United States, Aruba, the Netherlands.
They flew F-16 planes in from the Netherlands. Aruba took a day off to look for you know any evidence or the remains of Natalee. Unfortunately it‘s not there, but the Holloways may just have to come to grips with the fact that Joran van der Sloot did not kill their daughter...
ABRAMS: But is it also possible that Natalee Holloway spent her final hours with a really bad guy? I mean apart from whether he did it or didn‘t do it, but you know the allegations, as you point out, in the lawsuit are that he had used drugs to effectively date rape other women, that you know there are all these lies, et cetera. Isn‘t it possible that at the very least that‘s what we‘re dealing with?
TACOPINA: Dan, I can understand why some people would think that based on what‘s been put out there today, which is sort of why I think I‘m here now. We‘re ready to defend this lawsuit. I don‘t know if it‘s going to get that far quite frankly, but that‘s another story.
But, I got to tell you something. For my dozens of conversations with Joran, he‘s a good kid and the people I‘ve spoken to and I‘ve spoken to a lot of people about him who know him, people who—some people don‘t know him who say his reputation on the island is that of a good kid.
I mean he made a mistake. He admits he made a mistake. He was 17 years old. He was scared when he said initially he brought her back to the hotel.
TACOPINA: He didn‘t want to say he left her on the beach...
ABRAMS: Let me ask you this, Joe, because I‘m out of time. Do you think it‘s possible that one of the other two brothers did this, Satish or Deepak?
TACOPINA: I mean look, there‘s no evidence suggesting that either, so I‘d hate to just speculate on that...
ABRAMS: ... the last people to have seen her alive...
ABRAMS: I mean look, these are the last people to have seen her alive, so it‘s legitimate to ask...
TACOPINA: Well, no, they‘re the last people who we know who are with her...
TACOPINA: ... before she disappeared. The last person who may have seen her alive may have been someone else. And we just don‘t know that. We‘re speculating. I mean is it possible someone else did it? Sure. The Kalpoe brother? I guess, but you know, I‘m not that concerned with that. The lawsuit is against Joran and his dad and it‘s one that honestly, Dan, I really believe has no merit and I believe in this kid‘s innocence.
ABRAMS: Yes. All right, well in the near future when Joran wants to do the interview...
TACOPINA: You are the interviewer.
ABRAMS: Joe Tacopina, good to see you. Thanks a lot.
TACOPINA: Thanks, Dan.
ABRAMS: Coming up, Susan Polk on trial for murdering her wealthy husband. She said she killed him in self-defense, told police something very different when they first interrogated her. We‘ve got the tape.
And the battle over who should run America‘s ports go to court and it gets thrown out. I say good. The judge got it right.
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 Nebraska.
Authorities are looking for Ronald Curry, Jr., 43, five-eleven, 220, convicted of third degree felony sexual abuse, has not registered his address with the state. If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Nebraska State Patrol Sex Offender Registry, 402-471-8647. Be right back.
ABRAMS: Coming up, Susan Polk admits to killing her husband. She says she did it in self-defense, but newly released police interrogation tapes tell another story. We‘ve got them from Court TV, but first the headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don‘t seem really choked up. You don‘t seem really upset that he‘s gone. I find that kind of...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m very, very, very upset.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) not showing it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well you know, I can‘t defend myself against an accusation like that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well it‘s just—it‘s an observation that I‘m making.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m not in love with my husband anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: That tape just obtained by Court TV‘s Catherine Crier shows Susan Polk charged with the 2002 murder of her ex-husband—of her husband Felix, a prominent psychologist offering a very different story just hours after he was found stabbed to death than she is now. Polk had denied knowing about her 70-year-old husband‘s death after his body was found in a cottage on their $2-million northern California estate.
Now Polk is saying she did kill him but it was self-defense. Opening statements expected to begin Monday. Polk is representing herself and may have to question two of her three sons, one testifying against her and one testifying in her defense.
Joining me now is Jim Moret, senior correspondent with “Inside Edition”. He interviewed Susan Polk in prison last year. Retired New York State Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder and criminal defense attorney Michelle Suskauer.
All right. Let me do this. Before we go to the panel, let me play this piece of sound. This is from Susan Polk on “Dateline” and this is how she‘s laying out exactly what she is now claiming happened that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He smeared the pepper spray into my face. What I saw through the blur and the burning was him stabbing at me and I saw the knife go into my pants and so I thought he stabbed me. I thought he‘s going to kill me.
I‘m going to die here unless I do something right now and I just kicked him as hard as I could with the heel of my foot in his groin and at the same time I went for his hand and his hand loosened just as I kicked him and I just grabbed the knife out of his hand and I said, stop, I have the knife. And he didn‘t stop.
He just came over me, grabbing at the knife, punched me in the face and I stabbed him in the side. And he‘s trying to grab it out of my hand and so I squeezed my hand as tight as I could and I stabbed him again. I think I stabbed him five times. At one point I waved it back and forth like this and I said get off, get off, get off, get off, and he stood up and it was over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said something.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said, oh, my God, I think I‘m dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Well, that is the story that she‘s telling. Jim Moret, you have spoken with her. Apart from the sort of legal analysis of the foolishness of representing yourself, how does she come across?
JIM MORET, “INSIDE EDITION” SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, I‘ve spoken to her twice in jail. Once when the trial was first beginning and then once after there was a mistrial declared after Daniel Horowitz‘s wife was murdered. And really she comes across, you leave talking to her feeling like she‘s a very believable person.
And the clip that you just showed, she was much more animated than when I spoke to her, but she told me pretty much the same story. She described the situation of self-defense, where her husband first came at her. And Daniel Horowitz walked me inside the confines of this guesthouse where the killing occurred and he showed me how he believes this killing occurred. She said that her husband was going to kill her...
MORET: ... and she had no choice and you know what, you really come away believing her if you just talk to her one on one, but the other tapes that you shown...
MORET: ... you‘re about to show I think show a very different kind of person.
ABRAMS: And that‘s—and let me show a little bit more. Again, this is the interrogation tape from hours after her husband was killed. She‘s telling a very different story. Pretending she doesn‘t know anything.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband did not lead an impeccable life.
He‘s had his life threatened before.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By who?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well you know I wish I could give you the name, but it was in his patient file that he had a patient threaten to kill him...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long ago was that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... and to stab him. She actually brought a knife to the session.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Boy, Leslie Crocker Snyder that is going to be tough to overcome.
LESLIE CROCKER SNYDER, RETIRED NY STATE JUDGE: Oh I think it will be very tough, Dan. There‘s that and then there‘s this alleged call that her husband made a week before he was killed to the police saying his wife had threatened to kill him by telephone. I don‘t know how credible that is, but he made the call.
It‘s always best to have a false exculpatory statement before you give an inculpatory one even if it‘s basically justifying your actions. Then she gives such detailed accounts, Dan, of how she committed this murder. The question that I have, because I don‘t know these details, is, is the forensic evidence and the evidence, physical evidence, does it support what she says or does it contradict it? That‘s going to be crucial.
ABRAMS: Here‘s her son. Remember, you‘ve got one son who is going to be testifying for her, one against her. This is the son who supports her on “Dateline”.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw him hit her. The black eyes, dragging her by the hair up the stairs to their room. What people need to understand is that it was a constant physical threat. He do something which people called charging, where he would walk right up to somebody whether it was my mom, being my little brother or my older brother and you know say this is how it is and back—proceed to back that person up against the wall. That was constant. That was every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: So Michelle Suskauer, look, keeping in mind that that‘s going to be kind of the defense here in addition to the fact that she met him when she went to him as a 15-year-old when he was a psychiatrist and she went to him for counseling and they allegedly starting having sex and then developed this relationship and then got married later on when she was 25...
MICHELLE SUSKAUER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right. He left his...
SUSKAUER: He left his wife for her.
ABRAMS: Right. Assuming that that‘s all going to be part of the defense, is there any argument at all that she might actually benefit from representing herself?
SUSKAUER: You know, I was thinking about it and I think, yes.
SUSKAUER: I think a jury—look, I do in a way. Look, I think she‘s a fool for doing it. I think she needs counsel, but a jury may feel or at least some jurors may feel a little bit sorry for her, maybe give her a little bit of the benefit of the doubt and find her guilty of a lesser offense like manslaughter or second-degree murder because she‘s representing herself against the big bad prosecution.
That really depends on the 12 jurors who are going to be seated in this case, but what she really needs to do is she needs to explain to this jury why she made those false statements in the beginning. I think that‘s really important.
ABRAMS: Yes. Let me do this. Let me take a quick break. When we come back we‘re going to play more of that interrogation tape of Susan Polk where she‘s (INAUDIBLE) saying what she‘s saying now.
And the fight over whether an Arab company should run some of America‘s ports goes to court, but the judge says it doesn‘t belong there. I say he‘s right. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: Coming up, Susan Polk on trial for killing her husband, representing herself. She says she killed him in self-defense. Not what she said when police confronted her. We‘ve got more of the tape coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don‘t have enough information to speculate about what happened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don‘t even know...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he seeing...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don‘t even know that he‘s dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... ladies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he seeing any other women?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... do I know that he‘s dead? I mean who has identified him? Did my son find his body?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Well Susan Polk‘s story has certainly changed since then. That was the interrogation just hours after the discovery of her husband‘s fatally stabbed body almost four years ago. She denied any involvement, said she didn‘t know what could have happened to him and as you just heard, even questioned that he was actually dead. Now as she prepares to represent herself in the murder trial, Polk admits to stabbing her husband, but says it was self-defense.
He was the one attacking her. She put up with years of abuse, even attempts by him to kill her. If convicted, she could face life in prison. Here‘s what she said to our guest, Jim Moret, when he interviewed her earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was on top of me stabbing at me with the knife. Once I saw the knife I was sure that he was going to kill me. It was the only thing I could think of to do to save myself and at that point I grabbed the knife and I said stop and he didn‘t and I stabbed him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Leslie Crocker Snyder, she‘s representing herself, OK, so how does this work when she‘s going testify? Does she ask herself questions?
SNYDER: No, she‘ll get up and be allowed to tell a narrative. It‘s usually the way we did it. I can tell you one thing. It‘s a judge‘s nightmare to have a prose (ph) defendant. And I think she‘s got to have a screw loose because she‘s fired four lawyers and now she‘s representing herself. But she‘ll get up—she‘ll be allowed to tell a narrative of what happened.
ABRAMS: And Jim, you were pointing out something that you think she should be concerned about.
MORET: Well, you know, I don‘t defend her—I think she‘s crazy to represent herself, but she does get to do one thing, give an opening statement, so she never has to technically testify, never subjects herself to cross-examination, but she in her own words will tell the jurors what she says happened that night and that‘s in some odd way an advantage to her representing herself.
ABRAMS: Go ahead...
SNYDER: I think it depends on how good the district attorney is. I mean the district attorney as an experienced D.A. can run circles around her legally and she does have real problems with those prior...
ABRAMS: She didn‘t even...
ABRAMS: She didn‘t even know...
ABRAMS: She didn‘t even know that she needed a unanimous verdict until yesterday. She...
ABRAMS: She announced in court that she didn‘t even know that a hung jury would mean she didn‘t get a unanimous verdict.
SUSKAUER: But you know what? If this D.A. really beats up on her it could really work to their judgment and they could start really having a lot of sympathy for her and show that she‘s being victimized again. So they have to be really careful when they deal with—I think not only is it the judge‘s nightmare, it‘s also the D.A.‘s nightmare to have a prose (ph) defendant...
SNYDER: Yes, it‘s not fun for a D.A. I agree, but you know he...
SNYDER: ... he does have a lot to work with here. You know she is not really someone who has a lot of credibility going in. I think a battered spouse syndrome is incredibly appealing for the woman‘s point of view. If she had—if she can substantiate with witnesses that this guy, not just one son out or two—one out of three sons, that he was abusive to her throughout the relationship, she has a lot more going for her.
ABRAMS: But wait. Leslie, would you be concerned as the prosecutor...
ABRAMS: ... that some jurors just might simply feel sorry about how they met and just the fact that she was a child when she went to him as a psychiatrist and that they started having sex while he‘s a psychiatrist and she is a patient. It doesn‘t go to the ultimate question in the case, but it could go to sympathy.
SNYDER: Well you know some people will feel sorry for her but my experience with jurors is that basically if the prosecution has the evidence and does a good job and isn‘t overbearing, as Michelle says, because that‘s a big danger, then I think...
SNYDER: ... they will go with the evidence. I‘m a great believer that most of the time, except in celebrity cases—this really isn‘t a celebrity case—that they will go with the evidence.
SUSKAUER: I think the jury is definitely going to consider the fact that this is—this guy was a bad character from the get go and really took advantage of this girl from the beginning. I think it makes her defense a lot more believable and...
ABRAMS: She says he was more than just a bad character. Here‘s what she said on “Dateline” about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His attitude was that the marriage was forever and that I could never leave him and that if I did, he said he would go after me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go after you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He would go after me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s the way he put it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He put it that way. He also said he‘d kill me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Jim, the other problem she has is the timing. Meaning, there had just been a ruling against her with regard to custody of their child.
MORET: Right and there‘s also the issue of money and support. I think Susan Polk‘s biggest problem is Susan Polk and the previous statements she made. You showed the tape of the interrogation. You know that was a person very detached, saying that she didn‘t even know if her husband was dead. She didn‘t do it. Maybe somebody else did it. Her story is so dramatically different now, and when you listen to all of that, that‘s the biggest problem I have with Susan Polk.
ABRAMS: All right. Jim Moret, Leslie Crocker Snyder, and Michelle Suskauer, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
SUSKAUER: Thank you.
ABRAMS: You can see more of the police interrogation tapes on Catherine Crier‘s show on Court TV.
Coming up, the controversy over whether a Dubai-owned company can operate six major U.S. ports moves to the courtroom. A federal judge throws it out. I say good. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—the continuing effort to politicize the port controversy is now heading from Congress to the courts. The state of New Jersey filed suit, demanding access to classified documents about the sale of operations at six U.S. ports to a company owned by Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.
I was relieved to see that a federal judge said no. I was a bit troubled to learn that President Bush didn‘t know about the deal until the media started reporting it. Pressure has led the administration to conduct more extensive 45-day review to make sure there are no national security concerns. And I too was initially alarmed hearing that a country which two of the 9-11 hijackers called home could suddenly be running port operations on the entire East Coast. But then again, we sold them 80 F-16 jets seven years ago and they wouldn‘t be in charge of security. Look, if there‘s a reason to prevent all foreign companies or nations from running our ports, let‘s do it, but I feel no more confident with China or Singapore running American ports than with the United Arab Emirates, an ally in the war on terror.
My regular viewers know that in many cases I believe the release of documents is in the public‘s interest, but not when the effort to get classified ones is driven by a desire to gain political advantage. Let‘s wait and see what the inquiry finds. The only reason the state would need them now is to use as a political tool. Furthermore, officials in New Jersey, or one of the ports in question, Port Newark is located, don‘t even have the necessary national security clearance. The state director of homeland security is still waiting for his clearance.
Turning classified documents over to them and possibly five other states would be as one government lawyer said yesterday, unprecedented. And the New Jersey officials‘ true mission becomes clear when the attorney general claims credit for the Bush administration‘s decision to take the additional time for the review. Please, as if New Jersey‘s lawsuit, rather than the political uproar led the administration to shift course. It shouldn‘t be about credit. It should be about making sure our ports are safe.
If the 12-member committee allows the purchase to go forward and let‘s look at how they made that decision. They now know the world is watching. If their analysis is faulty in some way, then let the litigation floodgates open. But nothing is happening until that review is complete. So let‘s keep this political issue out of the legal arena at least for now.
Coming up, last night we debated whether there were really thousands of people wrongly convicted sitting in prisons across the country. Many of you writing in about this one. It‘s coming up.
ABRAMS: I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. Last night I spoke to actor Kyle Maclachlan, who is starring as a lawyer in the television drama called “In Justice”. Lawyers trying to free people who are wrongly convicted, then we debated whether some of the media and defense attorneys are overstating the number of men and women behind bars who shouldn‘t be there.
Barb Benson in Salem, Oregon, “Your guest said he had thousands of people contacting him saying they‘re innocent and incarcerated. Doesn‘t everyone in prison say that they‘re innocent?”
From Allentown, Pennsylvania, Tim Gruber has an issue with our other guest. Remember the other side, prosecutor Josh Marquis said the problem was not a systemic one. “When your one guest trivializes the problem, he trivializes the danger of allowing the real criminal to escape to go on to ruin more victims‘ lives while an innocent person sits in jail.”
Nancy Roberts in Houston, “Defense attorneys dismiss DNA when it points to guilt. It was contaminated, the police were corrupt, et cetera. When there is none their client must be innocent.”
Also last night, new information on that horrible case of the person who was sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered, the criminal justice student in New York.
Frank in Florida, “Any murder is heartbreaking news. But why in the world is this student out intoxicated at 3:00 a.m. in the morning? People are going to have to take responsibility for their own welfare if they want to be out that late.”
Oh, so Frank, taking responsibility would mean that we should just accept her fate? You‘re basically saying she deserved to get killed. I‘m really getting sick and tired of people saying this. There were a number of people who were writing this in.
Yes, maybe mistakes were made, but anyone who makes comments like this, which is basically just blaming the victim, pure and simple, I‘m not going to let it go without comment.
Oh, why was she out that late, et cetera. You know what? I don‘t care, all right. I want to know who killed her. You guys can focus on that.
Finally on a much lighter note, I have told you before about the random e-mails that we get here at the program. Just to give you an example of one, Scott Burke in Scotland writes, “I‘m writing to ask whether you know of anyone who may have rooms for hire? I am a full time hypnotherapist from Inverness, Scotland and I am looking to run group programs in other countries. Please do let me know if this is feasible.”
It is not, Scott. We know of no vacancies.
Your e-mails email@example.com. We go through them at the end of the show.
“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews up next.
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