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Inside Dateline: A woman rises from rape

Dateline producer: How a woman turned a destructive experience into something positive

March 31, 2006 |

A woman rises from attempted rape and brutal assault (Cathy Singer, Dateline producer)

I produced Victoria Corderi’s hour-long story about one man and two crimes that occurred 20 years apart. We chose to frame the story around the victim in the initial 1985 crime, Penny Beerntsen.

I was struck by how Penny dealt with being a victim of a brutal sexual assault that almost killed her. She told us that at first, the anger, rage and fear stemming from the attack took over her life. One day several weeks after the assault she was in her bedroom, making the bed when she caught a reflection in a mirror on the wall. It was simply her own image, but she thought it was that of her assailant.  She immediately grabbed an antique chair in the room that had been her grandmother’s. Penny swung that chair over her head smashing it into pieces on the floor.  She then looked up to see her two young children standing—wide-eyed—at the doorway.  At that point she realized she had to do something constructive that would help her emotionally move on.

Penny started going to prisons, a seemingly odd place to seek help.  At first she assisted with mediation sessions between victims and their offenders. Then she met for years with groups of prisoners, telling her story, so that the convicts, especially those involved in sexual assaults, might see her—and by extension their victims—as a real person who had been harmed in truly damaging ways, so that once released, they would not attack again. In the process of trying to help others, though, she helped herself. The anger and rage that had plagued her for years dissipated, she says.

Penny’s journey made me wonder how I would react if I were ever a victim of a violent crime. I don’t know if I could turn such a destructive experience into something positive and help others like she has. 

This report airs Dateline Saturday, 8 p.m.

March 31, 2006 | 3:30 p.m. ET

'The Jesus Papers'

What if everything you think you know about Jesus is wrong? In The Jesus Papers, Michael Baigent reveals "the truth" about Jesus’s life and crucifixion.

Previously, Baigent has captured readers' imaginations with his provocative non-fiction work "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," in which he claimed Jesus was married.  Now, while in the middle of a highly-publicized lawsuit with the publishers of "The Da Vinci Code" for copyright infringement, Baigent has an even more controversial premise that challenges much of what we know about Jesus: What if Jesus survived the crucifixion?

Watch the report Dateline Sunday, 7 p.m.; and more of the interview with miracle mine survivor Randal McCloy.

March 31, 2006 |

Schiavo e-mails, divided too

We received many e-mails after airing Matt Lauer's interview with Michael Schiavo. Below, is a sampling:

I did watch the interview between Matt Lauer and Michael Schiavo. My thoughts on this controversial subject has never changed.  I believe that Mr. and Mrs. Schindler were right in wanting to keep their daughter alive.  I can understand that kind of love, the love that a Mom and Dad have for their child. —Callie

Even though it HAS been a year since Terri’s death, some things are not forgotten.  I have nothing but utter disgust for Michael Schiavo.  I would like to think that if this were to happen to one of my daughters and their husband chose to start another life, he would at least let her parents have charge of her.  Only God knows Michael’s motives and only God can give true justice.—Anonymous

Mr. Schiavo has displayed nothing but grace, stoicism, restraint, commitment, courage and near total self-sacrifice to protect his wife and honor her wishes.  Under no circumstances should he have abdicated his rights and role as her husband, no matter how much anyone begged.  Parents are supposed to respect their adult children’s decisions—Alex K., Calif.

I think the whole “Terri Schiavo” case is an outrage. The only one who should be allowed to take someone’s life away is “GOD”. Nobody else has that right! I cannot believe that our legal community allowed this girl to be starved to death.... nobody, except the individual and GOD knows how it feels to “live like that”, or how it must feel to DIE LIKE THAT! —Linda Angeline

I feel that what her husband has done was right.  I don’t feel that anyone should have to suffer like that.  I am glad she finally got her wish.  —Anonymous

I don’t think it was a good idea to stir the pot on the Terri Schiavo tragedy. After watching the report on T.V. I now think even less of Michael Schiavo then I did when I first read about it (if that is possible). Honestly it was uncomfortable and sick to see him on T.V. —Anonymous

The interview of Michael Schiavo by Matt Lauer was more of an attack then an interview. If Matt Lauers personal feelings and religious convictions are that biased he should not have been allowed to do the interview —Lawrence Weinman

Please give Matt Lauer my fondest regards for trapping the despicable Michael Schiavo in his own lies! The notion that the Schindlers would have said they’d cut their precious Terri’s arms and legs off is another example of how twisted is the thinking of the depraved Mr. Schiavo.—Leslie Hanks

Matt, you were way too easy on Michael Schiavo.  I would have liked you to delve into the issue of the what actually happened to the $750K awarded for Terri’s care and why he felt he had the right to use that money to pay his lawyer to petition the court to disconnect tube.  You should have also discussed the fact that his lawyer, had donated a great deal of money to the judge that kept ruling in his favor. Michael Schiavo is STILL trying to cash in on the tragedy clearing belong to Terri and her blood relatives.—Rose Anne

To Matt Lauer, you did a wonderful job in your interview regarding the Terri Schiavo case. Thanks for confronting this monster head-on with your great sensitivity. It’s the best memorial I’ve ever seen to Terri. —Carol R., Portland, Ore.

March 26, 2006 |

When Katrina victims find lost money (Lea Thompson, Dateline Chief Consumer Correspondent)

NBC's Lea Thompson
NBC's Lea Thompson

It was stunning seeing the devastation for the first time. Of course, I had watched hours of it on TV — but in person, what surprised me the most was the width and breadth of it all. We arrived on the Gulf Coast six months after Hurricane Katrina dropped in and, in many areas, it looks like the storm just came ashore yesterday.

Dateline producer Marianne O'Donnell and I were on the Gulf Coast to find money for victims of Katrina. A strange assignment for journalists but Marianne and I had been involved in unclaimed funds before.

In Mississippi, not unlike a lot of other states, one out of every four people has money they forgot about or didn't know they had sitting in state coffers. But, now, people on the Gulf Coast need it more than ever and State Treasurer Tate Reeves and the head of his Unclaimed Property Division, John Younger, asked us to come along  to help try to find some of those folks whose lives have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

For some people, we only had a few hundred dollars to give away, for some others the state had $30,000 (a lost investment account), $200,000 (a secret bank account inherited from a parent) - $950,000 (stock the state had for years that had skyrocketed in value). But, when you are living in a FEMA trailer, any extra cash was welcome.

All we had was a list of Mississippi people owed money by the state and their last known address. Kudos to Marianne O'Donnell who used all of her very fine investigative techniques to find so many people.

Every person involved in this story, our cameramen Jack Rayzor and Bob Abrahamsen, our soundmen Dana Marxen and Randy Foster and our editors, Saverio Camporeale and Bob Spencer had their heart in this story. We met the most incredible people along the way... each one with a hurricane story to tell.

Many of these families have lost everything but their lives and yet they have such great spirit and optimism for the future. We left the Gulf Coast knowing that whatever problems we thought we had were nothing compared to what these people are living through.

The full Dateline report aired Sunday 7 p.m. Click here to read the full report; and click here to .

March 26, 2006 |

The blog awards (Josh Mankiewiz, Dateline correspondent)

We like awards in this country. We like giving them, we like getting them, we like watching other people get them.  So you shouldn't be surprised that there are now awards in the blog world.

The 2006 Weblog Awards are out — known as the bloggies. Technorati says there are an estimated 30.6 million blogs. Out of that came 30 winners.

The best British or Irish blog is called “Girl with a one track mind.”  She likes to write about her sex life. Trust me, there's plenty to write about.

The best European blog is called “My boyfriend is a *word Josh can't say on Dateline NBC.”

Winner of the most humorous blog is It's actually not bad, the blog is filled with funny or bizarre sentence fragments heard on the street and e-mailed in, like: “Today was the first day I took a Celebrex since the pogo stick thing.”

And , which is the only one of the winning blogs that I have ever actually read, won a lifetime achievement award. Just for comparison, on the Oscars, Director Robert Altman won a Lifetime Achievement Award. He's 81 years old. Boing Boing is 6. But in the blog world, that's apparently a lifetime.

Now the big winner (can you just cut the virtual tension with a virtual knife?):  The best American blog and also blog of the year is something really interesting, called “,”in which people anonymously send in postcards bearing their secrets.


A verdict for a 19-year-old murder case (Victoria Corderi, Dateline correspondent)

NBC's Victoria Corderi
NBC's Victoria Corderi

As I sat in the Atlanta courthouse listening to attorneys’ dramatic closing arguments, it was hard not to think about the dignified couple sitting  in the front row—to wonder what these minutes were like for them.  Indeed, what the past 19 years have been like. They were sitting not ten feet from the man charged with engineering the brutal, point-blank assassination of their daughter.

When we cover a murder trial, we go to great lengths to present the back story.  We interview friends and family and attorneys in an effort to make the case come alive.  The victim in this case was Lita McClinton Sullivan.  She was murdered in 1987 when a gunman posing as a flower deliveryman shot her with a 9mm gun hidden by the roses he carried. Her parents were the people who really helped me to understand who Lita was, and the insight came not so much from what they told me about their daughter and her disastrous marriage, but what they conveyed about themselves and how they raised Lita.

Victoria Corderi was in the emotion-charged courtroom when the verdict was announced. Tune in to "Dateline" Saturday, 8 p.m. to find out Jim Sullivan’s fate and see exclusive interviews with the jurors and reaction from Lita’s parents.   


On the upcoming Michael Schiavo interview (Deborah Trueman, Dateline producer)

I traveled down to Clearwater, Florida to produce Matt Lauer's interview with Michael Schiavo.

It would be the first network interview Schiavo has done since the death of his wife Terri, almost a year ago.

We were invited into the home he shares with his wife Jodi and their two young children.

I arrived around 7 a.m. to meet up with the camera crews and set up for the interview. What struck me was that they were just like any other family. Jodi was tending to their son who wasn't feeling well while Michael was making breakfast for their daughter…

Yes, they were just like any other family but their last name was Schiavo. A name synonymous with one of the longest running and most divisive cases of its kind in the country: The case of Terri Schiavo.

Terri collapsed at the age of twenty six and was left severely brain damaged. A feeding tube kept her alive. Michael Schiavo said Terri had made it clear to him she would not want to be kept alive that way, although she never put it in writing. He petitioned the Florida courts to have the tube removed.

Her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, said they never heard those wishes from Terri and that she would want to go on living, despite her condition.

What followed was a seven year legal battle between Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers.

Ultimately the Vatican, the president, and the United States Congress would all be involved in the case of this one woman.

It is an issue that most people have something to say about. After all, who couldn't imagine being any one of the players in this terribly sad story? Who doesn't have an opinion?

Nothing said this clearer to me than what happened in my brief time in Florida. On the way from the airport to my hotel the night before the interview, I was chatting with my taxi driver. He asked me what I was doing in Clearwater and I explained that I was a journalist covering the Terri Schiavo case a year after her death.

Since the Schiavo case played out in his backyard, the taxi driver was well aware of the story and passionate in his opinions. "She is a human being. Her life still had value. How could they let her die that way?"

Interestingly enough, a day later, on the way back to the airport, I had a totally different conversation with a second taxi driver. When I explained I was there covering the case of Terri Schiavo, he too offered an opinion: "Who would want to live that way? At last she's resting in peace."       

Two people. Two very different views of the Terri Schiavo story.

And so, as I boarded my plane to come back to New York City, I thought about Terri Schiavo and her legacy.

Whether one sees this as being about the right to life or the right to die, it's crucial to make your wishes known in writing.  Even Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers can agree on that.

Send your thoughts to The full interview airs Dateline Sunday, 7 p.m. ET. .


'Mafia cops' go on trial

Former New York City police detective Stephen Caracappa exits Federal Court escorted by his brother Domenic, left, and  attorney Rae Koshetz, right, Thursday, July 21, 2005, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Caracappa, 63, and former partner and detective Louis Eppolito, 56, were each released on a $5 million bond. The former partners stand accused of leading double lives at hitmen for the mob, gunning down, kidnapping and tracking down rivals of a Lucchese family underboss for tens of thousands of dollars in blood money. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)
Former New York City police detective Stephen Caracappa exits Federal Court escorted by his brother Domenic, left, and attorney Rae Koshetz, right, Thursday, July 21, 2005, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Caracappa, 63, and former partner and detective Louis Eppolito, 56, were each released on a $5 million bond. The former partners stand accused of leading double lives at hitmen for the mob, gunning down, kidnapping and tracking down rivals of a Lucchese family underboss for tens of thousands of dollars in blood money. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)Louis Lanzano / AP

Last August, we brought you a story of New York cops accused of doubling as mob hit men. The men allegedly were involved in eight murders while working for Luchese family underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso.


Your interview: Sharon Stone

Thanks to all of you who sent in questions for Sharon Stone. Stone posing some of those questions to the actress.

Unfortunately, we could'nt ask all of the questions we received. We got a wide range of queries— from those interested in her work, her beauty secrets, and her parenting philosophies— to two marriage proposals, and one dinner invitation in Paris.

And don't forget to watch the full interview Sunday night on NBC.

March 14, 2006 |

Wallace to retire as regular '60 Minutes' anchor

FILE PHOTO Mike Wallace Arrested By TLC
NEW YORK - MAY 1: (FILE PHOTO) \"60 Minutes\" correspondent Mike Wallace arrives at the \"Raising Helen\" screening during the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival on May 1, 2004 in New York City. Wallace, 86, was handcuffed and arrested by two Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) inspectors August 10 in New York City. Wallace was given a summons for disorderly conduct and released. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)Evan Agostini / Getty Images North America

Mike Wallace, the hard-driving reporter who has been with “60 Minutes” since its start in 1968, said Tuesday he on the show this spring. to read Katie's Dateline recent interview with the newsman. Wallace talks about being a former cigarette pitchman who fought for respect as a reporter, a father who lost a teenage son, and even a tough guy who battled depression.

March 13, 2006 |

If you missed it, to read Ann Curry's Commentary on her recent trip to Darfur. Ann brought her camera to document the trip, and shares the touching images she captured.