Guests: Mark Edwards, Susan Filan, Yale Galanter, Pam Bondi, Karen Russell, J. Jioni Palmer, Julia Renfro, Vinda de Sousa, Clint Van Zandt, Derek Champagne, Fred Brown, Pierce O‘Donnell
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, are prosecutors in the Duke lacrosse rape investigation really coming out swinging this hard? It appears they may be trying to reinstate old misdemeanor charges against 15 current and former lacrosse team members.
The program about justice starts now.
Hi, everyone. First up on the docket, prosecutors in the Duke rape investigation appear to be fighting back. Now they could be going after more than just the two players charged, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann. It appears that they are now going after other players on the team as well. They are filing what appears to be notices of reinstatement for about 15 cases, misdemeanor cases, some involving players who are or were on probation, some had deferred prosecutions. Some even had their cases dismissed.
In most of the deferred prosecution cases, the agreement was that the players would do community service and avoid being charged if they stay out of trouble for a certain period of time. The 15 cases, the crimes range from possession of alcohol by a minor to public urination, to noise violations, to misuse of the Duke meal card. And all of this comes the same day that Collin Finnerty had his plea deal on a November assault charge revoked by a judge who said he violated the part of the plea that required that he did not commit another criminal offense or not be charged.
Joining me now is North Carolina criminal defense attorney Mark Edwards, defense attorney Yale Galanter, attorney Karen Russell, legal analyst for NBC Seattle affiliate KING TV, Hillsborough County, Florida assistant state attorney Pam Bondi, and MSNBC legal analyst and former prosecutor Susan Filan.
As a legal matter, explain this to me. If they haven‘t been charged with another crime now, what power does the D.A. have to have to go in and say it‘s time to revisit these cases?
MARK EDWARDS, NC CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think the D.A.‘s position is going to be, is that they are granting of a deferred prosecution is something that is entirely within their discretion. Normally, the time you would see them re-institute charges is where a person has done something to violate the specific terms of the agreement, either committing a new offense when they have been charged, not paying any associated fees or not performing community service hours. This is the first time I have seen this situation, where they are re-instituting cases where the person has not actually been charged with a criminal violation yet.
ABRAMS: And I guess the argument would go, Susan Filan, that there could be an underage alcohol charge. They—the one thing that is clear is, that they are trying to get these people to turn.
SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: That‘s exactly right, Dan. I mean this is classic leverage. The prosecution is coming at these kids who thought that they had gotten a get out of jail free card, they were going to walk, they were going to do their community service, pay a little court fee associated with the program, but now coming at them and saying we are yanking this program, we‘re prosecuting them. They are sending a message we are coming down hard on you kids. Isn‘t there somebody who would like to tell us what happened at that party or do you want a record?
ABRAMS: Yes and we‘re going to talk more about the whole Collin Finnerty case because his is the most significant. He is one of the guys charged. But I want to focus on this issue, Yale Galanter. I mean what do you make of this? Again, you‘re someone who is close with the defense team in this case. What do they make of this latest effort?
YALE GALANTER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Dan, these are the desperate act of a desperate district attorney who sees his case, quite frankly, going down the toilet. You know we‘ve been discussing on the show for the past three weeks that really the only thing that‘s going to save this case is one of these lacrosse players coming in and flipping against the other players.
I mean listen to these charges—public urination, underage drinking, abuse of the campus meal card. I mean if these kids went in and pled guilty, they would only get a slap on the wrist. So what he‘s trying to do, he‘s trying to violate the terms of this program, trying to squeeze somebody. It‘s not going to work. It‘s the desperate acts of a desperate man.
ABRAMS: I don‘t know. Pam Bondi, it sometimes does work, though, doesn‘t it?
PAM BONDI, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL ASST. STATE ATTORNEY: I mean if they are trying to use leverage here, and also what we are missing here is once—when they reinstate these charges, these boys now could have a criminal record and that‘s what going in an intervention program avoids, any type of criminal record. And he‘s coming out playing hardball and he‘s filing these charges again and he has every right to do so because when they go in a program, they waive speedy trial.
ABRAMS: Before I go to Karen Russell, let me just understand this, Mark Edwards, in terms of North Carolina law, it is purely discretionary on the part of the prosecutor, meaning he can reach an attorney—he can reach a deal with these defense attorneys and say look, you know community service, let them do the community service, get rid of the criminal record after a certain amount of time. And at any point the prosecutor can decide, not going to adhere to that deal anymore?
EDWARDS: Well I think there would have to be something that they could argue as a violation of the agreement. And one of the standard conditions of the deferred prosecution is not to commit any further criminal acts. So I assume it‘s as one of the other guests said, that the argument is going to be that they were involved in underage drinking or providing alcohol to minors or committing some other kind of criminal violation that shows that they are not being a good citizen and abiding by the terms of their deferred prosecution agreement.
ABRAMS: Karen Russell, what do you make of it?
KAREN RUSSELL, KING 5 LEGAL ANALYST: I have to agree with Yale and he nailed it on the head. That this—they are desperate and they‘re playing hardball and they want to sweat somebody and turn them to their advantage because looks like the case is sort of, you know, dissolving.
ABRAMS: But is it inappropriate? I guess that‘s the question.
RUSSELL: If it‘s legal, it‘s not inappropriate. And I think that he‘s being tough. I mean he stopped talking to the media so behind closed doors, he‘s trying to figure out a strategy to revive this case.
ABRAMS: All right. Let me move on because this is part of a broader
issue here. The U.S. attorney is trying to link Duke lacrosse player
Collin Finnerty, who‘s been charged, his assault charge in Washington, to
the alleged gang rape that he‘s been charged with along with teammate Reade
Seligmann. The attorney—the U.S. attorney there has said that there are
quote—“clear similarities between the two cases.”
A judge rejected that but he did impose restrictions on Finnerty, who now has to obey a 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew, report every Friday by telephone to a court officer, avoid any place, public or private, where alcohol is consumed or sold, and stay at least 50 feet from the complainant, Jeffrey Bloxgom (ph), who accused Finnerty and two of his friends of assaulting him outside a Washington, D.C. restaurant.
Finnerty initially reached a plea agreement, required that he complete 25 hours of community service, refrained from committing any criminal offense. The judge today revoked that in the wake of Finnerty‘s arrest last week in connection with this Duke case. A July 10 trial date has now been set.
Let‘s bring in J. Jioni Palmer, Washington correspondent for “Newsday”, who was in the courtroom today. Thanks a lot for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
J. JIONI PALMER, “NEWSDAY”: Thanks a lot, Dan. It‘s Jioni.
ABRAMS: Jioni. Sorry, I apologize.
PALMER: That‘s quite all right.
ABRAMS: It‘s good to have you. All right. So what happened in court today? The judge basically saying I‘m not going to move this trial forward that quickly but I want to keep my eye on Collin Finnerty.
PALMER: Well to be honest with you, it was the prosecutor that actually revoked the deal and the judge made a point of saying that it was an executive privilege, the prosecutors‘ you know prerogative, to resend the deal that would have allowed Collin to do an unspecified amount of community service in exchange for having his record expunged in the end.
ABRAMS: Was there specific talk of the Duke case in that courtroom?
PALMER: Yes. I mean obviously, you know, the prosecutor referenced it, as you said quoted him saying that there were similarities in the incidents, the fact that there appeared to have been alcohol involved in both incidents. He was with other people who may have been egging him on or created some sort of an environment that ultimately led to a violent incident. Collin‘s attorney was very quick to say that, you know, these two things are completely different and, of course, he maintained that his client would be exonerated on both accounts.
The judge sort of—I think Collin‘s attorney was afraid that the impression or I think—I shouldn‘t say he was afraid, but he seemed to be arguing that these incidents—these two incidences were not similar and you know because there‘s been allegations that the assault in D.C. was bias related, if you read the court records...
PALMER: ... it says that—I mean the complainant says that he began to be pummeled after he asked Collin and his friends to stop calling him gay and other derogatory names.
ABRAMS: There is something odd about this, Susan, in the sense that you know we always hear people saying, well, presumed innocent, presumed—and people aren‘t always—I mean look people are held without bond...
FILAN: That‘s right.
ABRAMS: ... in a lot of cases, even though they are presumed innocent.
FILAN: Right. But then they‘re dangerous or they‘re a flight risk. This is slightly different. This is a gray area. We used to wrestle with this as prosecutors. If you‘re just charged with something, can you revoke that program because they have not actually been convicted? On the other hand, they did not necessarily stay out of trouble because they got themselves arrested.
And it sounds like the judge might have been on the fence wrestling with this and the way to split the baby down the middle was to not necessarily yank the program entirely today, but to impose more stringent conditions. And I think the argument that there are similarities between these two cases isn‘t farfetched but that‘s not the issue. The issue is this kid isn‘t convicted of this. So can you really hold it against him yet?
ABRAMS: Yes. And Yale, I would assume that defense attorneys kind of view this as a low blow.
GALANTER: Well, you know, I don‘t know necessarily that it‘s a low blow, Dan. Any time you‘re representing somebody who is under some type of legal restraint, either in one of these deferred prosecution programs, on probation, and you get in trouble, even if you are falsely accused, the law comes down harder. And the judge really took a step back here by only imposing more stringent conditions, and I think he really is taking a wait and see attitude regardless of what the prosecutor in D.C. said. But representing clients who are on legal restraint is a tough position for a defense lawyer to be in.
ABRAMS: And Karen...
PALMER: Dan, if I may?
ABRAMS: Yes, go ahead.
PALMER: Well, Steven McCool, Collin‘s attorney, actually tried to make the argument today before the judge that it—you know that trying this case before the Duke case is, you know, is resolved may actually you know prejudice this because...
PALMER: ... they may be trying to bring character witnesses up and he expressed the concern, due process concern, that if you know he tries to bring forward character witnesses, then the prosecution...
PALMER: ... may then be able to ask questions about the Duke case and then really you know muddy the entire—all of the waters there.
ABRAMS: All right. J. Jioni Palmer thanks a lot for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
PALMER: Thanks for having me.
ABRAMS: Everyone else is going to stick around. When we come back, I‘ve got some information about exactly what the defense is going to be with regard to Collin Finnerty and that assault case. We will talk about that.
We‘ll also talk a little bit more about the alleged victim, remember there was a motion yesterday about whether her past should be coming into this case. That‘s all coming up.
And the Natalee Holloway case keeps getting messier. The former lead investigator, Gerald Dompig, now saying the latest suspect may have been arrested because Dompig‘s own son was squabbling with the guy.
Plus, a prosecutor is furious at ABC News for airing video of a man beating his daughter and not going to the police first. Now he wants to hold ABC responsible for not reporting what he says was a crime.
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVEN MCCOOL, COLLIN FINNERTY‘S ATTORNEY: The honorable Judge Bayly set a trial date for July 10 in this matter. We look forward to presenting the facts on that date. Before I go, I just want to make clear though, however, again, that this incident has been grossly mischaracterized. This is not and has not been charged as a bias-related allegation. I want to make that clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Now I can tell you that this—we are talking about Collin Finnerty here. He‘s one of the guys charged in the Duke case, back in a courtroom in connection with an assault charge he was facing in Washington, D.C. from late last year. That has now been activated again because of this new Duke case. And I can explain to you after speaking to sources close to Finnerty‘s team as to what they‘re effectively going to say.
They‘re going to say that this was not a fight based on the fact that they thought that this guy was—quote—“gay”. I think that they are going to be saying that it was used in a colloquial way, in a sort of I guess somewhat offensive colloquial way. But they‘re going to say that Finnerty way effectively saying, you know oh, that‘s so gay and that the fight ensued having nothing to do with homosexuality, but more to do with just some kids talking to one another and as a result they‘re going to say this had nothing to do with being a biased crime.
But Susan Filan, I‘m not sure that that‘s necessarily going to be that relevant in the context of the two cases.
FILAN: Well look, what would be very, very interesting is if this program did get revoked and he did get convicted of this and the prosecutor then seeks to use that if he testifies at his own trial in the Duke case and tries to show that it‘s admissible because of pattern, motive, similarity. Then those words, you‘re gay or taunting someone you‘re gay, and assaulting them is going to be strikingly similar to the racial epithets and the alleged assault and sexual assault in this case. So it will become relevant, Dan, unless either the case does get dismissed and he doesn‘t testify or the judge says forget it, it‘s not close and you can‘t bring it in.
ABRAMS: But Pam Bondi, are we sort of wiping everyone with the same brush? Meaning, that there were some allegation that some comments were made at that party. Collin Finnerty has not been charged in connection with making any racially hostile comments. He‘s charged with something more serious, which is he is charged with rape. But does because someone at that party made comments which may have been racist, racially charged, does that then tie into Finnerty in his case?
BONDI: Well I agree with Susan. The prosecutors are definitely going to want it in because he‘s making racial slurs. Supposedly he‘s making the homosexual slurs in the other case, but I think they are both crimes of violence. I think they‘re going to have a real good argument in Florida, we call it Williams Rule, similar fact evidence to get it in. And at least they would have the prior conviction, so I would assume that they would want to get him convicted on that assault first. Again, the hate crime, though, charging him with a hate crime or a crime motivated because the victim is gay, all that does, Dan, is that‘s just an enhancement at sentencing.
BONDI: They don‘t need it.
ABRAMS: Let me ask you a quick—I mean quickly, Pam, the victim here says he‘s not gay. Does that matter?
BONDI: Not if they thought he was and that‘s...
BONDI: ... the basis for their attack on him.
ABRAMS: Yes and again, you know, their position is going to be that that was not the issue here.
ABRAMS: All right. Yale, this is now—this is becoming a mess for Collin Finnerty, is it not?
GALANTER: Oh, yes. This is the worst-case scenario for him. And again, you know it‘s that legal restrain hook. You know there is a judicial system in Washington that‘s got him under this restraint and they could pull him in. Now he‘s got to look at this hate crime issue and if his Duke trial does go to a jury, you know this Williams Rule 404 B prior bad acts, if he gets convicted in D.C. that‘s going to ruin his credibility on the stand because Nifong is going to use that against him and that will be damaging.
ABRAMS: Here‘s part of the motion that the defense team for Reade Seligmann filed. This is going after the alleged victim in this case.
Based on the presently known facts of this case and the criminal history of the complaining witness, there‘s a good chance she may have been committed at least once to a hospital or drug treatment program and then—this is number seven.
The complaining witness has a history of criminal activity and behavior, which includes alcohol abuse, drug abuse and dishonesty. All conduct indicate mental, emotional, and/or physical problems, which affect her credibility as a witness. Since these problems do not occur over night, they probably began in her teenage years and continue to exist.
Karen Russell, how far do they get to go back?
RUSSELL: Well you know they—it‘s going to depend on what‘s there. I mean I think the defense is doing two things here. I think one, they‘re trying to intimidate her into you know not being a witness. And I think they are also saying, you know what, this goes to her credibility. If she was on drugs or she has a history of making things up, the defense needs to know about that and it‘s all, you know, it‘s fair game.
ABRAMS: But there is a difference, is there not, Susan, between making things up and a history of teenage alcohol...
FILAN: Absolutely. The typical way that courts deal with these issues because they come up all the time. I mean every defense lawyer wants to discredit every prosecution witness. The judge looks at any records that come. He looks at them in camera, which means he looks at them by himself in chambers. He let‘s the defense know if he thinks there‘s anything there that‘s fair game for them to use to impeach him.
What that would be is some kind of a mental illness like some kind of a psychosis where the person was insane or blacked out or was seeing things. Not just somebody with trouble or drugs or alcohol. Because people are impaired at different times in their life and that does not do anything to their ability to recall last week or last night. So I think this is going to be really, really limited. I don‘t think this is going to get the defense what they want.
ABRAMS: They‘re not going to get it.
FILAN: They may get it through the court as a in camera view, but they‘re not going to be able to ask her about this on the stand. It‘s not going to be fodder for cross-exam.
ABRAMS: You know, I wonder whether she‘s going to move forward.
FILAN: I don‘t think she is going to, Dan.
ABRAMS: You think that she will...
FILAN: I think the media scrum of attention, the things that she‘s saying now...
FILAN: ... threats and death threats are going to get to her to the point where she‘s going to say look what happened to me.
ABRAMS: Well we heard...
ABRAMS: We heard “Essence” magazine was on the program yesterday, the editor-in-chief, saying the family members have said that twice now she‘s considered pulling out.
FILAN: Right and they are encouraging her to do the right thing. But I think at some point she is just going to say you walk in my shoes and you try it. I can‘t do it and I won‘t do it. And I think she‘s going to then say look, what a shame, this happened to me and I can‘t go forward.
ABRAMS: But Mark Edwards, if that happened, the prosecutor could still try and force her to testify, right?
EDWARDS: They could. But I think if she decides that she does not want to proceed on this, the prosecution won‘t. They‘ve got a difficult case already and if they have a reluctant witness or reluctant accuser, I don‘t think they‘re going to go forward on the case.
ABRAMS: Here‘s Woody Vann. He was the attorney for the accuser back when this incident occurred in 2002. And this is how he characterized her reaction to her previous conviction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOODY VANN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR ALLEGED VICTIM IN DUKE CASE: She‘d had prior to that incident no criminal record, no driving record. She had worked a full-time job at a local industry. She had two kids. She came from—she had come from a good home. This incident happened and she regretted it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: She was—her record includes larceny, speeding to elude, assault on a government official, driving while impaired. Pam Bondi, how much does that stuff matter?
BONDI: ... conviction. I‘m sorry, Dan, it comes in as a prior conviction. But anything to do with her mental health when she was a teenager is not going to come in unless they can prove that she falsely accused someone of a crime. It‘s much too remote in time. The only time mental health history comes in is if it affects her identification or her credibility at the time of offense and so far they don‘t have that right now.
ABRAMS: All right. Mark Edwards, Karen Russell, Pam Bondi, Susan Filan, thanks a lot. Yale Galanter is going to stay with us. What a mess down in Aruba. What seemed like a major development in the Natalee Holloway case now seems like a squabble between two teenagers.
Nineteen-year-old Geoffrey von Cromvoirt spent more than a week under arrest, hours getting interrogated by police. Now we learn that he may have been falsely accused of somehow being involved in Natalee‘s disappearance by the 19-year-old son of Gerald Dompig, the Aruban police commissioner, who was the lead investigator in the Holloway case until earlier this month.
Dompig told this program earlier today his son had—quote—“been tricked into this interview because the press had bad-talked his father.” Told him Geoffrey von Cromvoirt had also bad-talked him, all that, a new under-sea search for clues into Natalee‘s disappearance.
NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski has the latest from Aruba. What a mess, Michelle.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well as always, Dan. There‘s a lot of talk on the island. People know each other. All of these kids the same age, you know they tend to know who each other is and you know one will come in for questioning, might mention some other names and of course police have been acting on that information. But things are noticeably quieter today since 19-year-old Geoffrey von Cromvoirt was released yesterday.
Even though this information has come out from the father of another teenage boy, keep in mind that other sources of information in this case including the attorney for suspect Joran van der Sloot told us a couple of weeks ago that he had seen reams of investigative documents that were recently released to him that he had gone to court to ask for. He told us that many, many times in those documents he had seen the name of Geoffrey von Cromvoirt and he says the police believe that he may have known Natalee and even spent time with her on the island.
So the name didn‘t just come up apparently if you believe what this attorney says within the last few days and in the questioning of all these other kids on the island. He says that name has been in there for quite some time. But late last night von Cromvoirt‘s attorney came out and denied several things. She said that not only did he not spend time with Natalee Holloway while she was here, his attorney says that he never even met her, that he doesn‘t know the other three suspects, van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers, that he‘s not involved in dealing illegal drugs on the island as prosecutors said he was under suspicion of, and she went a step further too and said that he also has an alibi.
His attorney says that von Cromvoirt‘s parents, his friends and family will vouch for him that he was at home the night Natalee Holloway disappeared. So that said, now he‘s out of jail, we know that. We know that prosecutors didn‘t have the evidence to go back and say let‘s keep him longer, but they are still calling him a suspect, in some respect, we don‘t know exactly how, in Natalee Holloway‘s disappearance—Dan.
ABRAMS: Well everyone is a suspect down there. I don‘t know. It seems like everyone they arrest them, they let them go, and they say oh, he‘s a suspect. He‘s a suspect.
KOSINSKI: Well that‘s part of the law, too though, that—experts are telling us that once you are considered a suspect and you‘re questioned, even though they might not have the same suspicion against you after you‘re questioned, you‘re still technically...
ABRAMS: Right. Right. Right.
KOSINSKI: ... a suspect for the remainder of the case, so they might go back and arrest you later. It‘s just a technicality basically.
ABRAMS: Michelle, real quick, the search, what is the status of the search there?
KOSINSKI: Well prosecutors told us today that there are no plans and no word has been said of any further searches on this island within the next couple of weeks. Of course that could change. We know that at least four times, possibly five, because we saw one of the ships out with our own eyes, they use sonar, they use the Aruban Coast Guard, some of the Dutch Antilles Coast Guard, so they had a big crew going out somewhere off the coast of Aruba and they were taking photos of the ocean floor.
We know they were reviewing those photos over the weekend. But of course, you know, they are not giving us any details. And if they found something interesting, they wouldn‘t necessarily tell us about that, but from what they are saying, no plans to continue those.
ABRAMS: Michelle Kosinski, thanks a lot. Coming up, more on the Natalee Holloway case. Just when you thought investigators couldn‘t bungle it any more, you know, again, this thing about the lead investigator‘s son, talking something about getting some guy arrested.
And ABC News under fire for video of a father beating his daughter. One district attorney says ABC should have told police about it instead of saving it for a TV program. We talk to the D.A.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing offenders before they strike. Our search today is in Oklahoma.
Police need your help finding Peter Cramer. He‘s 45, five-nine, 187, was convicted of lewd or indecent acts with a child, has not registered his address with the state. If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, 405-425-2500. Be right back.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the latest arrest in the Natalee Holloway case. Was it good police work or just fallout from a verbal squabble between two teenage boys?
ABRAMS: Another arrest in the Natalee Holloway case and what seems to be another dead end to the investigation, a day after 19-year-old Geoffrey von Cromvoirt was released from jail after being labeled a suspect in the case. We learn that he may have been falsely incriminated by Michael Dompig, son of an Aruban police commissioner.
We contacted Gerald Dompig and he wrote us back, -- quote—“I have no comments other than that my son was tricked into this interview. He was frustrated and emotionally vulnerable because the press bad-talked his father and told him that the other boy had also bad-talked him. In this state of mind he also said things, which he regrets and for which I have also publicly apologized to the other family.”
Is this as crazy as I think it is? Vinda de Sousa is an Aruban attorney, who has represented the Holloway family. Julie Renfro is the editor of “Aruba Today”. Clint Van Zandt, MSNBC analyst and a former profiler.
All right. Julia, is this really as crazy as it sounds? That the son of the police commissioner may have falsely implicated another kid because he was mad at him?
JULIA RENFRO, “ARUBA TODAY” EDITOR: I wouldn‘t exactly say it that way. I think that there were statements made by Michael Dompig that implicated this young man and there was a lot of speculation that this boy had spent some time with Natalee. So it was normal for the police to pick him up based on that information, ask him questions...
RENFRO: ... and as it turns out he wasn‘t as cooperative as the police expected, which landed this kid in jail...
ABRAMS: Wait. Wait. Wait. Sounds to me, Vinda, like Dompig is admitting that his son made false statements. He said he‘s a kid, he got confused and frustrated and he said things he shouldn‘t have said, it went too far. One started talking about the other and the other talked back and it became something worse than a soap opera.
VINDA DE SOUSA, ARUBAN ATTORNEY: Yes, but I don‘t think that we can say that Dompig is saying that the implication that his son or whatever his son said about this young man, von Cromvoirt, that that were false accusations. He doesn‘t say what it is that his son exaggerated.
ABRAMS: But everything he is saying is that he‘s sorry about it; he‘s taking it back. His son was tricked. He was frustrated. He was emotionally vulnerable. He‘s certainly not standing by the statements his son made.
DE SOUSA: You see we must keep one thing in mind, when this young man, von Cromvoirt was arrested, he was not arrested only on accusations or statements given by Dompig‘s son. There was more to implicate Cromvoirt and based on that that‘s why he was arrested.
ABRAMS: Do you know that to be the case, Julia?
RENFRO: Yes, I do. And I also know that there was also a taxicab driver who also gave a witness statement that also implicated this young man. This wasn‘t specifically about Michael Dompig pointing the finger at him. There was substantial reason for the police to pick up this boy.
ABRAMS: I mean, you know look, I have been critical, Clint, of some people who I think overstate the blame that the Aruban officials deserve in the context of this investigation. I‘ve often said that I‘ve seen many police departments around this country make the same mistakes...
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Sure.
ABRAMS: ... that they made in Aruba. But with that said, you know I‘m listening to Julia and Vinda sort of suggest that you know look this happened. It‘s not that big a deal. I mean if this happened in the United States where the son of the police commissioner leading an investigation made comments that weren‘t even—let‘s just say that they weren‘t entirely accurate—about this investigation...
VAN ZANDT: Yes.
ABRAMS: ... we‘d be going nuts.
VAN ZANDT: Yes we would. You know, a number of things, Dan. Number one, we‘ve got at least three different stories that implicate this man. Number one, there‘s this female cab driver who says that Natalee and her friends talked about this blond-haired, blue-eyed Dutch kid who Natalee really liked, was really hitting on.
Beth refutes that; Natalee‘s mother refutes the statements. The students in the United States refute the statements. Then you‘ve got another story that says the Dutch America‘s most wanted came up with this young man‘s name. And now we seem to have the reality that you‘re talking about right now, that the number two man in the police department, the person who headed up this investigation for months, that there wasn‘t enough relationship between he and his 19-year-old son to say wait a minute son, if you get upset don‘t start name dropping.
You know, come to your dad. Let me tell you, you know take a drink of calm and relax a little bit. You know this whole case, and I know the Arubans are trying and for your other guests I‘m not going to slam-dunk them, but somewhere, Dan, this case lies between either ineptitude, inexperience, or corruption. And you know where does it lie? Why are we...
VAN ZANDT: ... 11 months into this, nine people have been arrested and no one is charged.
ABRAMS: Let me give...
VAN ZANDT: ... and nobody...
ABRAMS: Let me give Vinda the response on that, then I got to—we will wrap this up. Go ahead, Vinda.
DE SOUSA: Well you see I still keep on repeating that our legal system down here works this way. When there is enough—are enough indications to implicate somebody in some crime, the person will be arrested and the investigation will continue.
DE SOUSA: When a person is arrested, it does not wrap up the investigation. It—actually, it‘s only starting then.
ABRAMS: Yes. Yes. All right. Well, I don‘t know. It seems like a mess to me, but we‘ll continue to follow it. Vinda de Sousa, always appreciate you putting everything into context for us and Julia Renfro, always appreciate your time as well. Clint, good to see you.
VAN ZANDT: Thanks, Dan.
ABRAMS: ... should ABC News have turned videotape of a father beating his daughter over to police instead of airing it? It‘s coming up.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the videotape shows a father beating his daughter. Prosecutors say ABC News should have shown it to them long before it went on the air. Coming up.
ABRAMS: We are back. We show violent home videos on this show in connection usually with a crime or a trial or an investigation, but the video you‘re about to see came from a news report aired on ABC about the dynamics of stepfamilies. It‘s violent. I should warn you that, and some are saying it should lead to criminal prosecution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don‘t want to hear the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don‘t want to hear your lies and bullcrap.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never lied to you. Never have I lied to you, you little...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: On that tape you see Joe Nelson, a father, repeatedly hitting and yelling at his daughter Kyle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: ABC aired the tape on “Good Morning America” in “Primetime” last week. (INAUDIBLE) hours of footage they collected between 2002 and 2003 from inside the homes of stepfamilies. They say they only looked at the tape some time later in 2004, but still didn‘t turn it over to the authorities at that point. Now the D.A. from the family‘s county in upstate New York is saying the video catches the crime of child abuse in the act and he says it shocked it went unreported.
We‘ll talk to him in a moment. We should also mention we asked ABC to
provide a representation to come on and respond to the allegations. They
declined our invitation, but I did speak to the executive producer of
“Primetime” on the phone. Now, here is what Kyle Nelson and Diane Sawyer -
the daughter—and Diane Sawyer said about the incident on “Good Morning America” this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KYLE NELSON, FEATURED IN ABC SEGMENT ON STEPFAMILIES: That scene was something that had never happened before and has not happened since, and I don‘t think would ever happen again. My dad was just torn up about it the day it happened. And I just feel really bad that people are getting so—like just angry. And I am not going to condone what he did, but at the same time I have forgiven him.
DIANE SAWYER, CO-ANCHOR, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”: The issue raised whether ABC News upon viewing that one moment should have gone to authorities. And we did not feel we should and everybody out there I hope knows about us, if we ever think that anybody is in peril, we move in. That‘s why we‘re here. That‘s what we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Joining me now is Derek Champagne, district attorney for Franklin County, New York, where the incident took place, joins me on the phone. Media attorney Pierce O‘Donnell and Fred Brown, co-chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee. Thanks to all of you for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
All right. Mr. Champagne let me read you this statement from ABC News and then I want you to respond to it.
They say while we felt the incident in question was disturbing, it was the only scene of physical punishment in the hundreds of hours of footage that ABC News reviewed. There was no other indication that Kyle or the other three children were in physical danger. Additionally, the family was in counseling and Kyle was in individual therapy. The intent of the broadcast was to show the reality of the tensions in many stepfamilies and how important it is to find ways to understand them and bring families together. The Nelsons volunteered to have their interactions videotaped in hopes of salvaging their relationships with one another.
DEREK CHAMPAGNE, FRANKLIN COUNTY, NY D.A. (via phone): Not good enough for me, Dan. I mean you know during the report, “Primetime Live” and Diane Sawyer specifically stated repeatedly the equipment could be turned off. You know the first question I ask as a prosecutor is what, you know what aren‘t we seeing? What was turned off? “Primetime” is only talking about that footage that the family allowed to be videotaped. And you know it‘s just not good enough. It‘s not good enough...
ABRAMS: Wait. But how does that implicate ABC? I mean that‘s basically saying there might be something else there that we don‘t know about but it‘s not ABC‘s fault, is it, that they allowed—you‘re not saying that they should have only said you have to leave the tape on all the time?
CHAMPAGNE: Oh, no, not at all, Dan. What I‘m saying is just you know I think to be honest with you, a picture is worth 1,000 words. I mean this video speaks for itself. I mean I—you know, generally the media does an awful lot of good and they have been very good to me. But I think this is a situation where their priorities here ignored criminal conduct.
And it‘s inconsistent with what I was elected to do and to be very honest, it‘s inconsistent with what the public has contacted my office. I mean we had over 800 hotline reports after this segment was aired. We had no hotline reports prior to this being aired. And now my office is faced with a situation where because of the delay, because of the fact that this tape was shelved or placed wherever, it is now beyond the statue of limitations and there‘s no way for me to prosecute criminally.
ABRAMS: Are you saying that someone at ABC should be held criminally responsible?
CHAMPAGNE: No, I didn‘t say that, Dan. I just said that because of the delay, I am boxed out...
ABRAMS: Moral. You‘re saying moral culpability...
CHAMPAGNE: I think clearly moral.
CHAMPAGNE: You know if there‘s criminal, I haven‘t been able to find it as well as experts that I‘ve talked to across New York State.
ABRAMS: All right.
CHAMPAGNE: And that‘s not really the issue here as much as the issue that they made a decision to ignore criminal conduct.
ABRAMS: Fred Brown, what are the ethics here?
FRED BROWN, SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS: Well, you know there are a couple of issues involved here. One of them is protecting a source in effect. The other is this new feeling in journalism that there are times when we ought to be involved, we ought to get angry.
ABRAMS: Is this one of those cases?
BROWN: I don‘t know. You know I have not really had a chance to study that tape.
ABRAMS: But what you just saw is—I mean that‘s the heart of it. I mean that‘s the heart of it. That‘s the key part that the prosecutor and the public went crazy about.
BROWN: Yes, I understand that ABC got quite a few e-mails and complaints about this and I‘m not surprised. I suspect if there was a point at which it appeared that Kyle was being seriously hurt, that it would have changed the situation. But now she is coming forward and saying gee, my dad is real sorry this happened...
ABRAMS: But you know that victims do that all the time, right? People are beaten up by their husbands or their parents or whoever it is and after the fact they want to protect them.
BROWN: Well, that‘s true. But when you don‘t really understand or don‘t have the tape until two years later or you haven‘t really studied it until two years after the fact, it‘s difficult to go back and say, wait a minute, maybe we should have done something about this at the time because it‘s no longer that time anymore.
ABRAMS: Before I go to Pierce O‘Donnell, Derek Champagne, does ABC get any credit for exposing this?
CHAMPAGNE: Well you know any time that information is brought to light regarding the abuse that prosecutors see again and again in the home or domestic violence, you know, unfortunately, yes, I have to admit that bringing it to the forefront and people talking about it is a good thing. But you know I just truly question you know where is media drawing their policy or guidelines? Is it five hits? Ten hits? Is it when there‘s blood? Is it when there‘s stitches? So...
ABRAMS: All right. Pierce O‘Donnell, where‘s the line?
PIERCE O‘DONNELL, MEDIA ATTORNEY: Well I think there‘s a line here that wasn‘t even close to being crossed. The fact that the district attorney got 800 hotline calls, I hope that‘s because there‘s a heightened public focus and awareness of the problem of child abuse. I think ABC should be commended for the series they did in trying to point out the problems of the stepfamilies. And I don‘t think that this was a situation where the young lady was even close to being in serious physical danger. I‘m not sure the D.A. could even make a case if the statue of limitations had not run on this. Parents, unfortunately, do lose their temper and she left the household shortly thereafter, which I think ABC knew...
ABRAMS: You know—come on, you‘ve got to believe that if they had that tape, they‘d be able to make—I mean, you know, a jury would look at that tape and say that‘s abuse. No?
O‘DONNELL: I don‘t know.
O‘DONNELL: You‘ve covered a few cases recently where people seemed to be factually guilty, Dan, and they got acquitted, so I don‘t think we are in that handicapping game. But I think the important thing to understand is that ABC was trying to shine a spotlight on a serious problem in society. And I think it was a judgment call by journalists.
Certainly if the young lady was in serious jeopardy or danger, they have a duty, as every citizen does, to take steps to prevent injury and report it to the public authorities. I think what I hope comes out of this is a real understanding that we have a serious problem and even the best of families in American society, we have child abuse.
O‘DONNELL: And I think that this is a situation where we‘re blaming the people that brought the story to us and I don‘t think that‘s appropriate.
ABRAMS: Final 15 seconds, Derek Champagne.
CHAMPAGNE: You know, Dan, I‘m not in the media business, but I can tell you in my opinion their editorial choices left this girl and those other children in jeopardy and you had experts watching this on national television cringing, so I think it speaks for itself.
ABRAMS: All right. Derek Champagne, Pierce O‘Donnell, Fred Brown, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
Coming up, your e-mails. Advice to stay off the date rape drug (INAUDIBLE), support for the alleged victim in the Duke rape case, and one viewer says I‘m a bad journalist and a horrible attorney. The good, the bad and the ugly coming up after this.
ABRAMS: Time for “Your Rebuttal”. Kim Roberts, the second stripper that was hired for the Duke lacrosse trial—party is saying she thinks the alleged rape victim may have been drugged.
Jeanne Meek in Aurora, Colorado, “I wish you would not push the date rape drug possibility until the facts are known. She seems to have clear memory of the incident, plus the names she had heard and that is unlikely with a date rape drug.”
Duke alum Cathy Casper, “She was raped, she was drugged, and the lacrosse team did it. We also have inside info. You‘re a bad journalist and a horrible attorney. I work for a five-star law firm.”
You have inside information, Cathy. Oh, I see from your note you also say you believe you know who killed Natalee Holloway. I‘m sure that your five-star law firm must be proud to have you. I must say I didn‘t know that law firms like hotels and restaurants were rated with stars.
Norman Ravitch in Savannah, Georgia asks, “Dan, can hookers be raped? If they‘re selling sex, how can they be raped?” Oh come on. Just because someone is a hooker she has no right to say no to someone. Please. And again, all we know about this accuser is that she was stripping, not hooking at this party.
Marguerite Burgess on the alleged victim, “She‘s a mother first, student second, and stripper third. This is the most racist country in the world and the media has helped keep it that way.”
Well, Marguerite, I‘m glad to see that you‘ve prioritized her life, but the bottom line is she was stripping when the alleged incident occurred, so for her life, your order may be right. But for purposes of the story, she was not there as a mother or a student. She was there as a stripper.
This has nothing to do with race either. There have been many white students and parents involved in what became incidents as part of unseemly careers. Fortunately or unfortunately we all become defined to some degree by what we do. And on this program we are not going to sugarcoat it.
Also last night I spoke to Joran van der Sloot‘s attorney, Joe Tacopina, who plans on suing people over comments made about his client (INAUDIBLE) slanderous including possibly Natalee Holloway‘s mother, Beth Twitty.
Matt Bemben in Buffalo, New York, “Is Joe Tacopina that much of a bottom feeding shyster of an attorney that he‘d sue Beth Twitty? Does he really want to have that reputation?”
But Sharon Soderman in Florida says, “It‘s time for Beth Twitty to stop slandering everyone. She has had more police attention over her missing daughter than anyone I have ever seen.”
Be right back.
ABRAMS: That does it for us tonight. Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. David Gregory is filling in. See you tomorrow.
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