Guests: Pete McEntegart, Parker Bostworth, Gregg Sutton, Glenn Andrews, William Johnson, Gretchen Von Helms, Randy Hopper, Matt Bingham, Christopher Downey, Brian Wice
ANNOUNCER: Now THE ABRAMS REPORT. Here is Dan Abrams.
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Hi, everyone. What led to the mistrial in the Tyco case? Five of the jurors join us. What did they think when they heard that after six months there would be no verdict, even though they say they were very close. And what was the holdout juror really like? Plus, they think the Tyco execs accused of looting 600 million from the company will be convicted the next time around.
And did Wisconsin college student Audrey Seiler lie about everything she said happened to her when she disappeared for four days, sparking a major search effort? We‘ll talk to her attorney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have to die. And so I got this rock and I put it over his chest and I held it over his chest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Not guilty by reason of insanity. A jury acquits a Texas mother who stoned two of her children to death and severely injured a third. How angry is the prosecutor? We‘ll speak to him. And why is this different from the case of Andrea Yates, the other Texas mother who killed her kids? Is it?
But first, there are few corporate greed trials in history that involve the alleged theft of more money. Tyco execs Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz accused of stealing 600 million from the company. After six months, 49 witnesses, $12 million and one videotape of a lavish party thrown by one of the execs, a mistrial was declared on Friday. And not because the jurors couldn‘t reach a verdict, but because of a letter and call allegedly made to the one who seemed to be holding out for a not guilty verdict. The judge ruled that the outside pressure demanded he declare a mistrial.
Five of the 12 jurors join us now—Pete McEntegart and Parker Bostworth, Gregg Sutton and Glenn Andrews and William Johnson. Thank you all very much for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for having us.
ABRAMS: All right, Mr. McEntegart, let me start with you. You heard that there was a mistrial, and what were your immediate thoughts? Were you thinking six months of doing this and you‘re declaring a mistrial?
PETE MCENTEGART, TYCO JUROR: Honestly, at the moment the judge came in and told us, I didn‘t really have any emotion left. I was more numb than anything else. There had been so many ups and downs over the weeks before. But the more I thought about it, the more—you know it was just so disappointing to come that far. And obviously, we‘d had problems as a jury, but we had come together, I felt, in that last week and we were so close to what we thought would be a legitimate verdict. So it was very disappointing that something outside the courtroom is what actually caused the mistrial.
ABRAMS: Mr. Bostworth, how close were you?
PARKER BOSTWORTH, TYCO JUROR: We were very close. We came, you know we had a decision on all 32 counts for each—well, 24 counts for each defendant...
ABRAMS: You had verdicts. The verdicts were in. You had settled on them. The only question...
BOSTWORTH: They weren‘t unanimous verdicts. But we did have verdicts in. And all we had to do was finalize them the next morning, which was Friday morning, and then a mistrial was called. So we didn‘t ever get a chance to finalize those final verdicts.
ABRAMS: Oh. Mr. Sutton, what did they tell you about the reason for the mistrial?
GREGG SUTTON, TYCO JUROR: Well, they told us that some kind of external influence had caused a problem and that, unfortunately, we were no longer able to continue. And as my colleagues have reiterated—I‘ll just reiterate. We were terribly disappointed and unfortunate—at the unfortunate outcome of this entire six-month ordeal.
ABRAMS: And let me—I guess I‘ll go to Mr. Andrews. You know the issue was this alleged hold-out juror who was on the cover of the “New York Post” and then a couple of papers reported her name and someone calls her and someone writes to her, essentially trying to influence what she was going to do. How tough was she back there? I mean how much of a holdout was she really?
GLENN ANDREWS, TYCO JUROR: Oh, she was not a holdout. I think she was very tough. I would say that she did everything that we all did. She had great ideas. She stuck with them. She was very stern about it and it was up to us to persuade her to go the other way.
ABRAMS: And but were people unable to do that?
ANDREWS: Well, in the beginning, yes, it was very hard to persuade her to maybe jump from her ideas.
ABRAMS: Was she deliberating fairly? I mean you guys sent out a note at one point basically saying, look, she‘s not even listening to us.
ANDREWS: Well, we did feel that way. We thought that maybe she had prejudged the whole thing. But we understood that we had made a mistake and we realized that and we continued on.
ABRAMS: All right. Mr. Johnson, I want to read you something that she has said in an interview recently. She said, “I wasn‘t unfair. I did have a firm resting on the presumption of innocence. I‘m not sure they ever got that concept. I don‘t intend to get into a big thing with these people, referring to the other jurors...
ABRAMS: ... but this is the way I feel.” What do you make of that, Mr. Johnson?
WILLIAM JOHNSON, TYCO JUROR: Well, I read that quote myself and at first I thought it was a little condescending, them and those people. But I definitely felt that we were open to anything. We weren‘t locked on guilty or innocent or not guilty on anything. But she was definitely set on innocent, and that was—at some points that was all she could entertain.
ABRAMS: And Mr. McEntegart, she also said isn‘t it interesting how they, the other jurors, really want to get some notoriety. And you had written an article for “TIME” magazine. I‘m sure...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct.
ABRAMS: ... she was sort of referring to you in particular. What do you make of that?
MCENTEGART: You know she certainly has the right to say whatever she‘d like. I mean, I do think—you mentioned her feelings on the presumption of innocence. That was something she felt strongly about, and I think she felt that we didn‘t feel as strongly about it, which I think was unfair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
MCENTEGART: It‘s one thing to have the presumption of innocence and she talked about it, as one should, about it being a shield. But it‘s not an intangible shield and in some of these charges, some of the specific charges, the evidence was in fact overwhelming. There are legitimate guilty verdicts, and that doesn‘t mean that the jury didn‘t understand what presumption of innocence means.
ABRAMS: And Mr. Bostworth, you were close, were you not, on convicting of some of the most serious charges. When you talked about the fact you had these verdicts in, you were very close to convicting both men on some very serious charges, correct?
BOSTWORTH: Yes, we were.
ABRAMS: And let me ask—I guess I‘ll stick with you for a moment. What do you think is going to happen the next time around? I mean is the evidence—six months of evidence, the world hasn‘t been watching. You‘re one of the few people who has. Is the evidence so overwhelming that these guys really ought to cut a deal at this point?
BOSTWORTH: I think they should have a retrial, because, you know—and the media needs to stay out of this one this time.
BOSTWORTH: ... they can get a verdict done if the media stays out.
ABRAMS: Mr. Sutton, if you were going to give advice to the defense team, would you say cut a deal, cut a deal?
SUTTON: No, I would not, actually.
ABRAMS: They‘ve got a chance, do you think...
SUTTON: I think they do have a chance, and depending on what the prosecution decides to go forward with next time, they definitely have a chance. And again, I mean you saw what happened this time. So, again, you never know what‘s going to happen the next time.
ABRAMS: But why do you say that if you were convinced as an, you know objective juror going in, and coming out of it I assume you were one of the people who was ready to convict on many of the most serious charges. Why would you say to them you know what, you still got a shot in the next trial?
SUTTON: Well I think it—just because, again, the way—based on the way the prosecution presents the case again. And, you know, we were close on some of the more serious charges. But there were still some dissention among the ranks and there was still some possibility for actually you know, a total—for an acquittal.
ABRAMS: Mr. Andrews, do you agree with that?
ANDREWS: I agree. It‘s all about keeping an open mind. As a juror, that‘s your duty. So I guess they do have a shot at another trial maybe coming out with a great deal for themselves.
ABRAMS: So if they came to you, Mr. Andrews, and they came to you and they said, sir, you were a juror. You were one of the few people that listened to all the testimony in this case. We‘re asking you for your advice. They‘re offering us a deal. We‘re going to have to do prison time. We‘re not comfortable with that. Would you say to them do it if it‘s a deal that will get you less than the maximum charges, you should take the deal?
ANDREWS: Plea-bargain all the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
ABRAMS: You think they should. Does everyone agree...
ABRAMS: Does anyone disagree with that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... they should plea bargain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree they should plea bargain. That‘s my goal, frankly.
ABRAMS: Mr. Johnson, finally, advice for the prosecutors. I understand that a lot of you say streamline this case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.
ABRAMS: Don‘t bother us with...
ABRAMS: ... all the videotapes and lavish parties...
JOHNSON: ... we don‘t care about their lifestyle. It‘s did they earn their monies correctly.
ABRAMS: Did—I mean and I‘ve heard all of you say that. But was there anything about the lifestyle that kind of bothered you, Mr. Johnson? The fact that you know they‘re having these million-dollar parties? And I‘m not saying that that makes them guilty. But did it make you dislike the two defendants?
JOHNSON: Not at all. Actually, watching the video in Sardinia made Dennis seem less threatening. Because we just heard all these things about how strong and how powerful he was, then we saw this video of him like speaking at this party function and he seemed like, you know just like a little college professor, just very easy going, laid back. Actually, almost kind of goofy.
ABRAMS: Who‘s laughing?
BOSTWORTH: Well we saw him dance a little and he‘s not especially skilled in his movement.
MCENTEGART: Let‘s just put it that way.
ABRAMS: Did you guys dislike him? Let me—Mr. McEntegart and Mr.
Bostworth, one of you, did you guys dislike Dennis Kozlowski as a person?
MCENTEGART: I mean it was hard to—he never got up. I mean I stopped even looking in his direction. So, it was really hard to—he seemed like he would be a good guy to hang out with, and you were just hoping he was picking up the tab...
MCENTEGART: ... with Tyco‘s money, of course.
ABRAMS: All right...
MCENTEGART: He‘s very generous.
ABRAMS: Yes. All right, look, I want to say one thing to all of you. It‘s not that often that we get jurors on this program, which seemed to have understood the concepts of the law and followed the case this closely. Six months, I‘ve got to tell you, a lot of time I talk to jurors and I say after the interview, what? Were these people really listening?
It really seems—and I‘ve also read a lot of the other interviews you all have done, that you guys really followed this case closely, and what a sacrifice that is to spend six months. So, thank you for someone who cares about the justice system. Good luck to all of you. And thanks for coming on the program.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... for having us on the program.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for having us.
ABRAMS: William—I just said thank you to all of them (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
Coming up, the Audrey Seiler case. It costs at least $75,000 -- talking about that missing Wisconsin co-ed—not to mention all the volunteers involved. Now the police don‘t believe that she was ever abducted. She now has an attorney. We‘ll find out whether she‘s ready to apologize.
Plus, the Texas mother that stoned two of her children to death and severely wounded another was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She will stay in a psychiatric facility until doctors say she‘s cured of her illness. We‘ll ask the prosecutor in the case if the punishment fits the crime.
And Michael Jackson‘s attorneys say they‘ve given prosecutors a lot of evidence that helps prove Jackson is innocent. But they say the prosecution has failed to present the information to the grand jury. The prosecutors say they‘re going to review the material to make sure it‘s admissible. But how much are they really obliged to present, and how does the defense know what is or isn‘t being presented if they‘re not there and it‘s supposed to be secret?
Don‘t forget your e-mails firstname.lastname@example.org. I‘ll respond at the end of the show.
ABRAMS: Coming up, does Wisconsin co-ed Audrey Seiler still stand by her revised story that she was abducted some time during her four-day disappearance even though the police don‘t buy it? We‘ll ask her attorney, coming up.
ABRAMS: Now to the Michael Jackson case. As prosecutors continue to present evidence to a grand jury, today in an effort to get a formal indictment against Jackson, the defense says prosecutors are withholding evidence from the jurors that could help clear their client. Now, the defense isn‘t present at the grand jury, as is the case with all grand juries. But in California the prosecution is obligated to present evidence that supports the defense. And Jackson‘s team says it‘s not happening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN BRAFMAN, JACKSON‘S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The objective was and is and will continue to be that we try and keep a level playing field.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: So on Friday attorneys Mark Geragos and Ben Brafman brought about 20 notebooks to the Santa Barbara courthouse. Among the items, school and psychiatric reports from a previous lawsuit involving the alleged victim. They also filed a 100-item list with the District Attorney‘s Office, all evidence they say the grand jurors should see. But the prosecutors suggest it‘s just a publicity stunt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALD FRANKLIN, SANTA BARBARA ASST. DISTRICT ATTY: I will only say that it was a presentation of information that the defense wanted us to acquaint the grand jury with, and it was presented to us in a most public fashion. And I will leave it to wiser and more astute heads than mine to wonder why it was done in precisely that fashion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: All right. So, let‘s introduce those wiser and more astute members. Let‘s bring in our California legal team—former San Diego District Attorney and MSNBC analyst Paul Pfingst and San Diego criminal defense attorney Gretchen Von Helms.
All right, Gretchen, what is it that the prosecutors are obliged to show to the grand jury? The grand jury is the prosecution‘s home field.
GRETCHEN VON HELMS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right.
ABRAMS: The defense attorneys aren‘t there. They‘re not allowed to be there. Yes, under California law they‘re obliged to present evidence that helps the defense. Are they obliged to present these 20 notebooks of information?
VON HELMS: Not the 20 notebooks. There‘s a mandatory duty. So, it says you shall present. The prosecutors have the obligation to present clearly exculpatory evidence to the grand jury...
ABRAMS: Who decides what‘s exculpatory?
VON HELMS: ... and—the prosecutors do. So this is why (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It‘s basically the defense team is laying their bases for what‘s called a 995 motion. Under penal code section 939...
ABRAMS: All right, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you don‘t need to tell us—just tell us...
VON HELMS: OK. This is the obligation that the prosecution has on the grand jury. Then there‘s this other penal code section, which the defense can use to make a motion to dismiss if this is not done on the charges that they had exculpatory evidence on it...
VON HELMS: ... they didn‘t present that exculpatory evidence to the grand jury. So the defense can make a motion later to ask the judge hey dismiss this stuff. They didn‘t present the exculpatory information...
ABRAMS: Paul Pfingst, when do they get an opportunity to see it? The grand jury is supposed to be secret. When does the defense get to see exactly what the prosecution did and didn‘t present?
PAUL PFINGST, FORMER SAN DIEGO DISTRICT ATTY: Assuming there‘s an indictment, 10 days after the arraignment before a judge, the transcripts are supposed to be unsealed. So the defense will get them at that time. But, Dan, we could see this play coming months ago, as soon as Tom Sneddon said he was going to a grand jury. You could tell that Mark Geragos was going to come with a whole bushel basket full of evidence and say we demand this to go in front of the grand jury because if any one piece of evidence is not presented to the grand jury, you can be sure that piece of evidence will be part of a motion to dismiss the indictment.
ABRAMS: But Paul, no matter how strong the prosecution‘s case may be, and they believe it is very strong, there is a lot of evidence in this case which poses questions about the alleged victim, about the alleged victim‘s family. Do you believe that the prosecutors should be obliged to present to the grand jury much of the information, from example, from previous incidents where it might make you question the alleged victim and his family?
PFINGST: There‘s actually quite a lot of court decisions about what constitutes exculpatory evidence or what evidence has to go in front of a grand jury and what evidence does not. There are some tough calls. But generally, prosecutors dump it all out there and let the grand jury sort it out. So I wouldn‘t be surprised in this case if the prosecutors erred on the side of Michael Jackson, rather than confront this issue at motions after an indictment, if there is an indictment.
ABRAMS: Really? You don‘t think that they‘re afraid of some of the evidence that‘s come out?
PFINGST: No. If you‘re afraid of it now, then you have to be really afraid of it at trial when you‘re in front of a jury and there‘s cross-examination. Dan, there‘s something that has to be understood. Yes, prosecutors are on their home field, but prosecutors historically do not abuse that home field because they will have to face a jury and they will have to sometime put their case in front of a jury, and if they‘re losing a lot of cases, that‘s not going to help...
ABRAMS: But Gretchen, I‘ll bet defense attorneys believe that they do misuse that. I would assume that‘s your perspective.
VON HELMS: Well actually, I don‘t think they do. In fact...
VON HELMS: ... during the preliminary examination, the prosecutors at least here in San Diego and most of the other jurisdictions in which I practice, they like to have the good, the bad, the ugly brought out so we can air it out now early on.
ABRAMS: But do you—very quickly, do the—Paul do the prosecutors tend to present sort of showy witnesses for the prosecution, and then just hand up like documents when it comes to what the defense is saying? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here you go grand jurors, you can read these 20 pages.
PFINGST: Only if you want to cut your own throat when you‘re in front of a jury. If it‘s something...
PFINGST: ... that‘s going to affect this grand jury, you want to know it now, not later.
ABRAMS: Gretchen Von Helms and Paul Pfingst, thanks a lot.
VON HELMS: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, she committed—she said that God made her pick up a jagged rock and kill two of her children and severely injure a third. A jury believed she was insane, not guilty they say of the crime. We‘ll talk to the prosecutor in the case.
And Audrey Seiler, the Wisconsin student found after being allegedly abducted last week. Police say they now don‘t believe there was an abductor. Her attorney will be here and we‘ll ask him what he thinks.
ANNOUNCER: This is THE ABRAMS REPORT. Here again is Dan Abrams.
ABRAMS: Welcome back. What really happened with the 20-year-old University of Wisconsin student who disappeared from her apartment last Saturday, her door left open, her personal belongings left behind. Police began a round-the-clock search for Audrey Seiler, assisted by volunteers from the community and even from her hometown in Minnesota. On Wednesday Seiler was found alive, cold, apparently dehydrated, but apparently OK in a marsh near the campus.
Armed police closed off the area and began a manhunt for her alleged abductor. But after no one was found, there were many doubting whether Seiler had been kidnapped at all. For one thing police found the surveillance video of her leaving her apartment by herself on the day she was allegedly abducted. And then at a press conference early Friday, police went public with their doubts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLE WRAY, ASSISTANT CHIEF, MADISON PD: As we continue to investigate this reported abduction by Audrey, she was presented with these confirmed inconsistencies that resulted in Audrey admitting that in fact she had not been abducted at her apartment at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: But she did say she was abducted later, and later the same day a stronger statement from police that Seiler lied about having been abducted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WRAY: We do not believe that there is a suspect at large, period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: As of now, no charges have been filed against her. But her family has hired an attorney. Joining me now is Audrey Seiler‘s attorney, Randy Hopper. Mr. Hopper, thank you very much for taking the time to come on the program. Appreciate it.
RANDY HOPPER, AUDREY SEILER‘S ATTORNEY: My pleasure, Dan.
ABRAMS: First question, have you received any indication from the D.A.‘s office that they plan to file charges against Audrey?
HOPPER: No, I have not.
ABRAMS: Does Audrey still claim that she was abducted?
HOPPER: I haven‘t had a chance to meet with my client. I just got into Madison this afternoon. I‘ve had a brief conversation with her late on Saturday evening, and I‘ve spoken with her family a few times. But until I have a chance to meet with her and, as I said in the statement that we published on Saturday—that I published on Saturday, the facts are still unfolding in this case. As you know, having looked at a number of these kind of situations and cases like this in the work that you do, they‘re always ripe with complexity. And this one is no different. We‘re still trying to ascertain the facts. A good lawyer is going to take the time to do that.
ABRAMS: Understood on sort of the big picture and some of the minutia. But there is a very basic question, which is was she abducted. I mean is the position that you don‘t know at this point whether she was abducted at all?
HOPPER: I‘m still trying to understand that, Dan. The police have said that.
ABRAMS: They said she wasn‘t abducted...
HOPPER: The police have said that she wasn‘t abducted, and the police have said that she said she wasn‘t abducted. But I haven‘t had a chance to confer or meet with my client about that.
ABRAMS: Because my—the reason I‘m asking is because my understanding was the police are still saying that she‘s suggesting that she was abducted later, wasn‘t abducted initially, and that‘s why I was wondering whether she‘s still claiming that there was an abduction at all. But you know you need apparently to talk to your client more, right?
HOPPER: Right. And I think your question and the point you just made underscores the fact that the facts are a little bit slippery right now, a little bit uncertain, and I need to step in, having just been hired by her, to try to understand more about what happened.
ABRAMS: Do you think at the least she owes an apology to all the people who spent all that time searching for her and all the police who spent all that time as well?
HOPPER: Well, it won‘t surprise me, knowing Audrey and the kind of person she is, the kind of family that she comes from, at some point she may be ready to do that. That‘s why the family asked me to come forward, Dan, at this point. Because, as you know, they have made themselves very available to the media. They‘re just immensely appreciative and gracious about this, with all the people that have supported this whole ordeal...
ABRAMS: And I‘m sure they feel terrible. That I have no question about, is that the family must feel awful about how this...
ABRAMS: ... all transpired.
HOPPER: The family has gone, as you‘ve been able to see over the past week, from one major crisis, now really to another that‘s been piled on that one.
ABRAMS: Is Audrey mentally ill? I mean that‘s the thing people keep talking about, is the possibility that she‘s mentally ill. Is she mentally ill?
HOPPER: Well I‘m a lawyer, not a doctor. And it‘s not certainly under—as you know, under the rules of professional responsibility and the privileged communication I share with my client not to speak about her medical care or her condition. You know, that‘s a question you need to direct to the doctors or to other experts.
ABRAMS: Randy Hopper, thank you for taking the time to come on the program. Appreciate it.
HOPPER: You‘re quite welcome, Dan.
ABRAMS: Coming up, a mother on trial for stoning two of her children to death and severely injuring another is found not guilty by reason of insanity. We‘ll hear her own words describing how she went about that deadly mission.
And don‘t forget your take on the show. Send an e-mail to email@example.com. Please include your name and where you‘re writing from. I‘ll respond at the end of the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the jury, unanimously and by a preponderance of the evidence find the defendant, Deanna Laney, not guilty by reason of insanity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Not guilty. A Texas woman systemically killed two of her children, critically injured a third, bludgeoning them with stones in the family‘s front yard just two days before Mother‘s Day last year, and she is found not guilty by a jury. Why? Because they believe she was legally insane at the time of the killings, that she couldn‘t differentiate right from wrong. Before we debate whether this is a legitimate insanity defense. Here‘s what she said happen. Her account played in open court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I took him out to those rocks and I felt that urging. I was not thinking these thoughts. I was feeling this from inside. Take him to those rocks and I told him, I said, baby, just lay down out here and turn your head this way and he did. And I just picked up the rock that was laying right beside him and I started hitting him on the head with that rock. And Luke, he had passed out the first time, the first hit. Joshua didn‘t. I had to hold his hands down with my knees. It did something. He wasn‘t like awake, but he was just idle or something, I guess is the word, just kind of not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) himself, but still struggling. I hit him several times and I did the same thing. I held the rock over his chest to try to keep him from breathing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did that seem to work?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was—I thought, I can‘t do this. I heard him breathe one more time. And I looked up, and I saw a streak of lightning come out of the sky and I knew that he was dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the moment you were striking Aaron in the head with a rock, at that time did you believe you were doing what was right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sir, I did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you believed that with each of the children at the time you did it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the time, I sure did. I feel like that I obeyed God, and I believe that there will be good out of this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Deanna Laney returns to court tomorrow. Joining me now is the man who prosecuted this case, Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham. Mr. Bingham, thank you very much for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
MATT BINGHAM, SMITH COUNTY TX DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Thank you...
ABRAMS: So, I assume you were disappointed with the jury‘s verdict.
BINGHAM: Well, I thought there was evidence that was inconsistent with medical experts‘ findings. And what we want to do, and I told the jury early on, is we wanted them to listen to all the evidence, including those inconsistencies, and make what determinations they were going to make from it. And if at the end of the deliberations, they felt that the defense had met their burden of proof, then find her insane and the system works. If they felt after listening to all the evidence that she was sane, then find her guilty. And the system also works. You know we wanted to put it in front of the jury because we knew we had a big hurdle with the medical evidence.
ABRAMS: And the medical evidence, of course, you‘re referring to is the fact that both the prosecution and defense experts believed that she didn‘t...
ABRAMS: ... understand right from wrong.
BINGHAM: Correct. You know, that was a big hurdle. But under—you know, what we did is basically follow the burden that we‘re required to prove under the law, and what the law says about considering all of the evidence. And you know you don‘t just take the mental health expert‘s word for it. You listen to all the evidence in the case. And things like the 911 call and some other stuff we thought raised some questions that the jury needed to make decisions on.
ABRAMS: You say raised some questions. I mean I would think you shouldn‘t bring this case unless you‘re convinced that she is sane. I mean do you think it‘s OK to bring a case for murder if even the prosecutors are unsure as to whether they believe she was sane or insane?
BINGHAM: Well, I think you‘re looking at it differently than I do. My burden of proof in a case is to prove that she did it, period. I don‘t have any burden as to sanity or insanity. That is a defense burden that they have the required proof on that because I don‘t get to talk to their client. She has a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. You know I don‘t get to conduct the interviews of her. I have to base my decision on the facts of the case and what I know of the case. And it‘s their burden of proof as to the issue of sanity or insanity. All I have to do under the law is prove she did it. And I believe that she did it.
BINGHAM: So obviously, that was a no-brainer. And that‘s all I‘m required to do under the law is prove that she‘s guilty of committing it. I don‘t have any issue as to sanity or insanity to prove and...
ABRAMS: Fair enough.
BINGHAM: ... so you know the law doesn‘t require me to make that determination...
ABRAMS: Fair enough...
BINGHAM: ... that‘s a good question.
ABRAMS: And so in the end do you think that, you know, the jury could
have gone either way based on what the defense presented at trial. Deanna
· we saw her crying there after the verdict was rendered, not guilty. She starts crying. What do you make of that?
BINGHAM: I don‘t feel a whole lot of sympathy for her. As far as what I make of it, it makes me believe that, number one, she‘s crying for herself. And number two, she understands what the jury‘s just said. So, you know, I don‘t have a whole lot of sympathy for her. I tend to concentrate on the boys that were dead in that rock garden and Aaron. You know it‘s hard to deal with the fact that the last thing that Joshua and Luke saw was their mother killing them, after she had let them out in that rock garden. She was really deceptive towards them. She lied to them. And she—you know the last thing they saw as they were fighting for their life was her killing them. And that‘s a hard thing to live with.
BINGHAM: So, that‘s what I tend to focus on.
ABRAMS: Very quickly, you would expect that she would be serving quite a long time, if not life, in this psychiatric institution, correct?
BINGHAM: Well, like I told you, and the judge just walked by here about 10 minutes ago and reminded me there‘s a restrictive and protective order out.
BINGHAM: I would love to discuss that with you, but...
ABRAMS: All right.
BINGHAM: ... it‘s kind of—she walked by here reminded me about that. So...
ABRAMS: All right, Mr. Bingham, understood. Thanks for taking the time to come on the show. Appreciate it.
BINGHAM: You bet. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity.
ABRAMS: Coming up, remember the Andrea Yates case, another Texas mother who methodically killed her children based on some religious/satanic command? Unlike Deanna Laney, Andrea Yates was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Why the disparity? We‘ll take a look.
ABRAMS: We‘ve been talking about the Texas mother, Deanna Laney, who was found not guilty of killing her two kids by reason of insanity. It may sound familiar, a Texas woman accused of methodically killing her children. Two years ago Andrea Yates was convicted of capital murder, sentenced to life in prison for the drowning deaths of her four children. Yates claimed she had to do it to save her young sons from going to hell. The jury rejected her claim that she was mentally ill at the time of the incident. They did, however, spare her from the death penalty. Was that case really so different from Deanna Laney, such that one goes to a mental institution until she‘s cured while Andrea Yates goes to prison for life?
Chris Downey is a former District Attorney in Harris County Texas who says there are big differences between the two cases. And from Texas, criminal defense attorney Brian Wice who believes the two cases aren‘t really all that different.
All right, Chris, look you know at first blush you hear about two mothers, both who call 911, both of them who say I methodically killed my kids. Both of them who are getting messages from Satan or whoever to kill their kids, and, yet, one‘s found not guilty by reason of insanity and one is guilty serving life.
CHRISTOPHER DOWNEY, FMR. PROSECUTOR: Well, I know it sounds crazy, but that‘s exactly what the case was all about. You know, the most obvious difference between the two cases can be summed up in two words. Park Dietz in the Andrea Yates case, he came down on the side of sanity, and in the case most recently with Deanna Laney he comes down on the side of insanity. And so that in and of itself constitutes a massive difference. However, there were also very specific factual differences in the two cases that warrant the different...
ABRAMS: Like what? I mean...
DOWNEY: Well, for example, in the Andrea Yates case, if we look at her confession, she articulates to the investigating detective that she did this because she expected to be punished. That indicates a knowledge of wrongfulness.
ABRAMS: But punished because she said that she was protecting her own kids from going to hell, so she was taking the heat.
DOWNEY: But the ultimate question in front of the jury is whether or not she understood the difference between right and wrong. So they are looking not at necessarily her rationality, but her understanding of—that what she did constituted wrongful...
ABRAMS: Brian Wice, what do you make of that?
BRIAN WICE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I mean obviously the big difference is the experts in the Tyler case all fall on the side of insanity, but I also think there are some other critical differences. First of all, Tyler, Dan, in Smith County is the buckle of the Bible belt and I think that the jury in Smith County can really believe given that background that God can make you do the unspeakable. But primarily the jury in Tyler wasn‘t death qualified like the Yates‘ jury was. And I think you know that studies have shown that a jury that‘s death qualified is much more likely to find a defendant guilty. But look, much was made of the fact that you had 911 calls in both cases.
ABRAMS: Yes, let me play those. Before you go on, let me play—I want to compare the 911 -- I‘m going to play first the Laney 911 call and then I‘m going to play the Yates 911 call. And I want to just play them back-to-back, so you can compare them, and then, Brian, I‘m going to let you finish your point. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN LANEY 911 CALL)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smith County 911. What‘s your emergency?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I just killed my boys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma‘am, you did what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just killed my boys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are your boys breathing now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said you killed your two boys?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you do that ma‘am?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they‘re in the yard?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you checked on your two boys?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
(END LANEY 911 CALL)
(BEGIN YATES 911 CALL)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What‘s your name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Andrea Yates.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What‘s the problem?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I just them to come.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is your husband there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, what‘s the problem?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need them to come.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need to know why we‘re coming ma‘am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he there standing next to you?
(UNINTELLIGIBLE) Are you having a disturbance? Are you ill or what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) yes I‘m ill.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you need an ambulance?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I need a police officer. Yes, send an ambulance.
(END YATES 911 CALL)
ABRAMS: You know, Chris Downey, it just seems to me for it to be differentiating between these two so much that one can get out, when she‘s supposedly cured, and the other never has a chance to get out for her entire life. It just seems like there‘s something wrong with the system.
DOWNEY: Well, I would have to agree with you there. I personally am not very fond of our definition of insanity in the state of Texas. However, given that that is the definition that we work with, I believe the jurors found it very compelling that Andrea Yates asked that the police be called out. It seems to imply that she understood that what she did fell within the criminal justice system and that she should be punished.
ABRAMS: Brian, they both called 911. They both got it. They both got the fact I need a police officer to come over here because my kids are dead and that‘s not a good thing.
WICE: No, not at all. But I mean sanity, Dan, isn‘t something that necessarily sticks with you like indigestion after a bad meal. My understanding of psychosis is that you can come in and out of it. And just as a defendant can form intent in an instant, certainly a defendant can suffer from bouts of psychosis from moment to moment. And I don‘t think that the outcome of these two cases ought to turn on “A”, a 911 call being made or “B”, that the 911 call had a particular sound bite in one case and didn‘t have it in the...
ABRAMS: Well I don‘t know. I‘m very disturbed by the idea that you‘ve got one guy—and as Chris Downey said, that Park Dietz, who this case may have come down to, that his interpretation in one case was, well, I think she understood right from wrong, and the other case, well, I‘m not so sure she understood. I don‘t think she understood right from wrong. I mean look, the bottom line is you know these are two mothers who killed their kids for basically the same reason, that they were, you know, whacked, that someone—that they were hearing voices.
WICE: And I‘ve said from the very beginning, Dan, that in Yates, the enormity, the gravity and the heinousness of the offense to me underscored how very, very mentally ill she was. That I can‘t conceive of any mother who would knowingly kill her five children...
WICE: ... as systemically as she did and not suffer from legal insanity, even in the great state of Texas.
ABRAMS: Chris Downey, Brian Wice, thanks a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, my “Closing Argument”—a way to prevent another Tyco type mistrial from happening again. Keep the identities of jurors secret.
ABRAMS: Up next, how to prevent another Tyco trial disaster. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—how to prevent another Tyco case disaster, a mistrial declared because of—quote—“outside pressure towards one of the jurors.” Six months and over 12 million taxpayers‘ dollars down the drain. Well how about not releasing juror names? I know some journalistic purists are going to accuse me of heresy and I say it reluctantly, but jurors are different. And this may be the only way to avoid a backlash when it comes to media access to other parts of trials.
She was initially known as juror number four, the one person holding out for an acquittal, made famous after some reporters claimed to have seen her make an OK sign to the defense team during deliberations. As a result, both the “New York Post” and “The Wall Street Journal” online named her, saying she had made herself newsworthy, presumably that enabled some idiot or idiots to call and write her, strongly encouraging that she change her mind.
Well, I still believe the judge probably made a mistake by ending the trial and sending a horrible message about how to empower those on the outside to derail a trial. This could have and would have been avoided if the jurors‘ names were not part of the public record. Look, “The Post” and “Journal” should not have named her, but that‘s a journalistic question. Why not make it a legal one? Why not just allow the lawyers and the judge to know the jurors‘ names? Make them part of the public record only after the case is over.
Now remember, I also opposed allowing cameras into the jury deliberations in Arizona. Why? Because unlike every other part of a trial, deliberations are designed to be secret. There are other restrictions already in place when it comes to jurors and only jurors. For example, no one‘s allowed to speak to or contact them during a trial.
Juror questionnaires are often kept confidential as well. I don‘t want to see this case provide more chum for the attorneys and judges who are afraid of being scrutinized. And more and more I‘m seeing unconstitutional rulings that attempt to keep the media out. So, let‘s just concede that jurors are different. Last month the Martha Stewart judge kept the media out of jury selection altogether. While I thought that providing transcripts the next day was probably enough, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York did not, saying that—quote—“In general, openness acts to protect rather than threaten the right to a fair trial.”
It‘s true and that‘s why generally the public must be allowed to see what the prospective jurors say in one of the most important points in a trial. But on balance, giving up juror names seems fair enough to me.
All right, I‘ve had my say. Now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. On Friday police said the abduction of Wisconsin co-ed Audrey Seiler appeared to have been a hoax. With no suspect at large, prosecutors now considering filing charges against her.
Nate Woods from Newburyport, Massachusetts. “I hope that her parents will get a big bill from law enforcement after they brought out tons of cops for hours.”
At least $75,000 worth, Nate. But you really—you can‘t blame her parents unless they were somehow in on it, which seems hard for me to believe. But look, she‘s in a whole lot of trouble.
From Portland, Maine longtime viewer Jessie Sweeney adds, “What Audrey Seiler lied about is far worse and more criminal than anything Martha Stewart lied about.”
And Greg Hyman (ph) from San Diego, California. “I hope the Wisconsin police make a complete mockery of Audrey just as police, the community, the news, and the American public got coaxed by this ultimate April Fool‘s story.”
Some, not many, feeling sympathetic, like Denise Randolph from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Hey, let‘s hold the phone on prosecuting her for now. How do we know that the knock on the head that she allegedly received in an earlier attack has not caused her mental problems? She needs help.”
While discussing other high-profile cases where the victims were found to be lying, I mentioned the Tawana Brawley case from New York, the girl who falsely claimed she was raped, and there, there was even a suspect named. From Watertown, New York Tracy Quinn. “Love the show, but I am very disappointed that you drew a comparison between the Tawana Brawley case and Audrey Seiler. Ms. Brawley ruined careers and lives. Ms. Seiler only damaged herself.”
Really, Tracy? You don‘t think having an entire police force working on one nonexistent case has an impact—in fact, the Madison police said they could only work on non—they had to stop work on all other non-emergencies because of it. And imagine if the sketch that she made matched someone who actually was arrested.
On a lighter note, although there are more than 22,000 people with the last name of Abrams in the U.S. some of you occasionally e-mail me asking if someone you know is related to me. We got two after Friday‘s show including Floralie Tulgan.
“You resemble a close family friend from Chicago, Seymour Abrams, an insurance broker. Just in the event that you are related to him, please tell him that I want to contact him.”
Well I‘m not related to him that I know of. Hey, Seymour Abrams, Floralie Tulgan wants to talk to you.
Greg Abrams writes, “Now and again, people I know that see Dan Abrams on TV ask me if we are related. I don‘t know. We have similar facial features and the same last name, so I thought I would check.”
Greg, I looked at the list of the relatives you provided. None of them ring a bell. You never know, though.
Finally, Arlene Wilson from Iowa has apparently had a major change of heart about the show. “The first time I watched your show I thought you were very much a jerk. But I must say I think I have come around to your way of thinking. Keep up the good work.”
Well, thank you, Arlene. A jerk? Appreciate the fact that you‘ve come around.
Your e-mails firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.
Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. Chris interviews Senator John McCain on the most recent American soldiers killed in Iraq.
Thanks for watching. See you tomorrow.
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