Guests: Geoffrey Fieger, Dean Johnson, Jim Thomas, Joe Tacopina, Jack Furlong, Jean Casarez
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, live from Santa Maria, California, a bad day for Michael Jackson as he finds out the grand jury indicts him on more charges than expected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love the community of Santa Maria very much.
It‘s my community. I love the people.
ABRAMS (voice-over): Is that Michael Jackson making nice to the potential jurors who will be deciding his fate?
And one of the most serious charges against him, conspiracy. But it takes more than one person to have a conspiracy, so who else do prosecutors believe conspired with him?
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone. In addition to all of that, a late verdict in the Jayson Williams manslaughter trial. We‘ll have full coverage of the former NBA star‘s trial.
But first, Michael Jackson in court facing new charges today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Believe it or not, that was a much more subdued court appearance. He was formally arraigned on 10 felony counts. About 400 fans lined the barricade to the Santa Maria courthouse, but this time the authorities taking measures to endure that the circus-like atmosphere of January‘s court appearance was not repeated. Jackson making sure to arrive at court over 40 minutes early, dressed in a sort of more conservative clothing.
A very different scenario from his first court appearance earlier this year. So now, the specific charges Michael Jackson is facing -- 10 counts total. Jackson originally charged in December on nine counts. And included in this new indictment, some surprising new charges handed up by the grand jury. Most importantly, one count of conspiracy. The grand jury finding enough evidence to indict Jackson and others for conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion, saying they have 28 overt acts.
Four counts of lewd acts upon a child, these really the most serious charges in terms of sentence, the most potential prison time. Originally charged in December with seven counts, the grand jury only indicting on four of them. One count of attempted lewd act, a new charge alleging Jackson attempted but did not molest the boy. And four counts of administering an intoxicating agent, two new claims of this from December‘s charges. Jackson charged in December with just two counts of giving alcohol or drugs to the boy.
The grand jury finding enough evidence to charge him with two more instances. Jackson pleading not guilty to all of the charges. Let‘s bring in the “A-Plus” legal team we‘ve assembled for today‘s big day—criminal defense attorney and NBC News analyst Roy Black, defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger, former California prosecutor Dean Johnson and NBC News analyst Jim Thomas is the former Santa Barbara County sheriff who led the ‘93 investigation into Michael Jackson.
Roy Black, let me start with you. Your reaction to this conspiracy charge.
ROY BLACK, NBC NEWS ANALYST: Well, Dan, I don‘t find it so surprising. I think this is a very cleverical (ph) -- clever tactical move by the prosecution. Now, we don‘t know what is in count one, but bear with me for a minute. Remember, counts two through 10 are almost the same, a little bit different, as the original complaint. When that complaint was filed, what was brought out? The interviews with the Child Services people, that there were private investigators interviewing the child and the child denies any kind of abuse.
Now, what‘s the best way to undercut that defense? Claim it‘s a conspiracy on behalf of Jackson and his people to extort the child into saying nothing happened. There you undercut the defense and not only that, you take away his best defense witnesses by calling them co-conspirators. So I find this very a very cleverical (ph) -- clever tactical move by the prosecution.
ABRAMS: Geoffrey Fieger, is this a clever move? Is this fair game here?
GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well it‘s fair game as long as you can prove it. But Roy is right. Moreover, it‘s easier to prove a conspiracy than the lewd acts themselves. A conspiracy is often by innuendo and amorphous-type proofs. Whereas the lewd acts themselves, obviously from the indictment, for instance, they don‘t know when they took place. They gave us a time span, but not specifically. So what we have here obviously is the child saying to the police and the prosecutors, he did it to me two, three, four times, I don‘t remember when, but it was within this time span. Also if you read between the lines...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
FIEGER: ... clearly he has—the child has one other person, I suspect his brother, who is verifying his story. Because it‘s pretty clear that that‘s the basis upon which this indictment is founded, both...
ABRAMS: You know Geoffrey, you say to read between the lines and that‘s what we did a little bit. We compared the first indictment to the second indictment and Dean Johnson I want to ask you about this. The timing appears to have changed between the two indictments. First, you have the filing of the charges by the prosecutor. The conspiracy count, of course, is a new count. But here they‘re saying February 1 to March 31 is the time when that happened.
The lewd act had been February 7 to March 10 and February 20 to March 10. And now they‘ve changed it to four counts February 20 to March 12. The attempted lewd act is a new one. And providing of the alcohol, February 20 to March 10 changed to have February 20 to March 12.
Dean, does this to you signal any kind of weakness in the prosecution‘s case that they‘re changing, even if it‘s ever so slightly, the timeline with regard to when this happened?
DEAN JOHNSON, FMR. CALIFORNIA PROSECUTOR: Well, I wouldn‘t characterize it as a weakness Dan. Often in child molestation cases, because of the nature of the victim, you have a child who cannot be that specific, especially when there‘s a continuous course of conduct, as to the specific time, place and circumstances of some instances. I think what‘s happened here with the reduction of the number of 288 counts and the changing of the timeframe is that once the children actually got up and testified, the evidence was strongest as to four counts of 288 and those were the counts or the instances where the witnesses could be more specific. So they simply refined their timeframe...
ABRAMS: Yes, but...
JOHNSON: ... and obviously dropped...
ABRAMS: Yes, maybe...
JOHNSON: ... about three counts that the children could not be specific about.
ABRAMS: Yes. I don‘t know. Roy, I would think as a defense attorney that‘s some chum to start chewing on.
BLACK: Well, sure, Dan. Because I think, you know, Sneddon knows his biggest problem is the interview with the Child Protective Services where the child says nothing happened and supposedly these videotape interviews where the child denies any kind of abuse. So I think all this changes, adding the conspiracy count, the changes in the other counts are a reaction to that. He has to undercut that defense. Remember, everybody was saying Jackson had a great defense to this case. This is in response to that.
ABRAMS: And Geoffrey, they‘ve added...
ABRAMS: Go ahead, Dean.
JOHNSON: Yes, one other thing to remember is that as a narcotics prosecutor I used to charge conspiracies all the time. There are two ways you can charge a conspiracy. You can just do the minimal charges or you can allege a bunch of overt acts, which they‘ve done here. That widens the scope of your evidence and that allows you to bring in a lot of dirt that otherwise wouldn‘t come into the case. And I think that‘s part of the reason for this particular charging document.
ABRAMS: And Geoffrey, is there any hope on the Jackson‘s team part that they might get some of these charges thrown out before the trial?
FIEGER: No, no. He‘s going to trial on virtually everything.
ABRAMS: On all of them?
FIEGER: Yes. Because remember, they avoided—by going to the grand jury, they avoided the preliminary exam so there‘s really going to be no way to test the factual basis upon which any of the charges are brought. There may be a process by which you can appeal the grand jury indictment by suggesting that exonerating acts weren‘t presented to the grand jury, but I don‘t think that will work in this case.
And Roy what says with regard to the case is right. This is essentially a weak case for anybody but Michael Jackson and there‘s three reasons why. One, location. Where he‘s getting tried and by who in a very conservative white county by and large. Two what he said—he‘s admitted to sleeping with children. And three, the way he looks. You put a guy in a courtroom who looks like that, if it wasn‘t Michael Jackson, they would be convicted on their looks alone and every defense attorney knows that.
ABRAMS: Let me let—let me bring Jim Thomas in here because he investigated ‘93 as well. What do you make of what Geoffrey Fieger says?
JIM THOMAS, FMR. SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SHERIFF: Well I think he‘s making an assumption that the jury pool is only going to be from the conservative part of the county, which is Santa Maria. Santa Barbara is more (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but it‘s also much more liberal. And if you look at the county as a whole, it‘s about 60 percent white, 45 percent Latino, 3 percent African American and 2 percent other. So as I understand it, a jury of your peers is a reflection of the community in which you live, not necessarily your own race.
FIEGER: But the complaining witnesses...
THOMAS: So I think you can look at it fairly...
FIEGER: ... here is Hispanic.
THOMAS: ... I think you can look...
FIEGER: The complaining witness...
THOMAS: ... so you‘re looking at a 45...
FIEGER: ... Hispanic.
THOMAS: ... you‘re looking at a 45-percent Hispanic population. And if it‘s done properly, it should be about, you know, four out of—five out of 12 would be Hispanic.
ABRAMS: You know, Dean Johnson, you went through the California statutes in terms of sentencing. I was really surprised at your conclusion and it was corroborated by others we talked to. Even though Michael Jackson is charged with more counts now, even though there‘s this new conspiracy count in there, you still believe he is now facing less time than on the previous charges?
JOHNSON: Yes and if you know something about California sentencing you almost have to have a math degree to figure it out. As it turns out, the maximum exposure on these particular counts is about 18 years, eight months. The previous complaint, the charges in that totaled out to about 21 years four months.
JOHNSON: I think the bottom line—in terms of what he‘s realistically looking at, in terms of a sentence if he were convicted, I think still we‘re about the same, though.
FIEGER: Any sentence to Michael Jackson a death sentence.
JOHNSON: Well, that‘s true...
ABRAMS: Maybe so, but shouldn‘t we—let‘s assume, Roy, for a moment that everything Dean is saying is right and that is our understanding, that Michael Jackson is actually now facing less time because there are fewer of those allegations with regard to lewd acts upon a child, which are the most serious charges, now that a couple of those have been knocked out, he‘s actually facing less time. It‘s still the case that this is a bad day for Michael Jackson, isn‘t it?
BLACK: Yes and it‘s irrelevant, what the maximum sentence there. You know what Geoffrey says, there‘s a lot of truth to that. Just him getting convicted is going to end his career. He may lose his children. He will be incarcerated for a long period of time. So this—his whole life, his career, his family, there‘s a lot on the line for him. And I think that the real problem here is the prosecution is honing their case. And I think Jackson is as well...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BLACK: ... and that‘s why he‘s changed lawyers, and is taking this a lot more seriously.
ABRAMS: Hang on one second. You were here today...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Sure.
ABRAMS: ... surprised at how in control everything was, no dancing on the cars, nothing like that?
THOMAS: I think when Mr. Mesereau came on, his attorney, I would expect that one of the things that he would have them agree to is that there was going to be a more subdued appearance in court.
ABRAMS: And your guys were ready to, right?
THOMAS: Oh they were ready. And they kept the fans further away and so that way they had no opportunity to rush into the vehicle like they did last time.
ABRAMS: All right, everyone stick around.
Coming up, the conspiracy charge. Who else is behind the alleged plot besides Michael Jackson? We‘re going to have an exclusive talk with the attorney for two of Jackson‘s former employees who just may be facing indictments at any time.
Plus, it seems both Jackson and his attorney Thomas Mesereau were reaching out to potential jurors in Santa Maria today.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of aggravated manslaughter? Not guilty or guilty?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not guilty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Jayson Williams, the former NBA star not guilty of the most serious charge, aggravated manslaughter. But they do find him guilty on some other counts. We‘re going to bring you that case and tell you what happens from here. Will Jayson Williams serve time? Coming up.
What do you think about the show? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please, please, please include your name and where you‘re writing from.
ABRAMS: Coming up, another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive. The attorney for two of Michael Jackson‘s former employees who may be his alleged co-conspirators. What does he know about these charges? It‘s coming up.
ABRAMS: Welcome back to the Santa Maria courthouse where just hours ago, Michael Jackson formally arraigned on 10 felony counts. He pled not guilty to all the charges. But there were some major surprises in the indictment. One of them, the charge of conspiracy, the grand jury found enough evidence to indict Jackson and others for allegedly conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
The indictment reads—quote—“He did conspire with—the name is deleted—and other uncharged co-conspirators and co-conspirators whose identities are unknown.”
Joining me now in another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive, criminal defense attorney Joe Tacopina. He represents two of Jackson‘s former employees, Vinnie Amen and Frank Tyson, who may be the two people whose names were deleted as part of this conspiracy. Joe Tacopina thanks for coming on. All right, Joe, are your guys the guys whose names were deleted?
JOE TACOPINA, ATTY FOR JACKSON‘S FORMER EMPLOYEES: You know, I mean, logic would dictate, and when I say logic, I mean logic in terms of following the rumor mill and following the allegations that have been thrown out there, Dan. Logic would dictate that they would probably be the unnamed or the redacted, I should say, names here, simply because the acts connected with the conspiracy of the child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion seem to be the type of actions and allegations that have been hurled at these two kids from both, you know sources who have circumvented the gag order and, you know the prosecution and their anonymous sources. So, you know, it seems like it could be them. It does not indicate to me on this indictment whether or not they actually have been indicted or are they uncharged co-conspirators, according to the grand jury. So, that still remains to be seen.
ABRAMS: Joe, how is it that you don‘t know at this point? I mean the indictment has been unsealed, right? I mean you are their attorney...
ABRAMS: ... and one would think that you would certainly know.
TACOPINA: Yes and trust me, Dan, I check my voice mail at least every
three minutes to make sure I wasn‘t missing something and there‘s no
message. There‘s no contact. I‘ve been in touch with the—with Michael
· with Jackson‘s defense team you know throughout the day, so we‘re trying to stay on the same page. But I‘ll tell you that I have not heard from law enforcement or whatever and, you know, I guess it‘s simply because their names are still under seal based on the fact that they were redacted from the published indictment. That could be just a procedural, you know, glitch where maybe the grand jury...
TACOPINA: ... testimony is not prepared yet or something or it could be strategical purposes. I don‘t know, but hopefully I‘ll find out someday soon.
ABRAMS: Are you coming out to California, Joe, to deal with this?
TACOPINA: Yes. I‘m going to be making a trip out there to deal with this. And hopefully it will be a short trip. You know, Dan, I‘m obviously concerned. I don‘t mean to sound cocky. I‘m concerned about whether or not Frank and Vince are charged. These are two young kids who don‘t need to be and don‘t deserve to be dragged into this case. I know the evidence. I‘m not concerned about them being convicted whatever. It won‘t happen. And if we‘re invited to this dance, Dan, you know I‘ll come with my full arsenal like I try to always do and I think they‘ll be all right.
ABRAMS: And the allegation against your clients has been what as far as—in terms of the investigation. They‘re investigating whether they held the family against their will at Neverland, whether they took them from place to place against their will, et cetera.
TACOPINA: Primarily. I mean the allegations has been related to me by law enforcement and again, what‘s been out there, Vinnie Amen was the unfortunate character to have the most contact with the mother and the family after the Bashir documentary broke and had a lot of interaction with them, including taking them from place to place and doing certain things that were requested of him by the mother. Frank...
TACOPINA: ... Tyson, on the other hand, is a little more, I think, distinct, the allegation. I‘ve read that Stan Katz or one of the doctors there claimed that the brother of the alleged victim claimed that Frank threatened to kill him and his family if they told about the alcohol. And you know, again, I couldn‘t more aggressively deny these charges, but that‘s what I heard is out there.
ABRAMS: Did Michael Jackson, as far as you know, order your clients to do anything? Because remember, the conspiracy charge in essence says that they are in cahoots with one another with regard to what‘s going on. Would your clients concede that anything that they did was at the behest of Michael Jackson?
TACOPINA: No, not really. I mean I‘m not prepared to jump into that broad of a brush when it comes to these allegations, but Dan, you know, what they did, the request that Vincent fulfilled were primarily at the request of the mother. You know, as a courtesy, and of course, with Michael‘s blessings in some regard, but they were never asked to do anything improper. They were never asked to do anything illegal nor if they were asked would they have done anything improper or illegal. If you know these two kids as hopefully people will come to know them, if in fact they‘re brought into this case, you‘ll know that‘s not in their character, it‘s not in their makeup. And I couldn‘t be more...
TACOPINA: ... confident in two guys.
ABRAMS: Very quickly Joe, are you going to be bringing them with you to California just in case?
TACOPINA: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I‘m not bringing anybody—well, I‘m bringing people with me, but not those guys. I‘m only—they‘re only...
ABRAMS: All right.
TACOPINA: ... coming when they‘re demanded.
ABRAMS: Joe Tacopina, thanks a lot...
TACOPINA: All right, Dan.
ABRAMS: ... for coming on the program. Appreciate it and keep us updated on—in fact, if you get a phone call in the next half an hour, make sure you call into our show and let us know as to whether your clients were indicted, all right?
TACOPINA: Absolutely Dan. You sure you don‘t want to...
ABRAMS: All right. All right.
ABRAMS: Coming up, a friendly message from Michael Jackson and his attorney to well, maybe it‘s the Santa Maria jurors. Will it be effective?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to thank the community of Santa Maria. I want you to know that I love the community of Santa Maria very much. It‘s my community. I love the people. I will always love the people. My children were born in this community. My home is in this community. I will always love this community from the bottom of my heart. That‘s why I moved here. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Well, that was the majority of Michael Jackson‘s statement today after the arraignment, speaking out to the community, which also coincidentally will soon provide the jurors in this case. Is it a tactic? Geoffrey Fieger, is this a clear and obvious tactic on the part of the defense attorneys and Michael Jackson?
FIEGER: Yes, especially since he said he was never coming back to Neverland and was never going to live there again. And more to the point, the only statement that would affect any juror in that county would be an admission of guilt. Other than that, this is the type of stuff that nobody is going to pay attention to and really will have no impact whatsoever. It‘s not...
ABRAMS: Roy Black, do you agree with that?
BLACK: Well, Dan, you know it‘s easy to look at this cynically. And I understand why Geoffrey is saying that. But I tend to think it‘s a little bit more than that. I think it shows that Michael Jackson for the first time is taking this case seriously. Now, he may have gone a little too far with the glasses and the tie, but he‘s now taking this case seriously because he realizes how much is on the line here, and that‘s what I think is going on.
ABRAMS: All right. Let me play also Thomas Mesereau, his attorney seemingly echoing this love for count of Santa Maria—for the Santa Maria residents. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS MESEREAU, MICHAEL JACKSON‘S ATTORNEY: First of all, I want everyone to know it‘s a great honor and privilege to appear in this courthouse before Judge Melville who is an outstanding and fair and very decent judge. It is an honor and privilege to be in the wonderful community of Santa Maria where wonderful people live, including people here with us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: I don‘t know. Dean, am I being unfair here by sort of pointing out that both of them are just talking about how great the people of Santa Maria are?
JOHNSON: Well, it‘s no question that both the Jackson statement and Mesereau statement are damage control. They‘re trying to create as sharp a contrast as they can between this and the prior incidents. So yes, this is part of a P.R. campaign. But I also think that even though it‘s a little overstated, I think Tom Mesereau really is kind of that way. From what I hear, he‘s a fairly low-key guy. He likes to keep things quite and I think that‘s going to work well in the trial. You know one of the most...
ABRAMS: Let me tell you...
JOHNSON: ... most powerful persuasive tools is contrast. And having this low-key attorney with the flamboyant character of Jackson is something that‘s going to be helpful ultimately in court.
ABRAMS: I‘ve got to tell you, I mean look, I said this about the guy after the Blake case. I said it to him when he came on the air after the Robert Blake bail hearing where he basically got Robert Blake freed; I think based on the lawyering this guy did a great job in the Blake preliminary hearing and the hearing after that. So I think Michael Jackson is probably in very good hands when it comes to Tom Mesereau.
Roy, is it possible that Mark Geragos is being investigated, possibly more when it comes to these conspirators? I mean remember Geragos was running the defense team back in February. He was the one who initiated, he says, some of these interviews with the mother and the boy where they said nothing happened. Is it possible that the name Mark Geragos could end up on the table here?
BLACK: Well, Dan, first of all, without any real evidence, I wouldn‘t even want to go anywhere near that statement. And I don‘t think that Mark Geragos is involved in something like that. I just see this as sort of rather than a real serious conspiracy count, I see this as the prosecution‘s chess move in this game. So, I don‘t think they‘re going after Mark Geragos. What they‘re trying to do is undercut Jackson‘s defense and to discredit his major witnesses.
ABRAMS: Yes. Anyone would be crazy, Geoffrey, to go after an attorney. I mean they do this in drug cases sometimes. Roy, didn‘t they go after you once in a drug case?
BLACK: You know the problem is when you deal with the United States government and the Department of Justice you have to look over your shoulder all the time.
FIEGER: No, they‘re not...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
FIEGER: ... that would so weaken their case by going after Geragos, the attorney, in an already weak case.
ABRAMS: I agree. I agree.
FIEGER: One thing that I‘m a little curious about is Jackson‘s attorneys have to know who the other conspirators are who have been whited out, whose names are on the indictment. You could—he could not—it seems to me he could not have been required to plead without having seen what the actual charge is against him and others. So, I‘m a little curious about...
FIEGER: ... Joe Tacopina saying he‘s been in touch with the Jackson camp and he doesn‘t know whether his clients are those people named. It would seem to me they know. The Jackson camp knows who got named on that. There‘s no whiteout in the Jackson indictment that they have.
BLACK: You know Geoffrey‘s exactly right on that...
BLACK: I thought about the same thing. There‘s no way they could have him plea to a redacted indictment.
BLACK: So they had to have an order telling the lawyers you can‘t tell anybody who else has been charged until they‘re arrested.
ABRAMS: They definitely—I know for a fact the defense team did have a full copy of this indictment with the names, so there‘s no question that they know whose names are on here. They simply may not know whether a formal indictment was handed out. They may not know the timing, et cetera, but no question, they know whose names were redacted where it says that during this particular time in the county of Santa Barbara, he did conspire with and the name is right there and other charged co-conspirators, et cetera.
All right, you know and again, this business about going after Geragos, you know, that‘s—Geragos is a smart guy. I mean he‘s a good lawyer. I don‘t think he would be foolish enough as to put himself in any sort of harm‘s way. And I think the prosecutors would be foolish to go after him.
Coming up, Jackson‘s new attorney went out of his way to talk about Jackson‘s dignity, integrity, charity. Should he be vouching for his client personally like that?
Plus, a verdict in the Jayson Williams manslaughter trial. The former NBA star could now be facing time behind bars.
Don‘t forget your take, e-mails email@example.com. I‘ll be reading them at the end of the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MESEREAU: This case is about one thing only. It‘s about the dignity, the integrity, the decency, the honor, the charity, the innocence and the complete vindication of a wonderful human being named Michael Jackson. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: A wonderful human being. Attorney Tom Mesereau is talking about a lot more than just Michael Jackson‘s innocence there. He‘s talking about his client‘s character.
Roy Black, good move, a dangerous move? What do you make of it?
BLACK: Well, if your lawyer doesn‘t say good things about you, who is? So I don‘t find anything surprising about that at all. The part that I thought...
ABRAMS: Well you know—but Roy...
ABRAMS: Roy, when you talk about Rush Limbaugh, for example, you
know, you talk about, you know, the fact that you believe that the charges
· not the charges, that this investigation is nonsense, that they never had a right to do X, Y and Z. And, you know, your position is whatever you think of him politically, et cetera, but I‘ve never you know heard you go on television and say Rush Limbaugh is you know the most honest man with the most integrity, with the best this and this and this that I‘ve ever met, essentially.
BLACK: Well Dan, let me correct that and say that Rush is a wonderful man with a lot of honor and integrity.
BLACK: Now the interesting part about Mesereau‘s statement...
BLACK: ... was what you cut out. I like the part just before that where he‘s kicking the bodies of Geragos and Ben Brafman while they‘re lying bleeding on the floor.
ABRAMS: What do you mean?
BLACK: Well he gets up there and says this case is not about lawyers becoming celebrities. I mean that seemed to me sort of...
BLACK: ... you know, a real shot at Geragos and Brafman that I thought was a little uncalled for.
ABRAMS: Dean, what do you make of it?
JOHNSON: Well, I think the best thing that Jackson has got going for him right now is having a fairly low key compassionate attorney like Tom Mesereau advocating his cause. This is part of the advocacy outside of the courtroom. Jackson—make no mistake about it. This is not just about guilt or innocence. It‘s about Jackson‘s character, about his bizarre behavior and they need to start defusing that right now and get ready for the people who are ultimately going to decide this case.
ABRAMS: Jim, you know Tom Sneddon well. You‘ve known him for many years. What do you think his reaction was when he found out that they were switching attorneys? Do you think that said to him well there are problems in the Jackson team? Do you have any sense?
THOMAS: No. You know I think he actually saw it as something that was welcome. Because I know that Tom Sneddon believes, whether it‘s true or not, I don‘t know, but he believes that there were way too many defense leaks in the first part of the case. I think he‘s hoping that Tom Mesereau will follow up his word where he says professionalism and dignity in the way that he you know defends his client and that maybe some of that will go away. At least I know that‘s his hope.
ABRAMS: Geoffrey, what do you make of this vouching for your client? You know you used to do that with Jack Kevorkian to a certain degree. You used to talk about—I remember you used to tell me in the hallways that this was the greatest guy, how much you liked him as a friend, et cetera. Is that important? I mean does a lawyer really have to sort of love his client as a person?
FIEGER: No, but you see with Kevorkian, he was—he really was being misportrayed in the sense that he—nobody really knew who he was, other than the way he was described in the press. And again, you can do it outside the courtroom as much as you want. Mesereau could never do that inside the courtroom. He might risk a mistrial. But more to the point—see, Jackson‘s past history really belies that stuff. When you have a history of having paid up to $20 million on a previous sexual molestation case with a child, to stand up there and say that you risk scorn, you risk cynicism, you risk the press looking at you askance and say what are you talking about, come on.
You know, you can‘t with a straight face do that sort of thing. You‘ve got to be realistic. People don‘t lose their common sense in this thing. And who does Mesereau think he‘s kidding? He might be a nice guy. I‘ve met him, as a matter of fact. When I was running for governor I thought—I spent an hour him. I thought he was a really wonderful guy, pretty down to earth. But he looks strange. He looks stranger than any human being you have ever seen in your life. And he does have a past history of paying people off on child molestation charges. So you can‘t claim that this is the best thing since sliced bread and have the press leave you alone on that.
ABRAMS: All right. Jim Thomas, thanks a lot. Dean Johnson, thank you. Roy and Geoffrey are going to stay with us.
When we come back, a verdict in the Jayson Williams trial, coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As to the charge of aggravated manslaughter, not guilty or guilty?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not guilty.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find to the charge of reckless manslaughter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Former NBA star Jayson Williams found not guilty of the most serious charge against him, aggravated manslaughter for the death of his limousine driver Gus Christofi. On the other serious charge against him, reckless manslaughter, the jury saying it could not reach a unanimous verdict. According to one of the jurors, they were 8-4 for not guilty. Now, Williams was found not guilty of weapons and assault charges, but a jury did find that he tampered with evidence and tried to cover up the incident after Christofi was shot. Now technically, the charges carry a maximum penalty of 13 years in prison, but realistically, Williams could spend no time behind bars at all.
Let‘s bring back my legal panel on this one. We‘ve got Court TV reporter and attorney Jean Casarez, who‘s been covering this case from day one, criminal defense attorney and NBC News analyst Roy Black, criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger and New Jersey criminal defense attorney Jack Furlong.
All right, Jack, let me start. With you with regard to the law here, how much time is Jayson Williams facing?
JACK FURLONG, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He‘s facing the 13 years that you mentioned earlier. But in third and fourth degree crimes in New Jersey there‘s a—quote—unquote—presumption of non-incarceration, which means he‘s entitled, all other things being equal to a straight probation. However, a judge can in New Jersey give you up to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of probation without violating that presumption. And frankly, I think that‘s exactly where Coleman comes down if he sentences him before they make a decision on the retrial.
ABRAMS: And that‘s an interesting question, Roy. If you‘re the attorney for Jayson Williams here, you want to try and cut a deal, right? I mean “A”, you want to make sure they‘re not going to retry him on the reckless manslaughter charge and “B”, try and cut some sort of deal where you say all right, you know what, what? What do you offer up to the prosecutors?
BLACK: Well you know the thing is, Dan, with the jury going 8-4 for acquittal I don‘t know that the defense is going to be so anxious to make a deal regarding the reckless manslaughter. Granted, I think that that‘s the biggest defense victory is getting a hung jury on that count. Because I think that was what he was most at risk for getting convicted of. But nevertheless, with that kind of split in the jury, I don‘t know if they‘re going to be anxious to make a deal.
FIEGER: Don‘t count on it.
ABRAMS: Geoffrey—well Geoffrey, I‘ve got a little talking—I wish we had the tape of Geoffrey on this program the other day, where not only did you insist that the jury was going to come back immediately, which they didn‘t, you also insisted that they were for certain going to convict, which they didn‘t.
FIEGER: Oh yes...
ABRAMS: Sir, your response.
FIEGER: ... they convicted. No, they convicted.
ABRAMS: Oh, oh...
FIEGER: They just didn‘t convict...
FIEGER: Wait a second.
FIEGER: Wait a second. No, I don‘t want to...
ABRAMS: Go ahead.
FIEGER: I didn‘t—I thought that the excuse offered by Jayson Williams was flimsy, but I didn‘t see the trial. That was a very, very, very long trial. But he still faces...
FIEGER: ... he still faces major problems. Nobody could rely on an 8-4 split either way. Because you might come back with a jury of those four people who were going to convict you, all 12 of them. And so you‘ve got—and believe me, there‘s not going to be a sentence before the prosecutor makes a decision on the retrial. So if you‘re the defense attorney, you‘re not going for broke here. You‘re trying to make a deal.
ABRAMS: All right, before I go to Jean Casarez, let me play this piece of sound from the juror talking about the ultimate issue. Remember, it‘s not that Jayson Williams denies that he shot his driver. He claims it was an accident. How did they feel about that issue? Here‘s what she said.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We couldn‘t decide whether the flicking up of the gun was actually an, you know an unlawful intent or was it just flicking up the gun was actually locking it in place. Was he actually pointing it or was he actually just simply closing the gun?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: All right, Jean, so make sense of this verdict, if you will. Put it into layperson‘s language. What did this jury essentially believe happened?
JEAN CASAREZ, COURT TV REPORTER: They believed it was an accident and they believed it was an accident—we‘ve spoken with a juror—because of some things that happened right before the gun rang out. Two of the eyewitnesses wanted to go in a closet and look at some tennis shoes because Jayson had said oh I‘ve got a bunch of tennis shoes in there, the endorsement from the New Jersey Nets. And so they were saying you know we can‘t have those tennis shoes because the Globetrotters has another endorsement and Jayson said oh take what you want. That happened right before the shot rang out.
Also, that showed this jury this was a family night. There was nothing wrong taking place in that bedroom. Coupled with that, they believe that he lawfully had possession of that gun. He had a right to have that gun. He had a right to have it loaded and he didn‘t do anything wrong by opening it just to show it to his friends.
ABRAMS: And so they believed that he opened—he points the gun at Gus Christofi, and that the gun just goes off?
CASAREZ: I don‘t think they believed that he pointed it at Gus. What we just heard from that juror saying that they believed that he was just closing the gun, maybe flipping it because it was done pretty quickly, but it was not a pointing, they did not believe.
ABRAMS: Wow. All right, let me go through the charges. Not guilty, aggravated manslaughter. Not guilty, gun possession. Not guilty, aggravated assault. The no decision was on the reckless manslaughter. Guilty of hindering apprehension, tampering with a witness, tampering with evidence and fabricating evidence. Those were all guilty charges. Apparently we don‘t have those up. But you know it seems to me, Jack, that this is a victory. All—I mean I don‘t care how you slice it; this is a huge victory for Jayson Williams and the defense team.
FURLONG: Huge victory and I say this with all due respect to Jean Casarez, who will probably disavow any recollection of my conversation with her on air, but I told her this is going to cleave right down the middle. We were talking three, four weeks ago that he would go down on the tampering charges and he would walk on the manslaughter charges because they were never able to overcome the hurdle of this notion of I was lawfully possessing my weapon and I had no intention to do anything wrong to the guy. So yes, huge victory because he‘s on the non-incarceration side of the outcome.
But just so you understand. The pointing, the pointing of a weapon, that‘s the fourth degree he was acquitted of—that‘s a knowing charge. That‘s 18 months mandatory. If you point a weapon at another person for a wrongful purpose, that‘s possession for a unlawful purpose. That was a three-year mandatory. Again, purposeful conduct, knowing conduct, not guilty. Aggravated manslaughter, just above the reckless standard, not guilty. So they‘re already down to the non-aggravated reckless manslaughter standard, unable to reach a verdict. And the facts are that there‘s really nothing to suggest that another jury looking at this case another time is going come to a different result. That said, and I‘m a betting man, and I assure you that I am, I bet you the house that Steve Lember will elect to try this case again.
ABRAMS: Jean? All right, Jean, do you agree with that? That they will likely try this case again?
CASAREZ: I think they have nothing to lose if they don‘t. But I think they will look at the 8-4 decision. They have got nothing to lose to go forward again.
ABRAMS: Oh, I don‘t know. Am I just—Roy, am I just looking at this as an outsider and saying boy, you had an 8-4 against you on the reckless manslaughter, you didn‘t get the aggravated manslaughter, you‘ve got a conviction on a number of counts. Do you really spend the time, money and effort to prosecute this again? And keep in mind, the family settled as well.
BLACK: Well, I think that they probably will because they‘re not going to be satisfied with the counts that he was convicted of because they didn‘t convict him of the major counts. Now one of the more interesting parts about this, when you look at the logic of these verdicts, he‘s convicted of covering up a crime which a jury found he didn‘t commit or didn‘t have enough evidence to convict him of. So, he‘s convicted of a cover-up of a crime that nobody ever finds he commits.
ABRAMS: Jean, what does the family—the Christofi family say about this? They did, correct, settle the civil case out of court?
CASAREZ: Yes. Oh yes they did and it was reported for $2.75 million. Now, his sister that shared in those millions, she was in the courtroom every day of this trial and after the jury verdict, when everything was finished today, she burst into tears hysterically crying in the courtroom. The prosecutors went over and they hugged her and tried to console her and said we‘ll talk with you later.
ABRAMS: Wow. So she really may want this case to be prosecuted again.
CASAREZ: Well, she was very dedicated to this trial, even though she had received that settlement, yes.
ABRAMS: All right. Jean Casarez, Roy Black, Geoffrey Fieger, and Jack Furlong, thanks a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, my “Closing Argument”—how the new defense team deserves a pat on the back for reigning in Michael Jackson for his appearance in court. It was very different from last time. My observations coming up.
ABRAMS: Coming up, my thoughts from inside the courtroom with Michael Jackson. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—observations from inside the Jackson courtroom. It seems Michael Jackson and even his fans have gotten the message that the courtroom is not a concert venue, not a celebrity meet and greet and not a place for shenanigans. At his last court appearance Jackson‘s fans screamed and cried as he strolled into the courtroom 20 minutes late as if it were a red carpet premiere. They clapped each time a family member arrived to take a seat inside and, of course, Jackson did his victory dance on the car. This time no screams, no cries and no dance. Jackson was 45 minutes early and even his young fans seemed to be taking this appearance more seriously.
Now there were still hard core fans. When Randy Jackson arrived today and I identified him to a colleague with an unsure voice, the young Brit behind me assured me it was him and asked me if I wanted to know Randy‘s birth date. But even though I would say the average age of the fans in the courtroom was about 21, they were still respectful and quiet. Don‘t get me wrong. It was still a surreal scene. Helicopters swirling, fans screaming outside the courthouse, but it was far more controlled and Jackson didn‘t feed the beast. More importantly, inside the courtroom it felt like, well, just a courtroom, the way it should be.
Your e-mails firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for watching.
Chris Matthews, “HARDBALL” up next.
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