Guests Dean Johnson, Roy Black, Carl Douglas
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, exclusive new information in the case of Scott Peterson, accused of murdering his wife, Laci. This as prosecutors lay out the evidence against him for the first time.
ABRAMS (voice-over): New revelations. Prosecutors say Peterson told girlfriend, Amber Frey, he did not want children. Could that have been the motive to kill his pregnant wife?
And a controversial ruling in the Kobe Bryant case. The judge rules that prosecutors cannot call the alleged victim “victim.” The judge tells them to call her by her name.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone and welcome to Redwood City, California.
I am sitting just steps away from the courthouse where the Scott Peterson trial is underway. And that is first up on the docket tonight. It is officially underway—the trial of the State of California v. Scott Lee Peterson. The prosecution presents its opening statement, chronicling what they say are the lies Peterson told police, family and neighbors in the hours and days after his pregnant wife went missing, lies prosecutors say about what he was doing on Christmas Eve, 2002 when Laci went missing, telling some that he was golfing, others that he was fishing, lies to his girlfriend, Amber Frey, and lies about what Laci even looked like and was doing on the morning she was reported missing.
In an opening statement that continues and is taking the entire day, prosecutor Rick Distaso recounted what Scott told Laci‘s mom, Sharon Rocha, on that day. Quote—“Mom, Laci is missing, Scott said. Right then Sharon Rocha knew that things were very seriously wrong. It‘s Christmas Eve. There‘s a woman who‘s eight months pregnant who is missing under very mysterious circumstances. They are looking for evidence of a burglary. They‘re looking for evidence of a robbery. There is nothing out of place”, the prosecutor said.
But maybe the most dramatic moment came when prosecutors talked about December 14, 2002, the date when—get this—both Peterson‘s wife, Laci and his then girlfriend, Amber Frey, invited him to separate Christmas parties. He was invited to both. But accepted—you guessed it—only Amber‘s invitation. Prosecutors showed photos of Amber and Scott at that party having fun like a happy couple. Scott turned his head away when those pictures were shown, unwilling to look at the images, and prosecutors contrasted it with this photo. Laci Peterson at the Christmas party she went to alone, nearly eight months pregnant without her husband.
When I say today we have an all-star panel, I mean all-star. Famed criminal defense attorney and NBC News analyst Roy Black, along with another familiar face, defense attorney Carl Douglas. Remember Carl was part of the Simpson dream team. Carl, good to see you again. It‘s been a long time.
CARL DOUGLAS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Good to see you, Dan.
ABRAMS: And with me here in Redwood City is former San Mateo County
prosecutor Dean Johnson. Dean was inside the courtroom. We‘ll be joined
by Geoffrey Fieger later in the program.
Dean, since you were inside the courtroom, let me start with you.
Overall sense of how the prosecutors have done in the opening statements so far.
DEAN JOHNSON, FORMER SAN MATEO COUNTY PROSECUTOR: Well, this is not the opening statement I would have given as a prosecutor. This is a long, rambling statement. But they do make seven or eight very good points. They point out, for example, Scott‘s pattern of lies. He says he was golfing. He says he was fishing. Then he says he was golfing again.
He says to Diane Sawyer, oh, yes, I told Laci about the affair. He says to police just the opposite. He rented cars, several different cars, to go down and visit the Berkeley marina during the police investigation. He says right off the bat to Sharon Rocha, Laci is missing. So the points are there. They‘re putting together a strong circumstantial case. But you have to dig to find it.
ABRAMS: And Roy Black, we have not yet heard from the defense, and that will happen tomorrow. But, you know, I think that there are a couple of things I found particularly damaging. Let‘s go to number two here. When the prosecutors recount what Scott Peterson told neighbors, apparently -- this is according to the prosecutors—say - Scott—have you seen Laci today? The neighbors say no we haven‘t. We‘ve seen her car parked in the driveway all day. Scott says you know Laci is missing. I was out golfing all day. You know I‘ve been golfing. I‘ve been trying to call her and haven‘t been able to reach her.
Roy, how damaging is it that Scott Peterson told some people he went golfing and other people he went fishing?
ROY BLACK, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, it‘s certainly not wonderful for his defense. But none of those things standing alone are really that incriminating. However, put together with the large picture, they‘re going to be incriminating. And that‘s why I think the prosecution is probably doing something very smart here, is putting out every single detail they can in their opening statement, even if it‘s three or four or five hours long because this is a circumstantial case. They want to put it out there like a detective story. Let the jurors see every possible detail. Put it together, and at the end say, look, there‘s no—nothing could have happened here except Scott Peterson doing the murder.
ABRAMS: And before I go to Carl—Dean, but that‘s what‘s been sort of bothering me. I mean they‘re doing it kind of chronologically here. And you know it‘s presenting a somewhat compelling case. But as you pointed out, there would have been ways to do this in a more compelling manner.
JOHNSON: Oh, sure. There‘s a way to present a circumstantial evidence case where it‘s very brief and efficient. We‘re being told details that by anybody‘s accounts are irrelevant. We‘re told that the dog who first scented on Laci was a yellow lab and how long he was trained. We‘re told that the next-door neighbor‘s grandfather had died a year ago.
We don‘t need to hear that.
JOHNSON: What we need to hear is a story line.
ABRAMS: They‘re preempting a lot of defense arguments and they don‘t need to do that yet. Carl Douglas...
ABRAMS: ... let me tell you something else that I think this to me may have been the most damaging thing we heard today, and that is the prosecutor saying that Scott Peterson said to Amber Frey, I don‘t want to have any more children. Your child is enough for me. I‘m even thinking of getting a vasectomy. Carl, if you‘re the defense attorney and you know they have that on tape or they have testimony from Amber Frey, that‘s not helpful to your case, is it?
DOUGLAS: Certainly, Dan, it‘s not helpful in and of itself. But like Roy said, there is not going to be one single piece of evidence, I think, that‘s going to really carry the day. So what the prosecution is trying to do is to line up all of these separate pieces of evidence and hopefully the collective weight of all of that evidence will be resonating with the jury.
ABRAMS: Carl, will you admit to me as a defense attorney, if you‘re arguing this case, what you want to do is you want the jurors to look at the evidence individually, meaning you want them to say this piece of evidence doesn‘t prove he committed this crime beyond a reasonable doubt as opposed to looking at all of the evidence together?
DOUGLAS: That‘s what you want to do. And I think you also want to play into an instruction that the judge will give saying that if the evidence is reasonably susceptible to either of two conclusions, one pointing towards guilt and the other pointing towards innocence, then you must, of course, adopt the conclusion of innocence. And I think the challenge will be...
ABRAMS: And he did say that, yes...
DOUGLAS: ... the challenge will be for Scott Peterson‘s lawyers to come up with reasonable explanations for each of these independent pieces of evidence that seem so damaging right now.
ABRAMS: Yes, all right, well look, that‘s exactly what they‘re going to have to do. I‘m going to ask everyone to stick around for a minute because we‘ve got some exclusive information that I broke this morning from the arrest warrant that only we have. And Scott Peterson told Amber he didn‘t want to have kids. Question—could that be the motive for the crime?
And for an interactive timeline of the events in the Scott Peterson case, log to on to abramsreport.msnbc.com and your e-mails, email@example.com. I will respond at the end of tomorrow‘s show.
ABRAMS: Coming up, exclusive new details about what was in Scott Peterson‘s arrest warrant, including a possible motive. We are live in Redwood City, California on day one of the Scott Peterson trial. More coverage coming up in a moment.
SCOTT PETERSON: Hey beautiful. I just left you a message at home. It‘s 2:15. I won‘t be able to get to Vella Farms to get the basket for papa. I was hoping you would get this message and go on out there. I‘ll see you in a bit sweetie. Love you, bye.
ABRAMS: That was the final message that Scott Peterson left for Laci on her cell phone answering machine, obtained exclusively by THE ABRAMS REPORT and that certainly will come up in this case. The question, of course, is did he leave that message knowing that she was already dead, or did he leave that message just expecting that he was going to find her alive at home?
We are continuing with our coverage of the opening statements in the trial of Scott Peterson. Before I go back to my “A-Team” here, I want to read you another piece of exclusive information. And this is from the actual arrest warrant that was laid out by Detective Craig Grogan, and it explains at the time what they viewed as a possible motive. And here it is from Detective Grogan obtained exclusively by us.
“The motive of that crime is likely linked to Scott‘s failing businesses and financial situation in addition to the emotional and financial pressures of becoming a parent when he lacked any desire to have a child. The expensive desires of his wife including her desire for a new vehicle and home and plan to be a stay-at-home mother likely compounded the situation. Scott‘s continued desire to establish a long-term permanent relationship with Amber Frey may have enhanced the motive.”
Now, Roy Black, in the opening statement so far it sounds like the prosecutors are focusing on the issue of didn‘t want to have a child, wanted to be with Amber Frey, but this financial motive, is it possible the defense could use this against the prosecutors and say, hey, wait a second, you guys are now talking only about Amber Frey. What happened to your financial motive?
BLACK: Yes, I think so Dan. It‘s the same thing that would happen with the prosecution if the defense had numerous different types of defenses. You know you have to select one of these. And you know, we make a big deal about Scott Peterson and all the lies and all the cover-ups he does. But remember, this guy is leading a double life. You know he‘s trying to seduce another woman, so you know lying about it is not that unusual. The hard thing for him to explain are a lot of these details that I assume the prosecution is telling the jury about this afternoon.
ABRAMS: Yes, you know, let me go to—but here‘s the problem. With regard to the things he said to Amber Frey, he wasn‘t just trying to seduce her. I mean he‘s also telling her that his wife is dead, OK? I mean that‘s beyond seduction. Let me go to...
BLACK: Well, Dan...
ABRAMS: ... number...
BLACK: ... you don‘t tell a young girl that your wife is alive and eight months pregnant if you‘re trying to seduce her. You make up a whole story.
ABRAMS: Well, yes...
BLACK: There‘s nothing that unusual about that.
ABRAMS: There are a lot of stories you can tell short of my wife is dead and I‘m going to be able to spend more time with you at the end of January.
BLACK: Well, he wasn‘t very imaginative.
ABRAMS: All right. Here‘s what Amber Frey said to him.
You came to me early in December and told me that you had lost your wife. What was that about?
Peterson: She‘s alive.
Where? She‘s alive. Where?
Peterson: In Modesto.
And then it goes on. Frey: Why did you tell me it would be the first holidays without her?
Peterson: I can‘t—sweetie, I can‘t explain any more now.
Frey: You told me you lost your wife. You sat there in front of me and cried and broke down. I sat there and held your hand, Scott, and comforted you and you were lying to me.
Dean, look, they are going to make the argument that Roy Black is making, which is this was a man who wanted to have an affair.
JOHNSON: Oh, absolutely. But that‘s only part of it. What they‘re going to do is paint a whole picture of Scott Peterson as a man who felt trapped. Laci Peterson was about to have a child. She wanted to have another one. His business was failing. He wanted to play around, wanted to have affairs, and he looked at his future as somebody who was going to be stuck as a family man and he felt, in his mind, caught between a rock and a hard place.
ABRAMS: If you were to summarize the motive that you heard from prosecutors today in one sentence, what would it be?
JOHNSON: Laci—it‘s easier to live with Laci dead than with Laci alive as an ex-spouse. If he divorces Laci and goes on his merry way with his affairs, he loses half his property, he spends the rest of his life paying alimony and child support. If he doesn‘t—if he kills Laci, then he doesn‘t have to do any of that and he can go on and live his life as a free, single man. Very perverted motive, but you know what, it‘s consistent with the motive we see in a lot of spouse-on-spouse murders.
ABRAMS: And you know, Carl Douglas, in a lot of cases you don‘t even really have—you don‘t need a motive legally, but it sure does help when it comes to these juries. And in a lot of cases that I know you‘ve been involved in, you know you don‘t even have necessarily a motive to work with.
DOUGLAS: You don‘t need a motive. But I think it‘s kind of hard-pressed, Dan, to put all of their eggs into the basket of a 30-day relationship. If he is supposed to be someone who does not want a child, why would he then choose to kill his wife and his unborn child for another woman he had known for only 30 days who herself had a 2-year-old child as well? I think that may be a problem for the defense. But the biggest problem for the defense I see is that 300-pound guerrilla sitting in the courtroom, which is the fact that Scott went 100 miles away from his home to go fishing...
DOUGLAS: ... and the two bodies were found a couple of miles away.
DOUGLAS: That‘s the real problem in the case I see.
ABRAMS: Absolutely agree Carl. I think that is the biggest problem that they have.
All right, everyone is going to stay with us. Coming up, Scott Peterson‘s alleged lies. The prosecutors have been chronicling them. We‘re going to tell you all the things the prosecutors say that he lied about.
And the accuser in the Kobe Bryant case, you can call her a lot of things, but the judge says don‘t call her victim. Coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
JACKIE PETERSON, SCOTT PETERSON‘S MOTHER: Same stuff...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... nothing new. No evidence.
J. PETERSON: Except that he referred to it as a game.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s just a big game to him.
J. PETERSON: I‘ve never seen such insensitivity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: That is the mother of Scott Peterson. Clearly frustrated as she has been throughout this process, saying that there‘s really nothing new in the opening statement of the prosecutor and arguably she‘s got a point. There‘s not a lot new. The question, of course, is how much evidence is there?
One of the key points that they‘ve been focusing on in today‘s opening statement is the lies that prosecutors believe that Scott Peterson told. Let‘s go over some of the issues that prosecutors say he‘s lying about.
Number one: That he told some neighbors and relatives he went golfing
the day Laci went missing, not fishing. He told other people that she went
· that he went fishing. And then there‘s the fishing equipment, saying for example, to one detective he didn‘t know exactly—he didn‘t have an answer to what were you fishing for and what kind of bait were you using? Of course, the prosecutors would say that shows that he wasn‘t really going fishing at all, he was just dumping the body in the bay.
When it comes to Laci‘s clothing and jewelry, he told them that she was wearing things when he left the house at 9:30 a.m. He says the last time he saw her—she was wearing a different outfit when she was found than what Scott Peterson claims that she was wearing when he left the house. And according to prosecutors, she was wearing the same clothes as she had been wearing the night before.
They say he lied about whether there was electricity in his warehouse
when they went to take a look at his boat. That he said to them, you know
what? There‘s no power here. They say that was a lie. They even say he
lied about what Laci was watching on TV when he walked out of the house. A
Again, remember, prosecutors believe she was already dead by 9:30 in the morning, and Scott Peterson said she was watching, of all things, Martha Stewart making a lemon meringue. They went and got Martha Stewart‘s tape. She was not making a lemon meringue on Christmas Eve.
Was it raining at the marina? Scott Peterson said he stopped fishing because it was raining. The harbormaster out there said there was not rain and of course, then there are the lies about Amber Frey.
You know, Roy, it seems that the key is going to be keeping all of those clumped together, because as you point out, if you look at any of those individually, it‘s not that persuasive. When you talk about all those together it starts to sound a little bit rough for Scott Peterson.
BLACK: Well, Dan, you‘re exactly right. That‘s what a circumstantial case is all about. And when you put all these pieces together and paint an ugly picture, I think he‘s going to have to have some type of an explanation for this. Although as Carl said, what I‘m waiting for to hear tomorrow from Mark Geragos is his explanation about how he went fishing and how the bodies ended up turning up there. I think that‘s number one.
But number two are these lies. As I said before, and as you‘ve noted, none of them individually are that important. But the fact he had to lie about so many things sounds like a man, you know, who‘s just trying to make up a story on the fly.
ABRAMS: You know, Carl, I think they have to say he was framed with regard to the issue that you bring up, and that is that the marina is 90 miles away from his home. His wife is seven-plus months pregnant. It‘s Christmas Eve and her body washes up on shore right in the area where he says he went fishing that day. It seems to me that they have to say that someone else put the body there after finding out that Scott Peterson said he went fishing there in an effort to make it look like Scott Peterson did it. Otherwise, it just becomes unbelievable.
DOUGLAS: Well, that‘s probably going to be one of the stories that they‘re going to put out. They‘re probably also going to say that he was distraught and emotionally upset in the days after the missing death, and that may explain the inconsistency in some of his answers. But I think also, Dan, they have some ammunition themselves that they‘re also going to use.
They‘re going to make a big thing, I think, about the fact that there was a cadaver dog that was examined, the boat that was involved, and that there was no suggestion that Laci‘s body was ever at the boat. That‘s going to be very important, I think, as well, and that Scott was a suspect very early on, and it was clear in news reports that he claimed to have gone fishing on the day of the missing death.
ABRAMS: Hey Carl...
DOUGLAS: So that‘s going to be a basis...
ABRAMS: ... as a veteran of the O.J. Simpson case, all right, as someone who won that case for O.J. Simpson, don‘t you think it is risky for any criminal defense—for any criminal defendant in a high-profile case to have a defense that sounds too much like O.J., meaning in this case it sounds like they‘re saying that the cops planted evidence, that they were sloppy with evidence, that they rushed to judgment. Is there any danger, if you were advising Mark Geragos in this case, would you say to him don‘t use the sort of—the words like “rush to judgment,” try not to make it sound like the O.J. Simpson case, or would you say don‘t worry about it?
DOUGLAS: I appreciate that concern, but it really depends on how the evidence shakes out, Dan. If there is suggestion, for example, that some of the evidence was mishandled, he has to play that card. If there‘s some explanation as to why some forensic pieces of evidence, like a hair, could be present somewhere, he has to play that card. Certainly there was clearly a focus on Scott Peterson from the very day. He may not want to use the phrase “rush to judgment,” but those themes are still very useful in this case if they apply.
ABRAMS: All right. We shall see. Everyone is going to stick around, because coming up, Amber Frey. We are going to talk all about what the prosecutor said about her, and they talked a whole lot about it. They even played audiotapes in the conversation between Amber Frey and Scott Peterson.
We‘ll also have a big ruling in the Kobe Bryant case. All that coming up. Stay with us.
ABRAMS: Coming up, our coverage of day one in the Scott Peterson trial continues live from Redwood City. The prosecutors talked a lot about his Amber—his girlfriend, Amber Frey. We‘ll talk about it. First, the headlines.
ABRAMS: We‘re back live in Redwood City, California, where only a few yards away the opening statements in the Scott Peterson trial are concluding, at least for the prosecution. A full day of opening statements from prosecutor Rick Distaso. And I‘ve been out here for the last few minutes and that means that I‘ve missed the last few minutes of opening statements.
I gave my seat up to MSNBC‘s Jennifer London who joins me now. So Jennifer, what happened in the last 40 minutes or so inside the courtroom?
JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well Dan, mainly after lunch the prosecution is spending a lot of time trying to show that Scott Peterson just didn‘t act like a grieving, worried husband. He also didn‘t act like somebody who thought his wife was going to come home. A couple of examples the prosecution gave, the day the community held a vigil for Laci, Scott doesn‘t show up on time. And they find out that he was on the phone with his girlfriend, Amber Frey.
And they find out—they played part of this taped conversation, Scott saying that‘s actually in Brussels at the moment and he thinks his relationship with Amber will grow. Another example the prosecution, they played another tape-recorded conversation between Scott and a real estate agent and Scott saying that he would like to sell their house with all the furniture in it, and he went on to ask this real estate agent to keep this quiet.
Now, this is happening on January 22, long before Laci‘s body was ever discovered. The prosecution goes on to say that on the 29th of January, Scott sells Laci‘s car. So the prosecution is saying clearly this guy is not acting like he thinks Laci is coming back. But perhaps the most powerful part of the opening statements was when the prosecution showed pictures of Conner‘s decomposed body that had washed up on the shore at the San Francisco Bay. When the pictures went up, very graphic, a gasp in the courtroom. We did...
ABRAMS: We‘re putting up a graphic representation there based on my having seen the pictures, and that‘s what the tape looks like.
LONDON: Yes. And they did talk about this plastic tape, which the autopsy report says had nothing to do with Conner‘s death. He simply sort of floated into it. Now, Laci‘s parents in the courtroom, sitting behind the prosecution. They are looking away. They‘re dabbing their eyes with a tissue. Scott Peterson has actually physically turned his body away from the projector where these pictures are going up.
Now, the importance, according to the prosecution, of showing this photo is they were trying to prove a timeline, that Conner died inside Laci. They‘re saying according to his decomposition he was only exposed to the bay one or two days, whereas Laci, so much more decomposed, was in the water for three to six months.
ABRAMS: Yes and this is a preemption of an argument we‘re expecting to hear from the defense. Jennifer London, thanks very much for that.
All right, before we get to Amber Frey, real quick, Dean, on this issue of the body, I have to tell you, I think this is probably the defense‘s strongest argument in this case. I want to put up that graphic again and I just think it‘s so important in this case. Because, you know, the knotting, what seems to be knotting around the baby‘s body, yes, they‘re going to say maybe this just floated up. But I have to tell you, that knot does not really look like something that could have just accidentally ended up—I‘m not saying it didn‘t happen. I‘m just saying...
ABRAMS: ... that it‘s a pretty good argument for the defense.
JOHNSON: Yes, it seems highly improbable that that particular circumstance would result just from a body floating around. It looks like something actually physically placed around the body. And, of course, the defense is going to say and going to have experts to testify that Conner was much further developed than he should have been if he were what we call a coffin birth, that he had been out of the womb and developed for several days before he was actually deposited in the bay.
ABRAMS: And I should tell that Mark—the prosecutor Rick Distaso has concluded his opening statement. At this point Mark Geragos is going to get his opportunity tomorrow morning, beginning at 9:00 a.m.
All right. Let‘s bring my panel back. You know I have to tell you, Roy, the idea that what the prosecutors did, which was one of the more clever moves, I have to tell you, I think the opening statement has been OK by the prosecutors. I think Dean Johnson characterized it very—quite accurately. But one of the most powerful moments is when they compared December 14 and Laci invites him to a Christmas party and Amber invites him to a Christmas party and he goes to Amber‘s Christmas party and there are the photos of Scott Peterson paling around with Amber, kissing her, wearing his Christmas hat and there‘s poor old Laci sitting in a big ole chair by herself on that same day at a different party.
BLACK: Well, Dan, obviously, you know from my experience I know prosecutors are obsessed by sex. They want to play the sex card. They want to get the jury mad at Scott Peterson. But more importantly than that, that photograph that you just—or that diagram you just put up about baby Conner I think is very crucial to this case, because if the defense can raise doubt as to whether or not Laci died on December 24, can put a huge hole in the prosecution‘s case.
Because remember, Scott goes fishing on the 24th. If Laci doesn‘t die on the 24th, then he‘s not guilty. That‘s why this...
BLACK: ... whole thing about—on the baby is so crucial, the age of the baby, and whether or not the timeline proves she died on that day.
ABRAMS: Oh, I‘ve got to tell you, you know Carl, if these jurors believe that that baby was born alive, just as simple as that. If they don‘t believe that baby died inside Laci‘s body, I think you‘ve got an acquittal here.
DOUGLAS: Absolutely. And you know Mark Geragos is going to have witnesses and experts who are going to offer reasonable, plausible explanations that defy the prosecution‘s version of the case. And it‘s really going to be an important piece of evidence. And I‘m looking forward to see how it evolves, because it really can play a critical role in the acquittal of the case.
BLACK: But Dan, you don‘t have to prove that the baby was born. All you have to do is to prove she died after December 24, because that‘s the day he goes fishing.
BLACK: If she dies...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s right.
BLACK: ... after the 24th, that‘s reasonable doubt.
JOHNSON: And remember, there are a number of points in this case that could be game over reasonable doubt. If the jury believes the eyewitnesses, several of them, who say they saw Laci Peterson alive late in the day, if they believe the brown van abduction story, if they believe that the baby was born alive and lived for a period of time, any one of those could spell game over for the prosecution.
ABRAMS: All right, but Amber Frey, Amber Frey, Amber Frey, Amber Frey. I don‘t know. She‘s just going to come up again and again and again and again, and it just makes him look so bad.
Anyway, all right. We‘re going to continue our coverage of this case. Of course, this is the program to watch. We‘re going to have coverage of Mark Geragos‘ opening statement tomorrow.
The panel is going to stick around, though. Coming up, a very controversial ruling in the Kobe Bryant case. The judge telling the prosecutors you cannot refer to the alleged victim as—quote—“victim.”
And new information in the case of American enemy combatant Jose Padilla. He is an American citizen captured on American soil. Prosecutors now releasing new information that indicates he may have been trying to blow up apartment buildings in major cities.
Once again, log on to abramsreport.msnbc.com for the interactive timeline of events in the Scott Peterson trial and of course, it‘s firstname.lastname@example.org for the e-mails. We‘re back in a moment.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. Now to the Kobe Bryant case and a big win for the defense. The judge ruling that prosecutors cannot call the alleged victim—quote—“victim” during the trial or at any point in this the case.
In his written order, Judge Terry Ruckriegel wrote, -- quote—“The use of the term victim at trial would be inappropriate under the alleged facts and defenses in this case.” The judge further specifying when not calling the woman by her name, she‘ll be referred to as alleged victim. During trial the prosecution barred from calling the woman victim, and in regard to jury instructions, potential jurors will know her simply as “person.”
The defense wanted to call her complaining witness. The prosecution countered with victim. The judge seemingly finding some middle ground. But I ask does it really matter? Did the judge really need to get involved in this particular ruling?
Let‘s get back to our A-list legal panel. All right, Carl Douglas, you know it seems to me—look, I understand what the defense is concerned about. I don‘t call her a victim on this program. I call her alleged victim. At times we call her accuser. We use the two terms somewhat interchangeably. Fine.
But when prosecutors have indicted, there‘s been a preliminary hearing, where there‘s been a finding that there‘s enough evidence to send Kobe Bryant to trial, doesn‘t mean he‘s guilty. But can it mean that the prosecutors, the people who clearly are bringing this case against him can use the term “victim” and the defense can use the term “accuser” or liar or whatever else they want to use?
DOUGLAS: Well, Dan, this is a judge who has made a remarkable ruling on behalf of fairness. And I think that‘s what‘s very crucial here. It is more fair to call her by her own name or to call her an alleged victim, and it‘s a subtle difference that I think is very important and a very important win for the defense. They‘ve done a marvelous job staying out of the press and letting their paperwork do all of the talking for them, and just taking every single issue and challenging it, as well they should.
ABRAMS: I don‘t know. Dean, it just seems to me—I understand the point here. I just think that this is—these are parties to a lawsuit. And the prosecutors have filed charges. They‘re not objective. Yes, they say they‘re seeking justice. But they clearly believe—and they have to believe—that Kobe Bryant is guilty. And if he‘s guilty, then she‘s a victim. It doesn‘t mean the jury has to accept that.
ABRAMS: But why can‘t they argue that?
JOHNSON: Well, they‘re not allowed to because it presupposes the conclusion, I guess is the argument. The—turn the argument around. Suppose that Pamela Mackey got up and said Your Honor, we insist that throughout the entire course of this trial we refer to Kobe Bryant as the innocent guy.
ABRAMS: What‘s the matter with that?
ABRAMS: I have no problem with that.
JOHNSON: In fact...
ABRAMS: I say...
ABRAMS: ... let me bring Roy Black. Roy Black—go ahead, finish up. Go ahead.
JOHNSON: In fact, that would be more legally correct because he‘s presumed to be the innocent guy...
JOHNSON: ... but the prosecution would have a heart attack. To tell you the truth though Dan, if I were the prosecutor here I might have bought time with the trial judge or bought some points with the trial judge just by saying...
JOHNSON: ... you know whatever call him what you want...
ABRAMS: Roy, I‘ve got to tell you, I just think—let the prosecutors call her victim, let the defense attorneys call him the innocent falsely accused.
BLACK: Well, Dan, words are important and labels are important. I mean the defendant is presumed innocent. The prosecution, if he can call the woman the victim, why couldn‘t he call Kobe Bryant the criminal? We don‘t allow things like that, because we want the jurors to decide the case on the facts, not on rhetoric, not on labels. I think the judge made a sound decision, albeit a politically incorrect one.
JOHNSON: I‘ll take it one step further. We actually had a trial here in San Mateo County a couple of weeks ago where the judge allowed the defense attorney to call the defendant the real victim.
ABRAMS: You know they‘re arguing the case. I mean I don‘t know why everyone—it‘s like playing in the sandbox here. It‘s like no one can just say look, they‘re lawyers, they‘re arguing their case...
ABRAMS: ... they‘re making their case.
ABRAMS: Go ahead Roy.
BLACK: ... but Dan, you‘re overlooking the fact that the prosecution is an agent of the state. When the state speaks, when the government speaks, when their representative...
BLACK: ... speaks, they have some power with those words. And I think that prosecutors have to be careful how they couch things in a courtroom, not to make the trial unfair.
ABRAMS: Yes, look, I agree with you. But you know this is the state of Colorado versus, versus. It‘s not the state of Colorado you know making up with and the state of Colorado in conjunction with. It‘s versus. This is an adversarial process and I just feel like this is a judge just getting involved where he didn‘t need to get involved, but anyway...
JOHNSON: You know, Dan...
JOHNSON: ... it‘s a small point but I understand the point in the context of this case. We have the...
JOHNSON: ... victim‘s mother parading in victims‘ rights rallies...
ABRAMS: ... I understand. Look, I understand...
ABRAMS: ... look, because in a case like this, if Kobe Bryant is innocent, there was no victim, and as a result—you know look, I understand it. I‘m just saying that they‘re both parties, I‘d say let them go at it, but the judge rules against me and all of you agree with the judge, but all of you are criminal defense attorneys. No, I‘m just joking.
All right, what a great panel. Roy Black, Carl Douglas, and Dean Johnson, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
BLACK: Thank you, Dan.
DOUGLAS: My pleasure.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the Justice Department says American enemy combatant Jose Padilla admits planning attacks on U.S. cities, including blowing up apartment buildings. That‘s coming up.
ABRAMS: Coming up, dramatic new details about the case against terror suspect Jose Padilla. The government now saying that he, an American citizen, wanted to blow up apartment buildings in U.S. cities. He‘s been in custody for two years, so why are the feds talking now?
ABRAMS: For the first time, the Justice Department has come forward with specific information about American enemy combatant Jose Padilla. Padilla, the only American arrested on American soil, being held without access to the courts as an enemy combatant. Deputy Attorney General James Comey said today, Padilla admitted planning an attack on the U.S. with a dirty bomb or even a nuclear bomb, but was told by an al Qaeda leader to plan a simpler act of terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: KSM suggested that they enter the United States by way of Mexico or by way of Puerto Rico. And that once in the country, they locate high-rise apartment buildings that had natural gas supplied to all floors. That they rent two apartments in each building, seal those apartments, turn on the gas, and set timers to detonate and destroy the buildings simultaneously at a later time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Padilla was to target apartments in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Florida also discussed as possible targets. Remember the Supreme Court is deciding whether the war on terror gives the government the authority to seize an American like Padilla and hold him without charges for as long as it takes to ensure that according to the government, the person is not a danger to the country.
Padilla‘s lawyer, Donna Newman, criticized the Justice Department saying, I know they said some terrible things about my client. I know that what they said was very frightening. You also know that often there is another side of the story. We won‘t know that, will we? We won‘t have that opportunity unless the government decides it‘s time to follow the laws of this land.
Joining us to talk about this is MSNBC terror analyst Steve Emerson. All right, so Steve, you know look, apart from the legal issues here, look, I think that they‘re going to have a very tough time in the U.S. Supreme Court with an American captured on American soil and just saying that we can hold someone whenever we want at the government‘s whim. But as a practical matter, I thought we had heard that Jose Padilla was not the big fish that the government had initially portrayed him as and now they are again suggesting that this guy was a big deal. Which is it?
STEVE EMERSON, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well I think those that were portraying him not as a big fish were not in the U.S. government. Those were people, many in the media. The armchair critics who contended in the absence of any details, as were supplied today, the government‘s case was weak. And therefore, because the government wasn‘t willing to expose these details or try him in the regular courts, therefore then it must have been fabricated or trumped up or exaggerated.
Clearly, Dan, today the details provided by James Comey show an incredible amount of intelligence garnered by the U.S. government from detainees, from interrogations, and from admissions, apparently voluntary from Padilla himself and clearly indicating that there was an advanced plot way beyond the notions that were first believed when he was arrested in May of 2002. And also showing that probably a lot of this intelligence would never have been able to be collected had the interrogators been subjected to the courts of the United States when they interrogated the detainees in Gitmo.
ABRAMS: But why? I mean if this is a guy who was plotting to bomb buildings, and they can demonstrate that he was plotting to build buildings, there are clearly laws that that is violating. Even conspiracy, various other federal laws that they can certainly bring up to say we‘re going to charge this guy with a crime.
EMERSON: Well I think, Dan, in the beginning, when he was arrested, I don‘t think the prosecutors and U.S. law enforcement had any idea of the magnitude of the plot. In fact, it‘s clear when he was first arrested, his first admission to law enforcement to the FBI was to deny even being a member of al Qaeda. In the end, it was through the interrogations of other detainees elsewhere around—outside the United States. They were able to piece this together, including the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh and other big fish.
The question is, Dan, whether any of this stuff could have been made to stick in a prosecutable venue, and that really was the dilemma that U.S. prosecutors faced.
EMERSON: If they couldn‘t introduce it, because it was hearsay or because they couldn‘t prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt...
EMERSON: ... would this guy have walked? And there‘s a chance, Dan, by the way, that the Supreme Court could order him freed and he could walk out in the United States free—as a free man like you and I.
ABRAMS: Yes, I don‘t think that—I mean even if the court says that this is not a valid detention, I‘ll bet that they charge him with something. Look, as you know, I‘ve been very supportive of the government‘s efforts when it comes to the war on terror in general. But the timing here of releasing this information bothers me a little bit.
All right. But Steve Emerson, thanks a lot. As always, appreciate your...
ABRAMS: ... insights.
Before we go, tomorrow I‘ll be here for day two of the Scott Peterson opening statements when the defense gets to present its opening statements to jurors. What to expect.
SCOTT PETERSON, CHARGED WITH MURDERING HIS WIFE: I had absolutely nothing to do with Laci‘s disappearance.
ABRAMS (voice-over): The defense will likely argue that someone else abducted Laci from near their home. That the police may have lied, at the least, ignored other leads including a burglary across the street from the Peterson home. Numerous witnesses reported seeing a suspicious brown van in the neighborhood that morning.
But NBC News has learned the defense will also focus on at least three witnesses who reported seeing a white van with chipped paint, a wooden rack, and tinted windows. One saw it near the Peterson driveway. Another claimed to have spotted it speeding less than a mile from the Peterson home, a woman‘s coat hanging from the door.
And around that same time, in that same area, another witness claims to have seen a pregnant woman walking her dog with two men, one of whom was yelling at her. Others reported seeing Laci or someone who looked like her walking in the neighborhood after 9:30 a.m., the time Scott Peterson says he left the home.
MARK GERAGOS, SCOTT PETERSON‘S ATTORNEY: It‘s our fervent hope to find the actual perpetrators.
ABRAMS: Maybe the strongest evidence for the defense, an autopsy photo of the baby, found with plastic tape knotted around his neck, as seen in this graphic recreation. The defense expected to suggest the baby was likely born alive and then killed, as opposed to dying inside Laci‘s body as prosecutors will argue.
ABRAMS: And we will be here for day two tomorrow.
Now a programming note for this weekend. You‘ve got to be here. MSNBC is going to have special coverage of D-Day all weekend long. Lester Holt is going to take a look at how NBC would have covered Normandy. We‘re going to have a special program on Saturday.
Coming up next, “HARDBALL”. Thanks for watching.
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