Guests: Dean Johnson, Mercedes Colwin, William Fallon, Bud Welch
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, day seven in the Scott Peterson murder trial. One of the first police officers to begin the search for Laci Peterson says he knew something was wrong as soon as he arrived at the Peterson home.
Plus, a jury decides whether Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols will live or die. We‘ll talk with a man whose daughter died in the bombing but testified for the defense, saying Nichols‘ life should be spared.
The program about justice starts now.
First up on the docket tonight, day seven in the trial of Scott Peterson, accused of killing his pregnant wife, Laci.
We should tell you we‘re keeping an eye on President Bush‘s activities right there. As soon as he gets off of Air Force One, we certainly will have coverage, and of course MSNBC will continue our coverage of President Reagan and the ceremonies beginning at about 6:30 or so Eastern time tonight.
But today, one of the first police officers to respond on Christmas Eve 2002 when Laci was first reported missing testified. The officer said he immediately put a detective on the case, an unusual step that early on in a missing persons case.
Also, Scott and Laci‘s neighbor Susan Medina (ph) testified. Her house was robbed sometime between December 24 and December 26. Exactly when is a crucial point. The defense says it happened on December 24, the same day Laci was reported missing, and they say it might be connected to Laci‘s disappearance. While the prosecution says it was two days later on December 26, that they caught those responsible, and it has nothing to do with Laci‘s disappearance.
Now remember, one of the keys to the case for the defense, the defense says that there were people who claimed to have seen Laci on the 24th, around the same time a witness claims she saw a house being robbed in the neighborhood. The defense says if Laci was seen after 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning, Scott Peterson didn‘t do it, because he had already left the house.
Let‘s get the latest from the courthouse and MSNBC‘s Jennifer London.
JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dan.
The first law enforcement officer to take the stand, Byron Derfield (ph), painted a picture of the Peterson home on 12/24/02. He describes the scene at the house as chaotic and emotional. He says he was there with three other officers, who were going in and out of the house with Scott Peterson. He says based on a conversation that he had with those officers after they came out of the house, he decided to immediately put a detective on the case, saying he felt the situation was unusual.
Now, he also testified that during this time, when he was out on the lawn area, the place, as I said, chaotic, family members arriving, friends arriving, people constantly bombarding him with questions. He says never once when he was there did Scott Peterson ever approach him and ask him anything.
And we also heard from a postman who was on his usual postal route on 12/24/02. He says he didn‘t see anything out of the ordinary in the neighborhood. And he also told us a little bit more about the Petersons‘ dog, McKenzie, saying while this dog is not aggressive, the dog is certainly protective, it guards its territory, and it does bark when someone approaches the house.
And Dan, we heard from Kemple, from Harvey Kemple yesterday saying the same thing about this dog, saying this is a protective dog, and it knows me, and when I would show up, it would bark at me as well.
ABRAMS: All right. Jennifer London, thank you very much for that report.
A total of 24 witnesses have taken the stand for the prosecution so far, including Laci‘s immediate family.
Let‘s bring in our legal team, criminal defense attorney Mercedes Colwin, former prosecutor Bill Fallon, and, in the courtroom today...
Hang on a second. Before we go to our guests, let‘s just go take a
look here. This is the president coming off of Air Force One. Can we go -
· there we go. The president and Mrs. Bush, you see them getting off of Air Force One, coming back to Washington. They are expected to head straight to the Capitol to pay respects to former president Reagan, his body there lying in state at the Capitol.
And the president expected to visit with Nancy Reagan, who is staying across the street at the Blair House, which is a guest house that many guests of the White House often stay in, the president expected to pay a visit to Nancy Reagan as well.
We should say that MSNBC will be bringing you live coverage as the president heads over there, special edition of “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time today, and so that will happen.
It‘s going to take them about 20 minutes or so to get over there.
All right. Let me—I apologize for interrupting. Let me—we were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- we had introduced Mercedes, we‘d introduced Bill Fallon and Dean Johnson.
All right. So we‘ve got this police officer, Dean, coming in and saying, you know, right away he suspected that there was something awry in the house. You‘ve got the neighbor whose house was robbed. The neighbor‘s house was robbed is a crucial, crucial issue, is it not, Dean?
DEAN JOHNSON, FORMER SAN MATEO COUNTY PROSECUTOR: Yes, it really is. What the defense has been hinting at is that they want to connect up the burglary at the Medina house, which is right next to the Peterson house, with the—their—what they think is an abduction of Laci Peterson.
And there is something of a timeline there. The Medinas leave about 10:33 in the morning. About 10:38, some of the other neighbors are awakened by a disturbance, which they say included McKenzie barking.
The problem with that is that the prosecution put on a—what seems to be a very credible witness, Karen Servas (ph), who said that she found McKenzie walking down the street, the dog, with his muddy leash at 10:18, which would suggest that if there were an abduction, it had to occur sometime prior to that time.
So really what we‘re talking about here and what we‘ve been battling about for the last several days is a 20-minute time gap between 10:18 and 10:33.
ABRAMS: Well, and Mercedes Colwin, if the prosecutors would say, if they would say, look, we‘ve got a phone record of Scott Peterson from 10:08, making a phone call from the Modesto area, and that 10:18, and remember, Karen Servas went back and timed everything. She had a receipt from the store, she knew how long it had taken her to leave her house, she went back to her house, did the same circle around the parking lot that she‘d done before, the same backing out, and that‘s how she came up with the 10:18 time.
So basically, the prosecutors are saying, so in that 10 minutes from the time that Scott Peterson left the Modesto area till 10:18 when the dog is found, Laci Peterson is able to change her clothes, stop mopping the floor, get ready for a walk with the dog, and get abducted.
MERCEDES COLWIN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It‘s certainly problematic, it would—if you look at all, at that time frame. And I think that what‘s going to end up happening, and I think the noose is tightening under Scott‘s neck, is that he‘s going to have to take the stand at some point, or at least that‘s what the defense is going to be faced with in terms of a quandary later on during the trial, for him to explain his whereabouts, because he initially said he had left the house at a quarter—at about quarter of 10, thereabouts, which would explain the time (UNINTELLIGIBLE) frame that he‘s still in that area as he‘s departing to go for his fishing trip.
So I think that the time element is critical, but there are so many things that can happen. I mean, we‘re putting in a lot of—we‘re trying to put in an analysis of the case that perhaps it doesn‘t fit squarely within these parameters. And that‘s where the jury will...
COLWIN: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and say...
ABRAMS: All right, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
COLWIN: ... Well, may, we can understand this can all happen.
ABRAMS: I apologize for interrupting you, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I‘m running out of time.
Bill Fallon, you have to admit, though, on the other side that it‘s pretty odd that there was a random burglary right around the same time Laci disappears, be it that day or within a day or so, of a house right in the same neighborhood, in an area that‘s, you know, not exactly a super-high-crime neighborhood.
WILLIAM FALLON, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Right. I want to know where Scott was the next day when he broke in to hide the crime here. I think one of the interesting things is, Dan, that‘s what the defense has to play with, and it‘s a lot to play with.
The prosecution is going to have to go with these smaller people, Kemple, everybody like that, because it seems to me the prosecution has to get up at the end and say, If we had to disprove every theory beyond a reasonable doubt, ladies and gentlemen, it would be time for you to go home.
They‘re going to put a case, a tight case together in certain ways, in small increments, in baby steps. It‘s not good for the prosecution that you have people breaking in. On the other hand, they‘re going to take it back and say, let‘s look at the Scottster, let‘s look at his reaction, let‘s look at his reporting.
My wife missing to those after minutes. Can you imagine saying, My wife missing, not here? And that‘s the way they‘re going to, I think Scott is probably going to have to take the stand, which is going to be very hard.
ABRAMS: No way. In the words of Bill Fallon, Scottster, I‘ve never (UNINTELLIGIBLE) heard him referred to as Scottster. Scottster will never...
COLWIN: Yes, but you...
ABRAMS: ... will not take the stand no matter what. We‘ll talk about it.
COLWIN: Dan, Dan, one of the...
ABRAMS: I‘ll give you one more chance in a minute. I got to take a break. I‘m sorry, we‘ve got all this stuff with President Bush happening, which is delaying us a little bit.
Stay with us. We come back. Why one witness said Scott Peterson seemed more concerned about, quote, “burning his chicken” than his wife‘s disappearance.
Your e-mails, email@example.com. I‘ll respond at the end of the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARVEY KEMPLE, LACI PETERSON RELATIVE: It‘s the truth, the man was more upset about his burnt chicken than even thinking about finding his wife.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Harvey Kemple, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reiterating to reporters what he told the jury yesterday, that Scott Peterson seemed more upset at a burning piece of chicken at a family barbecue than when his wife went missing. Kemple became so suspicious of Peterson, he even followed him on two occasions after Peterson said he was going to go help with the search efforts.
Once, after Peterson told him he was going to hang up missing posters, Kemple said Peterson sat in his truck for 45 minutes. Another time, according to Kemple, Peterson went to the Del Rio Golf and Country Club instead.
But maybe most important, Kemple says Peterson told him he went golfing on Christmas Eve. Two other witnesses offering similar testimony, that Peterson said he went golfing, not fishing. Two key points for the prosecution that Peterson behaved in a bizarre fashion after his wife went missing and that he allegedly told lies.
Let‘s bring our legal team back in. Dean Johnson, this to me I think again is one of the real important points here, and that is the idea that Scott Peterson is telling some people he went golfing, other people he went fishing.
JOHNSON: Well, yes. And there‘s been a lot of that all this week. Harvey Kemple, the witness who talked about the barbecued chicken, said that he was real clear that Scott said he was golfing, the across the street neighbor said that Scott told them the same thing.
The jury really resonated well with Harvey Kemple, who said, You know, he was more concerned with that burned chicken than he was with his wife.
All of that are very dramatic points. I‘m not sure that they‘re going to be the most important points ultimately. As we pointed out before, in the last day and a half, the prosecution has started to develop a timeline that‘s going to take this—the way they‘re going is, they‘re going to take this murder back to the wee hours of the morning of 12/24, when Scott and Laci were alone at home. And that‘s...
ABRAMS: But Bill...
JOHNSON: ... that‘s what‘s really going (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
ABRAMS: ... Bill, if they believe that Scott Peterson said he was going to put up posters, et cetera, and instead goes golfing, that seems to me something prettily, pretty easily understandable.
FALLON: No. I don‘t think it‘s easily understandable. What it is here, Dan...
ABRAMS: I mean to jurors. I mean to jurors.
FALLON: Well, you mean, you mean, as a sign of his guilt? Do you think they‘re going to feel bad for this guy?
ABRAMS: Yes, I think it‘s bad for him, is my point is that...
FALLON: No, yes, it‘s pathetic. And I think that this guy, you know, everywhere so used to hearing about CSI and what you‘re going to have to prove, and that‘s what the defense is going to prove, this is not a CSI case. They‘re going to prove a Columbo case. Kemple‘s going to be the Columbo guy. And I am telling you it‘s that type of witness that the jury thinks resonates, because what they say is, I‘m putting myself there, something stinks there, Kemple smelled it, and he conveyed that stench.
ABRAMS: Mercedes, go ahead.
COLWIN: ... those might be good points. But Dan, seriously, this is a family member. He feels deceived, he feels angered. Here we‘re thinking that this is a good family man, and then we find out that he‘s been having an affair. It‘s that reaction, it‘s that anger. They‘re revisiting all of these events and starting to put a spin on it.
That‘s what I would do if I were the defense counsel. I would say, Of course he‘s biased, of course he‘s angry. But you know what? There was a witness who was, who gave a huge boon to the defense. She said everybody has been talking about how Scott Peterson was unemotional, that the tears weren‘t flowing, that he wasn‘t upset. But I thought he was in a state of shock.
And that‘s what one of the neighbors said. So what, however you want to slice it...
COLWIN: ... his family members are going to—her family members are going to come forward and be extraordinarily upset, and I think the jurors can see through it.
ABRAMS: All right. I got to...
JOHNSON: Yes, Merce, Mercedes...
ABRAMS: ... I got to wrap it up, I‘m sorry, Dean.
JOHNSON: That‘s no problem, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
ABRAMS: All right, I apologize to all of you. I want to spend more time on this, particularly rushed show, we‘ve got an abbreviated program today. Thanks a lot to all of you, Mercedes, Dean, and Bill.
COLWIN: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Appreciate it.
ABRAMS: Coming up, his daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, but Bud Welch testified for convicted bomber Terry Nichols, saying he should not get the death penalty. We‘ll talk with Mr. Welch when we come back.
ABRAMS: We‘re back.
Jurors are deliberating whether to sentence Terry Nichols to death in his role in the Oklahoma City bombing. They began deliberating yesterday. This Oklahoma jury took just five hours to convict him on 161 state counts of first-degree murder last month.
Now, Nichols is already serving a life sentence without possibility for parole after being convicted by a federal jury a few years back of manslaughter and conspiracy. The defense had some very persuasive witnesses arguing against the death penalty, including some victims‘ family members.
Bud Welch lost his daughter Julie Marie Welch in the blast, and he testified on Nichols‘ behalf on Tuesday. He joins us now.
Mr. Welch, thanks a lot for taking the time. We really appreciate it.
BUD WELCH, DAUGHTER KILLED IN BOMBING: Sure. Thanks for having me.
ABRAMS: So tell us why you decided to testify for the defense.
WELCH: Well, I‘ve always opposed the death penalty, with the exception of the first year after the bombing. And I let my revenge and hate push me to the point to where I wanted the death penalty for a year. And then after that, I was able to start really working through things, reconciling things, and recognized that the day we would take Tim McVeigh or Terry Nichols from their cage to kill them was not part of my healing process.
And I learned after that first year that when you‘re carrying this vengeance and hate, you can‘t go through the healing process. And that‘s why I testified against the death penalty, because I think that to kill someone else is nothing—it‘s really nothing but politics, it‘s—you know, we had a huge staged political event that happened in Terre Haute, Indiana, that Monday morning on June 11, 2001, when we took Tim McVeigh from his cage at 7:00 a.m. and we killed him.
ABRAMS: Were other family members upset at you, angry at you for doing this?
WELCH: Oh, I think there‘s probably only maybe a half dozen. And unfortunately, there‘s probably some of them that will—it‘s sad, but they‘ll probably take this vengeance to their grave.
ABRAMS: And the vengeance, you mean towards Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, or towards you?
WELCH: No, no, no, toward Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
ABRAMS: And what exactly did you say to the jurors? I mean, did you say exactly what you just said to me...
ABRAMS: ... or how did you phrase it to the jurors in terms of asking them not to impose the death penalty?
WELCH: Well, I could not ask them that. I had to submit a—pages of what I was going to read, I had to read it, and that was cut twice. It started out at nine pages and ended up at five. I could not say anything about the death penalty.
I at one point wanted to tell Terry Nichols that I had forgiven him, and the prosecution wouldn‘t allow that in either. They did allow me to say that I finally reached the point to where I could forgive, but I could not mention a name. And what I learned when I did finally forgive was, it was myself that I released. It was not for them.
ABRAMS: When you say that you‘ve forgiven him, I mean, it must be hard to say that you forgive someone who is responsible for a blast that killed your daughter.
WELCH: It is hard, and it took about five and a half years to even reach that point. And there‘s sometimes that I‘ll have that little moment of rage that will hit me, where I‘ll see something, maybe I‘ll be speaking at a college or a university, and I‘ll see a young woman that reminds me of Julie. And sometimes I get that rage in me just for a few seconds.
And that doesn‘t happen very often anymore, and thank God it doesn‘t, because you have a horrible feeling with that happens to you.
ABRAMS: Bud Welch, good luck in the continuing healing process, and thank you very much for taking the time to come on the program.
WELCH: Sure. You‘re welcome. Thanks for having me.
ABRAMS: That is going to wrap it up for us on this abbreviated edition of the program. We‘re back tomorrow for the full hour.
Up next, a special edition of “HARDBALL.” President Bush expected to pay his respects to former president Ronald Reagan on Capitol Hill in just a few minutes.
Thanks for watching. See you tomorrow.
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