Guest: Charles Babington, Doug Waller, Mark Lanier, Andy Birchfield, Victor Schwartz, Ronnie Wilbon, Vernell Crittendon, Daniel Horowitz
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, Senate Republicans end the controversy and clear the way for Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to become chairman of the powerful Senate committee that will review the president‘s judicial choices.
ABRAMS (voice-over): Specter came under fire from some on the right after he made a post-election comment suggesting that anti-abortion judges would have a hard time gaining Senate confirmation. Now will he have to cater to his critics or will he take them on?
And when it burst onto the marketplace, the makers of the painkiller Vioxx promised the drug would change the way people live their lives, but then news that it could cause serious heart trouble. They pulled it off the shelves. The lawyers have been lining up to sue ever since. Today the battle went to Capitol Hill.
Plus, we take you inside two of the prisons where Scott Peterson may serve time. One, San Quentin, where he would sit on death row, another where he would serve life. What will prison life be like for him? We take a look and talk to a former inmate.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everybody. First up on the docket: After weeks of controversy, Senator Arlen Specter is in as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. You would think his post-election comments wouldn‘t have been that newsworthy. After all, everyone knew the Republican was a moderate, pro-choice, had voted against some of the most conservative nominees, but when he said this about judges who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, he put his shoe-in position in jeopardy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA: When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose and overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Some took it as a warning to President Bush striking a raw nerve among anti-abortion conservatives, but today a very different Arlen Specter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: I have assured the president that I will give his nominees quick committee hearings and early committee votes so floor action could be promptly scheduled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Senator says he felt no pressure to make these comments. All nine judiciary Republicans agreed to stand behind Specter in next January‘s vote.
“My Take”—Senator Specter never should have been targeted for reflecting the realities of the Senate, that there are 44 Democrats, one independent, and enough to filibuster and prevent votes on certain nominees. I hope that the usually feisty and independent Specter does not now feel so browbeaten that he cannot critically evaluate some of the more controversial nominees.
Joining me now, Charles Babington, congressional reporter for “The Washington Post” and Doug Waller, a senior correspondent for “TIME” magazine and the author of “A Question of Loyalty: General Billy Mitchell and the Court-Martial That Gripped the Nation”. Gentlemen thanks very much for coming on the program.
Mr. Babington, let me start with you. Is the general sentiment now that Specter is going to act differently than he might have before all this controversy?
CHARLES BABINGTON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: That‘s the big question, Dan. At the press conference that you just played a clip from, he really tried to word it very carefully and he kept insisting that he is not saying anything now that he hadn‘t said before. I don‘t have a litmus test. I‘ll try to be helpful to the president, but as you pointed out, Specter has been a pro-choice moderate Republican his whole life. That hasn‘t changed and it‘s interesting that President Bush and Rick Santorum, the other senator who is pro-life from Pennsylvania campaigned very hard for him this year.
ABRAMS: Mr. Waller, is this going to mean that the chairman of the Judiciary Committee is now going to feel forced to rubberstamp the president‘s nominees in a way he might not have beforehand?
DOUG WALLER, “TIME” MAGAZINE: Well maybe rubberstamped is a little too strong a word, but I think the White House and the Republican leadership in the Senate believe that they have Senator Specter pretty well boxed in right now and he is not going to make any trouble for them. And I think that was one of the reasons the Republican leadership privately did not want to see Specter deny the chairmanship because if he was on the outside, they worried that he would start siding more with the Democrats.
ABRAMS: Yes. Can he be removed? How do the rules work in terms of once you get the chairmanship, can they say after one nominee who Specter causes some trouble with, could they say, fine, we don‘t want you as chairman anymore.
WALLER: Well what they can do is every two years he is up for another vote as chairman every time there‘s a new Congress. So if he makes trouble for him over the next two years, Senator Specter knows full well that he faces another vote within his committee and he could be voted off as chairman.
ABRAMS: Mr. Babington, listen to this piece of sound. This is Senator Specter on my show last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: I learned a long time ago, Dan, that if you want to get something done in Washington, you have to be willing to cross party lines from time to time. It got me in a lot of trouble on my primary, but I went to bat for both of these very conservative court of appeals judges at a time when all of the court of appeals nominees were being filibustered and rejected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: So it seems pretty clear that he is—he was trying to demonstrate when he came on the show at that time, he‘s been trying to demonstrate since then that he has got his good, solid conservative credentials. Why don‘t you explain to us the power of the Senate judiciary chairman? I mean what actually can the person do or not do?
BABINGTON: Well, as any committee chairman can do, he sets the agenda, who will be witnesses, when they will take up certain issues at certain times. Right, he can‘t veto. Everybody on the committee does get a vote, but he has a lot of power to set the agenda, the timing and that sort of thing. And as you noted, you know, we‘re probably going to have more than one Supreme Court justice nominee come up during this next four years or so. That‘s really going to put him in the spotlight.
So I think one other thing, Dan, that I would mention is, you know, something else that‘s going on here is that there are other senators who have a chance to be chairman some day of other committees and they don‘t want to upset the tradition of letting the senior most member step up. So that was going on, too. They weren‘t looking out just for Arlen Specter, but for themselves down the road.
ABRAMS: As you point out, of course, there were conservatives who campaigned against Specter. This was a very hard-fought primary that Specter was involved in, in Pennsylvania, but I am still, I have to say, stunned at the way certain senators have literally had to apologize to their constituents. Here‘s Lindsey Graham talking to his constituents about the decision to support Specter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: To the people who doubt that and who are upset with my support of him, I take responsibility for my actions. I understand that you‘re upset. Judge us by what we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: It‘s really that bad, Mr. Waller? I mean to the point where Lindsey Graham, who I have to say has been on this show many times, who I like and respect, has to effectively apologize to his constituents for supporting a Republican to chair the Judiciary Committee?
WALLER: Well, you‘ve got to set the scene here. The member of the Judiciary Committee, the Republican members, and other Republican senators, particularly senators in the leadership were getting hundreds and hundreds of phone calls—I think in some cases numbered in the thousands—from folks angry about what Senator Specter said. Now, a lot of—most of these calls were generated by conservative groups. But they were the kind of conservative groups that rattle a lot of cages, particularly in Republican circles.
ABRAMS: Let me ask you this final question Mr. Waller. Will you be surprised if Arlen Specter opposes any of President Bush‘s Supreme Court nominees?
WALLER: I would be very surprised at this point. Senator Specter wants to stay judiciary—as a Judiciary Committee chairman for six years, which is the limit he can serve on that...
WALLER: ... and he knows he is not going to stay six years if he makes trouble for this White House.
ABRAMS: Mr. Babington, do you agree?
BABINGTON: I do agree. I‘d be surprised—if he opposes them, that doesn‘t mean that there won‘t be filibusters once it gets to the full Senate.
ABRAMS: All right. Charles Babington and Doug Waller, thanks a lot for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today in 2004, we are faced with what may be the single greatest drug safety catastrophe in the history of this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: The lawyers are lining up to sue Merck over its arthritis drug Vioxx pulled from the market after it was linked to fatal heart problems. The battle moved to Congress today where now other drugs are being discussed as possible danger. Question: Are the lawsuits going to put the pharmaceutical companies out of business?
And a year ago today authorities raided Michael Jackson‘s Neverland ranch. Now for the first time, we are going to give you a look inside. We‘ve got the photos.
Scott Peterson could end up here, California‘s notorious San Quentin prison. What would that be like? A former inmate tells us.
Your e-mails email@example.com. Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.
The program about justice continues in a moment.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the arthritis drug Vioxx, studies said it causes heart attacks. Now the lawyers are lining up to sue the makers of Vioxx. Today the battle went to Capitol Hill. But the question, are the lawsuits going to bankrupt these pharmaceutical companies? Coming up.
ABRAMS: When Merck Pharmaceutical‘s painkilling drug Vioxx went on the market in 1999, it was marketed to millions suffering from arthritis and other ailments. Painkiller that does not cause the sort of stomach problems that can come from regular use of drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin.
Less than a year later, a study indicated that Vioxx could be responsible for heart attacks and strokes. Almost immediately, though the ads were everywhere. Have you or a loved one taken Vioxx? You may be entitled to money damages, the law firm of Shyster and Chaser, whatever, can help you.
And it may extend beyond Vioxx. At a Senate hearing today, a top scientist with the Food and Drug Administration said his agency was—quote—“incapable of protecting America and warned of problems with five other drugs on the market.”
Before we talk about all this craziness with the lawsuit, NBC‘s Tracie Potts has today‘s story.
RAYMOND GILMARTIN, MERCK CEO: I believed wholeheartedly in Vioxx. In fact, my wife was taking Vioxx—using Vioxx up until the day we withdrew it from the market.
TRACIE POTTS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The recall was two months ago. Today FDA scientist Dr. David Graham claims he tried to warn the agency that the painkiller Vioxx doubled the risk of heart attack. But he says managers pressured him to change his conclusions.
DR. DAVID GRAHAM, FDA DRUG REVIEWER: I thought that if I didn‘t there would be no way on earth that that data would see the light of day. That‘s the honest truth.
POTTS: An FDA spokeswoman admits there were concerns and drug maker Merck took too long, two years, to get that information out to doctors. But she says the benefits outweighed the risk.
DR. SANDRA KWEDER, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FDA: It is not unusual when a drug goes on the market to have ongoing concerns about a particular aspect of its safety.
POTTS: Now Graham, the FDA scientist, names five more drugs he believes need further review. The painkiller Bextra, the weight-loss drug Meridia, Crestor for lowering cholesterol, Serevent for asthma, and Accutane, the acne drug that‘s been linked to birth defects. The FDA responds.
KWEDER: I do not have reason to believe that that set of five drugs is specifically more concerning than any other drugs that we review.
POTTS: Congress is investigating whether the office that approves drugs is, as one senator put it, too cozy with drug manufacturers and whether that relationship is affecting millions of patients.
Tracie Potts, NBC News, Washington.
ABRAMS: As for the battle between Merck and attorneys across the country now preparing to sue the firm on behalf of millions who feel they‘ve suffered from using Vioxx.
“My Take”—I‘ve said it before and I‘ll say it again, these lawsuits are going to bankrupt or at least decimate the pharmaceutical companies while lining the pockets of a handful of victims and of course the lawyers with astronomical pain and suffering awards that have nothing to do with medical costs or living expenses of the victims.
This race to the courthouse is I believe an embarrassment to the legal profession, but not everyone agrees with me. Mark Lanier is a plaintiff attorney who is representing 260 plaintiffs against Merck right now. He‘s won major verdicts in cases involving asbestos and medical syringes.
Andy Birchfield is also a plaintiff attorney whose firm has litigated against a number of pharmaceutical firms and Victor Schwartz is a product liability attorney who was referred to our show by Merck. He‘s not representing Merck, but he‘s been retained by the financial services firm Morgan Stanley regarding this Vioxx case.
All right, gentlemen, thank you very much for coming on the program. Mr. Lanier, let me start with you. The drug has been pulled. The company suffered. They should pay damages...
MARK LANIER, PLAINTIFF‘S ATTORNEY: Absolutely.
ABRAMS: ... if it can be demonstrated that they knew—we agree—if they can show they knew or should have known about the dangers, but am I really wrong that this lawsuit and the ones to come seeking millions in damages, pain and suffering damages, that those are just bad for the rest of us?
LANIER: No, absolutely not. They are actually quite good. What they do is they provide the incentive and the motivation for drug companies to be open and honest and that‘s something, Dan, that you rely on. That‘s something I rely on. That‘s something every American ought to rely on.
ABRAMS: But isn‘t what we‘ve seen already—you‘re saying that what we‘ve seen already is not going to provide an incentive or a motivation to Merck or other companies not to do something. They need more. They need huge pain and suffering damages to go to individuals, not to state, not a fund, but to individuals so that they can be taught this lesson.
LANIER: They need the threat of that. You‘ll actually find based on the studies in the judicial system there aren‘t that many huge pain and suffering awards that go out there against the pharmaceutical company, but the threat will help motivate.
ABRAMS: Yes. Well I think there are going to be. I think this is the beginning of a very dangerous chapter. Mr. Birchfield, what do you make of that? And let‘s stick to issue of pain and suffering here because, you know, I see—the minute I saw the Vioxx problem come, literally within hours there were Internet ads all over the place. Need a lawyer, need a lawyer, need a lawyer. We‘re ready to sue Vioxx. I think that‘s an embarrassment to the legal system.
ANDY BIRCHFIELD, PLAINTIFF‘S ATTORNEY: OK. Well that may be distasteful to see some of the ads, and I won‘t dispute that, but one thing that you have to keep in mind is that there were tens of thousands of people—we heard testimony today in a Senate hearing—tens of thousands, anywhere from 27,000 to 56,000 deaths as a result of this pain reliever that was pushed by Merck in an incredibly aggressive marketing campaign. To say that victims do not have a right to, you know, to have their day in court and expose the actions of Merck, their conduct. We heard today about how Merck knew before this drug went on the market of the risk of cardiovascular events. We heard of early warning signs that went unheeded.
ABRAMS: No one is talking about not giving them their day in court, though. The question is, again, I am trying to focus on this issue of pain and suffering damages. If they suffered a particular amount and they can demonstrate they lost X amount of income or their family did, et cetera, and it can be shown that Merck knew or should have known there were problems, I‘m all for it.
No one is talking about denying them their day in court, but I see this and we hear about these five other drugs—we can put up number 10 here—five other drugs that they are talking about today that could be problems. I see this as the beginning of a national disaster when it comes to pharmaceutical companies and what they are going to be able to do.
BIRCHFIELD: Well it is a national disaster, but it‘s not because of the lawsuits. It‘s because we have allowed bad drugs to be on the market.
We have weakened the FDA that, you know, that should be the watchdog for
public health. We‘ve weakened them to the point and allowed them to
develop a cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical companies that allow
bad drugs on the market in the first place and to stay on the market, you
know, far too long. The national catastrophe is the damage that‘s caused
by these bad drugs. It‘s not by the lawsuits.
BIRCHFIELD: You are wrong on one thing, Dan.
ABRAMS: Yes, go ahead.
BIRCHFIELD: The—when you say that no one is talking about not giving the patients or the victims their day in court, that‘s wrong. There is a movement afoot even by the FDA in the past to prevent plaintiffs from having their day in court on the bad drugs and legislation is pending in Congress.
ABRAMS: They would still want them to get payment though. No one is suggesting that they are entitled to nothing. The question is how to deal with the amount that they will get and they‘re trying to figure out ways to avoid the sort of astronomical verdicts that I think we may see in this case, Mr. Schwartz. Go ahead. Chime in on this.
VICTOR SCHWARTZ, PRODUCT LIABILITY ATTORNEY: That is absolutely true. In one case in Texas, $100 million was given in pain and suffering—a $1 billion verdict with one case. If you give that to everybody, there aren‘t going to be pharmaceutical companies...
ABRAMS: But you know, the appeals courts always come in and they reduce these verdicts all the time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely...
ABRAMS: Let me let Mr. Schwartz...
ABRAMS: Hang on. Let me let Mr. Schwartz...
SCHWARTZ: Dan, as you know, there are appeal bond requirements in a lot of states. People can‘t take appeals because they can‘t afford the appeal bonds. And I should say in this instance how much misinformation comes out in lawyer advertising; it‘s a propaganda machine. Merck withdrew this product from the market.
Knowledgeable plaintiff lawyers have told me that if they had simply put a stronger warning on it, which they could, there never would have been this lawsuit fest. It was the action of withdrawal that led to the lawsuits. So what does that say for behavior?
Hey, just slap another warning on it and we won‘t have a ton of lawsuits—absolutely the wrong signal. The CEO pulled the drug from the market as soon as they had a test that actually showed harm. And they told the FDA what they were doing. The FDA is a regulator. If there is a problem with the FDA, go after it, but...
LANIER: No, with due respect, that is dead wrong.
SCHWARTZ: Who is saying dead wrong?
LANIER: Lanier. Lanier. It‘s dead wrong.
SCHWARTZ: What‘s dead wrong?
LANIER: Multiple points. Number one, in Texas, for example, where the Fen-Phen verdict was that you were talking about the appeal bond never is large. We have laws that keep the appeal bond being—from being too large.
Number two, the history—and Dan, this is what I‘d urge you to consider—the history of litigation in America has not changed. There have not been caps and drug companies have not been put out of business, but what‘s happened with this Merck case, and this is the key, Merck knew over two years ago. I had 250 lawsuits on file before they pulled the drug, before this frenzy.
LANIER: I deposed Merck...
SCHWARTZ: I‘m glad you agree there‘s a frenzy because there absolutely is...
LANIER: No question...
SCHWARTZ: ... when the drug was pulled. And you know that stocks drop when there‘s $1-billion award. People who own these stocks lose millions and billions of dollars and the fact is that the FDA got every piece of information there were...
LANIER: Never, never, never...
LANIER: ... didn‘t happen.
SCHWARTZ: This is not like some of your other clients with your better lawsuits. You have some better ones...
SCHWARTZ: ... where people kept stuff from the FDA.
LANIER: Never. In this case the FDA wrote a letter to Merck in 2001 and said change the warning and Merck ignored it.
ABRAMS: Mr. Lanier, this is a topic that I think is both important and interesting enough I‘m going to give it another block. Can we just take a quick break here? Everyone is going to come back, continue this—this is the future of out country, ladies and gentlemen. This is important stuff you are hearing on both sides, so please stick around.
And coming up later, we learned about the investigation into Michael Jackson a year ago today when police raided his Neverland ranch, but not until today do we get our first look at what they found inside.
And even if the jury doesn‘t give Scott Peterson the death penalty, he will have to stop at San Quentin maximum-security prison first. What can he expect? We go inside and talk to a former inmate.
We‘ll have a little bit more on the debate coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: Today in 2004, we are faced with what may be the single greatest drug safety catastrophe in the history of this country. I strongly believe that this should have been and largely could have been avoided, but it wasn‘t. And over 100,000 Americans have paid dearly for this failure. In my opinion, the FDA has let the American people down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Dr. David Graham testifying today talking about not just the Merck drug Vioxx, but a number of other drugs where he and others have said there may be problems. Andy Birchfield, Victor Schwartz, Mark Lanier join us again.
Mr. Birchfield, plaintiff‘s attorney, FDA, OK, you‘ve talked about the FDA a bit. Let‘s assume the FDA is a big problem. Why not focus on the FDA and fixing the FDA and making them make it tougher to get approval rather than focus on filing these lawsuits with these huge pain and suffering damages?
BIRCHFIELD: Well, I think that fixing the FDA is an important step, but it is not the only step. We have to have a viable form for plaintiffs to have their case heard...
BIRCHFIELD: Because you have lives that are devastated here and you mentioned before the break that this is an important national debate. On one side, you have got concern about the stock prices of the drug company and on the other side you have the families of victims here, families that have been...
ABRAMS: No, on one side you have a few, a handful of people...
BIRCHFIELD: No, we‘re not talking about a few here...
ABRAMS: ... sure we are. Comparatively to the number of people who use these drugs, we‘re talking about a few. We‘re talking about a handle of people who have been injured and the lawyers versus the rest of everyone else who uses them. And no one is saying that the people who have been injured shouldn‘t get compensation. I think that‘s misleading to suggest that.
BIRCHFIELD: No, it‘s not misleading because what you have right now and you are not talking about a few, you are talking about 27 to 56,000 deaths -- 160 heart attacks and strokes. To say that is a few is quite disturbing.
BIRCHFIELD: But you are talking about an effort right now to block plaintiffs from having their day in court. There‘s an adage. Justice delayed is justice denied.
BIRCHFIELD: And there is a bill pending right now in Congress that would allow multiple appeals before you ever get to have your case heard in court.
ABRAMS: Mr. Schwartz, go ahead.
BIRCHFIELD: That is justice delayed.
SCHWARTZ: Dan, you are absolutely right. We don‘t need 50 different FDAs all over the country second-guessing the FDA and you are right, Dan, to separate out the issues. If we need a stronger FDA, let‘s have it. Although, often you hear complaints that the FDA doesn‘t move fast enough with an Aids vaccine, so they are caught in between.
If you have a strong FDA, compensate people for what they have lost. Billion-dollar, multimillion-dollar pain and suffering awards benefit one class of people, and two of them are on your show. I respect them. I used to do that. But that‘s the class that gets benefited, not the people...
ABRAMS: Mr. Lanier, I‘ve got 10 seconds. Final word.
LANIER: Final word, I never thought you‘d be soft on crime. Merck knew it would kill people and refused to warn and they ought to be brought to account for that fully.
ABRAMS: Now Merck should be brought up on criminal charges, too. All right. Well, we will see if that‘s going to happen. I‘ll be surprised. We‘ll watch. Look, depends on what happened.
Mark Lanier, Andy Birchfield and Victor Schwartz, great panel. Thank you all very much for coming on the program.
LANIER: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... need a bullet in the head. Scott Peterson need a bullet in the head.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: California inmates preparing for Scott Peterson‘s arrival. We go inside the prison walls and talk to the lifers. And what will life be like if jurors sentence Peterson to death? We‘re going to talk to a prison official from San Quentin and a former inmate coming up.
ABRAMS: Coming up, death penalty or not, Scott Peterson is headed to the big house for a very long time—for life. We go inside two California prisons where he could spend that time and talk with a man who served time in one of them, first the headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARON ROCHA, LACI PETERSON‘S MOTHER: I can only hope that the sound of Laci‘s voice begging for her life and begging for the life of her unborn child is heard over and over and over again in the mind of that person every day for the rest of his life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: For 19 months Scott Peterson has been in jail with plenty of time for Sharon Rocha‘s words to ring through his head. And last week jurors, you know, convicted him of two counts of murder. The decision means he‘s going to spend the rest of his natural born days in prison one way or another.
So what his life will be like inside the walls of a California state prison? It all depends on the sentence, life versus death. Our friend KCRA reporter Edie Lambert went behind the prison walls to show us the reality of both. First, her story about what a life sentence would mean.
EDIE LAMBERT, KCRA REPORTER (voice-over): The prosecutors who argued that Scott Peterson is guilty of murder said his motivation for freedom from responsibility. Now a convicted murderer, unless he can successfully appeal, Peterson will never be free again. And here‘s what the men who could be his new neighbors are already saying about him.
LIEUTENANT, CA STATE PRISON INMATE: Need a bullet in the head. Scott Peterson need a bullet in the head.
AARON “J-DOG” BURRIS, CA STATE PRISON INMATE: Somebody going to start tripping off of him, you know, well he‘s in there for this, and he‘s going to end up with some steel in him and he‘s going to die, you know...
LAMBERT: Why is that? Why would they want to kill someone like Scott Peterson?
BURRIS: He killed a baby. He killed a little kid, you know. That‘s something in here that I mean even though, you know, we are all criminals and this and that. You don‘t touch no kids.
MARCUS COTTON, CA STATE PRISON INMATE: Guys like that wouldn‘t last here...
LAMBERT: What would happen to him?
COTTON: Anything can happen.
LAMBERT: For that reason, while state prisons are designed to protect us from criminals, they are also set up to protect some criminals from each other. As a lifer, Peterson will be locked up in a maximum-security prison, but his notoriety likely means he will be considered a special needs inmate, protected from the general prison population.
This is the special needs yard to protect men like “J-Dog” who dropped out of a gang after he was convicted of murder. He believes Peterson would be safer here.
BURRIS: He‘d be all right because it‘s kickback time. Nobody cares. I don‘t care what anybody on this yard is for. I don‘t care what they‘re here in prison for. I‘m here to do my time.
LAMBERT: The cells are the same here as the rest of the prison.
Small, dark, and shared by two men.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see the double bunks here. There is a desk that they‘ll share. There is a locker for each inmate.
LAMBERT: Inmates spend as many as 21 hours a day in their cells with a few perks like TV and snack food if they can afford it. Most have low-paying prison jobs. Prison officials say life for a man who wanted his freedom will not be easy, but they will make sure it‘s at least safe.
LT. FRED SCHROEDER, CA STATE PRISON: Get along and survive in a system like ours, but I‘m confident that the department has the means to protect him from others as we employ every day here.
ABRAMS: That was KCRA‘s Eddie Lambert reporting. Joining me now to talk more about what this could like for Scott Peterson, a man who has worked at San Quentin Prison for almost three decades, Public Information Officer Vernell Crittendon, and former California State prison inmate Ronnie Wilbon, criminal defense attorney Daniel Horowitz.
All right. Mr. Wilbon, let me start with you. I mean I know you served time in San Quentin. It seems pretty clear he‘s going to have to go through San Quentin one way or another. How do you think Scott Peterson would fare at San Quentin?
RONNIE WILBON, FORMER SAN QUENTIN INMATE: Well that‘s all going to depend on his placement, the kinds of relationships he‘s going to be able to build with the people that he meets in San Quentin, but irrespective of that, San Quentin is a cage full of predators to a large extent. And it‘s not just the inmates or convicts that I speak of when I say that. You‘ve got guards who also prey on the inmates in California prison systems and the prison systems across this country. Scott Peterson...
ABRAMS: And you think they‘d go after Scott Peterson?
WILBON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. They will—they have ways of
contacting an inmate‘s family, bringing pressure to bear on an inmate‘s
family with respect to the family having some insurance that the inmate is
going to be safe while that person is serving their time in San Quentin or
any other prison. If it‘s a high-profile inmate that‘s serving time, then
there are ways of getting at that person‘s family to bring pressure to bear
· to profit from it and it‘s done all the time.
ABRAMS: Mr. Crittendon, I assume that you view it a little bit differently.
VERNELL CRITTENDON, SAN QUENTIN PRISON: Well first of all, I want to say hello to you Abrams and it‘s nice to be here to talk with your listeners.
ABRAMS: Thank you.
CRITTENDON: The prison system in the state of California is one of the leading systems in their level of professionalism throughout the state. I understand Mr. Wilbon has been in a number of prisons around the country, but here in the state of California, we have one of the most well trained correctional staff. Those issues that were raised by him are not grounded on any fact.
I believe in speaking to Scott Peterson, Scott Peterson is someone that we will be assessing. We have actually committed a great deal of resources to the responsibility of protecting those inmates that may be harmed by others while inside the prison setting. We‘ve committed programs such as you spoke to earlier, our sensitive needs unit, where the inmates will be placed that have these types of concerns.
ABRAMS: Pretty clear he‘d go to one of those, right, just based on his notoriety?
CRITTENDON: Not at all, sir.
CRITTENDON: It really will depend on some case factors. What will be his sentence? If every person that is found guilty of taking a human life, they will go first to a level four prison, one of our maximum-security prisons. The prison that I believe you were looking at earlier is our sensitive needs prison...
CRITTENDON: ... which is a level three, level two prison...
ABRAMS: Let me do this.
CRITTENDON: ... medium security.
ABRAMS: I apologize for interrupting you. Let me just do this very quickly because I want to go—talk about prison—that now you are talking about San Quentin—if Peterson gets the death penalty, he would have to then go to the only prison with a death row in California, San Quentin, so let‘s—here‘s again Edie Lambert.
LAMBERT (voice-over): This is where all California inmates are locked up when they are sentenced to die. San Quentin State Prison houses California‘s only death row and it‘s overcrowded. Six hundred and twenty-nine men are divided into three sections depending in part on how dangerous they are. An inmate like Scott Peterson would likely get some extra protection.
DON HELLER, AUTHOR, “DEATH PENALTY INITIATIVE”: Scott Peterson because he‘s convicted of murdering a baby is at the next to the bottom rung in the prison system among prisoners.
LAMBERT: If Peterson were housed with the better-behaved inmates, he would be allowed to spend many hours a day outside his cell.
TERRY THORNTON, CA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: They associate with each other during yard time, play chess or play cards or go to the yard and you know, walk and exercise.
LAMBERT: He‘d be allowed a special prison TV if he could pay for it, but no computer. And like all inmates, he‘d have unlimited access to research materials for his case. The death penalty itself happens in this chamber. Inmates are killed by a series of poisonous shots.
Sacramento attorney Don Heller wrote California‘s “Death Penalty Initiative”, but he now opposes it in part because he believes it‘s unfairly applied to the poor and minorities, but he points out that in this case, that could work to Peterson‘s advantage.
HELLER: He‘s pretty, white, and middle class, upper middle class. He has an advantage going in for that reason. Statistically, people like Scott Peterson don‘t end up with the death penalty.
ABRAMS: They may not, but Ronnie Wilbon, if that‘s true, he‘s pretty, white, he‘s middle class. If he‘s going to San Quentin, you‘ve been there. How will he be treated?
WILBON: Well, in San Quentin, Scott Peterson will be treated, in my opinion, with some degree of privilege. Given socioeconomic background, the notoriety of his crime, and I would say that—yes, I would venture to say the he would be looked on with some favor as opposed to...
ABRAMS: By the inmates?
WILBON: ... the normal, every day...
ABRAMS: But not by the inmates?
WILBON: Excuse me.
ABRAMS: Not by the inmates.
WILBON: No, not by the inmates.
WILBON: No, by the guards, by the guards...
ABRAMS: What about by the inmates?
WILBON: By the inmates, he would be looked on as something a bit along the category of vermin. He‘s going to be despised by most everyone on the yard for the type of crime that he‘s committed to put himself in San Quentin. He is basically going to be the scourge of the prison yard.
ABRAMS: So let me ask Daniel Horowitz, defense attorney, how do you prepare a client for something like that, someone like Scott Peterson?
DANIEL HOROWITZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Dan, I talk to them a lot about the financial aspect of being locked up. I say look, whatever you do, don‘t take food, drugs, or anything else where you owe money and can‘t pay for it. I say look for the powerful people, the shot callers, and basically straight up make a deal with them to get educated on how to function in this system, what are the rules of the facility, and then just be prepared to pay for protection or fight for it, one way or the other. You have to learn how to get along.
ABRAMS: And let‘s be clear, Mr. Crittendon, this is not your first high-profile or sort of notorious criminal who will have been to San Quentin, so you have faced some of the difficulties that might be associated with a case like this before.
CRITTENDON: Most certainly. And I think contrary to some of the comments that have been made this man will not be treated any different. We have some very, very heinous crimes that have been committed against children and against women such as Richard Ramirez or Ramone Salcido (ph), who sliced the throat of three of his children, two of them dying as a result of it. Richard Allen Davis, who kidnapped Polly Klaas. So there are a number of these individuals that we have at San Quentin on our death row and they are not treated as some special celebrity.
Also, they will be a compatible yard group of men that on death row, I believe, that Scott Peterson may probably fit in with because there are a number of men that meet that same type of criteria of committing these heinous crimes. Charles Ng who was involved in those mass murders, so there are a number of individuals that we have on—of the 629 on death row. And there will be, I believe, space for him as well.
ABRAMS: All right. We shall see what the jury decides. Mr. Crittendon, thank you very much for coming on the program. Ronnie Wilbon and Daniel Horowitz, appreciate your time...
ABRAMS: ... thanks a lot.
CRITTENDON: ... thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, a year ago today, police raided Michael Jackson‘s Neverland ranch. We saw it all unfold from beyond the gates. Now we show you the first pictures from inside.
And as the violent battle for Fallujah begins to come to an end, I ask whether it‘s time to admit that the Geneva Conventions just weren‘t designed for this type of conflict. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. For the first time we get a look inside the raid at Michael Jackson‘s Neverland ranch. This was the scene a year ago today when the Santa Barbara Sheriff‘s Office raided Jackson‘s Neverland ranch, looking for evidence to prove he molested a 13-year-old boy. On the same day, the sheriffs also raided the office of a private investigator who worked for Jackson‘s former attorney Mark Geragos, a raid that‘s been a point of contention for both sides in this case. For the first time, we are getting a look at what they saw inside last year and when they were there in 1993 in these newly released photos.
A Jackson family friend says this picture looks like Jackson‘s family room where the Jacksons relaxed between meals on the polka dotted couches and if you look closely, you can see District Attorney Tom Sneddon clad in blue jeans near the window of the room. This appears to be Jackson‘s dollhouse where he houses an extensive collection of, of course, who doesn‘t have this, a room for mannequins and figurines.
On the wall, old family photos take you back to the Jackson Five years, “Never Can Say Goodbye”. More shots of the dollhouse also which—also serves as his office and insight into Jackson‘s decorating style. You can see a large suit of armor as well as the desk where he works with a figure of Pinocchio on it. Of course, this would not be complete without more pictures of Jackson this time from his bad days. Also for the first time, pictures of what looks like inside the private investigator‘s office.
Here a container full of Jackson-related items including a tape of “Dateline” NBC‘s “Michael Jackson Unmasked”. These raids produced evidence like a tape recorder and audiocassette seized from a safe in Jackson‘s bathroom. Remember, back in August a deputy testified at a hearing that on this tape you can hear what sounds like a child‘s voice on the phone saying I‘ve got to go. Someone is coming.
And alarms are heard, which the deputy testified are similar to those that go off when the door to Jackson‘s bedroom is opened. We may get to hear this tape at Jackson‘s trial set to begin January 31, not exactly your typical home and garden tour.
Coming up, I said 55 years was too harsh a sentence for this man convicted of selling marijuana. That‘s what he did—just sold pot -- 55 years. Many of you disagree. Your e-mails coming up after this.
ABRAMS: Coming up, a judge sentences a man to 55 years for selling pot and in the same courtroom on the same day a murderer to 22 years. I said that‘s a crime, but some of you think the pot dealer got what he deserved. It‘s coming up.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—Question: Is it time for the U.S. to admit that the Geneva Conventions cannot and should not apply in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and when it comes to international terrorists? It may sound like humanitarian heresy, the longstanding agreements that have ensured humane treatment of prisoners for almost 150 years ignored. What happens when our soldiers are captured, many would scream?
These agreements protecting—are designed to protect our own young men and women. Why would we even consider ignoring agreements signed by just about every nation in the world? The answer is I‘m not talking about ignoring it. These agreements were designed to apply to nations at war. We‘re battling tribes, terrorists, and sex, not a nation. The official Iraqi and Afghan governments are long gone. These new enemies will never treat prisoners humanely because of an agreement, nor will they be held accountable for violations of it.
The administration publicly claiming that the convention still apply to the conflict in Iraq, even though secret administration legal opinions offering exceptions have been leaked. These administration lawyers are right to suggest there are exceptions at the least. We already called the detainees at Guantanamo Bay enemy combatants instead of prisoners of war protected by Geneva, a distinction I support even though I think it‘s essential that combatants get fair and full hearings.
How do you apply the concept of prisoners of war to suicidal fighters who have no clear superiors to accept responsibility for any actions of their—quote—“soldiers”? If we battle a nation, of course, the convention should apply. When we‘re fighting the Iraqi army and imprisoning their soldiers, we should have abided by the convention‘s mandates.
The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was more than a Geneva violation. It was an outrage. But when the enemy is just individuals united by one cause, hatred of the U.S., doesn‘t that put us at a distinct disadvantage to obey rules about armed conflict when they won‘t? Our tactics scrutinized and criticized by the world? Their beheadings and mutilations hardly even worth commenting on because everyone knows they don‘t care about how inhumane it. Rather than quibble with the international community about definitions and standards, maybe it‘s time to just be straight and say Geneva did not envision this type of warfare, period.
I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. Last night we reported that one of the worst serial killers in U.S. history, Coral Eugene Watts, found guilty of murder in a Michigan courtroom, the result of this program doing a segment on the story in January. One of our viewers called the Michigan authorities and became the prosecution‘s star witness.
Jess Woodward in North Carolina, “Congratulations on your contribution towards keeping Mr. Coral Eugene Watts behind bars for life. I do believe this case would not have been solved without your show. I think that the other programs who report on it should give your show the credit it deserves for airing the tape and giving the police telephone number.”
Thanks Jess, but I think the credit goes to the victim‘s family for never giving up and the witness, Joseph Foy, who had the courage to come forward.
From York, Pennsylvania, Kathy writes, “Thank you for being willing to fight for the victims of Watts, that monster, and for helping to give their loved ones a measure of peace. I am always impressed by your program.”
Thank you Kathy.
Ken Ashe, “Wow Dan, not many people have their lives so validated and rewarded as you. Coral Eugene Watts will not be free to kill again. Thank God and thank you Dan. Good going.”
Thank you Ken.
Also last night, a Utah federal judge sentenced a man convicted of selling marijuana while having a gun in a holster on his ankle to 55 years and a day in prison. The judge said his hands were tied by the federal sentencing laws. I was troubled.
The same judge sentenced a murderer to half that time on the same day. I said he should serve time but the people who created the federal sentencing guidelines never envisioned this.
From Apple Valley, Minnesota, Kelly Putnam, “You remind me of when people go on vacation and they come back talking like the natives from where they just visited. For example, a New Yorker goes to Louisiana and comes home calling everybody ya‘ll. You went out to California for a week and came home talking all liberal.”
Lesa Boswell in Houston. “The problem is not how much time in jail the drug dealing, gun carrying punk got. It‘s that the others didn‘t get enough time.”
Come on. Life for selling marijuana?
From Monument Beach, Massachusetts, Don Hayward. “Having been addicted to the weed in the ‘60‘s and now addicted to your show, you are right on the mark with this one.”
Thanks dude. That‘s it. We‘re out of time. “Your Rebuttal” firstname.lastname@example.org.
“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews up next. Thanks for watching. See you tomorrow.
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