Guest: Lanny Davis, Aitan Goelman, John Stemberger, Dr. Jonathan Pincus, Stacy Brown, Stacey Honowitz
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, breaking news, a federal judge now deciding if Terri Schiavo should have her feeding tube reinserted.
ABRAMS (voice-over): The case went to federal court this afternoon, after Congress pushed through a bill early this morning. President Bush signed it. It gives Terri‘s parents another shot at having her feeding tube put back for a third time. I say Congress never should have gotten involved.
Plus, Michael Jackson late to court again this time even bringing his doctor with him, then shedding tears in the courtroom. Is he literally losing it?
And this man, just charged with killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, Florida law requires that certain sex offenders be castrated. Should they be using that option more often?
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi, everyone. First up on the docket tonight, breaking news in the fight over Terri Schiavo, who has been in a quote - “vegetative state for the past 15 years. Her feeding tube removed on Friday afternoon. This weekend, Congress worked overtime, passed a bill, with one goal, to have a federal court step in and order that the feeding tube be reinserted. Both sides were in court just minutes ago, bringing their case before a federal judge.
NBC‘s Kerry Sanders has just left the courtroom in Tampa, Florida, where he sat in on the hearing and he joins us me now. So Kerry, what did they say?
KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well first of all, the upshot is that the judge, federal judge, James Whittemore did not make a ruling. He did not make any issue of a temporary restraining order or turned down any of this. He listened to about two hours of arguments. There are at my count 13 lawyers in the courtroom, but primarily two lawyers who were commenting, the lawyers representing Michael Schiavo, who is the husband, and representing Bob and Mary Schindler, the parents of Terri Schiavo.
David Gibbs said in court, David Gibbs represents Bob and Mary, said -
· quote—“a disabled person does not lose religious rights. There are few things in religion that are more important than how someone dies. To knowingly disobey religious beliefs could result in damnation and purgatory. Disobedience to sincerely held beliefs violates the First Amendment right.”
He was arguing that if they were to take her off, her, and leave her off this feeding tube as she is currently, that as a Catholic, she would be violating the teachings of the Catholic religion, that she should be left on a feeding tube, and that by taking her off, it violates her First Amendment right.
Now, George Felos, who represents Terri‘s husband, Michael, said, Congress has no authority to obstruct a constitutional right. In this case he‘s saying the right to refuse medical treatment. Life is sacred in this country, but so too is liberty. Like they say in New Hampshire, live free or die.
Now the judge seemed to spend a fair amount of time, Dan, listening to the timetable here, almost as if there‘s a tick-tock that he is aware of, that as he takes his time making a decision as we enter the fourth day with Terri Schiavo off the feeding tube that she could actually pass away. Now previously, she has had her tube taken out twice.
Previously, the longest time it was out was for six days, so he was asking about what the process would be to reinsert the tube, how the tube would go in, and eventually what they would do is they would take her, if he made an order for a temporary restraining order, saying you got to get that tube back in there, an ambulance would go to the Hospice, it would rush her about 20 to 30 minutes down the street to a hospital, and then the doctors would reenter with the tube, using an endoscopy, which is going down through the throat, and reinserting it into her stomach area and resuming the flow of the fluids and the nutrients. This is what the attorneys had to say when they actually came out of the court and spoke on camera.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE FELOS, ATTORNEY FOR TERRI SCHIAVO‘S HUSBAND: We want him to know the facts of this case. We want him to be thoroughly versed in what happened in the state court proceedings, because it‘s obvious to anyone who knows the facts instead of the propaganda that due process was had here, and all of Mrs. Schiavo‘s rights were protective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: So Judge James Whittemore says that he will issue a ruling, but it does not appear he will do that in open court. He says that he is expecting some additional briefs to come from the various attorneys arguing here, and that when he is ready and reached his decision, he will post it. He will sign it and then make it public. And I‘m sort of putting it together Dan, but this is not unusual these days for judges to actually make their rulings public on their Web site, so it may very well be posted right on the U.S. court Web site, and we‘ll find out how he rules, and so we‘ll just...
SANDERS: ... keep watching that to see, when, indeed, he makes his ruling.
ABRAMS: All right. Kerry Sanders, thanks very much. Time is of the essence here, so we‘re going to keep our eye on that Web site and if anything comes up in the next hour, we‘re going to bring it to you. A quick recap on how the case got to where it is today.
Saturday, one day after Schiavo‘s feeding tube was removed on the order of a Florida judge, legislators stepped in. Leaders of the bill want to get the case heard in federal court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TOM DELAY ®, TEXAS: We are confident that this compromise addresses everyone‘s concerns. We are confident it will provide Ms. Schiavo a clear and appropriate avenue for appeal in federal court. And most importantly, we are confident that this compromise will restore nutrition and hydration to Ms. Schiavo as long as that appeal endures.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: On Sunday, a handful of senators in Washington takes them a matter of seconds with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats, to pass the bill, the president rushes back to Washington from his Texas ranch to sign the legislation, once it‘s passed in the House. At 9:00 p.m., debates and back-door negotiations on the bill began in the House. Finally, just before 1:00 a.m., the bill passed 203-58. Democrats who voted no say it sets a bad precedent for congressional involvement in personal family matters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAVID WU (D), OREGON: This is the reach of a distant federal government into every bedroom, every hospital room across this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Less than an hour after the bill was passed, the president woken up to sign it into law. He spoke about it at a speech today in Tucson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a complex case with serious issues. But extraordinary circumstances like this, it is wise to always err on the side of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: At around 3:00 a.m. this morning, an attorney for Schiavo‘s parents heads to federal court to file an emergency injunction to have the feeding tube reinserted, and as we had mentioned, attorneys for both sides just made their case in federal court. The hearing wrapped up (UNINTELLIGIBLE) only minutes ago. The judge hasn‘t ruled yet on whether the tube is going to be reinserted. Again, we are going to keep our eye there, and if we hear anything, we are going to bring it to you immediately.
All right. “My Take”—this legislation is unconstitutional and shameful politics at its worst. Let‘s be clear, this case did not suddenly become an issue for Congress this weekend. Terri has been in what doctors describe as a permanent vegetative state for 15 years. Her case has made it through all of the Florida courts, two trials, all sorts of appeals, and eventually made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It‘s over. The ruling that Terri would not have wanted this, that she would have chosen to remove life support—I know some don‘t agree with Terri‘s decision, but her friends and relatives who testified at the trial made it clear that is what she would have wanted, so now Congress decides it doesn‘t like the outcome. They step in for those who want to reinsert the tube. To those who say why the rush, that ignores that 15 years that have passed without Terri‘s wishes being fulfilled.
This legislation sets a dangerous precedent. Whenever Congress doesn‘t like an outcome in the courts, they‘ll just try to change it. It‘s time to end this sad saga. Joining me now Aitan Goelman, a former federal prosecutor, Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Clinton, John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council joins us on the phone, and Dr. Jonathan Pincus, chief of neurology at the Veteran‘s Administration Medical Center in Washington.
Thanks to all of you for coming on the program. All right. Lanny, you think that this legislation was a good idea?
LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think it was an exceptional circumstance, and I would have voted for the legislation. I can certainly understand what you said about setting a bad precedent, but I do agree with President Bush that erring on the side of life where you have parents, and that‘s the one word you didn‘t mention in the “My Take” introduction, Dan. When you have parents who are willing to take care of and give this woman another chance through a federal court proceeding, the legislation doesn‘t dictate the outcome, but it does at least give her one more chance, and I would support that one more chance...
DAVIS: ... to err on the side of life.
ABRAMS: But it seems like every time the answer is, oh, you know, we just should wait again. This is not about her parents. It‘s about her view. It‘s about the fact that she wanted this. It‘s not about what her husband wanted. A court ruled this is what she would have wanted, and all of the appeals affirm that decision.
DAVIS: Well, of course, the court ruled from inferences only. You never heard from Terri Schiavo that this is what she wanted...
ABRAMS: So the courts don‘t matter. We should ignore the courts...
DAVIS: There are counter-veiling factors here, namely parents that are willing to take care of this very, very tragic case, and in no other instance that I know of has there been an adverse position between a husband, who I don‘t understand why he is fighting so hard to remove this tube, versus parents, who are willing to fight at least to give their daughter a chance in the federal courts one more time.
DAVIS: I don‘t see the harm to that.
ABRAMS: I would hope if I told my wife exactly what I wanted in this situation she would fight for me as well. Aitan Goelman, what do you make of this as a legal matter?
AITAN GOELMAN, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Oh I think it‘s ironic that the very congressmen who are so fond of federalism and states rights, in this case, when they disagree with the outcome in a state court, it‘s been fully litigated over and over and over again, and over years, they decide that you know Congress actually can make a decision that should be left in the hands of the states. I mean this is an intensely personal family matter.
It‘s not something that traditionally federal courts are wrapped up in and you know frankly, I think it‘s hypocritical, it‘s understandable just because it‘s such an incredibly sad situation, but to say that all of the decisions and all of the testimony and all of the careful weighing of the testimony, courts decided to credit Michael Schiavo‘s testimony that he had this discussion with his wife and that this is what she would have wanted. Obviously everyone would prefer if there was a living will that she had actually executed, but I don‘t see any grounds for a Congress to look at a video and decide that they are going to second-guess a decision of the Florida courts.
ABRAMS: Courts make these decisions...
JOHN STEMBERGER, FLORIDA FAMILY POLICY COUNCIL (via phone): Dan, Dan...
ABRAMS: ... all the time. Who is that? Is that...
STEMBERGER: John Stemberger.
ABRAMS: Yes, please, go ahead.
STEMBERGER: Yes, I think it‘s important to recognize that this bill does not overturn any state court decision. The principles of states rights, and federalism, which I agree with, do not provide a license for the state to just trample over the constitutional rights of an American citizen...
ABRAMS: But basically...
STEMBERGER: In fact, the 14th Amendment...
ABRAMS: But basically what is happening here, though, is that the Congress didn‘t like the ruling of the state‘s courts, and so they are saying, in this particular case, where we didn‘t like the ruling, you know what we are going to do? We are going to say yes, not in every case, but in this one we didn‘t like the ruling. We‘re going to open up new set of courts for this case.
STEMBERGER: Well I can‘t disagree with you more, Dan. You know, there are over 30 private bills passed here (UNINTELLIGIBLE) immigration case, claims against government, copyright, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), veterans who didn‘t get their medals, and this is nothing more that the 14th Amendment says hey, state, OK, the states (UNINTELLIGIBLE) deprive any person of life, liberty, and property without due process. Before the Congress had jurisdiction to do this. It‘s not unconstitutional. You may disagree with it, that‘s one thing, but this is not an unconstitutional (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
STEMBERGER: ... by Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dan.
ABRAMS: I will be stunned if the U.S. Supreme Court finds this to be constitutional. Let me take a quick break here. Let‘s see if we can get Mr. Stemberger on a better phone. I want to be able to hear him more clearly.
Take a quick break. More breaking news in the Terri Schiavo case—a judge could come down with a ruling at any moment as to whether that tube is going to be reinserted. Whatever side you are on, on this, this is you know look, a heart-breaking case. I think everyone‘s motives are not as evil as both sides claim the other ones are.
And Michael Jackson late to court again, showing up with a doctor in tow. He cried in the courtroom. What is wrong with Michael Jackson?
Plus, this two-time convicted sex offender now charged with killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Did you know Florida law requires some sex offenders be castrated? Should they use that more often? Could it prevent something like this from happening?
Your e-mails email@example.com. Please include your name and where you‘re writing from. I respond at the end of the show.
ABRAMS: Coming up, more of our continuing coverage of breaking news in the Terri Schiavo case, coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S HUSBAND: This is an outrage. They have no business in this matter. Terri made her wishes. It has been adjudicated in a state court over the last seven years. Nineteen judges have heard this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: That‘s Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo‘s husband. There was a hearing that concluded less than an hour ago, really, about an hour ago, over this very issue in federal court. The question there, is a judge going to now order, federal judge, order that Terri‘s tube be reinserted? That would of course provide her with the nutrients that she needs to stay alive. Here‘s what the attorney for Terri‘s parents—this is the other side—had to say right after the hearing minutes ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GIBBS III, ATTORNEY FOR TERRI SCHIAVO‘S PARENTS: Terri Schiavo, an innocent disabled woman, faces death, and we don‘t believe her rights have been adequately protected under the Constitution. The Congress agreed with us. The president agreed with us. I believe the vast majority of the nation agrees with us.
The governor agrees with us. The Pope agrees with us. Concerned religious and moral leaders across the nation agree with us. At this point, we need to plead our case to a federal judge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Lanny Davis, how is this a religious issue? Yes, she was a Catholic. There‘s no evidence, though, that she was a religious Catholic. And so is that a real strong legal argument?
DAVIS: No, it isn‘t, and it‘s not the position—I respect that position, but it‘s not the position that I‘m taking, which I may surprise some of my friends by taking, but this is not a partisan issue. The fact is, Dan that all that is occurring here is giving one other court system a chance to review another court system, namely the federal court system. No outcome is being determined here, and the only thing that‘s being delayed is the death of Terri Schiavo, and why anyone would fear the consequence of allowing the federal courts to review the evidence one more time, I am not worried about precedent because I really think this is the most unusual, and this is a fact situation with parents...
DAVIS: ... averse to a husband that is not likely to occur again.
ABRAMS: Yes. You know I don‘t know. I think that that‘s always a
dangerous way to look at the law is to say oh this is special. This case -
· because there will be other cases where judges are making life and death decisions, and people will make the same argument.
Let me read from the appeals court in Florida, their ruling. The question was whether Schiavo robbed of most of her cerebrum and all but the most instinctive of neurological functions with no hope of a medical cure would choose to continue the constant nursing care and the supporting tubes in hopes a miracle would somehow recreate her missing brain tissue or whether she would wish to permit a natural death. We conclude that the trial judge had clear and convincing evidence to answer this question as he did.
Dr. Jonathan Pincus, is that -- is it that clear? Is it that definitive as a medical matter that by looking at a CT scan or looking at something else, they can determine that literally enough of her brain is missing, such that she could never recover?
DR. JONATHAN PINCUS, NEUROLOGIST: No. But after 15 years, I think it‘s pretty safe to say that she‘s not going to ever recover, but she is not brain-dead. She is brain-damaged, severely brain-damaged. All my patients or many of them are brain-damaged and many of them are in nursing homes, and many of them are in rehabilitation or chronic disease homes, and I‘m not about to advocate the death of all my patients.
If somebody can‘t speak or use the left side of his body or the right side of his body or be completely paralyzed, a quadriplegic, and not able to swallow like Christopher Reeve, is that adequate reason to stop a person from living? It might be under certain circumstances, if the person wanted that, and the family wanted that, and everybody was of one mind about it. I would not be against withholding antibiotics for a severe infection, let‘s say, which comes up in chronically ill people from time to time, and I have done that myself.
PINCUS: But as a medical matter, this woman is not brain dead. She is brain damaged.
ABRAMS: Right. So—I have to take a break, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) do you agree with what I just read from court?
PINCUS: Well, that‘s the court‘s decision. I am not a lawyer or a—
I would leave it to the court.
PINCUS: I would rather not make that kind of decision myself.
ABRAMS: All right. Fair enough. Everyone is going to stick around. Again, the hearing has just concluded in the Terri Schiavo case. Ruling could come at any time. We‘ll have more on that.
And speaking of doctors, Michael Jackson sure looked like he needed a doctor today as he arrived at court. He actually brought one with him. What is going on with Michael Jackson? A family friend joins us...
ABRAMS: We‘re talking about a federal court hearing that has ended about an hour ago on the Terri Schiavo case. Congress passed a law this weekend that has enabled the parents of Terri Schiavo to head to federal court to see if all of those Florida state court rulings should essentially be ignored and that the parents should be able to take over the care of Terri Schiavo.
I want to read very quickly, and I want to ask John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy about this from the Florida appeals courts ruling.
This case is not about the aspirations that loving parents have for their children. It‘s about Terri Schiavo‘s right to make her own decision independent of her parents and independent of her husband. Do you reject that?
STEMBERGER: I do. There was no jury in that trial. She had no lawyer. You know if Ted Bundy was ever tried without a lawyer, we would throw out the conviction, but yet here is Terri Schiavo, the state has sentenced her to death, and yet she doesn‘t have the due process rights that Ted Bundy had.
ABRAMS: But the difference is Ted Bundy was accused of committing a crime. This question is if Terri Schiavo wanted this and that‘s what the court is finding, is that she would have wanted this.
STEMBERGER: And I believe that she has the full ability to have due process of the law, and that includes her federal rights...
ABRAMS: But you keep talking about it as if she is not getting her rights. It‘s not her, it‘s her parents who were saying wait a sec we want this. It‘s not about what she—the court has found what she wants, and her parents are saying, no, no, no, we think the court is wrong.
STEMBERGER: That‘s exactly right. There was no jury in that trial. She had no lawyer representing her. And in fact, even the guardian ad litem was thrown out eventually, so where is the due process in that trial? It was an unfair trial and it was inappropriate in our judgment...
ABRAMS: ... this is such a dangerous road to go down, because now we are going to start saying every trial is illegitimate, oh there was no jury here, and this and that. Bottom line is a lot of decisions are made by judges in this country every day.
GOELMAN: Well someone...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dan, may I...
ABRAMS: Let me let Aitan go. Go ahead Aitan.
GOELMAN: Someone has got to make those decisions, Dan, and you‘re right, it‘s the state family courts that are custom and experienced in making those decisions. And you know to kind of talk about this, where on the one side that this woman is going to die. On the other side, there‘s you know no real harm. I mean it‘s just going to allow another court to take a look at it. You are ignoring the fact that this legal wrangling has been going on for 15 years. And you know, if the judge orders that her feeding tube is reinserted, that‘s going to be the third time.
DAVIS: Dan, can I jump in quickly?
ABRAMS: Very -- 10 seconds Lanny. Go ahead.
DAVIS: The irony here is that people who believe in appealing the death sentence from state courts to federal courts to the nth degree to be sure before we kill somebody.
STEMBERGER: That‘s right.
DAVIS: This is all we are talking about, is giving another crack at the federal court system before you remove those tubes, and what is the rush...
ABRAMS: You better...
ABRAMS: I‘ll tell you, you better be ready for every case that was in the state courts to be going to federal courts now.
DAVIS: We do that in death penalty cases, Dan.
STEMBERGER: That‘s right.
DAVIS: Let‘s do it here.
ABRAMS: Yes. Yes. All right.
GOELMAN: What happens when Congress doesn‘t like the federal judge‘s decision and passes a law overturning that?
ABRAMS: Yes. Aitan Goelman, Lanny Davis, John Stemberger and Dr. Jonathan Pincus, you know we could talk about this for hours. Thanks a lot for coming on the program.
ABRAMS: Appreciate it. Coming up, another day, another spectacle, Michael Jackson case. Here he is—no, that‘s not him. Do we have Michael Jackson? There he is. Here he is this morning, look at him slowly shuffling into court. An ambulance was called. His doctor arrives in scrubs. What is going on with Michael Jackson? A family friend joins us.
And should convicted sex offenders like John Couey, who apparently confessed to kidnapping and killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, be castrated? It‘s in the Florida law.
Your e-mails firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and where you‘re writing from. I respond at the end of the show.
ABRAMS: Shocker, more drama at the Michael Jackson case. He‘s late. He limps into court. He brought his doctor with him, an ambulance arrived, and he cried. What is going on, but first the headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you on medication, Michael?
MICHAEL JACKSON, ACCUSED OF MOLESTATION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of medication?
JACKSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Sorry...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you OK? You look hurt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Being asked if he is on medication, Michael Jackson leaving court a short time ago. Another tough day—morning visit to the hospital, he‘s late for court again, the second time in two weeks, testing the judge‘s patience. Jackson slowly shuffled unsteadily into court this morning, about six minutes late. That‘s not the picture of his brother. But he did go in this morning with his brother and a bodyguard. There he is—that was the shot—closely following behind.
A doctor from a local hospital where Jackson was seen early this morning, arrived in tow. Look at him. He‘s got the whole scrubs on. The doctor met with the judge in chambers, then with Jackson in the men‘s room. When Jackson returned to the courtroom, he was seen crying at the defense table. Just 11 days ago, Jackson‘s failure to get to court on time led the judge to issue a warrant for his arrest, threatened to revoke his bail.
Jackson raced to the courthouse that day, and sat in his pajamas, while his accuser detailed the allegations of abuse. “My Take”—there is something wrong with Michael Jackson. This is a 43-year-old man, with no life-threatening or completely debilitating illness that we know of. I want to know what the heck is wrong with Jackson.
Joining me now MSNBC analyst, Jackson family friend Stacy Brown.
What‘s the family saying? What is wrong with him?
STACY BROWN, JACKSON FAMILY FRIEND: Well, the official word is that he does have some back problems that he began experiencing a couple of weeks ago—well, to be exact, about 11 days ago, and re-injured himself over the weekend. According to Raymone Bain, I saw a statement she put out, saying that she had spoken to him, and his back was really acting up very badly on Sunday.
ABRAMS: Yes. I‘ve never seen—I mean let‘s put the fact that it‘s Michael Jackson aside. I have never seen any defendant, even those who are in custody, have this much difficulty actually making it into court, and having emergencies where—I mean look, if he had some sort of debilitating—look and back pain can be very painful, but is this mental? Is there something wrong with him?
BROWN: Well, you won‘t see another defendant like Michael Jackson. Whether or not it‘s mental or not, I do know that him getting up every morning, having to follow a schedule every morning, this is totally something that he‘s not used to. This is something that has worried everyone...
ABRAMS: Because he is used to just doing whatever he wants to do...
BROWN: ... whatever he wants...
ABRAMS: ... whenever...
ABRAMS: ... the whole Peter Pan, Neverland...
BROWN: Exactly. He‘s not used to being subjected to authority. Michael, you must be here at 8:30 every morning, five days a week. That‘s a job for him, a real you know...
BROWN: ... 9:00 to 5:00, blue-collar job for him to go to court every day.
ABRAMS: Oh, poor guy. All right. Just stick around for a second if you can, Stacy. Jackson‘s late entrance delayed the trial today by about 45 minutes. The judge took the bench, brought in the jury. The trial went on, no mention of the delay to the jurors.
NBC‘s Mike Taibbi was in the courtroom, as it all went down. So Mike, we talked about what happened outside the courtroom. What happened inside today?
MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I got to tell you, and you know this, Dan, court was supposed to start here at 8:30 precisely. This judge is stickler for promptness and punctuality. At 8:15, I saw Tom Mesereau, Jackson‘s lead attorney, take a cell phone up in court where the attorneys are. He took another call a minute later and at 8:21 took his third call, looked at his watch, shook his head, and left the courtroom.
And I turned to some of the other reporters and Jim Thomas, our NBC analyst, the former Santa Barbara County sheriff, and said here we go again. Sure enough, few minutes later, Jackson‘s parents came in. Jackson himself didn‘t show up, as you put it, shuffling in at 8:36. I thought he struggled in. My notes tell me that he was taking tiny baby steps, wearing sunglasses, appears to be heavily medicated.
He has the shakes, being held at each elbow. And when he sat down, immediately put that tissue to his mouth, some observers said he sobbed or cried. I didn‘t see that. But when he came back from the bench a couple of minutes later, his doctor had come in, I looked him in the eye. I was no more than a foot and a half away from his eyes, and I could not see if his eyes were focusing on mine. He looked like he was really out of it, seemed to recover later in the day.
And as you know, there was testimony today from two witnesses who were not earth shattering and important, but they were significant for the prosecution. A clinical psychologist, specializing in child sex abuse, who basically answered all of the questions the jury might have had about the credibility, performance, and behavior of Jackson‘s accuser by saying that a delay in reporting, imprecise reporting, mistakes about dates, changed stories, acting out in school, all those are traits that are displayed most of the time by—most of the time, he said by victims of sexual abuse.
Tom Mesereau was able to get him to admit that he would have testified the same way even if the accuser was telling a false story of sexual abuse, but that‘s about as far as Mesereau got. The last witness this afternoon, a flight attendant, a chief flight attendant who said that she served Jackson wine in soda cans—this is a mantra in this case—on 15 to 25 flights, where she was working on those flights, but never once saw any intoxicated children. So that was the testimony in court today, a day that was dominated by Jackson‘s belated shaky appearance—back to you Dan.
ABRAMS: Stacy, what is the defense‘s position as to why he would drink out of soda cans?
BROWN: Well, it‘s his image. He is Michael Jackson. He doesn‘t want to give his young fans the image of him drinking alcohol. It‘s as simple as that.
ABRAMS: So on a plane, I mean, you know it‘s not like there shouldn‘t be a lot of young fans—I mean I guess the kids on the plane, right...
BROWN: Yes. Well Dan, he‘s famous for traveling with a lot of kids, including his own nieces and nephews, and he just doesn‘t want to give that impression.
ABRAMS: So they pour the—I mean look, I have always said I think that the alcohol is going to be one of the toughest things for the defense to deal with in this case. It seems to me the evidence that Jackson was drinking with kids is stronger than the evidence that he molested this kid.
BROWN: Well, and that may be so and you know, it‘s just unfortunate that we have these other events that are going on with him...
BROWN: ... because everyone, including yourself, I‘ve heard you say -
· it seems that they are ahead in this case.
ABRAMS: Yes. Yes. No, look, I said at the beginning of this case I thought it was going to be very, very hard for the prosecution to win a conviction, but I got to tell you, you know Michael Jackson makes it hard to feel sorry for the guy when every day there‘s some sort of new shenanigans going on at the courthouse. All right. Stacy, good to see you. Mike Taibbi, thanks a lot.
Coming up, the man who reportedly confessed to kidnapping and killing little Jessica Lunsford charged today. There is a controversial law in Florida that means sex offenders like Couey would be castrated.
And later, Chief Justice William Rehnquist back on the bench today. What would he think about Congress passing legislation in an effort to keep Terri Schiavo alive? I have a guess. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: Just hours ago John Couey charged with the capital murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, as well as with burglary and battery—sexual battery on a child less than 12 years of age, kidnapping. Jessica‘s body found early Saturday morning less than 200 yards from her home, buried behind the home of Couey‘s half-sister. Yesterday afternoon Jessica‘s father, Mark, had an emotional message for Florida law enforcement as well as for the man who allegedly killed his daughter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK LUNSFORD, JESSICA LUNSFORD‘S FATHER: What in the hell is this man doing out here? It doesn‘t matter what crime he‘s committed 23 times. Why is he still available to be out here and hurt people? And we need to prosecute him, and I need everybody‘s support on pushing the death penalty upon this man. He is scum, and anybody that acts like him or even resembles him is scum, and you do not deserve to be amongst us.
As far as Mr. Couey, and I hope he is looking at me, and I hope he hears me real clear. My father was lenient upon him when he told him—for God to have mercy upon his soul. I think he needs to stand up and be a man now and take his death penalty, and just go away, far away. And I hope you rot in hell. I have looked at his picture many times. I‘ve laid in my bed—I pictured his mind—his face in my mind, and I never see him - I‘ve never seen him before. I don‘t know his name. I‘m not—I will never get the wish, but I wish I could see him just one time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: That‘s got to be so hard for Mark Lunsford. This has been a guy who has been out there, asking for any information, doing everything he can, he‘s been suffering all this time and still did interviews, et cetera, just to get the word out about Jessica, and then finds out that this guy has been walking around—there‘s actually video of him in a bar—I don‘t know if we have that video, but just sitting there—this is on Monday of last week. Couey‘s a twice—there he is—look at that—twice convicted sex offender in Florida, convicted in ‘78 for kissing a 14-year-old girl during a burglary, and in ‘91, for molesting a 16-year-old girl.
Florida is among eight states that now legalizes chemical castration, recommends it for first-time offenders and actually mandates it for second-time offenders. So the question, why aren‘t more of these Florida sex offenders losing a different type of right? Joining me now, Stacey Honowitz, Broward County Florida prosecutor. All right. Stacey, so what‘s the deal here? I mean are there sex offenders in Florida who are being castrated, or is this law not being used?
STACEY HONOWITZ, BROWARD COUNTY FL PROSECUTOR: Well I can tell you that in my jurisdiction, we really don‘t use the law that often. I did have one case a couple of years ago, where I wasn‘t the one that imposed the chemical castration, but while he was waiting to go into my trial, he had some previous sexual contacts with the law, so the parents and the doctor and the defense attorney sent him to an institution, where he was being treated and being chemically castrated, taking Depo-Provera, which is the drug that they inject.
ABRAMS: I don‘t understand. The law says in Florida, the court may sentence a defendant...
ABRAMS: ... to be treated with it if the defendant is convicted of sexual battery.
ABRAMS: The court shall sentence a defendant to be treated with it if the defendant is convicted of sexual battery and the defendant has a prior conviction of sexual battery. So, I would assume that means that second-time offenders are supposed to be chemically castrated.
HONOWITZ: Well, it‘s not mandatory...
HONOWITZ: It‘s not—listen, Dan, it‘s not like becoming a sexual predator that the court has to make somebody a sexual predator upon a second conviction. In this case it‘s saying, if it is a second conviction for sexual battery, you can mandate that this be used. And that‘s the important question in this case.
As far as Couey is concerned, his last conviction wasn‘t for sexual battery. And we‘re very stringent down here as to what sexual battery is under the statute. It‘s capital sexual battery...
HONOWITZ: ... a child under the age of 11.
ABRAMS: What do you think of castration as a punishment?
HONOWITZ: You know I think it‘s great, except for the fact that I can tell you from personal experience in the one case that I had where this guy was being treated for chemical castration, it did not work. If you don‘t continue with these injections, if you are not monitored, once you stop, the sex drive comes back. You don‘t...
HONOWITZ: ... get three injections and it goes away.
ABRAMS: But it‘s not like they are diabetic and they do it at home.
I mean aren‘t they supposed to come in for mandated injections?
HONOWITZ: They‘re suppose to come in for mandated injections, but Dan, you and I both know, people don‘t follow the rules of probation. People don‘t come in when they are supposed to come in. People think I have gotten three shots...
HONOWITZ: I am not going to get any more, so we can‘t follow them around.
ABRAMS: And for those who are asking you know what about full castration option, in lieu of treatment with the drug, the court may order the defendant undergo physical castration upon written motion by the defendant providing the defendant‘s intelligent, knowing and voluntary consent to physical castration as an alternative.
But that‘s basically saying that the defendant has to agree to it, right?
HONOWITZ: Absolutely, yes. And even in these cases—I mean even in these cases when we are negotiating a plea, if you try to negotiate chemical castration, you can imagine what a defense attorney is going to say. There‘s every, every argument that they are going to make, right to privacy...
HONOWITZ: ... right to procreate, how can you take these things away...
HONOWITZ: ... you‘re not dealing. It‘s an uphill battle any way you look at it...
ABRAMS: I don‘t know what I think of it. I mean I just—I wanted to just know if it worked or not. All right. Stacey Honowitz, good to see you. Thanks a lot.
HONOWITZ: Thanks Dan.
ABRAMS: Coming up, Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist back on the bench today after battling thyroid cancer. Wonder what he would say about the Terri Schiavo controversy and this latest law from Congress. I have some thoughts. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: Chief Justice William Rehnquist back on the bench today. I don‘t know for certain, but I‘ve got some thoughts about what he‘d think about this Terri Schiavo bill and the fact that suddenly Congress is saying it goes to federal courts. My “Closing Argument” is coming up.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—the irony of the scene in Washington today, Chief Justice William Rehnquist returns to the bench at the Supreme Court, taking five months off to be treated for thyroid cancer. One of the issues near and dear to his heart the independence of the nation‘s courts. This on the same day the U.S. Congress decides it doesn‘t like all the Florida state courts‘ rulings about Terri Schiavo, the woman who‘s been in a permanent vegetative state for 15 years, so they pass legislation that sends her case to a new set of courts, the federal courts.
Earlier this year in his 2004 annual report, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, “The Constitution protects judicial independence not to benefit judges, but to promote the rule of law. Judges are expected to administer the law fairly without regard to public reaction.”
Well, this new bill in the Schiavo case may be the most prominent
example of reacting to the public. Again I quote Rehnquist in 2000. “I
suspect the court will continue to encounter challenges to its independence
and authority by the other branches of government because of the design of
our constitutional system. The degree to which that independence will be -
· sorry—preserved will depend again in some measure on the public‘s respect for the judiciary.”
My concern is not the public‘s respect for the judiciary, but whether members of Congress have respect for it. That the Florida state courts have already ruled on this case numerous times doesn‘t seem to matter to them. If you go even further back, Rehnquist wrote a book in ‘75 entitled “Political Battles for Judicial Independence”, all about how politicians need to stay out of the courtroom.
I checked on Amazon.com today. It seems the book may be out of print. Hope the chief justice, though, has enough copies sitting at home to hand out to all of the members of Congress who voted on this one so they can read it over spring break.
Coming up in 60 seconds, imagine this—a lawyer suing himself. It‘s tonight‘s “OH PLEAs!”.
ABRAMS: I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. The parents of Terri Schiavo now asking a federal judge to reinsert her feeding tube removed on Friday afternoon. This after all the Florida courts have ruled in support of her husband, Michael, that Terri is in a—quote—
“permanent vegetative state and that she would have wanted to die.”
A big divide on this one—Natalie in San Luis Obispo, California on the Republican-led effort to pass legislation to save Terri‘s life. “This case is in fact 100 percent politics and once again, Republicans are saving the day.”
Also from California, Joyce Freeman—“If she had written instructions that stated that she did not want a feeding tube I‘d be fine with the decision to remove it. However, it is only two or three people who say she made a comment that she did not want to be artificially kept alive. Without clear written instructions, how can you be so sure that‘s what she wanted?”
Well because Joyce, courts have to make these sorts of decisions every day as to what someone who has died or can‘t speak for him or herself would have wanted. Just because it‘s not what you would have done doesn‘t mean that‘s what Terri would have wanted.
Mike Proctor in Houston, Texas, “It‘s really odd that Terri never made these wishes known to her parents or brother, only to her husband‘s side of the family.”
Really, it‘s that odd that you‘d tell your husband and best friend something you wouldn‘t tell your parents?
Velma Hearn in South Carolina, “How do parents know what has been discussed between the partners? Now the government has stepped in to pass a bill. Doesn‘t it seem funny if they can do this in a short amount of time and when a real bill needs passing, they seem to drag their feet?”
Psychologist Georges Tichy in Riverside, California—“I suggest that every person including the lawmakers in Washington and the president who think Ms. Schiavo should be kept alive should make a public pronouncement and a living will stating if the same situation happened to them, they would want to be kept alive no matter what. How many would actually want it for themselves?”
Your e-mails email@example.com. We go through them at the end of the show.
“OH PLEAs!”—you may have heard of the saying that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. What do you say about a lawyer who sues himself? Emert Wyss, a lawyer in Alton, Illinois, was seeing green when he filed a class action lawsuit with four law firms against a mortgage company. Unfortunately, Weiss or Weiss didn‘t realize the lawsuit had a boomerang attached.
He‘s the owner of a Centerre Title Company and he acted as an attorney for a woman when she bought a house in Alton. She financed the home using Centerre Title. Wyss advised the woman that she may have a claim against the first mortgage company for charging a fee while refinancing.
Wyss created an agreement for his legal services with four Chicago law firms to sue the mortgage company. Who knew the judge would order that company to add Centerre Title, and Wyss himself as defendants. Thereby creating a situation where Wyss the attorney was suing himself. Reminds me when I was a kid I used to play one-on-one basketball against myself. I won most of the time.
That does it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. See you tomorrow.
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