Guest: B.J. Bernstein, William Fallon, Debra Opri, Theodore Simon, Steve Smith
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, could the release of new sleazy details about runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks actually help her avoid prosecution?
ABRAMS (voice-over): A supposed friend of hers quoted in “People” magazine saying she was upset her fianc’ John Mason was waiting for marriage to have sex, just the latest detail of her personal life to be revealed. Could all these tawdry details make prosecutors say, she‘s had enough and decide not to charge her?
And what kind of mother lets their kid go to Neverland? Two who did just that for years take the stand to defend Michael Jackson.
ABRAMS: Plus, this woman facing the possibility of death by firing squad for smuggling marijuana into Bali. She said she was set up.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone. First up on the docket tonight, could the release of sleazy details about runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks make prosecutors feel sorry for her? Today‘s “People” magazine cover story has loads of personal items about her life. They are reporting Jennifer had surgery for breast implants and her bridesmaids have turned on her, that she possibly ran away from her family, her fianc’ and her 600 wedding guests because she had a bad sex life.
According to “People” magazine, her soon-to-be husband was a—quote
· “born again virgin” and refused to sleep with her before they got married. “People” reports that after Jennifer came home, John Mason said -
· quote—“in God‘s eyes our relationship is still very pure.”
This could have been one source of stress for Wilbanks, says a friend. She told “People” the fact that she and John were not having sex was upsetting. Prosecutors haven‘t said yet whether they‘re going to charge Wilbanks with any crime. When the D.A. came on this show, it sure sounded like he was going to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANNY PORTER, GWINNETT CTY GA D.A.: The only thing I know right now is that it‘s pretty clear, well, not even just pretty clear, really clear that in Georgia the jurisdiction or the venue for the crime of false statements or for false report of a crime is where the report is received, not necessarily where it originates. So I have the ability there‘s no legal impediment to prosecution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: “My Take”—as my regular viewers know, I have been saying for a week now that I think her phone call to 911, her false claims of being raped, her lies to the Georgia authorities should mean that she at least gets charged with a misdemeanor. But I have to tell you after these details came out I really started to feel sorry for Jennifer Wilbanks. I wonder if prosecutors will too.
Joining me now is former Gwinnett County Georgia prosecutor, that‘s where this is happening, B.J. Bernstein and former Massachusetts‘ prosecutor Bill Fallon. All right. B.J., thanks for dressing up for the show. We appreciate it. No, I know you‘re going to some event. All right, what do you think, B.J.?
Any possibility that all of this—it‘s not supposed to, but we keep talking about the fact that prosecutorial discretion is the issue here. The question is not was some technical—is there some technical violation of the law. The question is, is the prosecutor going to move forward? Could this make them feel sorry for her?
B.J. BERNSTEIN, FORMER GWINNETT CTY GA PROSECUTOR: I think not feel sorry directly because of what is being said and the salacious details of it, but rather you know there‘s been this public clamor to just go after this girl, make her pay, go after her, go after her. And as you‘re saying, you know it‘s starting to change you, that enough already. The girl‘s been through enough. Let her get her psychological treatment and go on. So in that sense, it may affect and possibly you know help deter any more action and just to end this thing.
ABRAMS: See, I‘ve never really bought the whole—the psychological aspect of it. For me that‘s something for either a jury to determine in a case like this. I mean it‘s not as if she didn‘t understand right from wrong. And you know I don‘t view this as just some nothing issue when you call the police. Let me play—let‘s get the 911 tape loaded here because I want to tell you because this is really what got me as I was following this case, was hearing this 911 tape and then knowing that she repeated the lies to the Georgia authorities. She apparently also said that she was raped. Here‘s the—do we have the 911 tape? All right, here‘s a piece of the 911 tape.
(BEGIN 911 CALL)
DISPATCHER: Did they have any weapons on them?
DISPATCHER: And they...
WILBANKS: They had a huge pistol and a small handgun.
DISPATCHER: Do you know if they were real?
(END 911 CALL)
ABRAMS: Bill Fallon, you know she went on, she talked about this Hispanic man and white woman in the blue van who abducted her. She said that she was raped, et cetera. But I don‘t know, these new details for some reason, not the psychological stuff because I think you can‘t get into that in every case, because how do you create a legal system when every time you are going to look into the psychology of the person doing it. But I don‘t know, am I getting soft?
WILLIAM FALLON, FORMER ESSEX COUNTY MA PROSECUTOR: Dan, you‘re not getting soft over this. You might be otherwise. But let‘s leave that elsewhere. I think right now...
FALLON: ... I‘m being fresh. I think the thing is this crime is not the worse crime and you and I have disagreed on this. The crime began days into this. If I were the prosecutor here, I don‘t know everything, this is a girl who has trouble. But that doesn‘t mean she doesn‘t get charged. On the other hand, this is a city that is not going to get money back unless they come up with something creative, because 95 percent of the money they spent...
FALLON: ... is all prior to her reporting anything. If I were a creative prosecutor, I might say, you know what, in thinking about whether we arraign you on something, we have a pretrial probation, we have a pretrial kind of diversion thing, you get help...
FALLON: ... you pay over a little money...
ABRAMS: I‘m sure...
FALLON: ... we make it all...
ABRAMS: I‘m sure the family would agree I think at this point to pay back any damages. But I...
FALLON: Who needs friends like these “People” friends...
FALLON: Where the heck are these friends?
ABRAMS: Let me read a little bit more from the “People” article, which really made me feel bad for her.
Both had certainly done the single thing. Jennifer, who had breast augmentation surgery before meeting Mason, had lots of boyfriends. Some for short times, some for longer times, says a friend. What cute, sweet, lively woman wouldn‘t? As for Mason, he was wild when he was young, says his friend and running buddy Ted King. He dated a lot, went out a lot. Mason, the manager of his family‘s medical clinic, came to disapprove of premarital sex after committing himself to his Baptist faith five years ago. Says Andy Parson, over the past few years, he‘s been saving himself for the right woman.
FALLON: Reborn virginity. It‘s really a unique term here, Dan, and I think it‘s going to be interesting for men and women in the future.
ABRAMS: But seriously, Bill, as a prosecutor, would you ever say to yourself, all right look, you know this is one of those close cases. You know enough is enough. Let‘s make her pay back the money that it cost us to move forward with this. But you know all of these embarrassing details and everything that maybe there‘s some level of punishment in that?
FALLON: Dan, I think that the details are the pile-on factor. I would never say it if she started out leaving a note here that she had been, as she said, now raped and taken by these people. If she had really initiated this, I would have said tough luck. Now that it‘s later on in the case and she is just responsible for the last five percent, actively responsible, passively beforehand, I don‘t know that I would be thinking it would be serving everybody by having all these things come out. There will never be a trial...
ABRAMS: Right. That‘s for sure.
FALLON: ... I know that as a prosecutor. So the question is, is there something I can do that‘s going to save everybody? I really don‘t know. And I wasn‘t kidding about what kind of friends these people are.
ABRAMS: No, I agree with you. But again, B.J., I mean look, you were in this office running—and the question that I‘m wrestling with is look, a prosecutor can admit that oh “People” magazine article influenced me. No prosecutor is ever going to tell you that...
BERNSTEIN: Exactly right.
ABRAMS: But now that you can take us into the mind of one and you don‘t have to actually make that decision, could it influence them? Could they say there‘s been some level of punishment in the humiliation that‘s involved?
BERNSTEIN: It can be a factor. I mean exactly what you‘re saying about punishment, enough is enough. Everybody wanted this girl to pay and if people being on the front of “People” magazine with deep, personal details of your life and what you have done and your sexual history, with your intended marriage partner, isn‘t bad enough, I mean what is community service going to do to you compared to that type of humiliation? There‘s no comparison.
FALLON: Well it is going to say that other people who don‘t get their names in “People” magazine, you might have to have some course that they can follow to say to people, don‘t have this happen. Not everybody is going to have friends running to “People” magazine.
BERNSTEIN: And not all these type of cases had it not been this type of media attention would...
ABRAMS: But you know what...
BERNSTEIN: ... we wouldn‘t be talking about it.
ABRAMS: ... I‘d love to knows where those friends were when everyone was saying oh, there‘s no way, there‘s no way she got cold feet. No chance.
FALLON: Dan, you know what...
ABRAMS: Where were they then...
FALLON: ... everybody is fearful...
ABRAMS: ... wait a second, people. Hey wait a second. Don‘t start jumping to conclusions. I‘ve got to tell you, she might have had some concerns. They didn‘t even have to get into it.
FALLON: See, the crime is what she did to her parents, Dan. That‘s my thing. If I were going to punish her, it‘s not for what she did to born-again virgin boy, it‘s now what she did by running away. It‘s what about the parents? So I wonder what the untold story is there.
ABRAMS: B.J., you want to say something?
BERNSTEIN: Yes, I think your point is a good one that you were just making about why didn‘t they tell the police that there could be some reason for her to back off.
ABRAMS: Well maybe that‘s why the police...
ABRAMS: ... maybe that‘s why the police called off the search early...
BERNSTEIN: Yes, because remember, this started really quickly. I mean normally someone‘s missing a much longer period of time before...
BERNSTEIN: ... it becomes a flashing news story about looking for someone. So it‘s like we kind of jumped the gun and then all of the facts didn‘t make it their way and now we are left with a mess.
ABRAMS: Yes. All right. B.J. Bernstein and Bill Fallon, thanks a lot. Bill, I guess, is going to stick around.
Coming up—who let their kids sleep in Michael Jackson‘s bedroom? Remember anyone—everyone asks that question. Well two mothers took the stand today and testified they did it and Jackson never touched their boys.
And a 27-year-old woman facing life in prison, possibly even death by a firing squad for smuggling marijuana. The authorities say nine pounds of it into Bali. She says she was framed. So far it sounds like the judges aren‘t buying it. We‘ll have a ruling soon.
Plus, a mayor who has voted against gay rights caught by a newspaper in gay chat rooms looking for sex with young men and accused by a paper of molesting two boys in the ‘70‘s. Wasn‘t actually accused by the paper, there were accusations that were in the paper, says he did nothing wrong.
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: We hear it all the time. What kind of mother would let a child sleep in Michael Jackson‘s bed? Well two of them testified today. The buzzwords of their testimony—trust and family. Both spoke glowingly of Jackson. One saying—quote—“he‘s not the boy next door. He‘s Michael Jackson. He‘s very pure in his love for children. To know him is to love him and trust him.”
Both women backed up their sons‘ testimony that Jackson never inappropriately touched them, but they also made it clear that Jackson shares his bed with boys more often than a normal adult would be comfortable with.
NBC‘s Mike Taibbi was in court today. Mike, clearly the defense trying to say hey, Michael Jackson might be weird but he‘s not a child molester. Did they explain why they let their kids sleep in bed with Michael Jackson at all?
MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well basically they said they trusted him. But I have to tell you, Dan, I think today and yesterday, the beginning of the defense case represent a see change in the way this trial is going. Remember, a couple weeks ago when I said that to me the most troubling testimony in the entire prosecution case was the unchallenged testimony by the mother of the ‘93 accuser that her son and Jackson had spent perhaps 50 nights together. And I‘m saying 50 nights, and that‘s unchallenged by the defense.
Well the defense has essentially conceded that point in the testimony that they brought out from their witnesses over the past two days. Here‘s one exchange. This is from Gordon Auchincloss, who‘s the deputy prosecutor questioning Karlee Barnes, who‘s the sister of Brett Barnes, one of the two alleged victims who denied they were ever victimized by Michael Jackson. All of whom said quite believably frankly that they never saw or heard Jackson do anything that was inappropriate with either the boys or with any other child.
Question to Karlee Barnes: How many nights did Jackson spend? And she said that probably two tours, maybe 365 nights. Auchincloss says so that‘s 365 nights that Michael Jackson spent with your brother and you didn‘t find that odd? And she said no, not at all in a kind of an offhand say.
Well, I‘m sitting there with a press corps who, as you know, had looked at the prosecution case, as you did from a distance, but reading the transcripts everyday, saying this is not a very strong case, saying 365 nights. There are now only two ways that this jury and anybody following this trial can now view Michael Jackson.
Either he‘s a grown man who innocently spent hundreds of nights with a succession of individual boys or is a grown man who spent all those nights with all those boys and molested some of them. That‘s the only view that‘s available...
TAIBBI: ... and frankly, a defense source last night conceded that point, that they‘re now going to present that that‘s who Michael Jackson is. Perhaps...
TAIBBI: ... as Dr. Stan Katz said, not somebody who presents as a pedophile but a severely regressed 10-year-old, who knows...
ABRAMS: But Mike...
TAIBBI: Go ahead.
ABRAMS: ... I think that that—I don‘t know that that‘s so helpful. I mean I‘m not saying you‘re saying it is, but I think that that‘s a problem in a way for the defense.
TAIBBI: Sure. Oh, absolutely.
ABRAMS: I mean the fact that there‘s now this admission that—these mothers, by the way, they are not going to have a whole lot of credibility. Oh yes, I thought it was fine. Oh yes, no problem. So my kid is sleeping in bed. Come on. It‘s all about the love.
TAIBBI: It‘s weird. I mean it is an alternate reality. It‘s not something that I as a father and as somebody who used to be a 35-year-old man several years ago could ever conceive of allowing my son to have done when he was 7, 8, 10 years old.
TAIBBI: Can you imagine accepting that it‘s a normal thing? Well, what they are saying is Michael Jackson, as you pointed out at the top of the show, is not your normal person, he‘s Michael Jackson.
ABRAMS: Mike, stick around for a minute.
TAIBBI: ... he is this guy...
ABRAMS: Stick around for a minute.
TAIBBI: I‘ll do that.
ABRAMS: Joining me now is Debra Opri, attorney for Katherine and Joe Jackson, who are Michael‘s parents, and former Massachusetts‘ sex crime prosecutor Bill Fallon. All right. Debra, what do you make of that? That the more we hear about Michael Jackson, the more it‘s certain that he is extremely odd at the very least but at worst becomes a molester?
DEBRA OPRI, ATTORNEY FOR JACKSON‘S PARENTS: Well you know, Dan, as I have been saying for a long time, it‘s up to the defense to get the jury into the mindset, the condition, reality of the way Michael Jackson lives.
ABRAMS: How do you do that?
OPRI: And I can assure...
ABRAMS: How do you do that?
OPRI: ... the way we do it is I can assure you that everyone on that jury is like what‘s going on here. But the more people who get on that stand and say, you know I know Michael Jackson. He is all about love. He is child-like. We ate popcorn. We watched cartoons. We did videos. And the more and more people who get up there and say that, Dan, the people will become conditioned that this is Michael Jackson‘s reality. He wants to live the life of a child. He does that by hanging around kids, and, therefore, he‘s childlike but he‘s not a molester and I think Mesereau has to walk a very thin line doing this.
OPRI: Because at one point in time it‘s going to be oh my God, this is either a freak show...
OPRI: ... or really he is a child.
OPRI: And I think Mesereau will be successful at it.
ABRAMS: Go ahead Bill.
FALLON: ... you know I think there‘s two major points here. I think number one, one point really is, is that this is making the victim‘s mother, no matter how bad she was, the alleged victim‘s mother, a little less crazy in everybody‘s eyes because they‘re bringing on all these witnesses who say I had no concerns, therefore we can‘t say what kind of fruitcake...
ABRAMS: Wait, wait, wait...
ABRAMS: What made her crazy, though, wasn‘t just the fact that she let Michael Jackson, you know, that she let her boy sleep with Michael Jackson. It was a lot of the other...
ABRAMS: ... things that came out about her as well.
FALLON: Oh Dan, I completely agree. But that was one major factor.
If you remember when this came out, everybody said how can anybody do it? I‘m just saying there‘s not much in her favor. This is just one little thing that doesn‘t make her so bad. But I also think...
FALLON: ... and I said this about the prosecutor here—he has got to try exactly what they are proving. He is not the mad molester of the western civilization. What he is, is when he becomes that 11-year-old who has these sleepovers, he has these little sexual urges every now and then. And that‘s what happened, ladies and gentlemen...
FALLON: ... and that‘s the way they prove that.
ABRAMS: Here‘s what the prosecution...
ABRAMS: Here‘s what the prosecution is trying to do. They‘re trying to establish a pattern to Jackson‘s behavior through the defense witnesses. They‘re trying to show that he forms relationships over the time by phone, that he invites them to Neverland where they sleep in his bedroom. The first sleepover often involves another sibling or child. That boys, who often don‘t have a strong father figure, tells boys and mothers that they are family and that they can trust him. That seems to be...
OPRI: They should have done that on direct.
OPRI: They should have done that in the prosecution‘s case...
ABRAMS: Why not?
OPRI: ... really upset me?
ABRAMS: You can‘t criticize them for trying to...
OPRI: Dan, you know what really upset me...
ABRAMS: ... defense case also.
OPRI: There is a book that is being thrown all over the courtroom, all over the media, it‘s called “The Boys”...
ABRAMS: Yes, I‘ve seen it.
FALLON: Michael Jackson‘s book...
OPRI: Well the bottom line is this. If you‘re going to convict Michael Jackson because he has a book like that...
ABRAMS: You‘re not—but Debra, you know that‘s not the issue.
OPRI: ... even though the self of the possession of it...
ABRAMS: Debra—but that‘s not the issue.
OPRI: It doesn‘t—no, no, it is the issue.
ABRAMS: Wait, wait, wait...
OPRI: Dan, it is the issue...
ABRAMS: The issue was never...
OPRI: ... because...
ABRAMS: The issue in this case is never...
OPRI: ... it is the issue...
ABRAMS: ... and never has been...
OPRI: ... because...
ABRAMS: It has never been is she going to be...
OPRI: ... the prosecutors...
ABRAMS: Debra, Debra...
OPRI: ... are using...
ABRAMS: ... I‘m not going to let you say what you just said without being challenged.
OPRI: No, the prosecution...
ABRAMS: You‘re not just going to say it and run away.
OPRI: ... used the book...
ABRAMS: I‘m going to follow up.
ABRAMS: You just—Debra, stop for a second.
OPRI: The prosecutors have...
OPRI: ... used the book...
ABRAMS: You know what? Cut her mike off. I‘m sorry, Debra, if you‘re not going to—you know we are trying to have a conversation here. And you‘re saying something and want to go unchallenged. You want to say that the bottom line is that he can‘t be convicted based on the book, no one on this program has ever said that. No one is ever going to suggest it. The prosecutor is not going to suggest it. It‘s a non-issue. Now, I‘m sorry, your response.
OPRI: The prosecutors are using the boys, Robson, Barnes, in conjunction with the book in asking them to play the 13th juror in saying, don‘t you think it‘s a little weird, would you hang out with somebody who had a book in their possession? It‘s irrelevant. What they...
FALLON: The judge...
ABRAMS: Hang on. Let her finish, Bill. Let her finish...
FALLON: The judge says it‘s relevant...
ABRAMS: Bill, Bill.
FALLON: All right.
OPRI: OK. Thank you. The crux of their testimony is to nullify the 1108 prior bad acts. That was alluded to them. They were molested. They were inappropriately touched. They got on the stand and they said it never happened. On cross, I didn‘t hear Ron Zonen—I respect him. He is a very well known sex crimes prosecutor, and in my opinion he should have been the lead attorney on this case. But he didn‘t challenge their credibility. He didn‘t give them a motivation. All he did was pull out the book. You know, would you hang out with somebody like this? That‘s the point I‘m making.
ABRAMS: Mike Taibbi wanted to get in there.
OPRI: They‘re not doing their job.
ABRAMS: Go ahead Mike.
TAIBBI: Yes, Dan—let me say one thing Dan. I don‘t think that these defense witnesses, while they were not a sure win for the defense, made the prosecution‘s evidence or witnesses any stronger. What they did was to make the prosecution‘s theory a whole lot stronger and more conceivable and understandable to this jury that where there‘s smoke, there‘s fire. Now there‘s so much smoke, you can‘t even really see Michael Jackson, the person anymore. You see him as this person who sleeps with young boys...
TAIBBI: ... and admits that he did it.
TAIBBI: So it makes the prosecution...
ABRAMS: I‘ve got to tell you...
TAIBBI: ... stronger...
ABRAMS: ... I think Debra laid it out well though, a moment ago when she said that basically the defense is going to have to say that‘s who he is. That‘s what he does.
TAIBBI: Oh, no, no, they did...
ABRAMS: We don‘t challenge it.
TAIBBI: We talked to a defense source who said that. Absolutely...
OPRI: Say it enough...
FALLON: But freak show, not child molester...
OPRI: ... you don‘t say it enough...
ABRAMS: Hang on.
ABRAMS: Debra, let me ask you another question. You—I had seen you quoted saying that the family, at least, believe that Michael Jackson was going to testify. Still your understanding that he‘s expected to testify?
OPRI: Is that for me?
OPRI: Yes. I never was quoted as saying the family thinks he‘s going to testify. I was quoted as saying, in my opinion, based upon three things Mesereau is saying, you will hear from Michael Jackson.
ABRAMS: OK. OK.
OPRI: Mesereau being well known for putting his clients on and knowing Michael Jackson is somebody you can‘t tell what to do. If he wants his story to be told and he believes he can tell it, he‘s - nobody...
ABRAMS: Fair enough.
OPRI: ... is going to tell him not to take the stand.
ABRAMS: Fair enough. Bill Fallon, what did you want to say?
OPRI: And Dan, thanks.
FALLON: For me, I just say Michael Jackson is the freak show. I have said if I tried this as a prosecutor, the defense is going just that way. He‘s a freak show. He‘s just not a molester. I think...
OPRI: One more time, freak...
FALLON: ... somebody—well because a freak is a person who might...
FALLON: ... who sleeps with kids.
FALLON: No, no, I mean...
FALLON: ... you know I‘m saying Debra...
OPRI: Conduct yourself like a prosecutor.
FALLON: Debra, I‘m not the prosecutor...
OPRI: I haven‘t heard any of the prosecutors saying he‘s a freak.
FALLON: What I‘m saying is if I have somebody—well you haven‘t heard him say—you don‘t think it‘s a freak show sleeping with kids when you‘re 45, 365 days a night? If a woman were doing it, it would still be a freak show if they‘re sleeping with little kids. And that is a freak show. He looks like a freak show. And the question is, is he a molester? And I think his positive is he doesn‘t molest everybody, which is why I‘m still amazed we didn‘t have expert testimony...
OPRI: Well if we talked about the evidence is one thing...
FALLON: ... you can be a...
OPRI: ... if you want to write for a rag sheet, your conduct is...
FALLON: Debra, he‘s already said he‘s a pedophile...
FALLON: He may not be a sexual pedophile...
ABRAMS: All right.
OPRI: Talk about the evidence.
FALLON: He talks about sleeping with kids...
FALLON: ... pedophile, may not be a molester.
OPRI: All right, we know your position. He‘s a freak. OK.
FALLON: You think he‘s not?
ABRAMS: Mike, Bill, Debra...
ABRAMS: ... nice to have you here. Thank you...
OPRI: Dan, it‘s been a pleasure. Nice to see you again.
ABRAMS: Nice to see you too. It‘s all good. You know we are all friends here.
OPRI: It‘s all good. We all go home and...
ABRAMS: Exactly. Exactly.
OPRI: ... have the same pillow to sleep on.
ABRAMS: Thanks a lot for coming on. Appreciate it.
FALLON: Just as long as it‘s not Jackson‘s.
ABRAMS: Coming up (INAUDIBLE) a traveler‘s nightmare. A woman facing the possibility of death by firing squad for smuggling marijuana into Indonesia. She said she was framed but it sure sounds like the court is not buying it.
And the mayor of Spokane, Washington, has been an opponent of gay rights for years. Now he‘s fighting allegations of child molestation and a newspaper says they caught him looking for sex with young men online.
ABRAMS: Coming up—a young woman has been jailed in Bali, accused of drug smuggling. She could face the death penalty. She said she was framed and the prosecution‘s case has some real problems. First the headlines.
ABRAMS: A 27-year-old woman is facing possible death-by-firing squad in Indonesia after being found with over nine pounds of marijuana in a surfboard bag last October when she passed through Indonesian customs. Schapelle Corby, a beauty student back in her native Australia, is on trial in a Bali court for drug smuggling. The prosecution wrapped its case against her this week after a trial that has received international attention, including a plea from actor Russell Crowe, the Australian government should apply more pressure for Corby‘s release.
Corby‘s emotional and physical health reportedly deteriorated as the trial proceeded. In one episode a friend of Corby‘s fought off television cameras as a handcuffed and crying Corby tried to walk into the courtroom. After finally sitting down in the courtroom, Corby fainted on her lawyer. Corby claims that the marijuana was planted in her bag after she checked in at the Sydney airport. Her defense looked to have gotten a break when an Australia prisoner testified that he overheard other inmates talking about how Corby had been used as a mule for drug gangs in Australia. She didn‘t know it was there.
That guy was later stabbed in prison. Corby‘s brother and two of her friends also testified they saw the bag after Corby had packed it. That there were no drugs inside. Indonesian authorities have refused to fingerprint the back, but the chief Indonesian judge has already told Corby that she failed to prove she was not guilty. Interesting burden of proof over there. A verdict is expected on May 26. Indonesian law allows for judges to impose the death penalty in drug cases.
Joining us now is a man who has done a lot of these international cases, our friend, criminal defense attorney Ted Simon, who represented Michael Fay, among others, the American teenager who was convicted of vandalism in Singapore and was caned for his crimes. All right. You know, Ted, this sounds like this girl is in a lot of trouble.
THEODORE SIMON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Oh there‘s no question. As your show often depicts, criminal defense lawyers have heightened responsibility, but when you‘re a criminal defense lawyer and you‘re representing someone in a foreign country and you‘re not a citizen of that country, it truly intensifies. So yes, she‘s facing very, very severe punishment and there‘s a lot to be done on her behalf.
ABRAMS: And Ted, they did not allow her to present any evidence about what was happening at the Australian—at the Sydney airport with baggage handlers. Meaning, she wanted to present evidence that basically said that there were people who might have been involved in drug rings, that there were also shenanigans going on at the airport that would have allowed someone to put it into her bag.
SIMON: Yes, she had a very specific defense. She wanted a weighing of her bags to demonstrate that at the time she put her bags through the checkpoint in Australia, they weighed a certain amount and when they arrived, they weighed four kilos more, the amount of marijuana that she claims was inserted without her knowledge, so she‘s not a mule. She claims that she is an unwitting dupe, that she was taken advantage of as a pure traveler.
And you know these things do happen. She has substantial evidence. I mean she‘s a 27-year-old student who‘s traveling with her 16-year-old brother and the family paid for her ticket and the family vacation, so it doesn‘t look like she is doing double duty of bringing some marijuana from one country to another. It doesn‘t seem to be any other supporting information.
ABRAMS: And usually you think it would be the other way around, right? I mean...
ABRAMS: ... you would go to a country like Indonesia, I mean not Indonesia per se, but another country and bring it back to a more western nation like Australia.
SIMON: Exactly. And that‘s what they are arguing. In fact, it‘s the reverse economics. The value would be more if it was coming out than going in.
ABRAMS: So what happens Ted? I mean look, it sounds like she‘s going to get convicted. It sounds like she‘s going to get at least life in prison for this. What does she do?
SIMON: Well, there‘s a lot you do. First of all, you argue the facts and the law as you can under the system within that country. I mean you have to work within that system. You have to be careful that you don‘t go too far because this is a three-judge panel and it‘s their verdict that will carry the day.
Now, if the—while the maximum punishment is death, she is more likely exposed to some significant jail term, if not life. Now, after that she can appeal or ask for clemency. But significantly and what‘s happened between the two countries, that is Indonesia and Australia, they just signed an agreement that permits the transfer—international prisoner transfer of inmates. So that if she is convicted, and assuming she doesn‘t get the death penalty, she will be able with the consent of both parties, both governments to transfer back to her homeland.
Now this is something we have done for many, many years. And it‘s a great benefit for someone who finds themselves in a foreign country, who‘s been convicted under due process that doesn‘t even come close to what you expect.
ABRAMS: Well yes, I mean if she has to prove her innocence there, as opposed to them proving her guilt...
SIMON: Yes and also...
ABRAMS: Very quickly, Ted...
SIMON: ... you can argue some comparative sentencing. You know this is a really—there was a tragic bombing, as you may remember, in October of 2002, where over 200 people were killed...
SIMON: ... and some 88 Australians were killed.
SIMON: And one of the alleged leaders who was convicted of conspiracy only received 30 months.
SIMON: So now that sounds shocking...
SIMON: ... and there were others who received much more severe penalties...
ABRAMS: That‘s a great point, Ted. That is a great point. Wow.
SIMON: So you can certainly argue that within that system. And I think without going so far as to offend them.
ABRAMS: Right. Wow. All right. Ted Simon, thanks a lot for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
SIMON: You‘re welcome. Good to see you Dan.
ABRAMS: You too. Coming up, the mayor of Spokane, Washington, a longtime opponent of gay rights now defending himself against allegations of child molestation. And a local paper says they have evidence that he was trolling gay chat rooms for young men. We talk to the report and hear from the mayor.
A man finds a finger in his custard—get this—then refuses to give it back to the poor guy who lost it only minutes earlier in a custard machine. What is our lawsuit happy society coming to?
ABRAMS: Coming up, a mayor that voted against gay rights accused in a newspaper of molesting two boys in the ‘70‘s, says he did nothing wrong. We talk to the reporter and hear from the mayor.
ABRAMS: It seems Jim West, the mayor of Spokane, Washington, is finding himself in some hot water, courtesy of an undercover sting operation organized by the city‘s local paper. The mayor, an outspoken opponent of gay rights, has been accused of molesting two boys in the 1970‘s and was just caught by the paper trying to lure a young man into his office in a gay online chat room. The allegations, first of all, one man, Robert Galliher, claims West molested him in the mid 1970‘s when West was a Boy Scout leader and sheriff‘s deputy. Another man, Michael Grant, Jr., also accuses West of sexual abuse in those same years at a local Boy Scout camp. To that the mayor said this yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR JIM WEST, SPOKANE, WA: I categorically deny any allegations about incidents that supposedly occurred 24 years ago as alleged by two convicted felons and about which I have no knowledge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: But he had a slightly different response to the allegations of his time spent in gay Internet chat rooms, uncovered by a private investigator hired by “The Spokesman-Review” as part of a sting operation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WEST: The newspaper also reported that I have visited a gay Internet chat line and had relations with adult men. I don‘t deny that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: All right. Joining me now is the editor of “The Spokesman-Review”, the newspaper that broke the story, Steve Smith. Thanks very much for coming on the program. We appreciate it.
STEVE A. SMITH, EDITOR, “THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW”: Thank you, Dan.
ABRAMS: How would you characterize what specifically your paper‘s investigation uncovered?
SMITH: Well, let me begin by saying that I‘m here sitting in and representing the two reporters who actually worked this story, Bill Morlin and Karen Dorn Steele, pretty extraordinary investigative reporters whose gum shoe detective work over the last couple of years produced the package of stories that broke today.
ABRAMS: And how would you characterize what it is that this—that all these articles uncovered?
SMITH: The issue here is a history going back 24 years of alleged improprieties on the part of the mayor, really three elements to the package. Allegations that he abused youngsters in the 1970‘s when he was a Scout leader and a sheriff‘s deputy, a disconnection between his public life as a legislator and private life during his many years in the state legislature, and then most recently in the last year and a half or so as mayor of Spokane, using the Internet and surfing the Web to attract, troll for young men as sexual partners and offering some of the benefits of his office, gifts, tickets to sporting events, even an internship to these young men.
ABRAMS: What exactly—and you—the paper had hired a private investigator? I mean is the way it happened that you—your paper uncovered this information about these allegations many years ago and as a result hired a private eye to sort of go in there and see what other information they could get?
SMITH: Well, little more complicated than that. The allegations of molestation, our reporter Bill Morlin has been working on for quite some time. And our uncovering of the two victims that were included in our package of stories yesterday and today, those names really developed in only the last several months. So it‘s not as if we‘ve known those kinds of provable or presentable specifics for a length of time.
It was in the course of looking for possible victims of past abuse that Bill came across an 18-year-old man in our community last fall who told Bill that he had met the mayor online and had engaged in dialogue that concluded with meeting the mayor for dinner and a consensual sex act in the back of the mayor‘s Lexus convertible late one night behind a country club. That was the online component of the story.
It was fresh and new to us and we spent late last fall and the first few months of this year trying to ascertain with as much certainty as possible, was the man online Jim West? And for that we helped—we utilized the help of a forensic computer expert who is knowledgeable in tracking online sexual activity.
ABRAMS: Any concern that you kind of set him up? Meaning, you know you put someone on the Internet pretending to be someone they are not? Any concerns sort of journalistically about doing that?
SMITH: Oh, absolutely. Newspapers don‘t engage in this sort of fictional deceptive practice with any regularity. We considered this step with great care. The issue was we had allegations from individuals that they had met the mayor online. Online in this chat world, people use screen names and those mask their real identities. And we needed absolutely, certifiable evidence that this individual was Jim West. And to accomplish that in the end, the only reasonable recourse to us was to go online, as an individual, and engage the mayor in conversations that could be recorded, retained, tracked and identified.
ABRAMS: And at this point he is not denying that he was on those chat rooms. So...
SMITH: Absolutely not. And I think absent that final conclusive evidence, I‘m not sure that he would have ever copped to it.
ABRAMS: Oh, I‘m sure you‘re right about that. All right, Steve Smith, thanks a lot for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
SMITH: My pleasure. Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up—a man finds a finger in his custard, refuses to give the finger back to the man who‘d lost it only minutes earlier. Now it‘s too late to have it reattached. He apparently wanted to use it in a lawsuit. What has our society come to? It‘s “Closing Argument” coming up.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—what is our society coming to when a man refuses to return a body part to someone who hoped to have it reattached? The reason—it appears he feared returning it might detract from a possible lawsuit. Clarence Stowers found a part of a severed finger in a dessert he purchased at Kohl‘s Frozen Custard in Wilmington, North Carolina. But unlike that ridiculous case at Wendy‘s where it appears the woman made it up and no one knows where the finger came from, this one was no mystery.
Brandon Fizer, an employee of Kohl‘s, had his finger amputated in a custard mixing machine only minutes earlier. Doctors told Fizer his finger could be attached up to eight hours after the amputation occurred. Well after Stowers announced that he‘d made the grizzly discovery, the general manager of the custard store asked Stowers for the finger back so he could rush it to the hospital. He refused. He refused.
According to the manager, Stowers left the store and announced he was on his way to call television stations and a lawyer. He was keeping the finger for evidence in a lawsuit he planned to file, according to the manager. Now it‘s too late to have the finger reattached. You know you hear people cite a lot of statistics both for and against tort reform. Maybe more important is the sick mentality that all these lawsuits have created.
When people see someone slip or fall or get hurt, it‘s all about the legal pay. One of the first questions and concerns is can I sue or will he sue? Stowers‘ lawyer says he just wanted to make sure the finger could be tested for any disease. Well you know, Clarence, those tests could have been done at the hospital once the finger was reattached. Regardless, even if that long shot explanation is true, it‘s still about—how does it affect me mentality and I‘m tired of it. We need to change our legal system, not just because the system is being abused, but because of the psychology of many in this country, people like Clarence Stowers, who it seems, are blinded by the potential payout.
Coming up, Jennifer Wilbanks, otherwise known as the runaway bride, is she a victim of the media? Your e-mails are next.
ABRAMS: I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks, a victim of the media. Last night my guest, Geoffrey Fieger said Jennifer didn‘t expect the kind of coverage the media provided and he blamed the media for everything that happened to her. I still think that she should be charged for filing a false report about being abducted and raped, although I‘m starting to feel sorry for her.
Susan Hayward writes, “I‘m appalled that so many people are defending this woman. Her defenders seem to be implying that it is the media‘s fault that she‘s in this situation. Yet, if she had really been kidnapped and the media attention had helped to locate her, they‘d be seen as heroes.”
I said generally press coverage in this kind of case where someone is missing can be helpful. Dick Behnke in Loveland, Colorado, “As a cops and courts beat newspaper reporter for 30 years, I must challenge the idea of 21st Century TV people that broadcasting the names, faces and details of people who disappear helps in any way to find them. I even wonder if in actual cases of abduction, the sensational reporting doesn‘t have the opposite effect of causing the abductor to kill the victim for fear of them being seen due to the publicity.”
Well Dick, I hope you that you are fighting tooth and nail then against all the Amber Alert systems that have saved many children. It does exactly the same thing.
Teri Nadeau gets a second letter in a week on the air. “You‘re more supportive and understanding of Wacko Jacko than sweet little Jennifer. While you are a wonderful news anchor, I think you would be a terrible boyfriend. Everything in life is not by the book, black and white.”
From Hope Mills, North Carolina, Gerald Gibbs writes about the fact that she went to Vegas. “Don‘t you know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?”
And Karen Austen in Freeport, Maine, “Denial is not a river in Egypt. Denial is a river in Georgia. The runaway bride had her father‘s pastor claim that she didn‘t have cold feet.”
Also last night we looked at the accusations made against “American Idol‘s” Paula Abdul by a former contestant, that she had a sexual relationship with him.
Grace Yllana in Cincinnati with what I expected was criticism of our having covered this story. “Why is everyone focusing on the Paula Abdul-Corey Clark sexual tryst?” I understand it‘s probably not a huge story, not even legal, yet but wait, Grace wasn‘t upset that we covered it, just that we covered the wrong angle. She said, “The bigger scandal is what “Idol” did to Constantine Maroulis fans by throwing out our votes.” Come on Grace.
And finally some of you noticed I had the sniffles last night. Thanks to those of you who wished me well, but Tom Alderman wrote, “I just can‘t help but e-mail this note to complain about your sniffling. My new girlfriend does the same thing, sniffles and it irritates the heck out of me. I find myself sniffing after she does just to let her know how irritating it can be when it‘s not yourself doing it.”
Boy Tommy, you must be loads of fun to date. Keep mocking her and your new girlfriend will soon be your old one, I promise.
Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com. We go through them at the end of the show.
“OH PLEAs!” - what not to do when steal a car. Gregory Alston of Baltimore allegedly stole a car at gunpoint, drove it around for two weeks. The joy rides were just that, joyous, until one day parked the hot wheels just a half-mile from where he stole it. The car‘s owner spotted it. She called police. They had it towed to their station.
Two hours later the alleged thief, Alston, came back and noticed his loot was missing. What did he do? He called the police and reported the car stolen. Police bought him in for questioning, he eventually confessed. Why did he do it? Because he left his wallet in the car. Good one.
That does it for us tonight. Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. Thanks for watching. Have a great weekend.
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