Guests: David Sinclair, Chris Downey, Brian Wice, Michelle Suskauer, Lauren Lake, Susan Filan, Daniel Horowitz, Leslie Crocker Snyder, Gino Brogdon, David Crane
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, the man who was accidentally shot by Vice President Cheney suffers a minor heart attack and is back in Intensive Care.
ABRAMS (voice-over): Doctors say the birdshot is lodged near Harry Whittington‘s heart causing an irregular heartbeat. Could this change any of the legal issues surrounding the incident?
And a jury recommended Joseph Smith die for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Carlie Brucia. Today, he made a tearful plea, asking the judge to spare his life.
And for the first time, attorney Daniel Horowitz sits face-to-face with the boy accused of brutally killing Horowitz‘s wife. He joins us for an exclusive interview.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone. First up on the docket, a major development with regard to the health of the man accidentally shot by Vice President Cheney on a hunting trip. Seventy-eight-year-old Harry Whittington is back in the ICU after suffering a minor heart attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vincent (ph) has a very healthy heart. As I said yesterday, probably healthier than mine. However, some of the birdshot appears to have moved and lodged into a part of his heart causing the atrial fib, and what we would say is a minor heart attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Doctors are hopeful the pellets in Whittington‘s body will not migrate any further, but the question—could this change in his health mean anything legally?
Joining me now to discuss is Major David Sinclair, chief of wildlife enforcement for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, former Texas prosecutor Chris Downey and Houston criminal defense attorney Brian Wice.
Major Sinclair, let me start with you. Let‘s go over some of the legalities here because we keep getting a lot of questions from a lot of viewers on some of the issues involved here. Let‘s start with...
ABRAMS: ... the least significant and that is this issue of a license. Tell us what are the requirements, what did they have, what didn‘t they have, et cetera.
MAJ. DAVID SINCLAIR, TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE: Well, any person that hunts any animal or bird in the state of the Texas is required to have a hunting license. With regard to Vice President Cheney, he did have a nonresident hunting license that he had purchased prior to the outing. So, he was up to speed with the license.
The problem that has come up has been the upland game bird stamp. It‘s a new stamp that was created by the 79th Texas legislature, went into effect back in June and then with our quail hunting season which began October the 29th, that particular stamp was required at that time and Vice President Cheney did not acquire that particular stamp. It‘s a $7 stamp. One that—the fee is used for habitat acquisition and habitat management for upland birds.
ABRAMS: So what happens to people who hunt when they don‘t have one of those stamps?
SINCLAIR: Well, with any new law we have a non-written policy where we give verbal warnings, occasionally a hard citation is written if there‘s aggravated circumstances. In the case of Vice President Cheney, he was actually the first one to receive a warning citation in the form of a written citation. All those up until now have been just verbal warnings.
ABRAMS: And then he pays the fee and you move on from there, right?
SINCLAIR: Yes. Well there‘s—with regard to the citation there‘s no penalty. No criminal...
SINCLAIR: ... no further criminal action. And I understand he has submitted a check for $7, which covers the cost of that upland bird stamp.
ABRAMS: All right. Now when someone is injured in a hunting accident in the state of Texas, if someone is not killed they are not required legally to report it, is that correct?
SINCLAIR: That is correct. The reporting comes in to play whenever someone goes to the emergency room or is admitted into a hospital. The attending physician is required by statute to report that to the local enforcement agency, the police department or the sheriff‘s department.
ABRAMS: And finally, the next step would be that there‘s an investigation and there was an investigation here. Some—again I want to get all these questions out of the way—some have asked why did it take so long. Did he get special treatment in the fact that they waited 15 hours or whatever it was before interviewing him?
SINCLAIR: Well I wouldn‘t want to speculate. You know that‘s the sheriff‘s department investigation. Game ordinance routinely assist sheriff‘s departments if we‘re called upon. In this particular case we were not asked to assist. We obtained information for our hunting accident report, which we routinely file in these cases. That information is just for statistics.
ABRAMS: All right. If you could just stick around with us for a moment, Major, Chris Downey, former Texas prosecutor, it does not seem like a big deal to me that they waited overnight in what was perceived as a hunting accident to question the vice president.
CHRIS DOWNEY, FORMER TEXAS PROSECUTOR: No, I‘m not troubled by the wait. That doesn‘t concern me at all. As a matter of fact, the fact that they did report it and stuck around to be interviewed is certainly an act of good faith on their part, went above and beyond what it is they had to do.
ABRAMS: Brian, you agree with that, right?
BRIAN WICE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I do. I don‘t think that‘s the big concern, Dan. I think whether or not there‘s a perception that the V.P. got special treatment at some level, ultimately he was interviewed by the Kennedy County Sheriff‘s Department. They made a report. The story ultimately got out albeit in a somewhat unorthodox fashion.
ABRAMS: Brian, let‘s talk about it the health of Mr. Whittington. Now, if he were to die and I think you know everyone is obviously hoping, praying and it does not seem like that is going to happen. But if that were to happen, does that change anything legally as to Vice President Cheney‘s status?
WICE: Sure, Dan, of course it does. And we‘ve heard the term accident bandied about as if everything that happens in a hunting situation is necessarily accidental. But again we‘ve talked about it on this show during Clara Harris. There‘s no such thing as an accident in the state of Texas.
You can look in the penal code until the cows come home. It‘s not a question of accident. It‘s a question of intent and whether it‘s Dick Cheney or Joe Blow, if a rational fact finder could believe that there was some type of criminal intent, whether criminal negligence, recklessness or no intentional conduct, it ups the ante from—anywhere from injury to an elderly person, which carries a top punishment of 99 years or life all the way down to assault bodily injury, which carries up to and including a year in jail and a $4,000 fine...
ABRAMS: But Chris Downey, from the information we have, it seems that the vice president didn‘t do anything wrong. And if that‘s the case, it shouldn‘t seem to matter what happens to the—quote—“victim” as a legal matter. I mean and again, so much matter—rides on his health, et cetera. But strictly as a legal matter it doesn‘t seem to change anything if the vice president didn‘t do anything wrong, right?
DOWNEY: Well it does change things. I would say this. Death changes everything in this regard. In the event that a person dies as a result of this incident, what it does is it brings into play a very tricky little statute of criminally negligent homicide. We have four culpable mental states in the state of Texas.
We have intentional, knowing, reckless and criminal negligent—criminally negligent homicide. Criminally negligent homicide is defined as disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a reasonable person wouldn‘t have disregarded.
And that is a huge catch basin. It is—as you can imagine, when a person dies and everything that surrounds that death, including the family‘s desire for accountability gets brought into play, a lot of so-called accidents can be interpreted as criminally negligent acts.
ABRAMS: Let me read the statement from the vice president. The vice president called Mr. Whittington this afternoon and spoke to him. The vice president wished Mr. Whittington well and asked if there was anything he needed. The vice president said that he stood ready to assist. Mr. Whittington‘s spirits were good, but obviously his situation deserves the careful monitoring that his doctors are providing. The vice president said that his thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Whittington and his family.
Major Sinclair, if you know the answer to this, in the context of hunting accidents in the state of Texas, where someone does die, most of the time is someone charged?
SINCLAIR: Well, I‘m not for sure about the number of charges. I
think we had one hunting accident death this past year. And to my
knowledge there was no charges filed on that particular incident. That‘s -
you know again is up to the sheriff‘s office and their investigation and the local prosecutor and perhaps a grand jury...
SINCLAIR: ... whether or not to proceed.
ABRAMS: Brian, real quick, I just—I don‘t see how anything changes. And I understand that things can be more severe, but if right now the status is this was an accident, the vice president didn‘t do anything wrong. That would seem to dictate that a reasonable person in his position would have done the same thing. And then it doesn‘t really affect him legally whether the person is severely injured or dies.
WICE: I think you‘re right, Dan. Ultimately it‘s the act and not the result that I think the vice president and his handlers need to be concerned with.
WICE: But again Chris Downey is absolutely right. The negligent homicide statute is as broad as (INAUDIBLE) design to contain. And what‘s interesting, one quick point, everybody seemed to go out of their way to say there was no horseplay or drinking on this trip...
WICE: In Texas if there‘s no horseplay or drinking, Dan, it‘s not hunting.
ABRAMS: All right. Well look, I hope that answers the question so many of you had because you have written in a lot of questions about this and about the legal issues and I wanted to try and answer them. And Major Sinclair, Chris Downey and Brian Wice, I hope it helped. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Appreciate it.
ABRAMS: Coming up...
ABRAMS: ... the man convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnap, rape and murder of Carlie Brucia goes before a judge today and literally begs for his life. We‘ll show you and let you hear what he said.
And for the first time attorney Daniel Horowitz comes face to face with the man who is accused of brutally murdering his wife. Daniel joins us for an exclusive interview.
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: It was his final shot. Joseph Smith, the man convicted of kidnapping, raping, murdering 11-year-old Carlie Brucia two years ago cried before a judge today apologizing for his crimes, hoping to avoid a death sentence. The abduction was caught on surveillance video and Smith‘s own brother recognized him as the man who snatched Carlie by the wrist while she was walking home from a friend‘s house.
The jury that convicted him recommended by a 10-2 vote he be executed. Today Smith told the judge he was addicted to heroin by 19 and failed at every attempt to quit. Says eventually his wife threw him out of the house. He lost his job and just hours before the abduction he says he tried to overdose.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH SMITH, CONVICTED KIDNAPPER, RAPIST, MURDERER: Judge, I want you to know that I take full responsibility for the crimes. I don‘t understand how it all happened. I was very angry at myself and very high. I knew I was wrong but I could not stop. If you look at the pictures of my eyes, the track marks were everywhere. I couldn‘t even intervene. I couldn‘t even see straight. I‘m not trying to make excuses for what happened but I really don‘t remember much about anything after—on that day after about 4:00 p.m. After I came into jail I began to straighten up.
I wanted to cooperate and clear things up, but I was very scared and I didn‘t know who to trust. I didn‘t even trust my lawyers. Judge Owens, I never would have expected or believed that I could commit this horrible crime. I can only hope that I will be an example to others of what drugs, depression and regards for—no regards for yourself can lead to. Because it is a very dangerous combination. I want to tell you and Carlie‘s family and my family and this community how very sorry I am for this terrible crime.
Every day I think about what I did and I beg God for forgiveness. I will continue to think about the pain I caused for the rest of my life. Judge Owens, I do not ask for mercy for myself. As you have heard, there have been many times that I did not care whether I lived or died. The only reason that I can see to ask you to give me a life sentence is for the sake of my family. I do not want to see my children hurt any further. I‘m hopeful that I can still be positive influence to them. If I‘m sent to death row I won‘t been able to talk to them. There are no phones on death row or visit with them. And I also know how bad my mother has suffered through this case.
First she had to deal with the fact that her son was charged with these crimes. Then she had to watch her other son suffer and deteriorate due to his involvement in this case. And then my stepfather (INAUDIBLE) developed lung cancer and died just a few weeks ago. My mother has been very supportive of me. The family has been very supportive. Every week for two years she visit me in jail. She has been under terrible stress and I‘m worried what will happen to her if I‘m sentenced to death.
Thank you again for letting me talk. Give you some idea about the sequence of events that led to this. I truly hope that all the families involved can get their life back on track. I‘m truly sorry for my actions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Joseph Smith will be sentenced on March 15. Joining me now Susan Filan, MSNBC analyst, former Connecticut prosecutor, criminal defense attorneys Michelle Suskauer joins us from Florida and Lauren Lake here in the studio.
Michelle, as a legal matter in the state of Florida when a jury recommends death in almost all cases, right, the judge then imposes death.
MICHELLE SUSKAUER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well I don‘t think in almost all cases, but I think the reverse is probably true. That if a jury recommends life you‘re not going to see a judge go ahead and impose the death penalty.
SUSKAUER: But in a case like this, I think the chances are pretty high that the judge is going to follow the jury‘s recommendation and it‘s just a recommendation. It‘s not binding.
ABRAMS: You know, Lauren, I don‘t understand why he didn‘t do this in the penalty phase. I mean here he is, you know, crying and this and that. I‘m sorry and I was on drugs and—I mean look that—the time—if you are going to do that and you are going to basically confess by accepting responsibility for the crimes, why not do it in the penalty phase when the jurors can hear you and you know maybe that‘s your way to avoid death row?
LAUREN LAKE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well it‘s all about the defense strategy and here the team felt like it‘s best not to let him speak until after. He doesn‘t have to be cross-examined. He doesn‘t have to be put under the light and unfortunately for many people they think it is too late. They think maybe if the jury had heard this troubled past this man had, that maybe they would have had a little bit more sympathy for him. But with that videotape, Dan, I doubt it.
ABRAMS: Yes and Susan, you know, the problem is that they presented evidence about his troubled past in the penalty phase, but he didn‘t talk. I mean it just seems to me that it‘s almost a little—it‘s a little bit too late to be saying to the judge, oh, please, you know spare my life. Why not say that to the jurors?
SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Exactly, Dan. I mean it‘s a little too little and it‘s a lot too late. What has to happen under the statues, as you know, is that the jury has to find an aggravating factor and here they certainly have it. The victim was under the age of 12. But then they have to find that there are mitigating factors and those mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factor.
So they‘d have to find that him being on drugs and his bad, sad life outweighs the fact that he murdered, kidnapped and raped a girl under 12. Now this sounded like a pity speech to me and whether it would have moved the jury or not I don‘t know. And maybe his lawyers know that a little insincerity couldn‘t have pulled it off and maybe it was a smart strategy. But I think you‘re right, Dan.
The time to have done what he did today would have been before that jury, at least give them the shot to say yes, that outweighs the aggravators because I agree with your other guest.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They couldn‘t do it then.
FILAN: The judge isn‘t go to go for life now that the jury has recommended death.
ABRAMS: Let‘s keep in mind that you know again this is a guy who has been convicted. He doesn‘t seem to be denying the crimes. This is the mother of Carlie Brucia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN SCHORPEN, CARLIE BRUCIA‘S MOTHER: He couldn‘t be dead fast enough for me. I want him dead. I want him dead now. My daughter is not breathing. She‘ll never breathe again. I can never hold her again. I‘ve got to wait for appeals before you know he dies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: You know Lauren when you hear that, you know it does make it hard to feel any pity for this guy.
LAKE: It is, Dan, but I‘m going to be honest with you. Being a defense attorney for years and looking at repeat offenders, this type of time bomb that we‘re looking at with Joseph Smith, this is not uncommon. There are a lot of time bombs walking around like this. Repeat offenders let out over and over again with drug addiction, seeking help, being released way too early, having suicidal thoughts only to be put in an institution for three days and then let out again. We need to pay attention to the way we...
ABRAMS: You are saying we need to give these people tougher sentences.
LAKE: Well tougher sentences...
ABRAMS: Keep them behind bars.
LAKE: ... or treatment. Treatment...
LAKE: ... so that they can deal with the addiction that then it‘s consuming their lives. When you look at what this man says, what he‘s saying is I started off at 19 doing heroin and from then on I could never really recapture my life. He had self-hatred. He had suicidal thoughts. People saw all of this and yet still he was out on our streets.
ABRAMS: I don‘t mean to be callous but (INAUDIBLE). I mean really.
ABRAMS: ... so the guy had a drug problem. I‘m not—yes he had a drug problem, but we‘re not...
ABRAMS: What, Michelle? You‘re going to justify it?
SUSKAUER: No, what I‘m saying is a drug problem is not a mitigating factor in Florida. That‘s why this is not going to fly. I mean just because he had a drug problem does not outweigh all of the aggravating factors here.
LAKE: It‘s not just about the drug problem. About his life as a whole. What gets me as a defense attorney sometimes is you see people always say we need to see him take responsibility. We need to see some remorse. Then the man gets up and shows remorse, and the first thing everybody says is we don‘t believe him...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Dan...
ABRAMS: I‘m saying he should have done it in front of the jury. I mean I‘m saying it‘s too late...
SUSKAUER: But then he would have been subject to cross-examination...
ABRAMS: I know. I know. And that would have been really tough on him and he might have started crying. And it would have been hard and I mean come on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you being sarcastic?
ABRAMS: Yes, of course I am. I mean you know what? Too bad. He would have had to undergo cross-examination. I mean I know what—I can tell you...
ABRAMS: ... what everyone is typing on their computers right now. That‘s nothing compared to what Carlie had to go through. Let‘s switch topics.
The man accused of killing his wife and infant daughter scoured the Web looking for information about how to murder someone with a knife. Talking about that Entwistle case—and how to commit suicide days before the bodies were found. After finding them dead, Neil Entwistle says he grabbed a knife to try and kill himself.
Legal documents released in the double murder case reveal statements
27-year-old Neil Entwistle made to police in the content of his Web
searches in the days before. His wife Rachel and baby daughter were shot
to death. The documents quote Entwistle stating that his wife was—quote
“more family oriented than he was.” That‘s nice.
And they also indicate Entwistle searched Web sites for sexual partners, and looked up the addresses and phone numbers of local escort services just days before the murders. Prosecutors believe tens of thousands of dollars in debt combined with frustration over his sex life led Entwistle to kill his family with a small shotgun owned by his father-in-law, then flee to his native England the next morning.
In a weird twist to the case, legal documents reveal that Rachel Entwistle‘s stepfather coincidentally went target shooting the very next day with the same gun allegedly used to kill his stepdaughter. Neil Entwistle is expected to arrive back in the United States this week and face a Massachusetts judge.
So the question is how much will that matter, Susan Filan? The fact that the stepfather went out and used out the murder weapon the next day. How much does that contaminate the evidence?
FILAN: Well I think it‘s unfortunate. But I think that this is such a strong case for the prosecution that it isn‘t a death nail for its case because remember the police have said through their forensic examination that there was DNA on the handle of the gun that matched Neil Entwistle and DNA on the muzzle of the gun that matched Rachel Entwistle, which means it‘s a close contact, point blank shooting.
Now the fact that he—the stepfather used it the next day I think is a tragic thing for the family to have to endure that he actually picked up the gun allegedly used to kill his own stepdaughter. But I don‘t think it‘s the forensic death nail of the state‘s case in this case.
ABRAMS: Because Lauren they can still determine, did this gun fire a weapon—sorry. Did this gun fire a bullet that killed this woman and this child regardless of who used it before or after?
LAKE: Yes, they‘re matching the bullet to—that connected with the mother and the child to this particular gun. The question is who pulled that trigger. And when the stepfather used that gun he possibly compromised the fingerprint evidence. You never know what type and which way the ballistics and the forensics will be compromised by that gun being shot off and as we talked about before that‘s the defense‘s thing, reasonable doubt. It takes prosecutors cheddar cheese block of evidence and turns it in to a little bit of Swiss cheese variety, holes. That‘s what we look for, holes.
ABRAMS: But Michelle, it doesn‘t change—it doesn‘t add any holes to the ballistics. I mean it can add holes to the fingerprints but it doesn‘t change the ballistics.
SUSKAUER: I think it—I think what that is, is it‘s pretty—I think she was—Susan was being very kind to the state here and it—of course she would because she‘s a prosecutor. I think it‘s devastating to the state in terms of the—whether or not this evidence is still decent evidence, is still effective evidence and whether this—whether you can actually judge that this could still be used. I think it does—it doesn‘t take away from the rest of the case...
ABRAMS: Wait. Wait. Wait...
SUSKAUER: ... I think is pretty damaging...
ABRAMS: ... you‘re not answering my...
SUSKAUER: ... to him.
ABRAMS: But how does it change the ballistics?
SUSKAUER: Well, no. I mean you could still match the bullet, but how about the DNA and how about the fingerprints. So—but I think it‘s interesting as to what your other guest said is who did pull the trigger here? I mean...
ABRAMS: Well, I mean right...
SUSKAUER: ... this is...
ABRAMS: But again...
ABRAMS: But to suggest that this is the only piece of evidence they had is the DNA...
SUSKAUER: No, it‘s not.
ABRAMS: I mean it‘s actually just the tip of the iceberg. I mean the evidence that they have again is the motive, is the behavior after the fact, is the Web sites that he is checking out before and after...
ABRAMS: ... and most importantly I guarantee you is his story to police. They‘re going to say his story just doesn‘t match up.
SUSKAUER: And his flight. His flight...
ABRAMS: I said his behavior after the fact.
SUSKAUER: Oh yes, sure. I mean...
ABRAMS: You still don‘t want to defend this guy...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... leaving and not coming back...
ABRAMS: ... do you Lauren? Lauren, you still don‘t want to defend this guy, right?
LAKE: If he was my client, again, I would defend him vigorously.
ABRAMS: I know you would.
LAKE: Would I pick him from a bed of tulips?
ABRAMS: All right...
LAKE: But I‘d do my job if I had to.
ABRAMS: I‘m sure you would. I‘m sure you would and you would do it well.
ABRAMS: All right. Susan Filan, Michelle Suskauer, and Lauren Lake, thank you all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
ABRAMS: ... three women all of you wearing red I say Happy Valentine‘s Day...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
ABRAMS: ... although...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
ABRAMS: ... listen to my “Closing Argument” at the end of the show.
I‘m not happy about Valentine‘s Day at all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, oh.
ABRAMS: At all.
ABRAMS: ... for the first time attorney Daniel Horowitz sits face to face with the boy accused of brutally killing his wife. He joins us for an exclusive interview.
And later, chaos at the Saddam Hussein—look at this guy—showing up in his underwear. Now word that Saddam is on a hunger strike. How are they going to restore order at this trial? We‘re going to talk to some tough judges.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. It was only a few months ago attorney and friend of this program Daniel Horowitz found his wife Pamela Vitale lying murdered on the floor of their home. Today he was in court for a preliminary hearing in the case. Seventeen-year-old Scott Dyleski, one of Daniel‘s neighbors, is charged with murder.
He could face life in prison if convicted. He‘s pleaded not guilty. It was the first time Daniel and Scott Dyleski were face to face. Daniel spoke to me by phone during a break in the proceedings and told me how he felt about sitting so close to his wife‘s accused killer.
DANIEL HOROWITZ, WIFE MURDERED (via phone): I think that the experience of sitting through a proceeding where you just have to hear about my wife, Pamela, have to hear that, is painful. But truthfully Dan, the pain sort of exists in a courtroom—not in a courtroom. So it‘s—I guess in the end it‘s pretty much just one pain, if you know what I‘m saying.
HOROWITZ: The setting in which you feel it doesn‘t really change things.
ABRAMS: Is there some level of fury, of anger, of wanting to jump over at this guy sitting so close to him?
HOROWITZ: There‘s always anger. There‘s recognition that nothing that happens anymore is going to bring back Pamela. That‘s—I think probably a lot of people suffered loss realize that. No matter how much you hurt or don‘t hurt or get angry or don‘t get angry, reality stares you right in the face. You know Pamela is gone. That‘s the fundamental reality and everything else can‘t change that.
ABRAMS: How difficult has life been these last few months?
HOROWITZ: I think life is beautiful and life has to be appreciated. And I have life. Pamela doesn‘t have life. So for me it‘s painful. But the focus should always be on the person who suffered the greatest loss and that‘s Pamela and for me I wake up in the morning and every day is different.
And there are painful episodes, sometimes entire weeks that are just painful. But, you know, I‘ve been given the gift of life and my job is to live. And have to you know realize that, even a painful life is better than being murdered.
ABRAMS: Why is it important for you to be at the courthouse, to watch the proceedings?
HOROWITZ: I just wanted to go. I don‘t know why truthfully. I just wanted to go.
ABRAMS: How are the kids doing?
HOROWITZ: The kids are in a lot of pain, Dan. The kids are in tremendous pain.
ABRAMS: All right. Well this must be a real hard day for you, Daniel. And you know I appreciate you taking the time. Is there anything else that you want to say about it?
HOROWITZ: No. It‘s—you know it‘s good to hear your voice and thank you. And that‘s it.
ABRAMS: All right.
HOROWITZ: Take care.
ABRAMS: Dan Horowitz thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
HOROWITZ: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Coming up, most of the defendants are on a hunger strike. One of them is refusing to take off his pajamas. And the lead defendant told the judge to take his gavel and hit himself in the head with it. Not a “Saturday Night Live” skit. It‘s called the trial of Saddam Hussein. How can the judge take back control? We‘ll talk to some tough judges.
And today is Valentine‘s Day, a day devoted to love and romance and spending time with your main squeeze. I say (INAUDIBLE) love bug. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: Coming up, Saddam Hussein‘s trial is supposed to display the glories of a reasonable rational judicial system. So why are the defendants allowed to scream profanity at the judge and show up in their long johns? We‘ll talk to some tough judges.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. The trial of Saddam Hussein seems to be spinning out of control. The former Iraqi dictator lecturing the knew chief judge today, telling the world he and the co-defendants were staging a protest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have been holding a hunger strike for three days in protest against how we have been treated by you and your masters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Of course, by masters of course Saddam means the U.S. The judge and Iraqi Kurds from a village gassed by Saddam are trying to do his best to restore order when Saddam began lecturing him from his seat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Listen. You are a defendant here. You should stand up before you speak to me. I will not hear anything from you as long as you are sitting down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: And Saddam‘s former intelligence chief and half brother Barzan Ibrahim showed up for his second day in his long johns complaining he and the other defendants had been forced to attend their own trial. Still an improvement over one Monday, when Ibrahim and his long johns spent part of the day sitting with his back to the judge.
A pattern of defiance set back on the trial‘s first day last October when Saddam told the court and the TV audience that the trial was invalid. So how does the Iraqi judge restore order here? We decided to bring in some tough judges. Get some answers.
Leslie Crocker Snyder is a former New York State Supreme Court judge. Gino Brogdon was a superior court judge in Fulton County, Georgia. And for another perspective, David Crane was former chief prosecutor for the special court prosecuting human rights and war crimes abuses in Sierra Leone, visiting professor at Syracuse. He joins us by phone.
Thanks to everyone for coming on the program. Appreciate it. All right, Leslie, you‘re watching this I assume like I am and thinking there has got to be a way to deal with this.
LESLIE CROCKER SNYDER, FORMER NY SUPREME COURT JUDGE: Well, as you pointed out, Dan, this should have happened the first day of the trial. The first judge was much too soft and this judge I think is better, but still, this has become a travesty. What the judge should be doing, he—how you can say to a defendant who is just yelling and screaming and laughing at you, telling you to hit yourself with a gavel stand up when you speak to me.
What should happen here is the judge should say here are the rules. One more outburst you are out for the entire trial just like Zacarias Moussaoui‘s judge has decided to do and I‘ve done unfortunately and what you do is you will hear the trial piped in, in a pen in the courthouse until you are ready to abide by my rules. The court rules. I understand that originally we wanted everyone in the world to think that this trial could be run appropriately, the Iraqi people...
SNYDER: ... would see it, but it‘s got to be done completely differently. The court has to assume control immediately.
ABRAMS: Judge Brogdon and I think that‘s the issue, right, is the sensitivity to how it is going to be perceived? So how do you balance that, the need to take control of that courtroom it seems to me at this point is need number one. With need number two, which is you don‘t want Saddam being portrayed as some sort of victim and just galvanizing support.
GINO BROGDON, FMR. GA SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: Well part of the—you cited the tension very well with the courtroom being covered with cameras and Saddam being very aware of that. He‘s going to use that and he‘s going to use that to make this a circus. I agree with the judge.
This judge has to get control of this courtroom and make full disclosure as to why he is doing what he‘s doing even if that means to take Mr. Hussein from the courtroom and allow him to listen via satellite. But if the judge doesn‘t get a hold of what‘s happening in the courtroom, simple things such as you will speak when I ask you to speak as opposed to allowing Mr. Hussein to do whatever he wants to do...
ABRAMS: What do you do when he starts—what do you do when he disobeys and he—he‘s told him that already and he just starts talking. Do you throw him out?
BROGDON: Well I think you do. And especially with the kinds of things he‘s been doing. I think you very politely but sternly put him out of the courtroom. Have him escorted. Explain to him what is happening and have him sent away so he can listen via satellite. And once he understands that he no longer has an international stage, then his behavior will change because the incentive is reduced...
BROGDON: ... a bit because he can‘t do it from another room.
ABRAMS: Mr. Crane, put this in a broader perspective for us. We have been also following the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui who is in court yelling about he‘s a sworn member of al Qaeda. How the United States is his enemy. How the judge is his enemy, et cetera.
He‘s accused of either mirroring the 9/11 plot or somehow indirectly being part of the 9/11 plot and now there‘s a sentencing phase in his case. And they‘re in jury selection. And they are throwing him out day after day because of his behavior. Is there something different about that kind of proceeding than Saddam Hussein‘s trial?
DAVID CRANE, FORMER WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR (via phone): Well, Dan when we have these type of individuals, whether they be local domestic criminal such as Moussaoui or the international criminals from Goering to Milosevic to the individuals we prosecuted in West Africa you are going to find that they‘re going to use all types of histrionics to make their point for whatever reason. Sometimes it‘s a trial tactic. Sometimes it‘s a cathartic event.
These people who have been manipulating the law for their own personal criminal gain are now humbled before the law. So this is also a traumatic thing for them as well. And you know this is not something that is in some ways out of the ordinary. And I agree with the judges, is that—again this is a legal proceeding and all parties have a right to a fair and competent presentation. And the bottom line is, is if one of the parties is being disruptive it is perfectly appropriate to ensure fairness, of course, but to remove recalcitrant and diodes from the courtroom.
ABRAMS: And at the very least, Leslie, they should be able to tell Saddam‘s brother look, you‘re not coming to court in your pajamas, period.
SNYDER: Well I think the defendants have taken over total control of these proceedings. And it‘s become laughable. It‘s become a joke. It was great to start out with the concept this is going to be absolutely fair; we‘re going to give them some rope. We‘re going to give them some room.
They took total advantage of it. The judicial proceeding seems ludicrous. And I think that if it is to have any kind of respect from anywhere...
SNYDER: ... it‘s more—well, it‘s almost too late. The judge has got to assume control. And these defendants have to understand they‘re not going to be in court. They will be tried in absentia whether they like it or not. This has become a political...
SNYDER: ... circus for them.
ABRAMS: Yes. All right. Leslie Crocker Snyder, Gino Brogdon and David Crane, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
SNYDER: Thank you.
CRANE: My pleasure.
ABRAMS: Coming up, on a lighter note, it is Valentine‘s Day, the most romantic day of the year, and I want to know why today of all days anyone should be strong armed into going out and buying one of these. It says hug me. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
And a lot of you want to know on a more serious note why a story like the fact that the vice president had shot someone was left to a tiny small town paper to report. “Your Rebuttal” coming up.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—I, Dan Abrams, am a Valentine‘s Day scrooge. (INAUDIBLE) love bug. That‘s right. I‘m one of those people, often men, who think we have given far too much value to this Hallmark holiday and I have had it. I mean, really.
This is nice for a kid or to win at a fair, but please. Now that does not mean there‘s anything wrong with sending your loved one something special today, flowers, chocolate, even a stuffed animal. How can that be wrong? But do we really need a commercial reminder to treat the man or women we love with care and respect?
I would think that an anniversary or a birthday would be a more important time to show how much you care. I know some are going to say well Dan since you‘re not married and not close to it, you‘re just jealous. I say (INAUDIBLE) love bug. I‘ve never liked Valentine‘s Day no matter what was happening in my social life and let‘s not forget for all of you lovey-doveys out there, what is a day of love to some is a day of reckoning for others, like two-timers.
Private eyes and divorce lawyers say it‘s the busiest time of the year. I guess it‘s useful in that sense. It smokes the liars out that can‘t be in two places at once, so they get caught buying a gift for that other special someone. Sort of a Valentine‘s Day singles revenge. Now the single people out there who don‘t get one of these squishy soft hug me dolls, which was given to a member of my staff by a man who loves her very much, this day could serve as a harsh reminder. (INAUDIBLE) love bug.
I did get a nice call from my mother and my married sister today wishing me a Happy Valentine‘s Day. I don‘t know. Maybe a big hug me doll is not so bad for a little Valentine‘s Day pick me up. Come here, you big guy.
ABRAMS: Coming up, you all want to know why—let‘s turn the music off. All right. Coming up, a lot of you want to know why it took so long for news of Dick Cheney‘s hunting accident to reach the press. Your e-mails are next.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shooting his hunting buddy on Saturday and last night we spoke to the “Corpus Christi Caller-Times” reporter Kathryn Garcia who broke the story on Sunday. The White House Press Corps not happy that they were not informed about the incident immediately.
Jeff Woodcock in Somerset, Pennsylvania, “Could it be that Cheney and the White House thought that if initially disclosed by a local newspaper and not the national press, the incident would be viewed by the public as more or less a private matter?”
Eugene Murphy in Germantown, Maryland, “The White House Press Corps got scooped by a small town paper and they‘re pissed. Get over it.”
I wondered why the vice president would have allowed the story to be leaked by the ranch owner rather than from the vice president‘s office.
Ed Van Bomel in Stratford, Connecticut, “You wonder if the ‘Corpus Christi Caller-Times‘ has the gravitas to be the conduit for such a story. Yes, a paper with a circulation of nearly 70,000 copies weekly and 90,000 on Sundays—just too stupid for words.”
Well Ed, even though the paper has a nice local Sunday circulation, do you really believe that they decided to let the ranch owner leak the story? And the vice president shoots someone while accompanied by taxpayer funded Secret Service and medical teams who immediately go to work, I think they have an obligation to inform the public.
Jason Birnbaum, “Why on earth does the Secret Service allow the vice president to indulge in hunting while he‘s in office? If the vice president really wants to shoot guns let him go to Iraq.”
Come on Jason. He‘s allowed to engage in pastimes while in office. I would assume hunting is probably safer for the hunters than driving.
From Birmingham, Alabama, Byron Hall, “You‘ve got to be kidding me, making such a big deal about a quail hunting accident being shot with a 28-gauge shotgun with birdshot would only be serious if it were at close range or a pellet happen to hit someone in the eye. I‘m sure it was painful to the recipient, but by no means serious.”
See the news today, Byron? I think you owe the victim an apology.
Also last night we played 911 tapes made by idiotic callers wasting dispatcher‘s time with ridiculous questions or comments about pizza or the weather.
911 dispatcher Susan in Virginia, “I‘d like to thank you for airing that piece. I had one that still amazes me. What is the number for the operator?”
But Steve Petruzzella in Lindenhurst, New York has a different take. “Recently there was someone parked in my driveway for hours. I spent 15 minutes looking for the number for the police department, so not to bother the 911 operator. When I finally got through to the police desk I was told call 911.”
From Voorhees, New Jersey, Phyllis Karasin, “I think that you need to show more compassion for some of these people with legitimate problems who are calling the only number for help that they are familiar with.”
No, Phyllis, I‘m not going to.
Finally Bradley Erickson from the Public Safety Communications Center in Casper, Wyoming, “This is a very frequent problem we can relate to from personal experience. Thank you for bringing this dispatcher‘s frustration to public attention.”
Your e-mails abramsreport—one word-- @msnbc.com. We go through them at the end of the show.
That does it for us tonight. Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. See you later.
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