Guest: Ed Smart, Dave Yocum, Pat Reavy, Greg Skordas, Jossy Mansur, Don
Clark, Paul Reynolds, Mark Green, Mark Lunsford, Patty Wetterling
LISA DANIELS, GUEST HOST: Coming up, the man charged with kidnapping Elizabeth Smart declared mentally incompetent, and he won't be brought to trial.
DANIELS (voice-over): A judge rules Brian David Mitchell too crazy to defend himself in court, but Elizabeth's father says he's just faking it.
And new developments in the search for Natalee Holloway. We hear exclusively from the men who tracked down a witness who says he knows where the lead suspects in the case were the night Natalee disappeared.
Plus, Jessica Lunsford's father goes to Capitol Hill to push for a tougher federal law to keep convicted sex offenders away from our kids. He joins us live.
The program about justice starts right now.
DANIELS: Hi, everyone. I'm Lisa Daniels. Dan is off tonight.
First up on the docket, breaking news in the Elizabeth Smart case. No trial for the man who allegedly kidnapped and sexually assaulted Elizabeth. She was just 14 years old when she was taken at knifepoint from her suburban Salt Lake City home back in 2002. An intense search failed to find her, but nine months later Elizabeth was spotted in disguise, wearing a wig, sunglasses, and a veil, walking on the street with an older woman named Wanda Barzee and a man who calls himself Emmanuel, but whose real name is Brian David Mitchell.
Now you'll remember at first Elizabeth insisted she was somebody else, but once her identity was confirmed, she returned to her family, and Barzee and Mitchell were arrested. It was the feel good story of 2003.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH SMART, KIDNAPPED FROM HER BEDROOM: I'm so happy to be here tonight. I'm just so thankful for all the people in our community and for everybody (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'm so happy that I'm home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: But just hours ago, Utah Judge Judith Atherton declared Mitchell mentally incompetent to stand trial. This after six days of hearings spread over seven months where Mitchell repeatedly disrupted the court. He shouted out biblical verses. He sang hymns until he was forcibly removed. In her ruling, the judge says Mitchell had a history of mental disorder and was a loner from a highly dysfunctional family.
Ed Smart is Elizabeth's dad and he joins us now from Salt Lake City. Thanks for joining us Ed. Good to have you on. What's your reaction to the decision?
ED SMART, ELIZABETH SMART'S FATHER (via phone): You know, Lois and I are actually very happy with her decision. Basically because Elizabeth at this point won't have to testify, but that doesn't mean that down the road he won't be found competent, and this whole thing could go to trial.
DANIELS: But do you really think he was incompetent to stand trial? I know your concern is with Elizabeth, but...
DANIELS: ... what about just the basis, though?
SMART: I think that he—you know, all of his antics in court, I don't think that the judge's motion was based on that. I think that—you know, when you talk about somebody who is trying to justify a kidnapping, you know, on God, I think that there is an issue problem there. I think that he knew what he was doing was against the law. I absolutely believe that without any question. But I think that there is some—whether it's delusional or extremist, I think that there is an issue there, and the important thing is, is that he is behind bars.
DANIELS: But what about all of that behavior in the courtroom? He's singing. He's calling out hymns. He's acting irrational. Do you think this guy is pulling one of the biggest con acts over a judge?
SMART: I don't think so. I think the judge could see right through that. I mean there were times where he came in and he sat down and he waited to a certain point, and then he started singing away, and pulling his antics, and I think that she was making sure that he had every opportunity possible to help in his defense.
SMART: And he chose not to.
DANIELS: Did you tell Elizabeth about the news?
SMART: I have contacted Lois and the girls are returning from a trip, and, yes, I have—I haven't talked directly well Elizabeth, but you know Lois and I are very happy, and we just hope that you know that he will be civilly committed and that that will be the end of it.
DANIELS: And do you think that Elizabeth is relieved that she doesn't know have to go in front of this guy again?
SMART: You know I think she is so—I think she's a strong girl, and I
think if she had to, she would go and—I've heard her more or less tell -
· you know, talk to me about him...
SMART: ... and what—you know, that she—or he deserves to be—she hopes that he gets what he's asked for...
SMART: ... because what she put—what he put her through was a nightmare, and I think that you know, he deserves the mental facility I have heard is worse than prison so, so be it.
DANIELS: You are such a strong family. You say that Elizabeth is so smart. She really has shown that. How is she doing?
SMART: She's doing great.
SMART: She is just—I look up to her, and I think how amazing that she's been able to do so well and to move on with her life, and we feel very blessed as a family and we're grateful to the community and all of those who helped.
DANIELS: Well she's a very strong girl. She also has a very strong family. Ed Smart thanks for giving us your reaction to the news today. I'm glad that your family is relieved.
SMART: You bet.
DANIELS: All right.
DANIELS: No problem. Salt Lake City prosecutor David Yocum now is joining us on the phone. Dave, you've got to be disappointed with the news.
DAVE YOCUM, SALT LAKE CITY DISTRICT ATTORNEY (via phone): Yes, we are, of course, very disappointed that the outcome was the way it was, but we will move forward, and hopefully some day we'll have the opportunity to bring Mr. Mitchell to trial.
DANIELS: How can a man who was declared competent in August of 2004, one year later be declared not competent? Explain it to me.
YOCUM: Well, he wasn't found by the court to be competent in 2004. It was by a stipulation of his counsel with the prosecution that he was determined to be competent, so the actual findings of the court are those that were made today.
DANIELS: Let me ask you the same question I just asked Ed. Here you have a guy, he's in court, he's singing. He sang these hymns. He's creating quite the chaos in the courtroom. Is he faking? Is this guy a faker?
YOCUM: Well, the court found otherwise. The court found that his delusional disorder was genuine, that he was not faking it. That it affected his ability to cooperate and assist in his defense, which is one of the things that are required in order to be competent to stand trial, so the court found that his delusions were...
DANIELS: But you were there too, Dave, and you witnessed what the court witnessed. What's your take on it? You know human behavior. Is this guy faking it?
YOCUM: Well, we're advocates, Lisa, and as advocates, we represent a point of view that of course supports the state's position that he was competent and that he should have been found competent. The court, again, found otherwise, and, of course, we respect that ruling, and have to abide by it, and we'll proceed to, of course, wait until competency is restored before we try him.
DANIELS: If you had to name a few things that the judge based her decision on, pieces of evidence of his behavior, what do you think it was?
YOCUM: Well there was a 60-page ruling by the court finding some conclusions, and I couldn't really put my finger on one particular thing in that 60 pages of rehashing the evidence over that long period of time that you've described. There were just many things that led her to believe that his delusions were such of a magnitude that affected his ability to cooperate and aid in his defense, and...
DANIELS: Well, legally I think it's so interesting, because there's got to be a very fine line between what we're calling delusional behavior and what somebody else is calling extreme religious beliefs, and I know a lot of the hearing was about that. Is there something that you remember that might have motivated the judge to choose one side of that?
YOCUM: Well, she mentions in her opinion that he is not the typical narcissistic type personality that is quite different from the person you ordinarily see in this type of situation. That he does really believe that he holds these powers, and he is the—been called upon God to assist in the second coming, and these are well-founded beliefs in his mind that really do affect his ability to defend himself.
DANIELS: Dave Yocum, I can tell in your voice that are you deeply disappointed by this, and I can understand why, but I thank you for coming on the show tonight. We really appreciate it.
YOCUM: My pleasure Lisa.
DANIELS: Thanks Dave. And joining us now Utah criminal defense attorney Greg Skordas, who has represented Elizabeth Smart. Also joining us “Deseret Morning News” reporter Pat Reavy, who has been covering this case since the very beginning.
Again, thank you for coming on the show. Let me ask you, you were both in the courtroom I believe. Do either one of you think that Brian David Mitchell is a faker? That he faked all these outbursts in the court? Either one of you?
PAT REAVY, “DESERET MORNING NEWS”: I know from a prosecutor's standpoint they make mention how he seemed to turn it on and off when he wanted to. It was interesting to watch him in court. He had a routine down or he got a routine after he finally realized that after, you know, if I do this little outburst or little singing, then I can get kicked out of court. It started I think back in December just as a real silence (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
The courtroom was just dead silent after he began singing in a very soft voice and every progressive court hearing after that, the singing became louder, then the singing became chanting and chanting became yelling by the end of it. But he seemed to have a pattern down where he would come in, sit down, and then wait until he could interrupt somebody. There were times where there was like a pregnant pause in the court proceedings because everybody knew he was going to say something. It was just a matter of when. And so as soon as somebody would start talking (UNINTELLIGIBLE) court proceedings, that's when he would turn it on, so to say. So I guess from the prosecution standpoint, he really seemed to turn it on and off as he pleased.
DANIELS: Greg, let me ask you, for Elizabeth this is a wonderful thing. Her family sounded very relived she does not have to confront Brian David Mitchell ever again unless something changes in the future. It must be a huge relief.
GREG SKORDAS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It is and actually it's a relief for a couple of reasons. One, Lisa, she does not have to testify and it's always difficult and I know she would have been great. I know that her father and the district attorney were comfortable with the notion of her testifying, and she would have done a fine job, but she doesn't have to do that now. She doesn't have to think about that or have that sort of hanging over her head.
And second and more importantly, he's not out. He's not a threat to her or a threat to others. He's not on the street and he won't be for the foreseeable future. If in fact he becomes competent at some point and there is a trial and she does have to testify, she'll be older. She'll be more mature. She'll be in a better position to testify. So yes, this is kind of a win-win for the victim and her family.
DANIELS: I guess the part that bothers me is, is this guy faking? I keep on coming back to that question, because there's a big difference between a prison and a state hospital and I guess perhaps out of this panel, Pat, you're the best person to judge this because you're not an advocate, you're a reporter, you've been inside the courtroom. Did his behavior seem fishy to you, just as somebody who observes human behavior every single day?
REAVY: I think as I mentioned before, it really was interesting how he could seem to turn it on and off and how he went through nearly a year of court proceedings where he said absolutely nothing. Again, it was kind of like trained behavior. If I do this, I can get you know out of court, it appeared.
But the defense brought up, you know, through their witnesses that this—they say literally he—well, not literally, but he seemed to fall off a cliff or he had signs of delusions before, something kicked in and sparked in him that made him really go off the deep end, so it's hard to say, you know sure, his behavior definitely was—you know, what I observed really out there, but was he crazy or crazy like a fox is going to the question I guess asked all over the news tonight.
DANIELS: Greg, 15 seconds left, but I did want to ask you, just give me a quick line or two about what this guy is going to be facing at a state hospital. What's life like there?
SKORDAS: It will look, smell, and taste exactly like a prison. He's not going anywhere. He'll be under surveillance all the time. He'll be treated just as an inmate would. He'll just be with a different class of inmates, so to speak. So it will be much like any other incarceration.
DANIELS: Well I'm sure Elizabeth is going to sleep very well tonight knowing that he's put away. Greg Skordas, Pat Reavy, thanks so much, both of you, for coming on.
Coming up, what could be a major break in the investigation in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba. A lot of police activity going on down there. It's heating up. We've got the details coming up.
And her family hopeful with all of these new leads in the case. They have now upped the reward money to $1 million for information on her safe return. Natalee's uncle tells me what's keeping them so optimistic.
DANIELS: And welcome back. We have breaking news right now out of Aruba. Police activity at a pond near where a witness claims to have seen the three suspects in Natalee Holloway's disappearance. Let's go straight to NBC's Michelle Kosinski for the very latest.
Michelle, what's going on there?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Once again today it's all about witness statements. And we are seeing developments in this case based specifically on the words of one man, a gardener. He says that as we speak, confirmed by multiple sources now, that authorities are getting ready to pump the water out of an area where this witness claims on the night that Natalee Holloway disappeared, he spotted the Kalpoe brothers and Joran van der Sloot in the Kalpoes' car parked along a dirt road.
Now this area is a big open field with several dirt roads running through it. There are some bushes there too. Parts of it are hidden. People use it as a cut through to get from one road to another. Also it's very close to the Marriott hotel where the Kalpoe brothers claim they dropped off Joran and Natalee early that morning that she vanished. Also the Kalpoe brothers claim that they were home well before 3:00 in the morning, and that's the time this witness says he came upon these three in the car in this area.
We know that authorities are waiting for a fire truck to arrive to help them pump the water out of this area that was flooded when the last storm rolled through here. This is the same witness, by the way, whose statement sparked a large-scale reenactment yesterday involving the FBI and local authorities. And today we were able to sit down with the private investigators hired by the local newspaper who were able to track this witness down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ART WOOD, INTERVIEWED WITNESS IN HOLLOWAY DISAPPEARANCE: Maybe four weeks ago, I heard that there was—had been a domino game at the prison where one of the Kalpoe brothers had been told that someone saw him behind the Racquet Club the night that Natalee disappeared. And that he became ashen and white and turned the dominoes over and left the game. We spent four weeks trying to track the lead down, and eventually last Friday we located a gardener who was working at a residence not far from the Racquet Club.
He lives in that area, but he has no air conditioning. About 2:30 -- between 2:30 and 3:00 in the morning, on the night that Natalee disappeared, he left his residence and went across a dirt road to go to a residence where there's air conditioning. He—when he went around the one turn on this dirt road, there was a car blocking his way. He had to slow down to almost a stop to go over a little hill to get past them.
When he got to that car, he noticed that Joran van der Sloot was driving, and Joran tried to cover his face. The other passenger in the front seat was one of the Kalpoe brothers, who also put his hands up like this, and the back seat passenger ducked down. This witness is a simple man that was just trying to get to an air-conditioned apartment at the time. He didn't come forward to claim a reward or anything like that. His story doesn't change.
He's steadfast in what he saw, who he saw, the car he saw, and where it happened. We believe that all three, the Kalpoe brothers and Joran Van Der Sloot, are involved in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway. And this witness destroys the timeline of their alibi. There is no way they could have been home and in bed by 3:00 a.m. if they were in that field behind the Racquet Club at quarter to three.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSINSKI: Obviously, investigators are putting some store in what this witness has said. Yesterday during his reenactment, they actually brought the Kalpoe brothers' car out and put it in this location. And also today these private investigators were able to confirm for us that there is a second witness out there who claims he saw something happen at the landfill here on the island, one of the few places that has not been searched, and that this witness claims he knows where Natalee Holloway's body was placed. We know that the volunteer searchers are headed back to this island. They want to look at that area, as well as this one, where as we speak investigators are ready to get the water pumped out so that they too can take a closer look. Back to you.
KOSINSKI: All right. These are huge developments, possibly huge developments we should say. Michelle Kosinski—thanks so much Michelle. We appreciate it.
So just going to recap quickly. We're talking about tips from one witness, a gardener, who, first of all, pokes a hole in everyone's timeline here. He says that at 2:45 in the morning, he sees these three guys outside a Racquet Club and now—right now they are clearing—pumping out the water outside of the Racquet Club near a pond. So very interesting developments.
Let's turn to Jossy Mansur, managing editor of Aruba's “El Diario”, the newspaper that hired those two private eyes. Is this it? Is this the break that we're waiting for?
JOSSY MANSUR, “EL DIARIO” MANAGING EDITOR: I think it is a very important break, not only in the sense that these guys' alibis are gone, but it also pinpoints that the story they've been holding onto, that they dropped Joran and Natalee over here at the beach and then went home just doesn't fit. Because in the declaration of Joran on the 13th of June, he said very distinctly that at 2:00 a.m. he was over here with Natalee.
They went to the beach. They laid down. The girl fell asleep and he walked back, and then Deepak—what's Deepak doing there if they claim that he was home. But Deepak walked over to where the girl was sleeping on the beach and that was it.
DANIELS: I mean, there are so many thoughts running through my mind right now, but, first of all, how credible is this guy? Why is the gardener coming forward on Friday? Why wait this long?
MANSUR: Because he was finally found on Friday by the people that we hired. We did bring in a retired ex-special service agent from the U.S. to work with our team of the “Diario” on this case. And they were looking for him for three and a half weeks. Of course, the man was scared because this is a high-profile case. There are so many implications in it for him personally. He has got to be on stand by for the police. He's got to go to the police every time they have to do a reenactment or whatever, so he was a little afraid—very afraid to come forth.
DANIELS: So he's not responding to any type of monetary reward. Let's be clear. You found him?
MANSUR: Of course not. Of course not. We found him. We convinced him to present himself to the police to lay off a sworn statement, and that's what he did. There's no money being claimed here of any sort.
DANIELS: Let's back up here, Jossy. You're managing editor of “El Dario”.
Why are you so involved in this case?
MANSUR: I am involved for many reasons. Number one, I feel a strong affinity to this Alabama family that came here. I studied in Alabama. I went to college in Mobile, Alabama. I also went to high school in Mississippi, so I do feel a strong affinity to them. I know the people of those two states were very nice people to me when I was there at school, always invited on any holiday to one family or another's home for Easter or Christmas or whatever, and I found them to be very fine and very classy people.
DANIELS: OK, but bottom line...
DANIELS: ... and I'm not trying to be a cynic here, bottom line is you're spending a lot of money on this investigation and you're coming up with a lot of things. Why are you spending the money? Is it to sell the papers?
MANSUR: No, we don't have to sell the paper. This is the largest paper on the island. We don't have to prove ourselves on this market. That's not the reason.
MANSUR: The reason is she is an American girl, a U.S. citizen that's disappeared from our island, and it's up to us, every single Aruban to contribute and help and do whatever is necessary to find her.
DANIELS: I mean just—congratulations to you that your investigation seems to be leading to so much more than the Holland authorities, the FBI at this point, the Aruban authorities. You're the person unearthing a lot of this.
MANSUR: Yes, we are. We have a good team of people dedicated to this. From the beginning we assigned our reporters to this, and later we assigned these three, the one that we brought in from the U.S., a very experienced man...
MANSUR: ... and they are doing what they have to do, and we have our contacts also here locally that we've built over 25 years, so we have access to certain information no one else has.
DANIELS: Well you definitely have that, I'll tell you. Jossy Mansur, we're going to have to see where this one leads us. Thanks so much for joining me. I do appreciate it. We'll be talking to you soon I'm sure.
MANSUR: Quite welcome.
DANIELS: Now we're going to move to former FBI special agent Don Clark.
Don, I need your expertise here. What do you make of all this?
DON CLARK, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well you know, Lisa, in all due respect to the Holloway family, I hope this lead or the next lead will be the one that helps to solve this crime. But now looking back at this as an investigator, you know you've got to look—I've been down this path before, and I'm not suggesting that I want to really measure the credibility of this witness that's coming about, but I have to look at the circumstances. While at the same time I cannot totally throw out this information until I can do something to check it out, so their hands are sort of tied.
They've got to do something. They, being the law enforcement officials, they've got to do something with the evidence. But at the same time they've got to continue on with their path of trying to make sure that they are taking a logical progression to trying to solve this case.
DANIELS: Let's be cynics for a moment, shall we? Here is a guy in the middle of the night he's in his car, he says he needs the air conditioning; he's driving somewhere. He comes across three guys who are ducking; they're trying to avoid being seen. It's dark outside, he nearly crashes into them, and what amazes me is that he says that he can identify them. Does that sound fishy to you?
CLARK: Well, you know it sounds a little bit unusual to me that someone may be able to pick that out, but I wouldn't just judge my—make my decision based on that. When you get that type of information, unless it's just absolutely so outlandish that you know that you don't have to go any further, but something like that, I think you do have to do some checking out. The law enforcement community cannot afford to just let that piece of information pass, Lisa. They've got to do something with it and you just hope that this person is credible and that they have not fabricated a story. Because certainly that would be something that's in my mind.
DANIELS: I agree. I mean it's hard to assess who is credible, who's not. It's not like people have signs on. You really have to put together pieces of a puzzle. Don Clark, thanks for clearing up a lot of this situation. But again, I think we're going to have to wait on this one and see what happens.
CLARK: Yes, they're going to look and see a bit more.
DANIELS: Yes. All right. Thanks so much Don.
Coming up, Natalee's family is pretty happy that investigators in Aruba seem to be making progress in the investigation. It's been two months. Natalee's uncle gives me the family's reaction to the latest developments.
Plus, parents of children abducted, molested, and murdered by sex offenders on Capitol Hill today. They are pushing for new legislation to keep our kids safe. Jessica Lunsford's father, Mark, was there. He's going to join me live, coming up.
DANIELS: Coming up, new details in Aruba where authorities are reportedly preparing to pump a pond near the Marriott hotel. But first, the headlines.
DANIELS: Aruban authorities are reportedly expected to pump a pond on the island tonight. It's a pond near the area where a witness says he saw Joran van der Sloot and Deepak and Satish Kalpoe right after they say they were home and in bed in the early morning hours of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway's disappearance, so a lot of questions here.
Joining me now, Paul Reynolds, Natalee's uncle. And Paul, we hope you're holding up OK. What is your reaction to the developments about this pond?
PAUL REYNOLDS, NATALEE HOLLOWAY'S UNCLE: We're glad that something is finally happening in the investigation. You know we don't know how important each piece of information will be, but, you know, we're glad it's finally moving. You know there were—my sister delivered the suspects to the police the day that Natalee was missing. Ten days went by with no activity in the investigation, and finally things are happening. More information is coming in. People seem to be moving in the direction that hopefully will bring us that information we need.
DANIELS: Paul, I could never possibly put me in your situation right now, because I don't know what your family is going through, but I imagine I would have two very conflicting emotions at this point. I want to know the answers. At the same time, hearing about a pond or a body, that would just horrify me.
REYNOLDS: It certainly—you know, it's certainly not the outcome we would like to have and you know we don't know yet what's going to happen. But we know we have to follow up every lead. You know we're just determined to get to the bottom of this, to get the truth and find out what happened.
DANIELS: Does it concern that you it seems like the most number of pieces of information, we don't know if they are credible, but a lot of information seems to be coming from private sources, private investigators. You don't really hear about the Aruban authorities coming up with this information. Is this just that we're not hearing from them, or does it worry you?
REYNOLDS: Well, I think some of it is that we're not hearing from them, but you know the 10 days in the beginning, where the suspects weren't picked up, they weren't questioned, evidence wasn't taken, it certainly caused us a great deal of concern. We're glad that private citizens are coming forward and wanting to solve this case. It's—tremendous support we have received from so many different places.
DANIELS: If I were to speak to your sister Beth, what do you think she would want if she had a magical wand and could get something from investigators, some answer, some piece of knowledge, what does she want at this point that she's not getting?
REYNOLDS: Well of course what she really wants is her daughter. You know she wants her daughter back. But, you know, right now she is willing to receive information that will help her find her daughter and find out what happened, and that's what we all want.
DANIELS: You know, you're in the United States, your sister is in Aruba. How does this work in terms of giving her comfort, giving her support and the other way around too?
REYNOLDS: You know, we've always been a close family. We talk several times a week, offering support. She knows I'm there for her, and I know she's there for me. And I am going to Aruba this week. I'm looking forward to spending some time with her, and, you know, just being with her.
DANIELS: What does your gut say? Do you think that some of these answers are going to be coming forward in the next couple of weeks?
REYNOLDS: This is the most optimistic I have felt in some time that we're moving forward, that information will come out. I think that things are in place that will take us where we need to go.
DANIELS: Well you know, everyone is constantly thinking of your family, and you seem like a very strong family. We appreciate your coming on the show, Paul.
REYNOLDS: All right. Thank you.
DANIELS: All right. Paul Reynolds, thanks.
And coming up, the parents of children killed by convicted sex offenders go to Capitol Hill. They are pushing for tougher laws to keep them from preying on kids again. Jessica Lunsford's father was there. We're going to talk with him next.
And of course your e-mails, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember include your name and where you're writing from. I'll respond at the end of the show.
DANIELS: Coming up, the families of children kidnapped and tortured by sex offenders go to Capitol Hill to toughen laws, keeping those criminals away from our kids, but does it go far enough?
DANIELS: It's happened again. A child vanishes, and a convicted sex offender is suspected in her disappearance. The search continues for 8-year-old Lydia Rupp and convicted sex offender Fernando Aguerro, who police believe kidnapped the girl. This as parents of other abducted children descend on Washington. They are pushing for tougher laws against sex offenders who seem all too often to be involved in these cases.
About two months ago Dylan and Shasta Groene disappeared from their Idaho home. Convicted sex offender Joseph Duncan is suspected of kidnapping and molesting the kids and of killing Dylan. 2003, you'll remember 22-year-old Dru Sjodin was abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered in North Dakota. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against convicted sex offender Alfonso Rodriguez. He was a registered sex offender at the time of that crime.
1994, 7-year-old Megan Kanka was abducted. She was raped and murdered about 30 yards from her home in New Jersey by a convicted sex offender. Her disappearance prompted public access to state sex offender registries. And as I mentioned, today a group of parents whose children who were murdered, they gathered in Washington, D.C. to support the Children's Safety Act of 2005. That would create a national sex offender registry that would be accessible to the public.
Joining me now is one of the cosponsors of that act, Republican congressman from Wisconsin, Mark Green. Good to have you on the show, Congressman. Thank you.
REP. MARK GREEN ®, WISCONSIN: It's good to be with you.
DANIELS: So as you know, all 50 states have sex offender registries. Now the Justice Department is putting those all together. They're throwing them online, but there are locals. They are depending on the states, and the states all have different ways of assessing high-level offenders, low-level offenders. There are holes. How does your bill fill those holes?
GREEN: Well what we try to do with the legislation is to create again a national database that could be accessible by anybody online and that actually follows the movement of sex offenders. What we know painfully is that they cross state lines. They're obviously very mobile. We know in the case of Dru Sjodin, that was a case where the offender obviously crossed state lines. So we would create requirements so that when someone is a registered sex offender, they have to report periodically so we know where they are.
Some of those reports have to be in person. The state is responsible for notifying a state when a sex offender moves into another state. We also try to make sure that juvenile records, where a juvenile offender commits a serious sex offense against a child, that the records aren't forever sealed, that that can in fact be the basis for notifying a community and for having a registration of the sexual offender registry. So what we're trying to do is make the registry more accessible, more complete, and that it actually follows these sex offenders, if, God forbid, they move across state lines and move into another dangerous situation.
DANIELS: So there are an estimated 500,000 sexual predators in the country. One hundred thousand of them it's believed are not registered. How is that hole going to be completed?
GREEN: Well what we need to do is do a better job and have tougher penalties when we do catch sex offenders. The registry is one of the tools that we need, but the bottom line is we need to have tougher penalties.
DANIELS: And is that in your Safety Act of 2005?
GREEN: Yes. We dramatically increase mandatory minimums for a whole wide range of sex offenses against kids. That's part of what we need to do. We need tougher penalties. We need more money back to local law enforcement. We need a better sexual offender registry system that's more usable. We try to do all of that in this bill.
DANIELS: What bothers me is that your two strikes you're out bill, it stalled for so long in Congress.
DANIELS: It seems like things just go on and on and on. Everyone is agreeing, yes, we have to do this, and then it just stops. When do you think that this act, this Safety Act is going to be passed?
GREEN: Well I think it's going to move and the reason why is what you started off by talking about and that's that we've got parents coming forward. See I think that one of the problems that we have is people don't want to believe that we have the holes in the system. People trust their government. They believe that we have already taken steps to address this.
It's only when we hear about these terrible, tragic cases when parents come forward and let the world know exactly about the holes in the system, that's what drives to us act sadly. This is something I've been involved in for years. It's not that anybody disagrees with our legislation; it's that people don't want to believe it's necessary. And it's only when they hear these cases that they realize sadly and too late obviously for the victims that we have a terrible problem on our hands.
DANIELS: Well I know you've done a lot of work on this and you've worked tirelessly to get your bill pushed. Good luck on this bill, Congressman Green. Thanks so much for coming.
GREEN: Thank you. We will get it done.
DANIELS: All right. Good. I'm glad to hear that. Coming up, Mark Lunsford on Capitol Hill today in support of the Child Safety Act. He knows all too well the danger sex offenders pose. His daughter, Jessica, killed by a convicted sex offender just a couple of months ago. He is going to join me next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN WALSH, SON WAS ABDUCTED AND MURDERED: This is about convicted sex offenders who have already crossed the line and hurt our loved ones, our women, our children. I said it before, we can't cure them, they are working on it, but they can't cure them. We can't put them where they should be. They seem to figure out a way to get out. So it's simply about finding where they are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: And that is John Walsh on Capitol Hill today urging Congress to implement a national sex-offending registry. He was urging the other parents there to pass it, the Children's Safety act of 2005.
Joining me now both from Washington, D.C., Mark Lunsford. He's the father of 9-year-old Jessica abducted and killed this year. A convicted sex offender is charged in her case. And Patty Wetterling whose 11-year-old son, Jacob, was abducted in 1989. Neither he nor his abductor have been found.
Good to have you both here.
PATTY WETTERLING, 11-YEAR-OLD SON ABDUCTED IN 1989: Thank you.
DANIELS: Let me ask you, Mark. I know that the national sex offender registry is a very good thing. It's definitely a step forward, but there was a very tough act passed that you got passed in Florida, the Jessica Lunsford Act. Do you think that we have to go much further in the national arena?
MARK LUNSFORD, JESSICA LUNSFORD'S FATHER: Well, I think each state after a good federal law like the one that Sensenbrenner has put together, that each state should come up with their own state legislation, tougher than what we've got in Florida. I mean that's my challenge to other states. With a minimum of 25 years to life for your first offense.
DANIELS: Do you think that harming a child should be a federal offense?
LUNSFORD: I think that—yes. If you—any kind of heinous crimes or hurting children, that's all wrong. That's our future. You know every time we lose a child, we lose part of our future. And we're never going to know what that part of the future was.
DANIELS: Patty, you've worked so hard to protect our children. Jacob disappeared in 1989 from St. Joseph, Minnesota. Are you still actively looking for him?
WETTERLING: Absolutely. We continue to get leads and we will never give up the hope. And part of this is raising the awareness to the problem of missing children, and engaging the bystanders of the community to get involved, to care, to watch who's watching our children, and to not be afraid. We have to take away the fear and replace it with information. That's part of what this law does.
DANIELS: Well it was really the Wetterling Act from 1994 that created this idea of registering sex offenders.
DANIELS: Now we know that there are holes. What are two holes that you think must be filled?
WETTERLING: Well when we passed the Wetterling Act in 1994, we didn't have anything with Internet crimes, and that's a growing concern. And the other thing that I think is a huge concern is funding. If we want to make this a priority and it's on everybody's hearts and minds, we have to give law enforcement more money to do the job to monitor more closely those who don't want to be monitored.
DANIELS: Mark, since February 24th, your life has changed quite a bit. You're now dealing with Washington. For good or for bad, are you frustrated that more isn't getting accomplished?
LUNSFORD: Well a lot more is getting accomplished. I've been going to other states to get them to make tougher laws, like the Jessica Lunsford Act. I've sent people petitions that they can do in their state to make tougher laws. It's—and all it is, is just a summary of the Jessica Lunsford Act, and to get petitions going, to have petition drives, and to let their governors know.
I've been to New York, New Jersey. I'm going to Pennsylvania. I'm going to Kentucky. They can—a lot of people, all they got to go do is go to the JMLFoundation.com, get the summary of the bill, make a petition, and make your states do tougher laws, as tough as you can get them.
DANIELS: You know sometimes we have debates on these shows, and it seems like everyone is in agreement, yes, these laws still need to be tougher. There are holes.
LUNSFORD: That's right.
DANIELS: Why can't we fix them?
LUNSFORD: They do. Well...
DANIELS: How come we keep on reporting stories one after another, where it seems like everyone is in agreement that something has to be done, and yet the laws are not in place?
LUNSFORD: A lot does need to be done, and the one thing that people can do right now is just three phone calls. Call your two state senators and your congressman and tell them that you want tougher laws, and you know just tell them, it's the Child Safety Act 2005. And you can read that on Jessie's Web site or you can—there's other ways you can read it.
WETTERLING: And we have to get engaged in the communities and find out what kind of a world are we creating for our children, and how safe is it, and what else do we need to do to build safer communities for Jessie and for the world that Jacob believed in. We owe it to our children to provide that.
DANIELS: You guys are working so hard. I know you are.
WETTERLING: We're not done yet.
DANIELS: Did it help—there's a lot more work. Patty, did it help to have these other family members? I remember Molly Bish's family.
DANIELS: She's a little girl who is missing in Massachusetts. Her mother, Magi, once said to me, I belong to a club where I wish nobody else will ever have to join. Does it help to be among families who have witnessed and have lived through tragedy that we really can't understand?
WETTERLING: Absolutely. We have unique challenges, and for me it's a continuation of how do we keep law enforcement engaged and how do we nurture our other children, and there's many different challenges that we uniquely have to face. And we're very supportive of each other, and we hope and pray that it will never happen again, and as Molly's mom said, that this club will close. That would be our goal. No more victims.
DANIELS: And does it help to work hard, as Mark was telling us, to go to all these different states to crusade, to get your acts passed? Does it help with the hurt?
WETTERLING: Well with every fiber of my being, I believe that we can build the world that Jacob believed in, that children have the right to grow up safe and not be afraid of people and that we as a community can build a better, safer world for them. And yes, it helps me. Our work is not done. We're still looking for Jacob and we're trying to create a better, safer world for all of our children.
DANIELS: All right. Well you've done so much, both of you.
WETTERLING: Thank you.
DANIELS: Mark Lunsford, Patty Wetterling, thanks so much.
LUNSFORD: Thank you.
DANIELS: All right. We'll be right back.
DANIELS: And that does it for us tonight. Stay tuned to MSNBC throughout the evening for the very latest on the search for Natalee Holloway. If there are developments out of Aruba, we promise we will bring them to you right away.
Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. We hope you have a very good night.
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