Guest: Holly Hollingsworth, Kevin Miles, Scott Epperson, Harry Hairston, Jack Levin, Pat Brown, Clint Van Zandt, Stanley Chesley, Michael Borders, Geoffrey Fieger
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, Ohio police search for a missing student and model who disappeared nearly two weeks ago.
ABRAMS (voice-over): The college students‘ friends say they last saw Julie Popovich leaving a bar with a man they didn‘t know, but police because there‘s no way she took off on her own.
And a jury rules parents are 70 percent responsible and must pay millions for the violent crime their son committed even though he was just days away from his 18th birthday and he was tried as an adult. His parents are responsible for his crime?
Plus, the Coast Guard are searching for Olivia Newton-John‘s long-time boyfriend, he went fishing two months ago and never returned.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone. First up on the docket, a young student and model, missing now for over a week. Twenty-year-old Julie Popovich was last seen on August the 11th leaving Ledo‘s bar near the Ohio State University campus in Columbus. Her friends say she was getting in the car with someone. They assumed it was someone she knew, but police apparently saying they believe she went against her will.
Joining me now is reporter Holly Hollingsworth of our Columbus affiliate WCMH, and Kevin Miles, president of the Central Ohio Crime Stoppers. He‘s been involved in the search for Julie. Thank you both for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
All right, Holly, why are the police so convinced that she got into a car unwillingly?
HOLLY HOLLINGSWORTH, WCMH REPORTER: Well what I have been told is that whether or not the actual getting into a car was the action, what is known is that she was with friends and then was talking to someone who apparently was unknown to those friends and we do know that this is a young woman who is always in constant contact with her very good friends and her family members and she simply had not been heard from for a couple of days at the time that the missing person report was filed.
So what the chain of events was from her leaving that lounge, that bar, that‘s what is unclear. And so police are trying to figure out who that young man was that she was talking to at the bar. We can‘t say that I know of from our local police investigation that there was a specific car that she got into.
ABRAMS: Kevin, do you know anything about this? About—I mean look, there‘s always the possibility that someone meets someone and they go away with them. I want to convince people out there that this is serious business. We‘re not talking about that sort of incident. Do you have any information as to why the authorities believe that this was unwilling?
KEVIN MILES, CENTRAL OHIO CRIME STOPPERS: Well since it‘s an ongoing investigation, they really don‘t communicate much with Crime Stoppers. The only thing that we do is provide an avenue to collect information to give to them and that‘s what we‘ve been doing in this case. We went out with the family last week and passed out flyers. The family asked friends and family to show up and over 100 family and friends showed up to pass flyers and that goes to show what type of young person this was.
She was loved and she loved her friends. And by her not showing up and going, it is serious and we need to be on the lookout for her and hopefully you know find out and bring her home.
ABRAMS: Holly, she was leaving a bar. Do we know anything about any drinking being involved?
HOLLINGSWORTH: Well I can tell you that when I was asking some of the investigators I think it‘s not notable to mention that this is always a struggle for any community, any law enforcement agency when you‘re talking, as you know, about an adult, you know it is not illegal for an adult to perhaps just choose to disappear. And so the question is at what point does it become a more serious investigation. And our Columbus Division of Police here, the bureau that deals with missing persons has begun working with our homicide investigators...
ABRAMS: Homicide (INAUDIBLE).
HOLLINGSWORTH: ... certainly sends a message right there.
HOLLINGSWORTH: Now, they‘re assisting...
HOLLINGSWORTH: ... they‘re assisting, but it is not classified as a homicide case at this point. The missing persons investigators did tell me as of Friday last week, they said it could take that turn from a missing to a homicide case within the course of an hour, depending on what information they find and what they did tell me, some of the homicide investigators who are assisting in the missing case right now, they believe (INAUDIBLE) a time of evening that she was last seen at the bar and they said, well we guess we‘re talking around closing time, so you can only assume that you know if a group of people are at a bar through the closing hour, roughly speaking, that it is plausible that drinking could have been involved, but we don‘t know that for a fact either.
ABRAMS: Kevin, are you getting any credible tips?
MILES: We are getting some information. We are turning it over to the authorities and they‘ll decide what‘s credible or not. We just collect it and give it.
ABRAMS: All right. Holly Hollingsworth and Kevin Miles, thanks a lot...
MILES: Can I just say something? We have...
ABRAMS: I‘ve got to wrap it up. I‘m sorry.
MILES: OK. Thank you.
ABRAMS: ... appreciate you coming on the show.
MILES: OK. Thank you.
ABRAMS: We‘ve got to go now to another—that‘s the phone number by the way. Most important issue is right there—phone numbers, phone numbers, phone numbers, if you‘ve got any information, that‘s it right there -- 614-645-4545 or 877-645-TIPS.
Another missing persons case—long-time boyfriend of movie and music star, Olivia Newton-John, has been missing for over a month. Last seen when he took off for a fishing trip.
NBC‘s Peter Alexander has the story.
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On stage, Olivia Newton-John has always been all smiles, but a close friend says the Australian singer is now experiencing a lot of grief for long-time boyfriend, 48-year-old Patrick McDermott, seen here at her side at a 2001 red carpet event, has been missing for seven weeks. McDermott left for an overnight fishing trip off the California coast July 1 but never returned. His family reported him missing, to the U.S. Coast Guard almost a week later when he didn‘t show up for a gathering; his backpack and fishing gear found still on the boat.
SCOTT EPPERSON, U.S. COAST GUARD: Honestly at this point, we‘re still investigating. We still conducting interviews trying to figure out what exactly was going on.
ALEXANDER: For 56-year-old Newton-John who shot to fame as Sandy opposite John Travolta in the 1978 smash hit, “Grease”, it‘s the latest in a long line of personal struggles.
(on camera): First Newton-John was declared bankrupt in 1992. Later that year her father died from liver cancer. On the same day, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
(voice-over): She beat the disease and spoke with Katie Couric about overcoming the tough times.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s amazing how you always think that then those things happen you won‘t be able to cope but you do. And I had a wonderful support system and I had to dig deep within myself and believe that I would get well, which is a really important part of it. You have to have a very positive attitude about getting well.
ALEXANDER: Newton-John hasn‘t spoken publicly about the disappearance of her long-time love. For now, trying to cope with what appears to be another heartbreak.
Peter Alexander, NBC News, London.
ABRAMS: All right. Joining me now on the phone is the U.S. Coast Guard, officer Scott Epperson, who you saw in Peter Alexander‘s piece. Thanks a lot for coming on the program, Officer. We appreciate it.
Let me ask you, do we know—was he on this boat by himself?
EPPERSON (via phone): I believe that there were other passengers also on the boat and then there were also crewmembers.
ABRAMS: So did they notice when he went missing on the boat?
EPPERSON: He reported aboard the board, basically signed onto the boat on June 30th. Sometime during the evening, during the night, someone, I believe saw him in the galley eating and they‘re trying—still trying to determine through interviews and stuff if anybody actually saw him physically leave the boat.
ABRAMS: But is it possible that he could have left the boat on land as opposed to in the water where the result would seem to be somewhat certain?
EPPERSON: Right. I think the one time that he was spotted on the boat through the interviews and stuff, it was determined that that was—they were already underway offshore. And that the—you know after that, they‘re still trying to determine whether anybody saw him.
ABRAMS: So have all the crewmembers and the other people on that boat been interviewed?
EPPERSON: I‘m not sure of the exact number of people that have been interviewed or the number of people that were actually on the boat.
ABRAMS: Sorry, you don‘t...
EPPERSON: That investigation is still going on.
ABRAMS: Why is—I mean we‘re now seven, whatever, six, seven weeks later. Why are such basic questions like that still—I don‘t mean this as an accusation. I mean it just generally. Why is there still so much uncertainty surrounding issues, which seem as basic as that?
EPPERSON: Right. Well basically the timeline is—what happened is the—when he failed to show up for a family event on the 6th, they then came to the authorities and reported him missing. We—our investigators went through their investigation as they normally would right off the bat. On July 9th, they—or on August 9th, I should say, they came to us and said can you—the public affairs, they came to us and said can you please put out a press release stating the basic facts of this case, which is the press release that we put out and also it has a phone number. So if anybody has any information, go ahead and call that number and let people know.
ABRAMS: And we will certainly put up that number. So—just so I‘m clear, he doesn‘t show up for a family outing and yet before that, none of the people on the boat or any of the crewmembers said hey, wait a second. One of the people we‘ve been on this boat with for days is missing.
EPPERSON: I can‘t speculate, you know whether he was being kept tracked of by anybody or if anybody was, you know, or if he was on there alone or anything like that. So...
ABRAMS: All right. We actually—I just—I was told that we actually don‘t have a number from you guys. Can you give us a number right now...
EPPERSON: OK, the number would be 310-732-7344 and that‘s our Coast Guard investigators here and if you leave a message with information, the investigator will give you a call back. Also, if you go to our Web site, www.uscglosangeles.com, the press release is on there and it also has a picture on there of Mr. McDermott, so if anybody is interested, they can take a look at that and...
ABRAMS: This is a puzzling, puzzling case, I have to tell you, but we will—we‘ll continue to follow it and we welcome you to come back on the program if you have got any more information.
EPPERSON: As we get information we‘ll probably put out a press release saying that, so...
ABRAMS: We appreciate it, Officer Epperson. Thank you very much.
EPPERSON: We appreciate it and appreciate the public‘s help in this.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the father of this woman‘s baby arrested, accused of killing her and their unborn child, Latoyia Figueroa. Police say they found him standing near her body.
And our own Clint Van Zandt sat down with one of the suspects in Natalee Holloway‘s disappearance. That should be interesting.
And a 17-year-old apparently attacks a teenage girl. He‘s tried as an adult, but now when it comes to money, his parents are found 70 percent responsible for it, ordered to pay millions to the victim.
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 finally know the fate of Latoyia Figueroa; it‘s not good news. The pregnant 24-year-old, already the mother of a 7-year-old girl, disappeared from Philadelphia over a month ago. Police found Latoyia‘s body in a Chester, Pennsylvania lot after midnight on Friday. They were following Stephen Poaches, the father of Latoyia‘s unborn child, after a call from a tipster. Poaches was carrying a 45-caliber automatic, wearing a bulletproof vest when he was arrested. He was arraigned today for the murder of Latoyia and her unborn child.
WCAU reporter Harry Hairston is outside Poaches‘ Philadelphia apartment where police have been busy. Thanks a lot for taking the time to come on the program. We appreciate it.
I understand that you had an opportunity to speak with his lawyer today. Up to this point, all we‘ve been hearing is he‘s not involved, they‘re looking at the wrong person. Now, it seems they‘re basically finding him with the body.
HARRY HAIRSTON, WCAU REPORTER: Well, yes, it‘s a whole different tune now for that lawyer who talked to me earlier. Now he did say he‘s not allowed to talk about the case too much because of the rules of professional conduct. However, he did go on to say that he‘s hoping that everyone take a pause, a step back, a deep breath, and let the system work itself out. Now I did ask him about the bulletproof vest that Poaches was wearing and also about the .45-caliber gun that he had on him at the time and this was during a (INAUDIBLE) previous conversation and the attorney went on to tell me, Michael Coard, he says well listen, his office had done an investigation and that they had found out that while they were looking for Latoyia Figueroa that Poaches had been threatened and his family had been threatened, so he thinks that he may—or he‘s saying that he may have been wearing that just for defensive measures.
ABRAMS: So he was wearing that for defensive measures when he went to move her body.
HAIRSTON: When he went to move her body—and that‘s one thing that the attorney is alleging. He says if he was—first of all, the attorney is making it perfectly clear that he was not absolutely sure that he was wearing a bulletproof vest. He says that‘s what the police are alleging. If you remember on July 18 when Latoyia Figueroa went missing, Poaches was the last person to see her alive. The police are also alleging that that was the day that Stephen Poaches strangled Latoyia with his bare hands, put her body into a body bag, and then dumped it in the trunk of a car before driving it out to the suburban part of Philadelphia and leaving it in a grassy—in a slightly wooded area.
We‘re also told that after more than a month of looking for her, that‘s when a big tip came and someone told police that he was going to go move the body. That Poaches was going to be out there moving the body. Well police met up with him then and that‘s when they caught him with the bulletproof vest, the .45-caliber handgun. And sources tell me that it was on that day that this past Saturday that Poaches made two confessions. One confession at the confession at the scene, and they tell me later on at homicide headquarters is where he made a more detailed confession. That was one written down and allegedly, he signed it.
ABRAMS: Harry, what‘s the theory as to why he went to move the body? What, he thought that the authorities were on his trail?
HAIRSTON: That is correct, Dan. I talked to some police sources earlier today. They told me that for some reason he felt that the heat was being turned up. Now also—it is also alleged that his cell phone may have been wiretapped or bugged and that he had talked to someone and had told someone that the heat was rising, that he needed to move the body, and he also needed a body bag and a truck in order to do so.
ABRAMS: Yes. It‘s interesting that suddenly the rules of professional conduct prevent the lawyer from saying anything about this case at this point. Harry Hairston, thanks a lot. Appreciate your help.
HAIRSTON: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Latoyia Figueroa‘s story isn‘t the exception that it should be. According to a 2001 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, -- quote—“A pregnant or recently pregnant woman is more likely to be a victim of a homicide than to die of any other cause.”
Jack Levin is a criminologist, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Boston University and Pat Brown is a criminal profiler. Thank you both for coming on the program.
All right. So Jack, is the reason the most obvious, which is that you‘ve got these pathetic men out there who suddenly decide oh, you know what, I can‘t deal with having a child so the solution is going to be to kill her.
JACK LEVIN, CRIMINOLOGIST: Well, you know, that‘s right. And by the way, Dan, I‘m at Northeastern University in Boston. But you know, what difference does it make. The truth is that when—about 20 percent of all of the deaths of pregnant women are homicides and you know, this is a group where you shouldn‘t find too many people being murdered. And it‘s usually the father or the boyfriend.
The boyfriend at the beginning of the pregnancy, he wants her to abort, she won‘t do it. He doesn‘t want to be a father, as you pointed out. Or in the ninth month—the eighth month maybe, as in Laci Peterson‘s case, where the father sees this as a last resort he doesn‘t want fatherhood. We glorify, we romanticize fatherhood but there are many men who don‘t want it. They see the baby as an obstacle to their success.
ABRAMS: Pat, let me read you this from “The Washington Post”, a study from the states that could provide information on the murders of pregnant, postpartum women.
From 1990 to 2004, 1,367 pregnant women and new mothers were killed; nearly 70 percent were shot; most victims slain at home; the killers likely husbands, lovers or boyfriends.
There is something—I mean this is why the Laci Peterson case struck a nerve I think with so many people, so many women in particular, is the idea that at a, you know, at a time which should be the most, the happiest in someone‘s life that you‘ve got these men out there who decide this is a good time to kill my wife.
PAT BROWN, CRIMINAL PROFILER: Well exactly Dan, but I think we also have women out there who are not picking men who want to be fathers. It‘s a simple solution for the women. Don‘t get pregnant by men you do not trust and absolutely think want to be in a relationship and want to move into fatherhood.
ABRAMS: You can‘t start blaming the women, Pat...
BROWN: Oh yes, you—everybody‘s got to...
ABRAMS: No you can‘t. I‘m sorry...
ABRAMS: We‘re talking about murders here. OK...
BROWN: We are. We are.
ABRAMS: We‘re not talking about unwanted pregnancies. You‘re not going to start...
ABRAMS: ... telling me that the women who got killed were asking for it because they didn‘t use proper birth control.
BROWN: I‘m saying that there is a -- if women don‘t want to get killed by these guys...
BROWN: No, I have to be...
ABRAMS: Women, if you don‘t want to get killed out there by your boyfriend...
ABRAMS: Pat Brown recommends that you be careful about who you...
BROWN: Absolutely. I mean you may think that‘s silly Dan, but here‘s the point...
ABRAMS: It‘s ridiculous.
BROWN: Here‘s the point. That there are men out there who do believe that rather than face responsibility, it‘s easier to get rid of the woman. If you get rid of the woman and the child, you don‘t have to deal with it.
So that‘s a simple fact. They‘re out there. They‘re like predators.
It‘s like when we look at serial killers. You say to women—it‘s like going out on the plains in Africa. You don‘t wave meat in front of a lion and expect to come out alive. It‘s not fair. I don‘t think it‘s right. It‘s terribly wrong, but I‘m trying to save women‘s lives, because there are these men out there who believe this and will kill you because they don‘t like what they‘re going to have to go through.
ABRAMS: Jack, do you think that that‘s good advice on how to save women‘s lives?
LEVIN: Well you know there—well there are warning signs. You know...
LEVIN: ... in the beginning of a relationship, a woman may be flattered by a jealous boyfriend. But that jealous boyfriend could turn into a possessive monster in marriage. You know, some of these guys are all-American sociopaths and Pat is right, but you know they‘re not always detectable. Not all of these guys—in fact some of them are the last person you‘d suspect and that‘s part of the secret of being a sociopath and getting away with murder. So you know sure, let‘s use warning signs and common sense, but it doesn‘t always work.
ABRAMS: I just fear we start—once we start going down this road...
LEVIN: You‘re right.
ABRAMS: ... we‘re starting to make excuses for these guys...
BROWN: No, no Dan. No excuses for the guys. I‘m just trying to save women‘s lives because these guys are psychopaths. You cannot do anything about a psychopath because they will never change. You‘ve just got to really watch yourself and try not to get involved with any psychopath. Because you know he doesn‘t believe in right and wrong...
ABRAMS: All right.
BROWN: ... and he does not care so you have to be extraordinarily careful around...
ABRAMS: All right.
BROWN: I want women to live.
ABRAMS: Pat Brown gets the final word. Jack Levin, thanks a lot for coming on the program as well.
BROWN: Thanks Dan.
ABRAMS: Appreciate both of you.
ABRAMS: And now to the Aruba investigation and Natalee Holloway‘s disappearance. Our own Clint van Zandt spoke to one of the suspects. He‘ll join us in a minute.
But first, search dogs are back on an island and focusing on an area of sand dunes near a lighthouse. Meanwhile, over the weekend Natalee‘s mother had a meeting with Aruba‘s prime minister.
Joining me once again NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski with the latest. Hey Michelle.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi Dan. A couple of things going on over the weekend and today. As you know, Natalee Holloway‘s mother has not been shy lately about working hard to push this investigation forward and she has had some success. Overt the weekend, she arranged a special meeting with the Aruban prime minister asking for his support and for some advice in getting better access to the investigation. In return, he asked her to be gentler in the way she talks about the justice system here.
Also, she‘s now added another attorney to her side of things. She now has three working for her. Remember a couple of weeks ago she was upset to hear from the prosecution that suspect Joran Van Der Sloot had about nine attorneys working on his side. Also today, police have not had much luck in locating this mysterious late-night jogger that they say they are urgently seeking. This is somebody who came forward early on in the investigation but wanted to remain anonymous.
Now police want to talk to him again. They say he has clues that are very important to this investigation. That he apparently saw something around a field near the Racquet Club. That‘s the same place that was drained after another witness says he saw all the suspects there the morning Natalee disappeared. We‘re also waiting word still from the appeals court as to whether or not defense attorneys will have more access to prosecutor‘s files—Dan.
ABRAMS: All right. Michelle Kosinski, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
Coming up, former FBI profiler Clint van Zandt sat down with Deepak Kalpoe, one of the suspects in Natalee‘s disappearance. We‘ll ask him what he said.
Plus, a teenage boy tried and convicted as an adult for attacking a 13-year-old girl. He‘s serving time, but now another jury says his parents are 70 percent responsible so they have to pay millions to the victim.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike again. Our focus this week, Alaska.
Authorities at the Alaska‘s Department of Public Safety need your help finding Robert Lee Dentler, Jr., convicted of sexually abusing a minor. Dentler is 30, 5‘9”, 175, has not registered with the authorities.
If you‘ve got any information about where he is, please call the Alaska Department of Public Safety at 907-269-0396.
Be right back.
ABRAMS: Coming up, our own former FBI investigator, Clint Van Zandt, met with one of the suspects in the Natalee Holloway case. What did Deepak Kalpoe say? We‘ve got it coming up.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. Three suspects remain the center of attention in the investigation into Alabama teen Natalee Holloway‘s disappearance. Now one of them, Joran Van Der Sloot, remains behind bars, could be released in two weeks. The other two, brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, were released from custody last month. Now get this, our own Clint Van Zandt, MSNBC analyst, former FBI investigator, went down to Aruba after following the story for months. He‘s been trying to get to the bottom of what happened. He had a chance to sit down and talk to Deepak.
Clint joins me now. So Clint, what did he have to say?
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Well, you know, Dan, it‘s what you normally find in a case like this. Very rarely do you find, you know, someone who‘s either suspect or actually committed a crime, who‘s some type of monster. This is a 21-year-old guy. He‘s, you know he‘s like any 21-year-old. I mean he didn‘t have an attitude, he was working his job.
I walked in on him and identified myself, said you know I‘m here with MSNBC and I said I know you probably don‘t want to talk, but I said, why would your friend Joran Van Der Sloot, why would he write a statement that I saw, a statement that he had given to police, suggesting that you, Deepak, had kidnapped, assaulted, and murdered Natalee Holloway.
VAN ZANDT: And you know he kind of backed off and he looked and he said the same thing I would have said. He said you know, you‘re going to have to ask him. I said, well, haven‘t you challenged him on that statement? I said this is your friend. He said no, I haven‘t had a chance to say anything to him.
ABRAMS: Clint, look, you were—when you were in the FBI, very involved in the psychological analysis, hostage negotiation, other issues like that.
VAN ZANDT: Yes.
ABRAMS: As a result, I would believe that you‘ve got a particularly keen insight into people when you talk to them, when you question them. What did you make of Deepak?
VAN ZANDT: You know, he impressed me, Dan, is like so many people in life that in the worst case perhaps he got into something over his head. In fact, I said that. I said, you know, you were one and your brother was two and Joran, three. You were the last three people seen with Natalee. I said my impression is that you got into something, you got in way over your head.
I said if were take backs in life, you would take back what happened that night, but you can‘t do that now. But I said, you know where are you going to go? I said you‘re kind of trapped in this Aruban triangle. You can‘t go forward. You can‘t go back. I said you know when are—how are you going to clear this up?
ABRAMS: Why did he talk to you, Clint?
VAN ZANDT: You know, I went in and talked to him like I‘d talk to one of my sons, Dan. I just—I went in and I was just honest and up front with him and I said, you know when are you going to be able to resolve this? And he said well, it‘s not going to work. He said I can‘t talk to anybody. Nobody believes me. So I said well, if you want to be believed, I said, for example, do you know what a polygraph is?
Oh, they don‘t use those on this island. But I said what if it was available? I said you‘re telling me you can‘t go to college in the United States because too many people would recognize you. I said if you want this all cleared up, number one, go to the police and tell them what happened. Number two, if you‘re offered a polygraph where an operator could say, hey, I talked to Deepak, he‘s telling the truth, I said, would you consider it? He said I‘d talk to my lawyer about it.
ABRAMS: So bottom line—how long did you talk to him for Clint?
VAN ZANDT: Oh, probably 15 minutes.
ABRAMS: And what made you end the—did he end the conversation?
VAN ZANDT: Well it was his shift change. It was time to go, and he says I got to go. And I looked at him, I kind of leaned forward and we made this eye-to-eye contact from about 12 inches away. And I said, Deepak, I said you don‘t want this hanging over your head the rest of your life. I said you can‘t live like that. And we just kind of locked eyes. It was like, Dan, you know you could see this young man kind of swallowing and kind of saying oh, you know, lord, what have I gotten myself into.
You know what does that mean? I don‘t know. I believe, like Natalee‘s mother says, that Deepak and his brother Satish could probably help to resolve this thing. They were two of the last three people with Natalee. The police have not placed her with anyone else. Somebody knows the answer; he‘s probably one of them.
ABRAMS: Clint, good work down there. Thanks for coming back.
VAN ZANDT: Thanks Dan.
ABRAMS: And coming up tonight on “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”, guess where Deepak was spotted the night after he met with Clint? Tune in at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. They‘ve got the exclusive video.
Coming up, a 17-year-old boy brutally attacks a 13-year-old girl, stabbing her in the throat, neck, and face and cheek. He‘s tried as an adult, sent to prison for 10 years. When it comes to money, he‘s apparently viewed as a child. His parents found 70 percent responsible for the boy‘s actions.
And a huge verdict in Texas against a major pharmaceutical company, Merck. It‘s an enormous pay out, but apparently some jurors said you know what, they didn‘t understand much of the testimony. They sided with the victim. It‘s my “Closing Argument”. I‘ll have some tea.
ABRAMS: Coming up, how can a 17-year-old be tried as an adult in a criminal trial, but in the civil trial for money, he‘s a minor with his parents 70 percent responsible for millions. Coming up.
ABRAMS: Now to Ohio. A 17-year-old boy brutally attacks a 13-year-old girl, stabbing her four times in the neck, throat, face, and cheek. He‘s convicted of the crime as an adult, when it comes to money his parents are more responsible for his actions than he is.
NBC‘s Martin Savidge has the story.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two years ago in suburban Cincinnati, Benjamin White, 11 days shy of his 18th birthday, grabbed 13-year-old Casey Hilmer as she was jogging. He dragged her into this wooded area and stabbed her in the face and neck. Hilmer survived and White, tried as an adult, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Friday, a jury in a civil suit found White‘s parents liable for their son‘s attack, awarding the victim and her family $10 million. Attorneys argued Lance and Diane White knew their son had a history of violence to others, that he would not take his prescription medications and that he carried a knife. Under Ohio law, parents can be held liable for entrusting a weapon to their child.
Attorneys for the Whites argued the victim and her family were merely suing to get revenge. The verdict, seen by some as a walk-up call to parents, with perhaps far reaching implications.
Martin Savidge, NBC News, Atlanta.
ABRAMS: The girl‘s father, Steve Hilmer, was there during the attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE HILMER, CASEY HILMER‘S FATHER: I was riding behind her on a bicycle and I heard screams and she came running out of the woods, and I ran up a hill to get to her, and she was completely covered in blood. There was blood coming out of the center of her throat and her cheek was hanging down on her chin. And she screamed dad, there‘s a man in the woods with a knife. He tried to kill me. He stabbed me and he slit my throat. She said she was going to die and she told me that she loved me and I told her that she wasn‘t going to die.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
S. HILMER: And I got in the road and tried to find a car and I couldn‘t find a car to help us. So I picked her up and ran her through a hedge and put her on a neighbor‘s front door step and we finally got police there and got her to the hospital.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: And this morning on the “Today” show, Casey talked about the toll the attack has taken on her life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CASEY HILMER, ATTACKED BY 17-YEAR-OLD BOY: Since the attack, there‘s been many emotional disabilities I now have. I can‘t sleep alone in my room. I‘m just like constantly frightened. I can‘t be one level of my house alone. I have to have someone else there with me. I can‘t go outside alone. I won‘t stay at my house alone. If I‘m in like a public place and I have to go to the bathroom, I‘ll have someone come with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Seems it‘s a miracle she‘s doing so well. She looks great. But the question as a legal matter, does it make sense that he was tried as an adult and yet, his parents are found to be more responsible than he is, meaning the defendant when it comes to money damages.
Hilmer family attorney Stan Chesley joins us, along with Michael Borders, who‘s defended parents in this time of case before and Geoffrey Fieger, who‘s represented some of the victims in the Columbine massacre. Thank you all for coming to the program. Appreciate it.
All right, Stan, let me start with you. Does it make sense that he‘s tried as an adult in criminal court and yet when it comes to money, they‘re saying parents are 70 percent responsible?
STANLEY CHESLEY, HILMER FAMILY ATTORNEY: Dan, let‘s put it—the negative—your negative to a positive. He was tried as an adult. He actually pled guilty and instead of getting 28 years, he got 10. He tried to get off on not guilty by reason of insanity with a herd of psychiatrists. But the reality is he was only tried as an adult by virtue of his heinous conduct including perforating her liver, her lung and her diaphragm.
He is—the parents are liable under Ohio law at the time when the event occurred. I don‘t care, but you know the law is that. For example, if you say, well, wow, if I hadn‘t put my brakes on, I would have hit that child in the street. Let‘s take a look at what the law is.
You know we all are law-and-order folks, but at the end of the day, we have a jury and a conservative community like Cincinnati, Ohio who heard the evidence and you know, you can run but you can‘t hide from a jury. And they peeled away the onion and they realized that what they saw was a boy who had mental problems since the fifth grade and the parents handled it by just assuming he was a liar...
ABRAMS: I can tell you from...
ABRAMS: ... my viewers in the past, they are going to support holding parents responsible. No question that the vast majority of my viewers...
ABRAMS: ... believe parents should be held responsible. Michael Borders, does that make sense in the context of a case where this—look it‘s not that I have any—it‘s not about having sympathy for the boy, young man, whatever. But does it make sense that he‘s being tried as an adult and that his parents are being deemed 70 percent responsible when it comes to the payout?
MICHAEL BORDERS, DEFENDED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY CASES: Well, I‘m not here to defend the defendants here, but it—you must question whenever you‘re going to hold parents 70 percent liable for a criminal act of a kid in this case who was within two years of being an adult, in which case the parents would have no responsibility. The bottom line is, is that every child who commits a violent act, whether it be 17 or 15 or younger has a parent.
BORDERS: So in any case, the parents could be sued and in this case, I‘m not here to defend them.
BORDERS: I know they sought treatment for their son, but one can‘t second-guess parents all the time. Everyone‘s always quick to say that parents should be held responsible except when it‘s their child that‘s committed the act.
ABRAMS: Geoffrey, you have an interesting perspective on this because I know that you have long said that you think too many kids are being tried as adults out there...
GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes.
ABRAMS: ... and that you‘ve also sued on the behalf of family members saying look, parents should do more, et cetera. Which way do you come down on this one?
FIEGER: Well both ways. It‘s kind of a legal non-secular, Dan. I agree with you. I mean it does not make sense. Now, who said the law makes sense. The law regarding trying him as an adult for the criminal offenses is more punitive. This country as a society has become much more punitive towards children and yet, as you point out, we are, and this country does favor holding parents responsible. That‘s why the parents of Klebold and Harris in the Columbine massacre, when we sued them were responsible and ultimately had to pay some sums of money regarding that.
ABRAMS: What do you make of 70 percent, Geoffrey...
FIEGER: The 70 percent...
FIEGER: If I was the plaintiff‘s attorney and I‘m sure this is what was done, is I would say between the two, who‘s more responsible? The child is clearly mentally ill, has had problems since a very young age. The parents had the ability to control him and didn‘t. So if you want to compare the two, I understand the jury‘s verdict. If the parents were in a position to stop it and didn‘t, vis-…-vis the child. The child is literally—and you may not—a lot of people don‘t consider him a child, but he has less control over himself than the parents who aren‘t mentally ill, haven‘t been having the problems and weren‘t carrying a knife and knew he was carrying a knife.
ABRAMS: Mr. Chesley, isn‘t the law—I mean is the law out there in general, that when your kid goes and sets the house on fire next door, you‘re responsible for paying for it, right?
CHESLEY: The problem that you‘re taking, Dan, you‘re taking out of context, and I‘m not a context person, but you‘ve got to look, as Geoff says, at the facts of the individual situation. The facts of this particular situation was the kid was a drug dealer, the kid was doing dope, he was out of school, he flunked out of school, he pushed a kid into a wall and broke both of his wrists three years prior. All of these things and the day of the incident, he had the most violent fight ever with his brother, throwing pool cues, throwing furniture, and the parents said oh no, we‘ve got to go to a dinner party to see the family. Why didn‘t they take the boys? Well they didn‘t want to go and they...
ABRAMS: So if he had taken a steak knife out of the house without the parents knowing, still responsible?
CHESLEY: Well, of course, but let‘s go back—we‘ve got a kid totally out of control. The father says he was so hot you could see steam coming out of his ear. Now, they go down the road and there‘s the kid, in 92-degree weather, wearing a yellow-hooded sweatshirt that he took from the house, walked right by the mother and put his head—his head is hidden by this sweatshirt...
ABRAMS: Very quickly...
CHESLEY: ... and they—pardon me...
CHESLEY: ... and they know he take a knife.
ABRAMS: Michael Borders, real quick, I mean the bottom line, is it not, that parents are generally financially responsible for the actions of their children. True?
BORDERS: Not true. Not unless the parents really know the kid is likely to commit the act and had the opportunity to control the child at the time the child commits the act.
ABRAMS: But see—but that‘s—I mean but the argument in almost every case, again, my example about going and setting the house on fire next door is that people will argue they should be in control and that‘s generally how it‘s perceived, no?
BORDERS: Most states...
CHESLEY: It‘s a propensity of this child to do harm...
CHESLEY: ... and you know when they stop the car and he wants a lift, but they‘ve got a two-seat Porsche...
ABRAMS: All right.
CHESLEY: ... and they say, we can‘t give you a lift and he goes down...
FIEGER: Yes, it‘s the knowledge of the propensity and the ability to control.
FIEGER: If you don‘t have those two, they‘re not going to be successful...
ABRAMS: All right. I‘ve got to wrap it up, but it looks like that Porsche may have to be sold. Stanley Chesley and Michael Borders, Geoffrey Fieger, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
CHESLEY: Thanks much.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the jury reportedly didn‘t understand the most important testimony in a case, so they awarded a plaintiff $253 million.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find sex offenders before they strike again—excuse me.
Our search this week, Alaska. Please help authorities locate Harold James Semaken, convicted in 1990 for sexual assault. He‘s 61, 5‘9‘, 240, hasn‘t registered with the authorities. If you‘ve got any information, please call the Alaska Department of Public Safety, 907-269-0396.
Be right back.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—why sometimes in some kinds of complex and emotional cases, certain juries do the rest of us a disservice. The latest example, the $253-million verdict out of Texas against pharmaceutical giant Merck. It was the first case to go to trial over the drug Vioxx and I think it sets a dangerous precedent. Not because Merck has clean hands and not because the plaintiff isn‘t sympathetic, but it seems the evidence just doesn‘t warrant this kind of payout and the jurors‘ own comments prove the point.
Fifty-nine-year-old Robert Ernst died of a heart arrhythmia and it seems clear Merck could have done more to address potential heart dangers associated with Vioxx. That‘s the easy part. The question it seems the jurors ignored, the most important one, did Vioxx cause Mr. Ernst‘s death? According to today‘s “Wall Street Journal”, -- quote—“jurors who voted against Merck said much of the science sailed over their heads.”
One juror even compared Merck‘s defense to the teacher in Charlie Brown who just says well (INAUDIBLE). It seems the possibility that the drug was responsible was enough, but the medical community is still debating whether Vioxx‘s benefits outweigh the potential risks. While the doctors research and investigate, trial lawyers aren‘t waiting for the answer. They‘re taking the case to juries like the one in Angleton, Texas that voted 10-2 against Merck.
But it sure looks like at least some jurors are more concerned with the way witnesses answered questions rather than what they actually said. One juror even said it was—quote—“an admission of guilt that certain senior Merck officials testified via videotape rather than in person”. Look, it sounds like Merck needs to find some new lawyers, but I don‘t want lawyering to determine how much the rest of us pay for drugs or to affect vigorously—how vigorously these companies search to find new ones.
It seems clear Merck should have to pay. They ignored potential risks, should have studied the drug more thoroughly, and should not be permitted to simply rely on the small print on a label. Maybe a fine is appropriate. And anyone who can demonstrate the drug caused harm should be compensated. But if this jury couldn‘t say that the drug was a cause in Mr. Ernst‘s death and the FDA can‘t even definitively say it should be taken off the market, then how does that translate into a $253-million verdict for one family?
Coming up, many of you coming out to support a Texas town that‘s banning sex offenders. Your e-mails are next.
ABRAMS: I‘ve had my say—hoarsely—now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. On Friday, my guest host, Lisa Daniels, spoke to the mayor of Brazoria, Texas about the town‘s effort to prevent sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of areas where children gather, meaning just about house is off limits. Defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt asked, where should they live?
Monica Myers in Nevada, “She still thinks that they can be rehabilitated. Get serious. I think that Jeralyn wouldn‘t care for it too much if a sex offender was living next door to her.”
Kelly in Arizona on Jeralyn‘s assertion that banning sex offenders from areas where children are is—quote—“un-American.” “Discriminating against sex offenders is un-American because it forces the problem on selected Americans rather than having sex offenders displaced proportionately among the public, no one community deserves more than a fair share.”
Your e-mails email@example.com. We go through them at the end of the show.
That does it for us tonight. Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. Norah O‘Donnell is sitting in tonight. I‘m going to get my voice better.
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