Guest: Chris Reason, Savannah Guthrie, Pam Bondi, Joe Episcopo, John Martin, Martha Coakley, Dr. Werner Spitz, Clint Van Zandt, Brad Hamilton, Bill Stanton
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, her abduction caught on tape. Now the man police say kidnapped, raped and killed an 11-year-old is saying it‘s not me you see on the tape.
ABRAMS (voice-over): It sure looks like Joseph Smith on tape abducting Carlie Brucia. The authorities say they even identified his semen on her shirt and that he helped lead them to the body. But now his lawyer is arguing, you‘ve got the wrong guy.
And a radio talk show host charged with murdering his wife by slowly poisoning her with anti-freeze.
Plus, pirates attack a cruise ship on the high seas, the bandits opening fire with AK-47‘s and rocket-propelled grenades. It‘s not the first time it‘s happened.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi, everybody. We‘ll get to those stories in a moment but first we‘ve got some breaking news to report to you out of Australia where authorities say they may have prevented a major terror attack.
Reporter Chris Reason of the Australian TV network Channel 7 joins us now from Sydney with the details, and I understand we‘ve got some other news there to report as well.
Chris, what‘s going on?
CHRIS REASON, REPORTER, CHANNEL 7-TV, AUSTRALIA (via phone): Yes, look, this is extremely important breaking news here in Australia. And they just finished a press conference here live. We‘ve just been taking that in and the latest details are that overnight, 400 police from the federal, state, and our intelligence agencies have swooped on about 15 properties in southwest Sydney and in our other second biggest city in Australia, Melbourne as well, made a string of arrests and the police minister here in Sydney has just stood up to say that a major, catastrophic he used those words, catastrophic terrorist act has been prevented here in Australia.
They were short on details, repeated that the investigation was still going and had some way to go, but they say they‘ve seized explosives, which were similar in nature to the ones used in the London terrorist attacks on July 7. He wouldn‘t go into detail about whether the attacks that they thwarted were part of a planned attack on the transport systems in both Sydney and Melbourne or on some other target, but they said that they were likely to be many casualties out of the planned attacks, which they‘ve foiled, so major breaking news here in Sydney this morning.
ABRAMS: All right. Now Chris, in this country we‘ve heard about terror arrests in connection with what seemed to be some sort of plots, but it seems clear that this—it seems—I shouldn‘t say it seems clear, but it seems that this was a far more definitive, concrete attack that this group had in mind?
REASON: It does, indeed. The police—over the last couple of days, the details of the—of this operation have been steadily leaking to the media, the pictures have been forming, but this is the end result of a operation called Operation Pandemis (ph) and the police, both in Melbourne, Sydney, and our version of the FBI, an organization called ASIO, Australian Security Intelligence Organization, have been following several suspects.
It started when the suspects were seen videoing two prime target locations in Melbourne, one, the stock exchange in Melbourne, and second, the biggest train station in Melbourne. That is apparently how the investigation began. Some 18 months later...
REASON: ... we have the situation today where at about 2:30 this morning these raids across the cities of Sydney and Melbourne were conducted by 400 police. For our country...
ABRAMS: All right.
REASON: ... that‘s an extraordinary number of security officers involved in the one operation...
ABRAMS: Well Chris, it sure sounds like the authorities there did some very good work. All right. Thank you very much for taking the time.
ABRAMS: I know you were just listening to that press conference...
REASON: Thank you.
ABRAMS: ... so we appreciate you taking the time to come out. If we get any other news on this in the hour, we will certainly bring it to you.
Now to Florida where the father of three daughters now facing the possibility of a death sentence for kidnapping, raping and strangling an 11-year-old girl last year. Remember Carlie Brucia‘s abduction, caught on tape as she walked home from a friend‘s house last February. For days her disappearance grabbed the nation‘s attention, authorities putting out this video hoping to find Carlie and the man in that video.
Well it led the authorities to Joseph Smith, 39-year-old mechanic, now on trial for Carlie‘s murder. We learned today that not only do they have the video, but it turns out he allegedly led police to her body, indirectly, but reportedly calling his brother from jail and walking him—he was with the police, step by step to Carlie‘s body. The prosecutors describe how they found her body under some brush near a church four days after she disappeared.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEBRA JOHNES RIVA, PROSECUTING JOSEPH SMITH: Her leg was underneath her, behind her, her other leg was straight out in front of her. She had on that same red shirt. It was pushed up over her chest. Her bra was unclasped and disarrayed. She was naked from the waist down. No pants, no panties. No shoes. One sock.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: The prosecution pointed to the videotape of Carlie‘s abduction, what they say is Smith‘s semen on Carlie‘s shirt, Carlie‘s hair in Smith‘s car and Smith‘s own admission to his brother that he had—quote—“rough sex with Carlie” and then strangled her. That‘s what they say the evidence is. It was hard to figure out you know what the defense would be.
Well, it‘s one we‘ve heard before, that the police didn‘t follow up on other leads, that the DNA and hair evidence is inconclusive, that Smith‘s brother had a motivation to inject himself into this case, even go as far as to point the finger at another man who was with Carlie earlier that day.
Joining me now, Court TV correspondent Savannah Guthrie who was at the courthouse, Florida prosecutor Pam Bondi, and criminal defense attorney Joe Episcopo.
All right. Savannah first let me start with you. This is obviously a very disturbing case. I mean some of the details of what‘s alleged to have happened here are hard to even talk about. But you know this is a case where the defense is not completely pulling it out—it‘s a very hard case to defend, but they‘ve got a little to work with?
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, COURT TV CORRESPONDENT: I think so, Dan. You know after I heard the prosecution opening statement, I thought, what is this defense attorney possibly going to say. But you know, he gave a very methodical opening statement and he had an answer for everything. And I think one of the most compelling arguments that he made was maybe the state, the prosecutors and the police, should have looked harder at a guy named Ron Choquette.
He was somebody who had spent some time with Carlie Brucia the day that she disappeared, according to the defense, had discussed some sexual topics with her. He had a criminal record. His tow truck was seen at the car wash a few moments after her abduction. So there were some reasons. In fact police really looked at this guy pretty hard initially and they said—they showed him that video, the car wash video and they said, we think this might be you and he said, wow, that looks like me, but it‘s not me.
ABRAMS: And that‘s the guy we‘re talking about there, Ronald Choquette who the defense seems to be pointing the finger at here. I don‘t know. Pam Bondi, look, you know, OK, so they‘ve got some arguments to make, but you know when you put it all together, right, I mean, the DNA on her, I don‘t know how you respond to that. I mean if his semen is on her body, what is even the issue?
PAM BONDI, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR: And Dan, it‘s a very tough case for the defense. What defense attorneys try to do in cases like this really is keep their client off of death row. I think they‘re trying to raise reasonable doubt in the guilt phase, but they don‘t have a lot to work with.
And you know he‘s saying well his brother had motivation to lie. However, the brother knew—everything the brother said that Smith told him was corroborated. He did have sex with her. She was strangled. You know, his semen is found on her.
He borrowed his friend‘s car. Her hair was found in the car. The car was in disarray. The seat was down. So really in a case like this, you want the defense attorneys to do the best job they can in a death penalty case because it‘s under such scrutiny from our appellate courts that you don‘t want to be...
BONDI: ... trying it again. So you want them to throw out every possible defense they can.
ABRAMS: Joe, how do you—look, all right, let‘s assume that they could say it‘s possibly someone else on the video even though it looks a lot like him. All right, let‘s assume they can argue that. How do you get around the fact that this guy‘s brother is apparently on the phone with this guy and this guy says, here, I‘ll tell you where the body is and they then—literally on the phone apparently and they walk and the guy, Joseph Smith, allegedly, leads them right to where Carlie‘s body is.
JOE EPISCOPO, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think you have to argue that the brother was acting as an agent for the police and therefore he should have read him his rights and perhaps get those statements thrown out. That‘s one way you would attack that.
ABRAMS: That‘s basically a sort of throw up your arms defense, right?
EPISCOPO: Well, you have to defend the person. You have to do something. If you don‘t, it‘s ineffective assistance...
EPISCOPO: ... of counsel and you try the case again.
ABRAMS: Here‘s Debra Johnes Riva talking about what they found.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RIVA: Although her body had decomposed, it was still clear that there was a mark all around her neck. There was no ligature on her neck, no tie, no cord. That was gone. But there was a mark. And you will learn that the perpetuator stood behind her, positioned himself behind her, put that ligature around her neck and squeezed, squeezed until she stopped breathing, until her heart stopped, until she died.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Savannah, so what, the defense is that the brother is making up this story about his brother, Joseph Smith, saying that I had rough sex with her and that‘s how I killed her and then leading them to the body?
GUTHRIE: Right. And it is a hard argument to make, but essentially they‘re saying John Smith had an axe to grind. He‘s no friend of his brother, Joe Smith. They had had a falling out about a month before...
ABRAMS: But who cares? Ax to grind or no ax to grind, if he leads them to the body, what difference does it make?
GUTHRIE: Well that‘s exactly right. They have tried to argue that that information about Proctor Road, which is where the body was found, at a church on Proctor Road, was out in the public arena and maybe that‘s where John Smith got the information and I guess the real perpetuator is the one who was seen on Proctor Road. But, look, the bottom line is Joe Smith was on a cell phone talking to John Smith, his brother, and some of the police were there with him on the grounds of this church heard Joe Smith telling him exactly where to find the body. So it‘s a very strong case for the prosecutor.
ABRAMS: So I don‘t understand, then, why the defense attorney, Adam Tebrugge, is making this comment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM TEBRUGGE, JOSEPH SMITH‘S ATTORNEY: With all of the evidence that was examined in this case, hundreds of pieces of evidence, there was only one piece of evidence that it is claimed links Carlie Brucia to Joseph Smith, one piece of DNA evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Pam, that‘s not really true, is it?
BONDI: No, I think he‘s trying to say one piece of scientific evidence but that‘s pretty powerful evidence, his semen on the back of her shirt. However, yes, I mean Joe—Dan, we‘ve got the video in the Joe Smith case. We‘ve got a video of him abducting her. His co-worker recognized him right away. We‘ve got him driving a yellow station wagon, her hair in the yellow station wagon. No, there‘s quite a bit to link him to this case. It‘s a very strong case for the state.
ABRAMS: But Joe, it sounds like the argument here is sort of an O.J.-esque argument, which is a sort of frame job, sort of unclear what happened. You know they‘re saying the medical examiner found no semen and initially crime scene technicians used special light to look for it. They say they found none, so what is the allegation, that he was framed?
EPISCOPO: Well that‘s one of the—you‘re going to throw everything out there obviously in this case and hopefully when you get to the final thing, when you get to the death penalty argument, you may be able to save his life and have him get life without parole.
EPISCOPO: And perhaps that‘s what the argument is. Maybe somebody in the jury will have a little bit of a doubt. They won‘t be convinced beyond all doubt. They won‘t vote for the death penalty. Perhaps that‘s the strategy and that‘s probably the only strategy he has...
EPISCOPO: ... to try to save his life.
ABRAMS: I think you‘re right. Let me just tell you something. We‘re not playing one of the sound—pieces of sound from the prosecution in this case because it is so disgusting what he is alleged to have done to her that we read this and we just said it‘s just—it‘s too awful, but I can assure you and Savannah will vouch for this, that the details are gruesome and hard to listen to. Savannah just a final thought on how the people inside the courtroom are dealing with that.
GUTHRIE: Well, think about it. For the first time perhaps Joe Brucia heard today how his daughter died, the horrific way she died, but worse than that, what happened to her right before she died...
GUTHRIE: ... and the prosecutor painted this vivid image and nobody could forget it.
ABRAMS: Savannah, Pam Bondi, Joe Episcopo, thanks a lot.
Coming up, police capture that death row inmate who tricked the authorities into letting him walk out of a courthouse. Seems he‘s not as bright as he might have seemed.
And a radio talk show host is now under arrest, charged with—get this—slowly killing his wife by feeding her anti-freeze chemicals for months.
Plus, you may think of this when you hear the word “pirate”, but this is the reality, a cruise ship attacked on the high seas with AK-47‘s and rocket-propelled grenades.
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: He is back in custody, Charles Victor Thompson, the death row killer who walked out of Houston‘s Harris County jail Thursday has got a new mug shot and a new jail cell. Thompson was arrested on Sunday, 200 miles away from Shreveport, Louisiana. Drunk and talking on a pay phone outside a liquor store when police officers asked who he was, Thompson said, you know who I am. Police say he was too drunk to say much more than that.
They didn‘t bother trying to question him after the arrest, but police still want to know if someone helped him escape. Thompson used smuggled clothes and a fake I.D. when he slipped past guards to make his getaway. Thompson waved his extradition hearing. He will be returned to Texas.
Joining me now once again Lieutenant John Martin with the Harris County Sheriff‘s Office. All right, so this is good news. I‘m happy to have you back on the program to talk about this. Tell me a little bit about how the guys down in Shreveport got him.
LT. JOHN MARTIN, HARRIS COUNTY SHERIFF‘S OFFICE: Well, members of the Gulf Coast (INAUDIBLE) Task Force here in Houston received information that M.A. Thompson was in Shreveport, Louisiana. They called the marshal‘s office there and passed the information on to them. Now there‘s another task force in Shreveport. I believe it‘s the Western Louisiana Fugitive Task Force.
They were able to locate Mr. Thompson. As you said, he was standing in front of a liquor store using a pay phone. He was intoxicated at the time, had a bicycle with him. And when the officers approached him, they of course identified themselves and asked him for his name. And as you said, his response was, well, you know who I am...
ABRAMS: So, it was just a citizen who recognized him from news reports, et cetera?
MARTIN: Well, again, apparently this was a result of one of the many tips that we‘ve received over the past few days, and again, ultimately this one played out and did lead us to his location.
ABRAMS: Have you gotten any more information as to what led to his escape? I know you had a lot of questions last time you were on about who let him out and how he got this fake I.D. and how he got past all those officials.
MARTIN: Well with regard to the I.D., it‘s important to point out this—we found the I.D. with his—the clothing that he was wearing when he walked out of the jail. That was stashed behind one of our other jail facilities. The I.D. is actually an identification card issued to inmates at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Now it does have his picture. It bears the state seal on it and it does say State of Texas, but they also say “offender” across the front. He had placed tape over the word “offender” and he‘s flashing that quickly, of course, reporting that he is with the Attorney General‘s Office and it could be pretty convincing.
ABRAMS: Wow. So wait. He had an I.D. card that basically said I‘m a prisoner. He put something over one sort of part of it and then he used that to get out?
MARTIN: Exactly. Again, this is a card that‘s issued by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and it‘s not a card that we use in our jail facilities. We of course have armbands to identify our inmates. And it may not be something that was familiar to the deputies at the time that he was presenting it to them.
ABRAMS: But he got past more than one or two deputies, right?
MARTIN: He got by at least four, yes.
ABRAMS: Wow. All right.
MARTIN: And again, with regard to our—what we‘ve learned, of course, our investigation is still going on at this time...
ABRAMS: I know. Yes, I figured that. That‘s why I‘m not grilling you about exactly what you‘re going to do. I know you won‘t be able to talk about the ongoing investigation.
All right, Lieutenant, look, it‘s good news that this guy got caught.
That‘s the most important thing. Thanks for coming back on the program.
MARTIN: Not a problem. Thanks for having me.
ABRAMS: All right. Now to a disturbing case developing in Massachusetts. Radio talk show host James Keown arrested this morning on a murder charge at the station where he works. He is accused of spending months—get this—spiking his wife‘s Gatorade with a chemical found in anti-freeze. On September 4, 2004, Julie Keown was admitted to a hospital with severe flu-like symptoms.
She had been treated by several doctors for similar symptoms over the preceding four months and had spent several days in the hospital in August. On September 5, doctors determined Ms. Keown had ethylene glycol in her system and began treating her with an anecdote. September 7, her relatives told police they suspected she might have been poisoned.
The Middlesex County District Attorney‘s office launched an investigation. Julie Keown died on September 8. After her death, Ms. Keown‘s husband moved back to Missouri from Massachusetts. He told people his wife had died but never said how. James Keown is expected to be transferred to Massachusetts for his arraignment next week.
Joining me now is Middlesex County Massachusetts‘ district attorney, Martha Coakley and medical examiner Dr. Werner Spitz. Thank you both for coming on the program. Appreciate it.
All right, Ms. Coakley, how did people begin to suspect this might have been a case of long-term poisoning? I‘ve never heard a case like this.
MARTHA COAKLEY, MIDDLESEX CTY. MA, DISTRICT ATTY.: It‘s the first time in Massachusetts. There have been a couple of others, in fact, covered by Court TV that were similar and the poisoning became clear while she was still in a coma. What the investigation focused on, of course, was it accidental, could it have been self-induced, trying to determine if she had been poisoned, was it by someone else and if so, by whom?
But it was pretty clear by the time that unfortunately she died that she had been poisoned and then looking backwards seeing her symptoms earlier that had begun since May, doctors and the medical examiner began to put together that this had been a slow poisoning.
ABRAMS: Was it actually anti-freeze that was used or some sort of chemical?
COAKLEY: Well, it‘s—we don‘t have the actual solution to it, but it appears from the autopsy results and from the tests done at the hospital that it was ethylene glycol, which is one of the main ingredients in anti-freeze. So whether it was a portion of it or anti-freeze itself, it‘s hard to say.
ABRAMS: Who is this guy? I mean tell us a little bit about what his profession was, et cetera.
COAKLEY: Well we know that he worked for a company in Missouri and told the company he wanted to come East to attend Harvard Business School and said that he would use that company, the learning—the business that he worked for as a case study. In fact, he did not enroll in the business school, although his wife believed he did until the day she died and in fact he enrolled at a Harvard extension school. He worked out of his home, so did she, for a company from Missouri. We do know that he seemed to be fairly easy spending with their finances, again, unknown to his wife.
ABRAMS: All right. Dr. Spitz, let‘s assume for a moment the facts as the prosecutor has laid them out, would someone who this is happening to not be able to detect it?
DR. WERNER SPITZ, MEDICAL EXAMINER: Well, they would detect symptoms like the flu, like being nauseous, maybe even vomiting, and they wouldn‘t feel well, but unless the amount of ethylene glycol is very large, if the amount is very small or quite small, then they may not realize that they‘re being poisoned...
ABRAMS: Have you ever heard of a case like this, Dr. Spitz?
SPITZ: Well, I‘ve never heard of a murder. But I‘ve seen lots of alcoholics and sometimes by accident that people will ingest ethylene glycol by way of anti-freeze.
ABRAMS: But it‘s pretty easy to detect, is it not, in an autopsy?
SPITZ: I‘m sorry I can‘t hear...
ABRAMS: I was asking you if it‘s pretty easy to detect in an autopsy.
ABRAMS: All right. OK. Dr. Spitz I don‘t think can hear me. But Martha Coakley, look, do you expect that there‘s even going to be a challenge as to the cause of death?
COAKLEY: Can‘t say. Obviously these are allegations. Only Dan, the indictment was just returned last week and so this will all be played out in court. The evidence will be presented; we feel pretty strongly that the evidence is that that‘s her cause of death at this time.
ABRAMS: Did he ever—he‘s been described as a radio talk show host. Did he ever talk about this, about his wife‘s death or anything like that on the radio?
COAKLEY: Not that we are aware of. He moved back in October, early November 2004 after her death, which is when he began working on the talk show. I‘m not aware that he has. It‘s sort of a political talk show.
ABRAMS: And was his moving something that triggered more investigation?
COAKLEY: The investigation actually began before Julie Keown was pronounced dead. And so as in any case where a family member dies, we always look at who had access, who had motive. Nobody had been ruled in or out and we‘re really looking at could this have been some kind of an accident or was it intentional? If so, who was it going to be? So clearly he would have been, as in any case, in the circle of people we would have looked at.
ABRAMS: Dr. Spitz, you‘re back with us. Sorry about that. I was asking you about how easy it would be to detect this kind of chemical from an autopsy?
SPITZ: Well, you would detect it in an autopsy quite easily because the ethylene glycol deteriorates in the body to crystals of oxalic acid and you see those quite easily in a regular microscope. So if it is an acute poisoning, you see the crystals. If it is a chronic poisoning where the substance had been ingested some time before, you see the effort the body makes to try and remove the crystals. And then you know that this had been going on for some time.
ABRAMS: Martha Coakley and Dr. Werner Spitz, thanks a lot.
COAKLEY: Thank you, Dan.
SPITZ: You‘re welcome.
ABRAMS: Coming up, a luxury cruise ship full of tourists under attack, not from terrorists, from pirates. Not the first time it‘s happened.
And police searching for this former journalist suspected of having dressed up as a firefighter on Halloween, setting a fire, breaking into a young woman‘s apartment, and sexually assaulting her for 12 hours.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to help find missing sex offenders before they strike again. Today we begin the search in Florida.
Authorities are looking for Ariel Rovelo. He‘s 28, 5‘9”, 145. He was convicted of kidnapping and sexual battery of a minor over the age of 12. Rovelo hasn‘t registered with the state properly. If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, number, 888-357-7332.
Be right back.
ABRAMS: Coming up, a luxury cruise ship comes under attack by pirates. The details after the headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEAN NOLL, “SEABOURN SPIRIT” PASSENGER: We had a wonderful captain and he knew exactly what to do. And he got us out of harm‘s way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: One of the 151 lucky passengers aboard a luxury cruise ship, “Seabourn Spirit”, lucky because Captain Sven Erik Pedersen knew what to do when the ship was apparently attacked by pirates, pirates in speed boats, about 100 miles off the coast of the east African country of Somalia, the country without a real government or police since 1991. Passenger Mike Rogers told the APTN news agency how Captain Pedersen broke the news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOICE OF MIKE ROGERS, “SEABOURN SPIRIT” PASSENGER: We have a boat coming alongside and it‘s armed. And would you—I didn‘t ring the general alarm because I don‘t want you going on deck because you might get shot. So please you know get down on the floor in your cabins and stay away from the windows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Passenger Charles Forsdick described what happened next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES FORSDICK, “SEABOURN SPIRIT” PASSENGER: They hit us with rocket grenades, RPG‘s and the—there was a woman in her cabin and she was fortunately in her bathroom, but a rocket grenade went right through and blew the whole cabin out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: And that wasn‘t the only hit. The attack reportedly lasted more than an hour. Parts of the ship (INAUDIBLE) machine gunfire, luckily, only one member of the crew was injured by shrapnel. None of the passengers were hurt. When Captain Pedersen put the pedal to the metal, the crew set off a sonic blast to scare the pirates and after trying to ram the pirate‘s speedboat the cruise ship pulled away and escaped.
So far this year, at least 25 ships have been attacked by pirates off Somalia, including a freighter that belonged to the World Food Program, hijacked in June, its crew held until October along with its cargo of rice for Somalis suffering after the Asian tsunami.
Former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt has written about this attack and other modern day pirates for Msnbc.com. He joins us now. He‘s also a frequent cruise ship goer.
All right. Clint it seems like the captain here did everything right.
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Yes, I think he did, Dan. You know, as you say, put the pedal to the metal. That‘s always the case is if you‘re in this defined kill zone, whether you‘re in a car, a bus or a cruise ship, get out of the area. You know, don‘t stand there and slug it out. And of course with a cruise ship they don‘t really have the ability to slug it out anyway.
So he did the right thing for the ship and the right thing for the passengers, which was get out of there. And you know this guy was—the ship was 100 miles off the coast. That‘s a pretty good distance for these pirates in small rubber boats to get out to sea and carry on this attack.
ABRAMS: Clint, I was stunned to see there have been at least 400 known pirate attacks worldwide so far this year.
VAN ZANDT: Four hundred this year, Dan, 200 people taken hostage and upwards of 50 murdered that we know of. And some of these incidents aren‘t reported, sometimes on smaller ships, sailboats, things like that. They just disappear, period, because the pirates got to them.
ABRAMS: So you know, you‘re going on cruises all the time it seems, are you on one of—are you on these cruises like an undercover guy. I mean...
VAN ZANDT: No.
ABRAMS: ... are you afraid at all to be on any of these cruises?
VAN ZANDT: No. You know, I‘ve had a good experience talking to a number of the security people onboard. Some of them are former Gerkers (ph) and other people, British SAS types with very strong security backgrounds. They have very good game plans of what to do. And, you know, when you come into port, most port authorities, they know you‘re bringing a ship in and that‘s bringing tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy, so they protect your ship.
You see gunboats standing off depending on whatever country you‘re in, but here‘s a cruise ship moving on down the line, you know, 100 miles offshore and pirates are crafty, though, just like they were 300 years ago, I mean, they monitor your communications. The pirates have got radar. They fire distress flares hoping a captain of a ship will say, gee, somebody is in trouble, maybe I should go try to help them and then all of a sudden you are swarmed with these modern-day pirates and they‘re not carrying cutlasses and knives, as you say, AK-47‘s and RPG‘s.
ABRAMS: Do you think that ships have enough security? I mean are there people who are trained to deal with this on most cruise ships?
VAN ZANDT: Well, they‘re trained to deal with some levels of it. You know, I‘ve gotten people who have sent me e-mails through your Web site already today and they say shouldn‘t you have people with rifles up on the deck punching holes in these ships or maybe punching holes in the pirates as they come up alongside.
Well, you know, again, cruise ships at least and other cargo ships have made a determination they‘re not necessarily going to stand there and shoot it out. But, you know, there are some that say why we don‘t have a 50-caliber on the front and back of a ship. Well, that puts us back in World War II where freighters are trying to dodge the axis raiders...
VAN ZANDT: ... and submarines that are coming...
ABRAMS: But, are there people with weapons onboard?
VAN ZANDT: They say there‘s not, Dan.
VAN ZANDT: Well, they say there‘s not...
ABRAMS: All right. You know look, that‘s exactly the way I want to hear it. I want you to reassure me, but also not—you know not making people nervous...
VAN ZANDT: Dan, I‘ll see you on a cruise ship.
VAN ZANDT: One thing real quick...
VAN ZANDT: ... in an earlier segment you elected not to go into graphic detail about a little girl and how she was murdered. That‘s—you know, you don‘t need to hear it from me, but that‘s responsible journalism.
VAN ZANDT: The public doesn‘t need to hear that. Good call on your part.
ABRAMS: Yes. Yes. I don‘t know. It‘s...
VAN ZANDT: Yes.
ABRAMS: It‘s—no, sometimes it‘s a close call sometimes because it‘s also important for people to recognize how gruesome it was. I mean...
VAN ZANDT: Yes, there is, but there‘s a line...
VAN ZANDT: ... where we cross it...
VAN ZANDT: ... and you didn‘t cross it. So...
ABRAMS: Clint Van Zandt, thanks.
ABRAMS: Coming up...
VAN ZANDT: OK.
ABRAMS: ... this former writer-reporter is wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault on Halloween where a man dressed up as a city firefighter set several fires outside an apartment building and then sexually assaulted a young woman for more than 12 hours.
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: Police are searching for a former journalist. They want to question him in connection with a case someone dressed up like a firefighter on Halloween, set fire, broke into a woman‘s apartment, sexually assaulted her for 12 hours. Coming up.
ABRAMS: There is a manhunt underway in New York for a former reporter suspected of posing as a firefighter on Halloween and forcing his way into a woman‘s apartment, knocking her out and sexually assaulting her for over 12 hours. Police now believe that freelance writer Peter Braunstein could be responsible for lighting small fires outside the apartment of a woman he once worked with as an excuse to get past her door, saying he had to investigate the fire.
According to police sources, Braunstein checked into a Super 8 motel after the attack, staying there for two days just blocks from the woman‘s apartment. Police believe he kept a close eye on the news reports of the attack.
Joining me now on the phone is “New York Post” reporter Brad Hamilton and private investigator and former New York City police officer Bill Stanton. Gentlemen thanks for coming on the program.
All right, Brad let me start with you. How convinced are they that this is the guy?
BRAD HAMILTON, “NEW YORK POST” REPORTER (via phone): Very convinced. There really isn‘t any other suspect at this point and they have quite a bit of evidence to suggest that he was involved in this.
ABRAMS: And part of it, is it not, is that he knew so much about her life and he used that in the context of this assault.
HAMILTON: Certainly. This could not have been some stranger. He knew all about the fact that she about been fired from her job. They actually both worked together at the same publication for a while though they really didn‘t have any dealings with each other. He also knew about the fact that she had broken up with a boyfriend and he also had some specific knowledge about some embarrassing thing that had happened to her in her past.
ABRAMS: And he kept knocking her out with chloroform and abusing her for all these hours?
HAMILTON: That‘s right. Yes, he actually—he used the drug to knock her out. He tied her up. She was naked. He sexually assaulted her, he didn‘t rape her, but he sexually assaulted her and tormented her over the period of this 12 ½ hour attack with specific acts. In fact, one thing that he did was he took out shoes from her closet and he tried on each pair of shoes, put them on her feet and videotaped them knowing that shoes represented a very painful chapter in her life.
ABRAMS: Bill Stanton, this sounds like psychological torture more than sexual.
BILL STANTON, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: Yes, psychological terrorism.
You know from what I‘ve read, this guy is a classic psychopathic bully. Obviously he planned this out, well-planned, and I imagine he had several steps along the way of what he‘s going to do, where he‘s going to hold up, paying for things in cash. And in his twisted demented mind he may actually think this is going to bring him attention. There was a movie called “15 Minutes” that my friend wrote and directed, something very similar, where they think they‘re going to plead insanity and then sell the book rights.
ABRAMS: Well and Brad, that is—some people are questioning whether he is actually enjoying the publicity?
HAMILTON: Well he certainly has had a past where he was very much involved with trying to gain publicity for himself. He wrote this play and he tried to orchestrate several publicity stunts for the play. It was about Andy Warhol and which offended some of the women who were in the play. He wanted them to pose nude and he had these other crazy ideas about what he wanted to do to try to promote the play, so he has a history of trying to gain publicity for himself.
ABRAMS: Bill, look, this is the kind of guy that usually gets caught pretty quickly, no?
STANTON: Yes, oh absolutely. He thinks he‘s smarter than everybody else. In fact, he‘s not. Right now he‘s probably stationary, probably even watching this program. I suspect if he was brave enough, he‘d either turn himself in or take himself out of the picture. Either one I don‘t think he is capable of doing.
ABRAMS: And we should keep in mind he may have changed his appearance a bit as well, right Bill?
STANTON: Oh, absolutely. This is a guy who had thought out this assault and he probably thought out several steps afterwards. He doesn‘t know what the full might of the NYPD Detective Division will do to apprehend him.
ABRAMS: Brad, we described him as a former journalist, you know it‘s sort of borderline I guess. Exactly what did he do?
HAMILTON: Well he worked as a media reporter for “Women‘s Wear Daily”, the fashion magazine, for two years. Prior to that he had written about pop culture for the “Village Voice” and some online publications. He also—you should also know that he co-edited two books about pop culture and has a master‘s degree from NYU in history.
ABRAMS: So he‘s presumably a pretty bright guy?
HAMILTON: Well he certainly is. He spent some time at Andy Warhol‘s factory after the artist died and became sort of obsessed with Edie Sedgwick. That led him to writing this play, which was produced actually last year, “Andy and Edie”, so it was his own play—so you could say he‘s a playwright, he‘s an author, he‘s a journalist and if you believe he was involved in this attack he‘s a psychopath.
ABRAMS: All right. Brad Hamilton, Bill Stanton, thanks a lot.
Coming up, the Bush administration has been playing politics with the morning-after pill for more than two years. Look, I agree with some of what they‘ve said, but their strategies seem to be backfiring. The manufacturer is saying the use of the pill has doubled in two years, maybe thanks to the White House. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike again. This week we‘re focusing on Florida.
The authorities there would like your help finding David Rodriguez. He‘s 67, 5‘5”, 147, convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under the age of 16. He hasn‘t registered with the state. If you‘ve got any info on where he is, 888-357-7332.
Be right back.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—who would have thought the Bush administration might be helping to boost the use of the morning after pill? The manufacturer of Plan B emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning after pill, is reporting that use of the pills has doubled over the past two years. For those same two years, the Bush administration has been vehemently and publicly trying to block FDA approval to sell the pills over-the-counter.
Plan B if taken correctly within 72 hours of unprotected sex can—quote—“reduce the pregnancy by 89 percent.” Currently, you need a doctor‘s prescription to take it. FDA advisors and staff, as well as many major medical organizations, have endorsed over-the-counter sales to women 16 and older.
Opponents claim if it is available over-the-counter, too many women, especially teenagers, will start using it as birth control and maybe engage in risky sex more often. Look, I‘ve expressed concern about making it available over-the-counter. I still don‘t understand why this should be treated differently from the birth control pill where a prescription is necessary, but forget the scientific debate.
The irony is striking. The administration‘s dogmatic efforts to keep this pill away from women have turned against them. Instead their abortion-like opposition has served as free marketing for the pill which is now being used by 1.6 million a year as opposed to 800,000 or so a year back in 2002. Sure, look, it‘s possible other factors could explain the increased usage including more familiarity and trust in the pill.
But I am also certain that the efforts to demonize the drug, to turn it into some kind of public menace have only led more to look into it and realize that it may be exactly what they were looking for.
Coming up, a hidden “Dateline” investigation caught would be sexual predators on camera before they struck. One of my viewers is blaming the children. That‘s coming up.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. The governor of Alabama is expected to say people should boycott Aruba in the wake of the Natalee Holloway investigation. We‘ll cover that tomorrow.
Dawn from Glendale, Arizona, “No one should boycott Aruba. Why? Because there are many cases in the United States that are not solved and do we boycott those towns?”
From DuBois, Pennsylvania, Jean Marando, “I support boycotting Aruba.
I cancelled my plans to go there. Instead I‘m going to Neverland Ranch.”
And in response to Dr. Phil saying that there was credible evidence that Natalee Holloway was alive, possibly sold into a sex slave ring. I said that there was nothing I knew of to support the theory.
Charlene Gregory from Accord, New York, “You say there‘s no evidence of Natalee Holloway being sold into slavery, but where is the evidence that she was murdered? She disappeared, why is one theory more plausible than the other in light of no evidence?”
Let me understand this, Charlene. You would say that every time a young woman is missing in this country, or on some tourist island, that there‘s an equal chance, that either she was murdered or she was sold into some sort of international sex ring. I don‘t buy it.
On Friday, “Dateline NBC” went undercover on the trail of potential pedophiles, confronting them when they show up to meet what they thought were sexually available teens they had met online. I thought the piece was great.
Robert Heiman with a different take. “We‘re blaming these people for doing this sort of thing when if you really look a bit further, what the hell are those 13-year-olds doing giving away their addresses and accepting these photos from them? Aren‘t they liable too? Like I was always taught, you play with fire, you‘ll get burned.”
You‘re not serious, are you Robert? Come on. You think we should blame 13-year-olds because sexual predators want to take advantage of them? My guess, you don‘t have kids.
Also, on Friday, a death row inmate escaped his—a Texas prison. Actually, escaped from a Texas courthouse by dressing in civilian clothes and flashing a fake I.D. to guards.
Nancy Roberts from Houston, “Dan, it‘s no mystery how this guy got out. He was a crook dressed in a suit. In other words, they thought he was a lawyer.”
Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com. We go through them at the end of the show.
We‘re glad to report that guy got caught. Tomorrow, we are going to cover the Alabama governor, expected to hold a press conference with Beth Holloway Twitty, the mother of Natalee, announcing an effort to boycott Aruba.
Is that really the answer? We‘ll talk about it on the big show tomorrow.
That does it for us tonight. Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. Have a great night.
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