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Jackson Charged With Several Counts of Child Molestation; Split Verdict in Jayson Williams Case

Aired April 30, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Paula Zahn. It's the last day of April, 2004, the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq and a day of major drama in American courtrooms from coast to coast.
In California they threw the book at Michael Jackson. Child molestation charges and accusations involving abduction, imprisonment and extortion.


MICHAEL JACKSON, ENTERTAINER: I'd like to thank the fans around the world for your love and support from every corner of the earth.


ZAHN: And former NBA star Jayson Williams beats a manslaughter rap, but he still could go to prison.

It's just what the U.S. doesn't need, pictures of Iraqi prisoners apparently abused, humiliated, and maybe even tortured by American troops. Why did it happen? How widespread is it? And what is the reaction in the Arab world?

All that ahead tonight, but first here are the headlines you need to know right now.

In Iraq today, U.S. marines in Fallujah began handing over security duties to Iraqi forces. The U.S. hopes Iraqi patrols will help quiet the violence that has ravaged Fallujah for weeks. The attacks there and in Najaf had helped make April the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq so far, 137 Americans lost their lives.

Tonight Europe celebrates as people in ten more nations call themselves citizen of the European Union. The EU officially expanded at midnight to add eight former communist states and two Mediterranean islands.

And, in Oklahoma city today, the prosecution rested in the state trial of Terry Nichols. He is charged with 161 counts of murder for his role in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building nine years ago. He is already serving a life sentence on a federal conviction and he could be executed if convicted in Oklahoma.

We are putting two big court cases in focus tonight, the Jayson Williams verdict in a moment, but first Michael Jackson's latest appearance. He pleaded not guilty today to all ten counts against him. We start with national correspondent Frank Buckley outside the courthouse in Santa Maria, California.

Hi, Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Paula. Michael Jackson was here to be arraigned on a new ten-count indictment from a grand jury that supersedes the previous felony complaint. He now faces four counts of child molestation, lewd acts upon a child; one count of attempted child molestation; four counts of administer an intoxicating agent, alcohol; and one count of conspiracy. The grand jury saying in its indictment it believes Jackson committed the crimes of child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion with at least one other person whose name or names were blanked out in the indictment. Jackson's new attorney has a different take on the allegations.


TOM MESEREAU, MICHAEL JACKSON'S ATTORNEY: This case is about one thing only. It's about the dignity, the integrity, the decency, the honor, the charity, the innocence and the complete vindication of a wonderful human being named Michael Jackson.


BUCKLEY: Michael Jackson here in Santa Maria was supported once again by hundreds of fans, some of them bussed to Santa Maria. Michael Jackson spoke directly to the people of Santa Maria knowing full well some of them will sit on his jury.


JACKSON: I want to thank the community of Santa Maria, I want you to know that I love the community of Santa Maria very much. It's my community. I love the people.


BUCKLEY: Michael Jackson did not climb atop an SUV this time. He was on time, and this may be the last time we see him in a courtroom until September. Today, he signed a time waiver, meaning he doesn't have to appear in court again unless he wants to -- Paula.

ZAHN: Frank Buckley, thank you so much for the update.

It wasn't quite the media circus like Jackson's last appearance, but it was still quite a media event. Let's get more from someone who was in court and has covered the story from the start. Joining us now from Santa Maria, Associated Press special correspondent Linda Deutsche. Always good to see you, Linda, welcome.


ZAHN: So a strikingly different atmosphere today, who do you think deserves the credit for that, Mr. Jackson's new attorney?

DEUTSCHE: I think that the credit may go to several people. Michael Jackson himself is probably the main one. I asked his spokeswoman, Raymone Bain, who made the decision that he should be so conservative, and so soft spoken and not be doing anything outside the courtroom, and she said it was Michael's decision, but Tom Mesereau is a conservative lawyer, as you've probably seen from his interviews. He stresses the dignity of the courtroom, and I'm sure he gave that message to Michael Jackson before he got dressed and before he decided what he was going to do in the courtroom.

ZAHN: Linda, let's go through some of the charges that Michael Jackson faces. Conspiring with others to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. What do all of those mean?

DEUTSCHE: That is the big news today, is the conspiracy count. The prosecution has put that in at the last minute, and it means that they have a better chance under conspiracy of proving certain things. False imprisonment they're claiming apparently that the alleged victim in the case and his family were held against their will at Neverland. There's going to be some question about that, because you have to prove that they were held against their will, did they not want to be there. The abduction count apparently refers to a trip that the family made to Florida, just before the TV interview was aired with Jackson on British television. Were they forced to go to Florida? We don't know. The extortion count probably means that the alleged victim and his family were told that something bad would happen to them if they were to tell child welfare services that the boy was abused. Those are the allegations, and that's what the district attorney is claiming.

ZAHN: Frank Buckley was just reporting there was a name blacked out on one of these documents. When will we find out who this other person is?

DEUTSCHE: There may be more than one name blacked out. The section that's blacked out looks pretty big to me; it could be two, it could be more. When we will find out is if someone is arrested, which is a possibility, or if it gets to that point to the trial when that person is called as a witness. The press is moving to unseal the rest of the indictment, and if that happens, we would find it out then.

ZAHN: All right. Linda Deutsche, thanks for educating us tonight. We always appreciate your insider's view.

DEUTSCHE: Thank you.

ZAHN: Now we hear from a Jackson family spokesman, Firpo Carr, who joins us from Los Angeles. Thanks for joining us tonight, sir. You were with the family all day. First of all, what was Michael's reaction that some of these charges that people were quite surprised to hear come down today.

FIRPO CARR, JACKSON FAMILY SPOKESMAN: I think it could best be summed up in one word: shocked, angered, and that's how his parents felt. In fact, with all of these additional charges, quite frankly, let me excuse myself, please, because at the risk of sounding somewhat crude, but quite frankly, the family feels like, if you throw enough of a certain substance against the wall, the adhesive properties therein may work better. And that's how they're viewing this. You throw as much as you can at Michael Jackson, and hope something sticks, and this is how we're viewing it. So we feel that once again he'll be vindicated. He is innocent and he'll beat all of this.

ZAHN: You just heard Linda Deutsche talk about the prosecution's approach to filing this under conspiracy, the committing child abduction, false imprisonment, extortion, it is her belief that gives them wider latitude in how they proceed with this case. Does that concern Mr. Jackson's team?

CARR: Well, while I cannot speak for his legal team or him, I will say that any of these new charges, of course, will have to be addressed, each and every one, actually, and once again when you are engendered with the spirit of innocence, when that comes from within, you're really not worried. His mother and his father were angered, but at the same time confident. Michael's confident, Randy's confident, the family is confident that he will be exonerated. So it doesn't matter how sophisticated or complex the strategies may be on the part of the DA, they are still looking at an innocent man.

ZAHN: You have to admit, though, from the outside things have looked turbulent observers when you see a complete flip in the team representing Mr. Jackson. How do you view those changes?

CARR: Well, what most people may not be aware of is this fact: Michael Jackson in the past ten years has made 11 management changes. He is a man who is not content with riding the same horse for very long or all the time. So it's not unusual for Michael to change this or change that, or flip this or do that. He does the same thing with his music. He's very diverse, and this is no different. In fact, he is as diverse as his fans are.

He just came from the Middle East with Jermaine. The people over there love him. People of all-as he mentioned, are from all corners of the earth, so when you look at that, that's a reflection of how he approaches life. So the fact that there's been a flip in his management team, that is the leadership, because the infrastructure is still the same, you still have the basic two attorneys there, you know, you don't have a problem, really. So there's some continuity there and there's no danger of something falling through the cracks.

ZAHN: Firpo Carr, thank you for joining us tonight as it has become clear that the indictment now carries ten counts related to the investigation of child molestation.

Now turning to another high-profile case with a celebrity defendant, the jury in the manslaughter trial of former NBA all-star Jayson Williams came back with a split verdict this afternoon. CNN's Deborah Feyerick has been covering the case and she joins us with details. Good evening, Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula. Well, Jayson Williams is home tonight with his family. The former basketball player found not guilty on three of the four shooting charges; his lawyers saying they were very pleased with the verdict, saying in their words, "Jayson and Tanya are very happy."

Now, Williams was found guilty on all four of the cover-up charges, including evidence of witness tampering, but on the charge of reckless manslaughter, the jury was split 8-4 in favor of acquittal.


ANNE STENGEL, JUROR ON JAYSON WILLIAMS CASE: I knew in my heart this was clearly an accident--actually from the beginning, I knew this was an accident. Again, Mr. Williams is not a criminal.


FEYERICK: The judge declared a mistrial on the reckless manslaughter charge, prosecutors right now figuring out what they were going to do and whether they will retry Mr. Williams. Prosecutors did say they were disappointed with the not guilty verdicts. Everybody is going to be in court in three weeks, that's when prosecutors will tell everyone the next move will be -- Paula.


ZAHN: Deborah, what else did you hear from jurors today?

FEYERICK: Jurors, man of the jurors simply thought that this was simply an accident. And the key witness for the prosecution, a ballplayer by the name of Benoit Benjamin, many said he was just not credible and he is the only person that testified that he saw Williams on with his finger on the trigger. Everyone else believed the story that Williams says, which was that the gun was open, when he went to click it shut, sort of in a single move, that's when it misfired and that's what the jury believed.

ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick, thanks so much.

And with us now are Joseph Hayden and Billy Martin, attorneys for Jayson Williams. Thank you both for joining us tonight.


ZAHN: So, Billy, what is your reaction to the verdict today?

BILLY MARTIN, JAYSON WILLIAMS' ATTORNEY: Paula, I'm pleased. When I joined this trial nearly a year and a half ago, I quickly learned that Jayson was innocent we thought if we could get a fair jury, and get a jury to listen to these facts, they would agree with us that the post-shooting conduct, the panic and frenzy after the accident may present some problems, but he was not in any way guilty of either count of the manslaughter. Jayson was innocent of those charges.

ZAHN: Joseph, some people might have been surprised to hear Billy Martin saying he was pleased with the outcome, and yet your client still collectively faces charges that carry a maximum penalty of some 13 years. Isn't there a good chance he will spend some time in prison?

HAYDEN: We're going to take one day at a time. The most important charges in this indictment were the shooting counts, the counts which involved the tragic death of Mr. Christofi, the counts which arose from the post-shooting events, the post-accident events, were really within a window of time of 15 minutes. No other participant in similar conduct has gone to jail, no other participant has been given lasting criminal procedures throughout this matter, and we know that Judge Coleman will be fair and equitable. And we'll deal with the implications of those counts when the time arises.

ZAHN: Billy, let me ask you this. Does Jayson Williams expect to spend some time in prison?

MARTIN: You know, that's one conversation we've not had with Jayson. Over two years we've had a lot of talks with him. We've never talked about going to jail. We always thought he was innocent of the two shooting charges, and we always thought that since nobody else has gone to jail for their participation, if by chance he's convicted of the post-shooting, post-accident charges, the judge will listen to him. Judge Coleman will be fair.

ZAHN: You two know him a lot better than those of us observing this case, but it appeared as though he was relatively emotionless when the verdicts came down. Can you share with us tonight how he's reacting to the verdict?

MARTIN: Joe, do you want to take that one?

HAYDEN: Well, Jay and his wife Tanya are deeply spiritual people. They prayed before they went out to take the verdict, They prayed after they too the verdict. They do not wear their emotion or their spirituality on their sleeve, but they're deeply spiritual people, and I believe they're deeply grateful for the verdict in connection with the shooting counts tonight.

MARTIN: Paula, I can add if you had been in our private conference room, which is right beside the courtroom, you would have seen a lot of emotion, a lot of emotion that the weight of the charges is finally off of him and a lot of emotion that he finally realized that he can hug his wife, he can kiss his wife and they can go home to their children. It was a lot of emotion.

ZAHN: Joseph Hayden, Billy Martin, thank you for joining us so swiftly after the verdict came down, we appreciate your time tonight.

MARTIN: Thank you, Paula.

HAYDEN: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: And the infamous Iraqi prison where enemies of Saddam Hussein were tortured, now photographs that appear to show Americans abusing Iraqis, and they are angering the Arab world.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm candy Crowley in Fulton, Missouri. John Kerry came to talk about Iraq and not beat Dick Cheney. Mission accomplished coming up next.

ZAHN: And he spent 20 years behind bars for molesting children, but a judge threw out convictions after some of the victims admitted the abuse never happened. I'll be talking with one of them tonight.


ZAHN: There has been harsh reaction in the United States and around the world of pictures of Iraqi prisoners allegedly being abused by American soldiers. The photographs show a hooded prisoner on a box with wires attached to his hands while other captives are seen naked in sexually humiliating poses with soldiers mugging for the camera. Today President Bush was asked about these images.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I share a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated. Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America, and so I--I didn't like it one bit.


ZAHN: Well, the military has brought criminal charges against six American soldiers and their commander has been suspended, but the worst damage may be yet to come as the pictures spread throughout the Arab world sparking anger and outrage. Earlier I asked CNN 's Ben Wedeman in Baghdad about that.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these images that have come out today are probably the most inflammatory that could come out at this point. And we've already spoken with some of the people who have seen them. And as one man says they are an insult to every Iraqi.

"It's wrong, wrong, 100 percent and a crime," says Halil. "You came to liberate us from an unjust dictator who killed and tortured us."

And of course, today is Friday, so there were no newspapers, but tomorrow the newspapers will hit the streets so hundreds of thousands of more people will see these pictures.

ZAHN: Ben, you've had a chance to talk with Iraqi and American officials. Is there any doubt in their minds that this abuse happened?

WEDEMAN: Speaking to American officials, there doesn't seem to be a question of doubt. They seem to be well aware that--or they seem to believe without much doubt that these pictures are true, that they are real pictures and the way they couch their terms, it's not questioning the veracity of the pictures, they are stressing over and over again how appalled and disgusted they are by these images. And of course, Iraqis for them, it really goes to their heart. And I can tell you I've lived in this region for almost 30 years, and these images really are shocking, not only to ordinary people here but every segment of society. This is something that's going to send shockwaves throughout not only Iraq but throughout the entire Middle East, and we will see them played again and again and again, because they really hit a very, very raw nerve -- Paula.

ZAHN: Given the way Iraqis already feel about American forces there, the latest poll basically showing they perceive them as occupiers not liberators, how does the U.S. military go about even trying to reverse the damage done by this?

WEDEMAN: Well, in their statements following the release of these pictures, they've been very unequivocal. They haven't minced their words or fudged whatever they're saying. They said in no uncertain terms, they're disgusted, they're appalled, they're ashamed of the soldiers that may have been involved in this instance. They say these acts in no way represent the huge majority of the approximately 150,000 U.S. soldiers in the country. So they are trying their very hardest to make the point. They condemn this absolutely. That they are conducting a criminal investigation, that they are holding a thorough review of all procedures at the Abu Ghraib prison. The problem is it may be too late. The damage may already be done and Iraqis will view all these attempts at damage control as just an attempt to cover up something. Paula?

ZAHN: Not what American officials want to hear. Ben Wedeman, thanks so much for the update.


ZAHN: And on top of the allegations about U.S. troops, tonight we're learning that London's Daily Mirror tomorrow will published photos apparently showing British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. One apparently even shows a British soldier urinating on a hooded prisoner. Time now to get the military view of this situation, CNN military analyst General David Grange; he joins us from Oak Brook, Illinois, and from Anaheim, California, tonight Major Ernie Proud, a clinical psychologist serving in the reserves. He returned from Iraq in March after spending 12 months there with the 113th Army Combat Stress Control Unit. Welcome, gentlemen. General Grange, how bad does this look for the U.S. military if these allegations are true?

GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Quite bad, very unusual, like what was stated, 99.9 percent of the GIs are good, good soldiers. They represent values-based military, represent a democratic government, and this is totally out of line, but it really now has a tremendous impact on not only the morale of the military, but just the reputation of the force.

ZAHN: You have commanded troops most of your adult life. What was your reaction when you saw these pictures for the first time, General?

GRANGE: Well, embarrassing, not only having served in the military, but as a veteran now. It's something that--I mean, I've never seen it in my time of service. And it's going to definitely require some apologies to get something out of the network, somehow access to the people that will see it on other Middle East networks where we may have getting difficulty getting access to show our solution to this problem.

ZAHN: Major Proud, you probably are closer to this issue than just about anybody, having worked with these soldiers under incredible stress, can you describe or explain to us tonight what could possibly cause them to behave in this way?

MAJOR ERNIE PROUD, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, if I remember correctly Abu Ghraib was being mortared on a fairly regular basis at that time, so there was a lot of issues with combat stress, along with operational stress can be a positive or a negative impact on soldiers. So there's a small percentage of soldiers, when faced with these kinds of conditions, will develop some misconduct or misbehaviors, which this sounds like this could be as a result of the stress that they were experiencing.

ZAHN: I think people might use much stronger language than misbehaviors. How would you characterize the pictures that you saw?

PROUD: Well, certainly it's considered misconduct in the army under UCMJ. It's very inappropriate. These allegations are very serious, and I think they're reprehensible. It's just a really very bad reflection on the American army.

ZAHN: And Major Proud just described to us the stress levels that you witnessed soldiers being under when you were in Iraq for almost that year period?

PROUD: Well, it varies from soldier to soldier. It depends on their age, education, experience, prior deployments, but it's a harsh environment, though it's improved just prior to our leaving, it got easier, the living got easier there. So it certainly has-I mean, it's an individual issue, but for the most part, American soldiers are outstanding. They're enduring the deprivation and austere environment, I think, very well. They're doing an excellent job at all levels. There's just a small percentage of people that will react negatively or will exhibit this misconduct.

ZAHN: General Grange, I want to close with you this evening. You said it is your belief that the Iraqi people are entitled to some kind of an apology. How concerned are you about this triggering even greater violence against American troops in Iraq?

GRANGE: Well, I think it will trigger violence, and, yes, the troops are under stress like all combat troops are. However, that's not an excuse. That's why you have a chain of command to take care of situations when troops are under stress, to explain to them the situation and make sure you get the right people in the right jobs, to make sure you don't put people in jobs that they're not trained for, and to check on people and inspect. And so it's going to require an apology, and it's going to take a massive effort and information to explain again and again and again that that is not the way U.S. military-the U.S. military operates. And it's going to be a terrible toll to get that across. It's going to be tough.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, we appreciate both of your perspectives tonight, General David Grange and Major Ernie Proud. Thank you.

And as this very difficult and deadly month in Iraq comes to an end, NEWSNIGHT dedicates a full hour to take a closer look at what's gone wrong and right as well as what comes next. Iraq: countdown to handover begins at 10 pm, right here on CNN.

And Senator John Kerry takes up an invitation to answer Vice President Cheney's criticism that he goes right for the President's record in Iraq.

And it is the one night of the year when presidents and reporters hang out together just for fun. We're going to show you what it's all about, coming up.


ZAHN: And we're back now to talk a little politics.

Four days ago, Vice President Cheney launched a withering attack on Senator John Kerry's fitness to be president during a speech at a college in Missouri. Well, the school invited Kerry to respond, and he did just that.

Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley was there.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, is where Winston Churchill gave his "Iron Curtain" speech, and where John Kerry delivered his "Mission Not Yet Accomplished" speech.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We must do the hard work to get the world's major political powers to join in this mission. And to do so, the president must lead.

CROWLEY: Kerry has frequently called for internationalizing the war. His campaign says the Fulton speech outlines a specific process to do that, beginning with a coalition of U.N. Security Council members, a high commissioner to oversee Iraq, and convincing NATO to take part.

KERRY: If the president will take the needed steps to share the burden and make progress in Iraq, if he leads, then I will support him on this issue.

CROWLEY: Beyond content, Kerry's speech was notable for its form.

KERRY: You don't come to Fulton to give a speech. You come to Fulton to honor a tradition.

CROWLEY: Which is to say, this was not Dick Cheney's speech. DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The senator from Massachusetts has given us ample grounds to doubt the judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on vital issues of national security.

CROWLEY: Cheney spoke here Monday, but it was not the foreign policy treatise the president of Westminster told his students they could expect.

FLETCHER LAMKIN, PRESIDENT, WESTMINSTER UNIVERSITY: These people were thinking that I had duped them. And that's a strong word. I -- maybe they didn't think that. But I had certainly deceived them.

CROWLEY: In an e-mail to students and staff, Lamkin said in fairness, he would invite John Kerry. Lamkin wishes he could take back the part about being disappointed in Cheney for bashing Kerry, because Lamkin didn't mean to criticize Cheney and because it immediately became political fodder.

LAMKIN: You've got the right-wing columnists who are excoriating me as a typical liberal who's out there poisoning the minds of our students.

LAMKIN: Senator John Kerry.

CROWLEY: Friday, hundreds of e-mails later, the self-described right-wing conservative introduced John Kerry, knowing he probably helped the senator score political points.

LAMKIN: It doesn't mean that I'm a wild-eyed liberal. It just means that I'm trying to provide balance for my students.

CROWLEY: In some worlds, politics is not always the point.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Fulton, Missouri.


ZAHN: Still ahead tonight, we change our focus to the mystery of who killed this woman. Well, that mystery may have ended today. We're going to ask her husband about her tragic death and about the man who now says he killed her.

And after 20 years behind bars, a judge's ruling means this man may not be a child molester after all. We'll talk with one alleged victim, who now says the abuse never happened.

And on Monday, the woman who was fired from her job for taking pictures of flag-draped coffins coming home from Iraq. We're going to ask her if she's sorry and find out what soldiers' families have told her.


ZAHN: And welcome back. Here are some of the headlines you need to know right now. Republican senator and Vietnam veteran John McCain is blasting the Sinclair Broadcast Group for insisting its ABC stations not air tonight's "Nightline." The program will feature the names and photos of U.S. troops killed in Iraq. In a letter to Sinclair's CEO, McCain called the decision unpatriotic. The company has said it believes ABC's program is politically motivated, a charge that ABC denies.

An alleged Nazi past continues to haunt a retired auto worker from Cincinnati. A federal appeals court today upheld a ruling that John Demjanjuk should be stripped of his citizenship. The government accuses the 84-year-old of serving as a guard in a Nazi concentration camp. Demjanjuk denies that. His family vows to challenge today's ruling.

A big breakthrough in a serial killer case down in Louisiana. Police in Baton Rouge are holding a suspected serial killer. Shawn Gillis (ph) was arrested yesterday in a SWAT team raid at his home and charged with killing three women since 1999.

According to the arrest warrant, all three were killed in a similar manner. Their bodies were cut and mutilated. Police said they traced Gillis through the tire tracks where one body was found. Since his arrest, police say, he has confessed to killing two other women.

We turn now to the husband of one of them. Police told Robert Schmidt less than 24 hours ago that Gillis has confessed to killing his wife, Hardy (ph) Schmidt. I asked Robert Schmidt about the his reaction to the arrest and confession.

ROBERT SCHMIDT, WIFE WAS VICTIM OF SUSPECTED SERIAL KILLER: My initial reaction was, I just got very upset, and it was -- remembered everything that had happened. And so it brought back unpleasant memories, initially. When some time had -- several hours had passed, and the police came over, met with us, and confirmed that the person that they had in custody had confessed to the murder, I felt relieved at that time.

It's been five years, and I really didn't know whether they would ever find the person. And so I felt, as I say, greatly relieved.

ZAHN: What has it been like to live with that uncertainty?

SCHMIDT: Well, you know, you just go on and live your life. And you need to do that. I have children, two of whom at the time were teenagers when my wife was killed. So I need to -- needed to help work with them.

And, yes, I just -- you know, I had theories in my mind as to what had happened. Still don't know why it happened, and probably won't know that, but it helps a great deal to have that resolved.

And, you know, while I was going through that five years, maybe I didn't realize how much it bothered me not to know.

ZAHN: On the day that your wife disappeared, did you suspect foul play?

SCHMIDT: Well, she went, my wife went out running early in the morning. And we were pretty frantically looking for her for a long time. During that time when we were looking for her, there, of course, was still hope. And it was -- you know, I was kind of like in a daze. I wasn't thinking. Things were just happening to me.

ZAHN: And finally, you talked about your life, having to go on and raise the three children that were left after your...


ZAHN: ... wife was murdered. What impact did the unsolved murder have on them, and how they reacted to the news of yesterday?

SCHMIDT: When the police came by last night and talked to us about what they found, my children were with me. And they were -- we all were allowed to ask questions about what had happened, and, you know, have -- anything we wanted, really, which I think was a good resolution. I mean, it's not fully resolved, but I think it helped them to get the things that they were wondering about off their chest and get some answers to the extent possible.

ZAHN: And it may not have been the answer you wanted to hear, but at least, I guess, you won't have to worry about this aspect of it anymore. Robert Schmidt, thank you for sharing your story with us tonight.

SCHMIDT: You're welcome.

ZAHN: And good luck to your family.

SCHMIDT: Thank you.

ZAHN: Also coming up, a strange twist in this story. Some children accused this man of molesting them 20 years ago. Now that he's served his time, they have changed their minds. We'll ask one accuser why he did it.

And we're going to look at the lighter side of being president, the one night when the chief executive gets to be a little less formal.


ZAHN: And we're back.

For the past 20 years, John Stoll has been in a California prison, serving a sentence for 17 counts of child molestation. He was convicted in 1985 based on testimony from five children, ranging in age from 6 to 8. Stoll claimed investigators coerced false testimony from the children, and today a judge threw out his convictions.

The ruling came after four of the alleged victims, now grown up, recently testified that investigators dogged them for hours until they made up the stories against Stoll. There will be a hearing next week to decide when Stoll will go free.

Joining us now is one of those whose recanted testimony may lead to Stoll's freedman -- freedom, that is. And Eddie Sampley joins us from Bakersfield, California, along with Linda Starr, an attorney with the Northern California Innocence Project, which has been fighting for Stoll's freedom.

Welcome to both of you.



ZAHN: So Eddie, how guilty do you feel that you testified the way you originally testified many years ago?

SAMPLEY: Well, the feelings of guilt are kind of a little bit lifted today. I did carry them around for a lot of years, and I told people growing up my whole life that I had this terrible incident didn't that never took place that I was made to testify against this man.

So I've talked to him recently also, and he reassured me that I shouldn't feel guilty. So...

ZAHN: I know you were just a little kid when this testimony, you claim, was coerced out of you, but take us inside interrogation. How did officials get you to say things that weren't true?

SAMPLEY: Well, they separated me and my parents. They wouldn't let us in the same room. And they told them that they knew something had happened to me, and my parents put pressure on me, of course, thinking that something happened. They told me that he was a very bad man and that other children had saw stuff happen to me.

So, basically, they planted things in my head, and they wouldn't really leave. They told me it would all be over if I testified against this man and got him off the streets.

ZAHN: And Eddie, as you know, the prosecutor in this case has declined to join us here this evening, but this is what she had to say about the recantations outside the courtroom. Let's listen.


LISA GREEN, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, KERN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: I don't believe these recantations, and I truly believe that he's guilty of these crimes. The judge views it differently on a technical basis, but it's difficult. I feel badly for those young men.


ZAHN: So the DA's office stands by its belief that you did tell the truth 20 years ago when you just 7 years old. Your reaction to what she had to say today?

SAMPLEY: It makes me angry. You know, there's no reason for me to go through this all over again 20 years later. I really don't see where they're coming from. But the decision was right, and I'm still happy about that.

ZAHN: Mr. Starr, excuse me, Linda Starr, your client has been waiting for this to happen for some 20 years. What has been his reaction?

STARR: Enormous relief. He can't quite comprehend that it has happened to him yet. And one of the things he said to me is, I won't be able to understand that it's happened to me until I'm not sitting here in shackles. Because he is, of course, still being held. So he -- it hasn't really sunk into him yet.

ZAHN: And Eddie, just a final thought on what should be learned from what you have endured and what you think Mr. Stoll has endured as a result of false testimony.

SAMPLEY: I'm hoping it will educate people in the interrogation techniques of children, make them more aware of what happened, and maybe prevent it from happening to someone else in the future.

ZAHN: And Linda, is that your hope as well?

STARR: Well, not just that. I think that we've learned a lot about the interrogation techniques that have been used with children and have improved them somewhat. I also hope that everybody realizes that there are other John Stolls in prison, people who claim that they're innocent. And we're all so used to saying, Oh, they all say they're innocent. Well, some of them are, some of them are innocent.

And I'm hoping that this will help lodge -- move some people to move past their sort of complacency about our system and actually take a good hard look at some of these cases, and help us, The Innocence Projects, help these people.

ZAHN: Well, Eddie Sampley, I know this has not been easy for you to relive this whole thing. We appreciate your honesty in sharing your story with us tonight. And Linda Starr, thanks for your time as well.

STARR: Thank you.

ZAHN: We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Tomorrow night in Washington, it's one, another one of those annual opportunities for the leader of the free world to be a comedian on purpose. If previous White House Correspondents Association dinners are any indication, we're in for some pretty good laughs.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, just like that. You're riding the wave of the future, my man.

CLINTON: And I've kept all my major campaign promises. I said I'd make my White House staff 25 percent smaller. I mean, compare Marlin Fitzwater and George Stephanopoulos.

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Speaking of Marlin, he has again joined the ranks of Tommy LaSorda and Ed Koch, you know, the three are all using Ultra SlimFast. Worked great last time when they were all on Ultra BaldFast.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is our dog, Barney. I tell him, with eyebrows like that, he ought to be a senator.

Some people have asked me, however, if the vote recount left any hard feelings between my brother Jeb and me. Not a bit. In fact, here's a picture of the governor of Florida.

CLINTON: Over the last few months, I've lost 10 pounds. Where did they go? Why haven't I produced them to the independent counsel? How did some of them manage to wind up on Tim Russert?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I wish I could be here more, but I really think Bill has everything under control.

CLINTON: Wait, wait, wait, wait. You forgot your lunch.


ZAHN: Oh, that was funny.

Joining us now is someone who helped write that bit and more for President Clinton, humorist and speechwriter Mark Katz, the author of "Clinton and Me: A Real-Life Political Comedy."

Always good to see you.


ZAHN: So that sketch made us all laugh. You were an integral part of putting it together.

KATZ: I ran the spell-check before we put it to digital video. But yes, it was one of the great moments in Washington humor history, which is, you know, you compiled a great collection of it. But it's a rare moment in Washington when presidents come dangerously close to telling the truth.

ZAHN: Well, where did you even start with this? So you sat in a room, and you said, OK, we're going to try to make him more self- deprecating than he's ever been before.

KATZ: Well, in the Clinton administration, we had the Comedy War Room, which was the collection of people, funny people in the White House who helped produce these speeches. And they're a great opportunity, and President Clinton was one of the most, you know, important members of the Comedy War Room, because these speeches are a great opportunity for presidents to kind of showcase an alternate part of their personality, because...

ZAHN: So great. Give us the context of when the president was riding down the hallway on a bike.

KATZ: Oh, that was -- we -- that -- you know, he -- it was the last month of the administration, and Vice President Gore and senator -- and soon-to-be Senator Clinton was running for office. And the premise was that here he is home alone with nothing to do, and kind of enjoying himself in his last days in the office.

ZAHN: Now, President Bush obviously has a different challenge tomorrow night. He had tried some jokes a couple of months ago for another correspondents' dinner in Washington that were kind of controversial, making jokes about weapons of mass destruction.

KATZ: Yes, that was kind of a dumb bomb of a joke, I'd call it.

ZAHN: So where should he go tomorrow night?

KATZ: Well, you know, he's got the advantage of low expectations. After his first White House Correspondents dinner, Washington was all agog when he managed to pulled off a single entendre. So that's just a starting point.

But he doesn't even have to be funny. All he has to do is, the end of his speech is kind of unfurl a big banner that says -- asserts the fact that he was funny. You know, "Humor accomplished," is all he has (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ZAHN: He's very disarming, is he not, when he makes fun of his own syntax reversals and all of that?

KATZ: He's done that, he's done that to some good effect. And he should do more of it. I mean, now he's kind of got a reputation of a guy who's just confident that he's confident, and stood up in front of the country and couldn't think of a single mistake he made in his time in office. Now, tomorrow night would be a good opportunity to kind of do a humorous accounting of mistakes that he has made.

ZAHN: And I'll be sitting there, and you may be too, watching the president as he goes about the business of trying to be funny.

Now, John Kerry, some would suggest, needs an injection of humor in his campaign right now. If you were involved, what kind of magic would you be working in?

KATZ: Well, I'm not so sure about that. I just read recently that one of his medals from Vietnam was for comedy. So that, I think...

ZAHN: You're so bad.

KATZ: No...

ZAHN: A ribbon or a medal? Are you sure?

KATZ: They're the same thing, Paula.

ZAHN: OK, oh, that's right, we learned that...

KATZ: Don't you listen?

ZAHN: ... this week.

KATZ: No, he'll have opportunities to kind of assume the silly pulpit in weeks and months and -- you know, to come. And it's a good -- it would be a good opportunity for him to kind of connect to people in a way that he's yet to, because people, you know, want -- there's a race to define him now, the White House is trying to define him, and he's trying to define himself, and using humor is one of the best ways to connect to people.

ZAHN: It's a great weapon, isn't it?

KATZ: Absolutely. It's kind of -- humor is politics by other means. And if you know what you're doing, you can actually kind of accomplish some serious strategic goals by disarming -- if you -- imagine the worst thing someone could say about you. And if you can find a funny way to say it about yourself, you've done yourself a bit favor.

ZAHN: We struggle with that on a daily basis, Mark, all of us. Even those of us who aren't president.

KATZ: That's a fact.

ZAHN: We need you as a secret weapon...

KATZ: I'm here to help.

ZAHN: ... Mark Katz. Always good to see you.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: On Monday, the first prime-time interview with the woman who photographed the coffins of American soldiers killed in Iraq.

That's it for us tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. Have a great weekend.


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