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George Bride-to-Be Missing; California Jury Convicts Avila

Aired April 28, 2005 - 20:00:00   ET


NANCY GRACE, HOST: Tonight, on the eve of her wedding day, the moment she has planned for years, instead of double-checking the details, celebrating with her family, bride-to-be Jennifer Wilbanks has gone missing. Hundreds of volunteers have joined police in the search for Jennifer.
Plus, Michael Jackson`s ex-wife and the mother of two of Jackson`s three children, Debbie Rowe, back on the stand in day two for the prosecution.

And in the past few moments, a California jury has handed down a guilty verdict in the Samantha Runnion murder trial. We go live to California for the latest.

And was it murder at sea? A break in the story of a couple who disappeared after giving a stranger a test drive in their boat.

Good evening, everybody. I`m Nancy Grace. Thank you for being with us tonight.

Michael Jackson`s ex, mother of two of the music icon`s three children, Debbie Rowe, on the stand, day two. Was she tricked into defending Michael Jackson?

And just moments ago, a California jury hands down a guilty verdict in the Samantha Runnion murder trial.

And the case of Thomas and Jackie Hawks, it takes another sinister turn. First, California police said they were likely murdered at sea. No bodies ever found. But now, cops uncover an alleged plot to murder a witness.

But first tonight, we need your help. Thirty-two-year-old Jennifer Wilbanks vanishes seemingly into thin air just days before her wedding. The only clue, a lot of hair.

Tonight, in Atlanta, "Gwinnett Daily Post" reporter, Andria Simmons; in New York, defense attorneys Alan Ripka and Michael Hardy, psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig.

But first, let`s go to Duluth and CNN reporter Jonathan Freed.

Welcome, Jonathan. Bring me up-to-date, friend.

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Nancy. I can tell you that it`s about 48 hours almost exactly since Jennifer Wilbanks disappeared from her home here in Duluth, Georgia. She went jogging at around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nancy, which is something that she and her fiance, John Mason, did often.

This time, she was doing it on her own. This is just a couple of days before their planned wedding which was supposed to take place this Saturday. This was a big wedding, by all respects, a society-type wedding here in this part of the country. Six hundred people more or less on that invitation list.

She went jogging at 8:30 p.m. She told her fiance, Nancy, that she`d be back in about 40 minutes. He didn`t hear from her. After about an hour, he went out and started looking for her on foot.

And then when he felt that that was going nowhere, he came back, started checking hospitals. And then at that point, they called police. And the search has been going on since then.

GRACE: Let me go to Andria Simmons with the "Gwinnett Daily Post." Andria, the problem here, the family at first thought she was out just going for a jog, so they lost some very, very important time. I`m sorry, I can`t hear you. Are you with me, dear?

ANDRIA SIMMONS, "GWINNETT DAILY POST": Yes, you can`t hear me? OK, yes. Her family did believe that she was going out for a jog. Timing was kind of a key. They didn`t know how long of a jog she was going to be going on. Because she did run marathons, she could have been going for a short distance or a longer distance. And that`s been something that`s stumped the police, because they don`t know exactly what route to search.

GRACE: Let me go back to Jonathan Freed. Jonathan, did her fiance have any idea what her route would be?

FREED: Well, he`s been as helpful as he can be, the police are saying, in that. But since they used to jog together, and he knew generally speaking routes that she had been known to take in the past, he`s tried to help point them in the right direction there.

But when we push police on that, Nancy, they tend to shrug and say, "Look, you know, we started with a five-square mile area around the house the first day. We broadened it out the next day, because we understand that she is a marathon runner and she could have gone a greater distance." So they`re generally looking all over the place.

And no, her fiance couldn`t really pinpoint the exact route.

GRACE: So they had not been running together. He had no idea what route she was taking?

FREED: Apparently, they have been known to run together. But this particular time, he didn`t know which route in particular that might have been.

GRACE: OK. Next question, Jonathan Freed, I understand a lot of hair has been found.

FREED: That`s right. And we were quite particular about that with the chief of police here in Duluth just about an hour or so ago. We wanted to make it clear exactly what the nature of the hair was. And the chief was pretty adamant about this, Nancy.

He said it was not a clump of hair that you would expect to find if somebody was in a fight, for example, looking like it was ripped out of somebody`s scalp with follicles at the end of it. He said that it looked like somebody simply cut their hair, you know, held two fingers together, snipped a lock of hair off. And that`s the extent to which he would go into it to me.

I asked, well, is it her hair color? And he wouldn`t go there.

GRACE: Snipped a lock of hair off. Take a listen to this, Jonathan.


CHIEF RANDY BELCHER, DULUTH POLICE DEPARTMENT: We have asked Mr. Mason to take a polygraph test. And right now, we are simply waiting for him to confirm whether he will take that test or not. He advises us that he will tell us tomorrow as to whether he will take it.

QUESTION: Has he remained cooperative?

BELCHER: Yes, he`s been cooperative with us.


GRACE: To Alan Ripka, veteran criminal defense attorney, Alan, what`s your take?

ALAN RIPKA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, the bottom line is they want to exclude the usual suspects, Nancy. And giving her fiance a polygraph is the way to go, and everyone else around her, in trying to determine what could have happened to this lovely lady.

GRACE: You know, the fact that he has been given a polygraph, or he has volunteered to take a polygraph, in my mind, is very, very important tonight. If you will recall, when Marc Klaas, daughter Polly went missing, the first thing he did was volunteer to give a polygraph so police could focus away from the family and to find the real perpetrator.

Very quickly to Michael Hardy. What do you think?

MICHAEL HARDY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I agree. I mean, taking the polygraph will help to put him out of the picture so they`re not focusing on him because he would be a prime first suspect in these kinds of cases. And so I think that`s a good decision.

GRACE: Let me go quickly back to Jonathan Freed. Have we heard from Jennifer`s fiance formally? Has he given a statement?

FREED: Well, he has been doing some talking. But he has been more reluctant to do so as this has gone on.

I did speak to somebody earlier today who describes himself -- and we know in fact to be -- a friend of the couple. He spoke to John Mason earlier today, as a matter of fact, and said that John was very distraught and very distracted as this time was wearing on. And he is just desperate to find his fiancee.

GRACE: I`m sure he is. Jonathan, could you repeat to me what you said about the lock of hair?

FREED: Sure. I`d be happy to clarify that, because that`s something that we really wanted to get clarified earlier today with the police.

We wanted to know, did it -- was it a clump of hair? Was it a lock of hair? Just what was it? And they were very specific.

They said that it didn`t look like it was a clump of hair that would have been pulled out of somebody`s head, Nancy, if somebody were struggling or in some kind of a fight. They said that it looked like a lock of hair on the ground that looked like somebody with long, straight-type hair, for example, had just held it with two fingers and snipped it.

GRACE: OK, back to Alan Ripka.

Alan, you and I both know that it`s very difficult to get a DNA match on hair unless it has been torn from the roots. That`s not what this sounds like. And what I`m trying to explain is, when hair is torn from the roots, you can get mitochondrial DNA from the nucleus or the root of the hair. If this was a clipped piece of hair the way Jonathan is describing, we`re not going to get a match, are we, Alan?

RIPKA: That`s absolutely correct, Nancy. It`s going to be very, very difficult to get any bearing on if this is her hair or who did this.

GRACE: Take a listen to this, guys.


JOHN MASON, FIANCE OF MISSING WOMAN: I went out looking for her and never found her anywhere. I drove all around the area here that I could think of that she might have been.


GRACE: Dr. Robi Ludwig, what they must be going through -- number one, when someone goes missing, but number two, Robi, the eve of their wedding?

DR. ROBI LUDWIG, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: It`s horrible. And of course, it`s reminiscent of what happened with Mark and Lori Hacking. Because you remember Lori Hacking was described as going out for a run. Of course, they were already married, so it was slightly different in that way.

But it`s torturous. And again, it brings up the myth that the stranger is lurking around and is dangerous, which is statistically very rare, because as we know, when most women are killed or murdered, it`s usually someone in the family, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend.

So again, it`s really terrific that her fiance is choosing to come forward and say that he will take a polygraph.

GRACE: Well, Robi, I agree with you that statistically when women are murdered it`s normally someone they know, be it the husband, boyfriend, the check-out guy at the grocery store, the delivery man.

But remember in Scott Peterson, he wiggled every which way he could not to give a polygraph. First, his dad told him not to, he said, or his lawyer, then his family, then his friends. This guy has gone up, gone to bat, and hit a homerun in my mind by volunteering to give a polygraph. Don`t know if that`s been done yet.

We`ll be right back, everybody. We`ll take you straight back out to our CNN correspondent Jonathan Freed as well as the reporter from a local paper there in Duluth, Andria Simmons. Please stay with us.


MASON: She left out of here with just a radio and her clothes that she had on. Her cell phone`s in there, her credit cards, her pocketbook, her money, her keys, her car, her diamond and everything that she owns is in the home. If it`s cold feet, it`s the weirdest case of cold feet I`ve ever seen.




JOYCE PARRISH, MISSING BRIDE-TO-BE`S MOTHER: ... telling me to come by our office today. She had a list of all the vendors for the wedding and their numbers, cell phone numbers. She said, "Mama, you`re going to be with me all day."


GRACE: Welcome back.

Jennifer Wilbanks on the eve of her wedding has gone missing. She went out jogging near the Chattahoochee River, Duluth, Georgia. This is a shot of Jennifer Wilbanks.

Six hundred people had been invited to the wedding. Everyone was converging on Duluth, Georgia. Jennifer, as I recall, 5`8", about 120 pounds, is missing.

This is a shot of her fiance. He has volunteered to take a polygraph. The family, distraught. Take a look at her. She was a marathon runner.

Welcome back, everybody. Let me quickly go to Andria Simmons. Andria, have they brought in dogs to track Jennifer?

SIMMONS: Yes, they brought in a bloodhound today. They had had K-9`s out yesterday, some German shepherds, three of them. They have four of those out today and a bloodhound.

And in fact, they had to take the bloodhound out to Gainesville where she lived to get a scent on her wedding dress and on her room. They had it smell both of those things and then brought it back here, because they wanted to have the freshest scent possible to try to trace where she had gone.

GRACE: Very quickly, back to Jonathan Freed. Jonathan, regarding the polygraph, I understand the fiance has volunteered to take a polygraph. Did you have an update on that?

FREED: Well, what I can tell you about that is that, yes, the police confirmed that he volunteered to take one. And then the police chief told me today that they asked him if he would take it to which he replied, "Well, I`ll give you an answer about that tomorrow."

People here are taking that to mean, well, now that the day has come, he wants to get everything in order and think it through before he actually submits to the test. But the police gave us no indication today whatsoever that they found it strange that, although he volunteered, he had simply said, "Look, I`ll give you an answer about that tomorrow."

GRACE: Take a listen to this, Jonathan.


BELCHER: Yesterday, we searched approximately five square miles of the city. Didn`t really turn up a whole lot yesterday.

Today, we brought back probably 100 law enforcement personnel. We had tremendous turnout again from the citizenry of the city and outside the city. Again, we searched new areas today. We also searched areas that we searched yesterday again for a second time. There are some areas that we went back to with only law enforcement officers.


GRACE: Michael Hardy, it seems to me that if she were anywhere in this area, scent dogs, tracking dogs would be able to find her.

HARDY: Yes, they would hopefully pick up the scent. And also, you know, investigate whether there are particular areas along the route that she would normally run that might be subject where she had an accident or something. And if she did have an accident and was bleeding or anything, you know, certainly the dogs would pick up on that.

GRACE: Jonathan Freed, where was the hair found in relation to where she took off?

FREED: What the police told me today -- and maybe Andria has more specifics on this -- but what the police told me is that it was within the initial search area.

GRACE: Well, OK. Initial search area, what does that mean, Jonathan?

FREED: Well, they wouldn`t get any more specific than that. They weren`t getting more specific on a number of things, including about a sweat shirt and sweat pants that they say that they found among articles of clothing, Nancy, that are being tested.

I asked, "Well, OK. She was believed to be wearing that kind of thing. Was it the same color? Did it look like the type of thing? Do you think that maybe you found her clothes?" And they`re being somewhat reserved and somewhat coy about that.

GRACE: Andria, have they called off the civilian search?

FREED: They did do that about 6:00 p.m. tonight. They decided to let the civilians go home, not sure whether they`re going to reconvene that tomorrow or not. They seem to be focused now on law enforcement going out there, because they are more trained to pick up signs of smaller -- you know, whether it be debris or evidence.

The civilians were mainly out there to look for her. And once they`ve established she`s not in this area, they`re focusing more on law enforcement searching the area.

GRACE: You know, Jonathan, this morning police declared this case a criminal investigation. What did they mean by that?

FREED: Well, what they`re saying at this point is that they have no reason to think that it is, but they have no reason to think that it isn`t. And because she has been missing for the amount of time that she has, and they feel that they had to classify it that way in order to move it forward.

GRACE: And also, Jonathan, we know that she was wearing a gray sweat shirt, blue sweat pants, and blue New Balance sneakers. And we can`t find out what the sweat pants and sweat shirt looked like that police found, and where did they find it?

FREED: Well, that was exactly my type of reaction when we were discussing that today with the police. I asked them in pretty well same way that you just asked me. And you kind of get a shrug and say, "Look, most pairs of sweat pants are either gray or blue, or sometimes they`re white." So they`re more content, Nancy, to hang back and wait for the lab results. They don`t want to wait in there.

GRACE: Go ahead, Andria.

SIMMONS: They did say, Nancy, that one of the shirts that was found was in Suwanee Creek Park, which is in a city adjacent, a little bit further north of here. And another one was found in Cumming. They wouldn`t give us real specifics on the color, though, like you said, and like Jonathan was saying, didn`t give us a lot of specifics about whether that was her shirt or not.

GRACE: Well, Alan Ripka, the reality is, is that she told him she would be back in 40 minutes. Now, in my mind, 40 minutes means that, as a marathon runner, she was going to run about three-and-a-half miles, which means she was only going to go out 20 minutes and back 20 minutes.

So this whole five mile radius thing, if she were abducted while jogging, is wrong. This is not making sense, because she was going to run 20 and come back 20. That puts her only about a mile-and-a-half to two miles away from her initial starting point.

RIPKA: That`s right, Nancy. And you know, in an ideal world, they`ll do the perfect search. And they`ll go, you know, far outside the boundaries of a normal search, had they known she was a marathon runner. But these things take time to develop. And getting 250 people out there and that many law enforcement people and dogs, they`re not doing too badly in the investigation.

GRACE: Here`s a listen to Jennifer Wilbanks` fiance.


MASON: She`s from Gainesville. She doesn`t have a lot of friends here yet. She`s making them, of course. So I don`t know of anybody around here. I have no idea.


GRACE: And tonight, as the search for Jennifer Wilbanks goes on, there have been about 100 law enforcement officers in the search, bloodhounds involved in the search, about 250 volunteers in the search.

Robi Ludwig is with us. Robi, under normal circumstances, the wedding tomorrow, what would this girl be doing?

LUDWIG: You know, if she was not abducted or lost, is that the question? If she were preparing for the wedding? This would be one of the most glorious days of her life. And it really doesn`t sound like a case of wedding jitters. This is just not the way women handle wedding jitters.

Of course, women and men are both nervous before getting married. But they don`t tend to handle it by disappearing when all of their friends and family are going to be celebrating one of the most wonderful moments of their life.

So it does sound suspicious. And that`s what makes it particularly sad that it`s right on the eve of one of the most happy -- should be the most happy times for her and her family. And of course, it`s a time of great upset and possible grieving.

GRACE: And very quickly to break, Jonathan Freed, the wedding is set for Saturday. What time was it to have been on Saturday?

FREED: I`m not sure exactly what time the wedding itself would have been, Nancy. I will add one thing, though, on that last point that we were making. The police chief did address that issue about whether this could be a case of cold feet today. And he said, well, the longer that this goes on, the quicker that that theory is dwindling quickly.

GRACE: Well, look, I don`t have a degree in being a police chief. But I can tell you this much: This is not cold feet, all right? This is not cold feet. I know that much.

Thank you, to everyone. Quick break. We`ll be right back.

But as we go to break, to "Trial Tracking": Remember that Amber Alert we posted two nights ago? Tonight, a happy ending. The Amber Alert for 12-year-old Margarita Aguilar-Lopez is over. Authorities found the Florida girl alive, safe and sound, in a Wal-Mart parking lot far from home in South Carolina.

Police have arrested Antonio Paulino-Perez, her alleged kidnapper, on the spot. Police say the 25-year-old man works with the little girl`s brother near Bradenton, Florida. Margarita went missing Monday night. Police were not alerted until Tuesday.


MAJOR BILL TOKAJER, BRADENTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: We will be bringing the young girl back later on this afternoon. She`ll be coming in from South Carolina. We will bring her back here to the police department for further interviews.

She was interviewed all last night by the FBI. We`ve gathered some good information. We will not be able to give you any of the that right now. Once we gather all the information, we get her here, we`re going to be discussing with the state attorney`s office, the U.S. attorney`s office, what charges will be filed and who against.



DEBBIE ROWE, MICHAEL JACKSON`S EX-WIFE: And I said, "So be a dad." And he looked at me puzzled. And I said, "Let me do this. I want to do this. You`ve been so good to me. You`re such a great friend. Please let me do this."


GRACE: I want to go there, but guess what? It was basically a sound stage. That was Debbie Rowe, Michael Jackson`s, I think, first or second wife, the mother of two of his children. As she has now explained, that was all basically a setup to help her husband out of a jam. He had the fire in the background, the mood music going on.

Let`s go out to California. Tonight, in Santa Maria, "Inside Edition`s" senior correspondent, Jim Moret. In L.A., defense attorney Debra Opri. Also in Santa Maria, trial lawyer Anne Bremner from Seattle.

But first to "Celebrity Justice" correspondent Jane Velez-Mitchell.

Jane, welcome. Did it get any better for the state today?

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, "CELEBRITY JUSTICE": You know, Nancy, every day I say that this is a wild case. And I have to repeat myself. Because once again we had an absolutely wild day today.

Debbie Rowe, Michael Jackson`s ex-wife, took the stand, and for the second day in a row, she basically said the exact opposite of what the prosecution wanted her to say. Now "Celebrity Justice" has spoken to its prosecution sources and they tell us prosecutors were completely taken aback and completely surprised by her testimony. They insist she told them another story, a different story, when they first interviewed her.

Now, she did go on the attack. The problem for them is she did not attack Jackson. She attacked his associates, those alleged unindicted co- conspirators. And she called them liars, and vultures, and opportunistic vultures who took advantage of Michael Jackson, she said, and often kept him in the dark as they made money off him.

And the problem with that is it makes Michael Jackson look like the victim, and not, as the prosecutors would have it, the kingpin of this alleged conspiracy.

GRACE: OK. We`ll go straight back out to the courthouse when we come back.

As we go to break, I want to remind you, we here at NANCY GRACE want desperately to help solve unsolved homicides, to help find missing people. Tonight, take a look at Rashidi Ahmad, shot numerous times during a carjacking. It`s been over a year. Police still have not found the killer. If you have any information regarding Rashidi Ahmad, please call the Carole Sund-Carrington Foundation, 888-813-8389. Please help us.




MARK GERAGOS, ATTORNEY: Michael has spent his entire adult life helping children. If you wanted to design a charge to try to hurt him, if you wanted to go out and try to hurt him in the worst way possible, this would be the charge. If these were true, Michael would be the first person to tell you, this is outrageous, because he would never, ever want to see anybody hurt a child and he never has.


GRACE: That was Mark Geragos, defense attorney. He was Michael Jackson`s attorney before Jackson fired him, along with Benjamin Brafman, along with Brian Oxman, along with an entire security team.

The defense has been accused of being erraticism, but they seem to be scoring points in the California courtroom.

Quickly out to Anne Bremner, Seattle trial lawyer. She`s been in the courtroom from the get-go.

Anne, we expected Jackson`s wife, his ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, to say she went along with the video to make Jackson look good according to a script. What went wrong?

ANNE BREMNER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Everything went wrong, Nancy.

She said, no one tells me what to say. Mr. Jackson knows that no one tells me what to say. It was spontaneous. And I said he`s a good person. He was a great husband. He`s a great father. He`s a brilliant businessman.

She said, it was all true, all heartfelt. And then she went on to really become a complete defense witness. So, she flipped completely on the prosecutors. They didn`t try and impeach their own witness, which they should have. As you know, it`s prosecutor 101. And then she went on to basically support everything the defense needed with respect to this conspiracy. It was conspiracy against Michael Jackson.


GRACE: I`m afraid to ask, Anne, but did she do all this on direct or cross?

BREMNER: Well, she did -- she flip-flopped on direct. And that was - - I know, completely. They never impeached their own witness.

And I was thinking -- I know Debra`s on your panel today.

Hi, Debra.

And you may be coming in to replace Oxman. But maybe Zonen, the prosecutor, should go replace Mr. Oxman and the defense.


GRACE: Well, let me go to "Inside Edition"`s Jim Moret.

Jim, it`s terrible when you have your own witness on the stand and you have to make objections to their testimony. Jim, this is a complete flip- flop. And when Anne Bremner would say the prosecution should have impeached their own witness, she`s right. You`re not only a correspondent. You`re a lawyer, too.

What I think they needed to do was say, excuse me, ma`am. Didn`t you tell me on such and such a date on such and such a time, in front of X, Y, and Z, that you were given a script, and you were rehearsed, and you were told to say one, two, three and four? That`s what impeachment is. Why didn`t they do it?

JIM MORET, "INSIDE EDITION": I don`t know. It was a total disaster.

Anne and I were out to dinner last night. And, in the same restaurant, Debbie Rowe was eating with the prosecution team. And we thought we would definitely see a different Debbie Rowe today. But it appears as if the prosecution was totally caught off guard. And we couldn`t figure out if they had, in fact, talked to this witness. And, remember, they had an offer of proof for the judge.

They said, Your Honor, she`s being brought in solely for the purpose of saying that she was rehearsed. She didn`t say that. And if she, in fact, had been interviewed and if she had talked to detectives in the past, why didn`t they say, on such and such a date, you said this; why are you changing your story? They could have set themselves up to bring in a detective.

GRACE: Right.

MORET: They could have used a report. They didn`t do any of that. It doesn`t make any sense.

GRACE: You`re so dead on.

MORET: It couldn`t be worse.

GRACE: Let me go to Alan Ripka.

Alan, if you want to bring in a prior inconsistent statement, in other words, what she said, what Rowe told investigators to start with, why they put her on the witness stand, you have to lay the foundation under the law. You have to say, on this time, at this date, in front of this person, you said X, Y, Z. Correct or not correct? Then later you can bring that witness in to impeach her.


RIPKA: That`s absolutely correct, Nancy.

However, the prosecution was caught well off guard. But I think they can spin it in their favor and sum up with the fact that this shows you the power of Michael Jackson, the manipulation tactics of Michael Jackson. And he got to her. And look what he was able to do, his last shred of hope and he was able to pull it off.

GRACE: What about it, Debra Opri?

DEBRA OPRI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Let me give you my side of it.

First of all...

GRACE: Uh-oh, hold on, hold on. Let me buckle my seat belt. It`s buckled.

OPRI: Yes, the lawyer from hell is going to speak.

Let me just say, Debbie Rowe, if she did talk to the sheriffs -- and she did talk to them -- they should have tape-recorded, videotaped, whatever they wanted to do, have her sign a statement. And, like you said, they should have pushed it in her face. And they didn`t. So, I`d be the first one to say, why not? Maybe Tom Sneddon was overreaching in his opening statements perhaps.

Maybe she didn`t say the things he alluded that she would say. And maybe, perhaps, when she got up there, she was a little angry that she was being asked things that she was never asked to begin with. The limitation of her testimony was to be about a rebuttal video. And I think, personally, that prosecution inappropriately paraded her around to show how manipulative they think Michael Jackson is.

In the end, she expressed her feelings, that she still believes he was a good person and being taken advantage of here.

GRACE: Take a listen to this.


DEBBIE ROWE, EX-WIFE OF MICHAEL JACKSON: We were very excited. Michael was definitely more excited than I was. You know, he was so excited when we had a contraction. And he was there. We had videos. We had music, you know. And it was long. It was 23 hours. And I had a very colorful language. And every time I went to say something, Michael would cut me off with shoot or fudge.


GRACE: Dr. Robi Ludwig, I think she`s still in love with Michael Jackson.

ROBI LUDWIG, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: Well, she clearly has good, warm feelings towards him. That`s very clear. And I don`t buy the Svengali theory at all.

I think the two of them had an arrangement and that it worked for both of them. It was almost like a gender-bender relationship, where Michael Jackson may have had more baby cravings than Debbie Rowe, and that this relationship on some level still works and that she comes of as honest. And actually I think she may help Michael Jackson in the long run.

GRACE: Well, she obviously did.

To "Celebrity Justice," Jane Velez-Mitchell.

Jane, did we get to the bottom of where these kids actually came from? I know that they didn`t pick them up out of the cabbage patch. But the reality is, she said, we never shared an apartment; we never shared a home; we never had a family unit together under the same roof.

I don`t think that`s all they didn`t share.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And to say that this relationship in some level still works, I mean, they haven`t seen each other in six years.

GRACE: For Michael Jackson. It works for Michael Jackson. He`s got a great defense witness on the stand.


I just want to say that our sources are telling us that the real answer to this entire mystery of why she said what she did could lie with the custody battle going on right now in Los Angeles.

Our sources say another custody hearing is coming up in about a month, and it will be very interesting to see if suddenly, miraculously, all their disputes about custody, visitation and money are resolved.

GRACE: Well, I can tell you this, Michael Hardy. The state is up the creek without a paddle when it comes to Debbie Rowe. They clearly are not going to impeach her. She flip-flopped on her testimony. And then they took over to a steak dinner to congratulate the defense witness, Debbie Rowe. That`s what happened.

HARDY; Yes, absolutely. It`s almost like Michael Corleone said to his wife. It`s between husband and ex-wife there when she walked into that courtroom.

But it`s also a statement about how the prosecutors have prepared this case. I`ve said all along that much of this case is a vendetta from the prosecution.

GRACE: Oh, good lord. Are you back on that?

HARDY: And that happens when you don`t really prepare witnesses, you don`t go through them, and you just put them on the stand.

GRACE: Michael, Michael, Michael, how many little boys say Jackson stuck his hands down their pants? There`s no other way to put it.


GRACE: No, just, please, if you could answer that question first.

HARDY: Well, you know, you`ve heard some of that testimony.

GRACE: So far, five.

HARDY: But you`ve also seen many of those accusers.

GRACE: You`re not answering.

HARDY: There`s really two that have been completely impeached.

GRACE: You`re not answering. No, no.

Michael, just for a moment, how many boys you know that there are? Let`s see, the `93, the `94, the other, and this one.

HARDY: Oh, `93...


HARDY: The `93 child never -- has not testified.


GRACE: Michael, Michael, don`t hang up in technicalities. I`m asking you, how -- you know what?

HARDY: Well, it is a trial, Nancy.

GRACE: Forget it. Forget it.

I`m going to go to Jane Velez.

How many boys claim or witnesses claim they saw Jackson`s hands down some kid`s pants?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, there were quite a few who took the stand and talked about it in this past acts hearing that we had. And, of course, the defense has painted some of them as disgruntled former employees.


GRACE: A number. A number. Can anybody give me a number?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But we had the son of the housekeeper who took the stand and said, it happened to me. He testified, it happened to me. And he broke down on the stand and said, it took him a lot of counseling to get over this whole thing. And he didn`t realize how hard it was going to be. It was very, very emotional testimony.

So, right there, you had somebody saying it: It happened to me.


GRACE: OK, I will answer my own question. I will answer my own question. There`s the case in chief. And there have been at least two similar transactions, possibly three. And yet some people still say this is a vendetta by the prosecution? I guess they don`t think all these little boys exist.

A quick break. When we get back, switching gears. The jury has handed down a verdict in the case of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. The prosecution took Alejandro Avila to trial. We have the verdict for you.

Stay with us.


JERMAINE JACKSON, BROTHER OF MICHAEL JACKSON: They called Einstein weird. He`s known as one of the greatest minds ever. William Shakespeare, who we still today can go see his plays and...

LARRY KING, HOST: Genius has its -- but it`s fair to try to examine it. In other words, you look at someone like that...


JACKSON: Right. Right. True. But, still, look at his heart. Look at his music. Look at what he`s done for people. Look at the influence.




ERIN RUNNION, MOTHER OF SAMANTHA: That`s all I could say is, why do they hurt them? Why do they -- if you`re sick, you`re sick. But why do you have to hurt them, you know, to take your own illness out, to not realize how sick -- what a sickness it is and to hurt children, to realize that this is your problem, not a baby`s, that these are human beings who have histories, that have personalities, that have potential that you can never imagine.


GRACE: Erin Runnion tried to teach her daughter, 5-year-old Samantha, what to do if she was approached by a stranger. I remember what Samantha said. She said, mommy, I would outrun them, like Hercules. She had a big picture of Hercules over her bed.

The man who has been tried for her rape, kidnap, and murder was convicted today in California.

Joining us by phone, the Orange County sheriff, Michael Corona. Also with us, district attorney Tony Rackauckas. And also with us, victims rights advocate Marc Klaas out of Sacramento.

Very quickly to Tony Rackauckas.

Explain your feeling when you heard that guilty verdict come down.

TONY RACKAUCKAS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, you know, I`m just very gratified. I just think this -- of course, this is absolutely the right verdict.

But it`s one thing to expect it. It`s another thing to actually get it. It`s so important that the minimum penalty for this person now, Alejandro Avila, is life without the possibility of parole. That means he`ll never have another victim. He`ll never get out.

The next phase, the penalty phase, the jury will decide between the death penalty and life without possibility of parole. So, he is put away now. And that`s just a very gratifying feeling, both for Samantha and for all the people of our state and for those victims from Riverside County, who have been waiting five years to hear a jury say guilty.

GRACE: Very quickly to Sheriff Corona.

Sheriff, I remember the night you took to the airwaves begging for help. I also remember the day her little body was found. What are your feelings today? And what do you anticipate during the death penalty phase?

MICHAEL CORONA, ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF: Well, Nancy, I received a lot of criticism for the day that we actually arrested Alejandro Avila, making the statement that I was 100 percent sure that he was the man that abducted, raped and murdered Samantha Runnion.

And today, obviously, I feel vindicated, as well as the men and women of the sheriff`s department, because 12 independent minds have come to that same conclusion. We`re very thankful for that conclusion. What I expect out of the death penalty side of this, frankly, as the district attorney has already mentioned, the fact that this man`s never going to be on the streets again, I`m happy about.

I would love to see him get the death penalty. But that`s a decision that the jury`s going to have to make. That`s not up to me.

GRACE: Well put, Sheriff Corona.

To Marc Klaas, victims rights advocate in Sacramento.

Marc, your daughter Polly went missing. She was found -- by a convicted criminal. It`s disturbing that this man, Alejandro Avila, went to a jury trial shortly before Samantha went missing and was acquitted on double child molestation. It took Samantha and her life to put a stop to Alejandro Avila -- Marc.

MARC KLAAS, KLAAS KIDS FOUNDATION: Well, that`s absolutely correct.

And I would like to commend both of these excellent gentlemen for a job very well done for taking this monster off of the streets finally.

GRACE: Amen.

KLAAS: No, I mean, they`re wonderful people. And everybody should be proud of the job they did.

Listen, in the previous trial, lies were said. Manipulations were made. Remember, it only takes a defense attorney to put doubt in the mind of one individual to hang up one of these juries and a prosecutor has to convince 12 people. So, these trials are opportunities, obviously, for guilty people to be able to get away with crimes in many instances. And that`s what happened in that case.

I can only imagine, though, what Erin must have been thinking as she waited over the course of two days and during nine hours.

GRACE: Right.

KLAAS: If the jury had actually heard the same trial she did, because it was so open and shut. You go in; you take the vote; you come back; you say guilty. At least in her mind, that`s what you do. It shows you that they are so concerned over making the right decision that they are much more deliberate in their considerations than Alejandro Avila would ever be in any deliberation or consideration he made over another human being.

GRACE: To Sheriff Corona. You found Alejandro Avila. To Tony Rackauckas:, you brought it to jury and got a conviction, and to Marc Klaas, who has never let down a victim, thank you, gentlemen. And I will see you during the dead penalty phase of Alejandro Avila.

One last shot of Samantha Runnion.

Quickly shifting gears, I want to bring you up to date in a case we brought you over a month ago. Two people, a married couple, took people out on a test drive of their boat. They were never seen again. Tonight, in San Diego, Tom and Jackie Hawks` son, Ryan Hawks, in Newport Beach, California, Police Lieutenant Steve Schulman.


Ryan, first to you.

Give us from your point of view where this case is headed.

RYAN HAWKS, SON OF MISSING COUPLE: Well, I think it`s headed in the right direction.

You know, they made -- Newport Beach Police and Orange County District Attorney Matt Murphy made outstanding progress in it. And the evidence is so rock hard, it`s going to speak for itself. And it finally relieves, I`m just going to exhaust. And I`m just so excited to see things move in the right direction. Unfortunately, it`s just a long process.

GRACE: And to lieutenant Steve Schulman from Newport Beach. What cracked the case? You have people under arrest and charged with murder.

STEVE SHULMAN, NEWPORT BEACH POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, we`ve got five people in custody right now for various charges of murder. And the case is progressing well. And the investigation`s continuing. And it`s very likely that we may have more arrests as well.

GRACE: Gentlemen, I`ll be right back with you. Quick break.

And as we go to break, let`s go to the all-points bulletin. FBI and law enforcement authorities on the lookout for this man, Michael Thomas, wanted for attempted murder while robbing a Philadelphia house May 2003. Thomas, armed, dangerous, 24, 5`9``, 175, sometimes wears glasses, both ears, pierced. If you have any information on Michael Thomas, please call the FBI, 215-418-4000.

Local news coming up for some of you, but we`ll be right back.

And, remember, live coverage of the Michael Jackson trial tomorrow, 3:00 to 5:00 Eastern, Court TV`s "Closing Arguments."

Please stay with us.


GRACE: This is a shot of Tom and Jackie Hawks on the boat they had dreamed of for years. They worked their whole life to live on this boat. They considered selling it. They took it out on a test drive. They were never seen again.

Tonight, five people behind bars for the murder of these two beautiful people, Tom and Jackie Hawks. Their bodies have never been recovered.

Very quickly to Lieutenant Steve Schulman from the Newport Beach Police Department. Another twist in the case.

Now, I understand that one of these five is suspected of wanting to kill a witness in the case. What the hey`s going on out there?

SHULMAN: Well, obviously, we can`t discuss the details of who`s involved and what was said at this particular point. But if, in fact, our evidence, our investigation, proves that people are responsible for this sort of thing, they`re going to go to jail. More additional charges will be filed.

GRACE: Well, Lieutenant, there`s five of them behind bars. So, I`ve got a 20 percent chance of being right on who done it. So, would that be added into the indictment? Or are you going to pursue that after the original murder case?

SHULMAN: Well, that would be a decision made by the district attorney`s office. But if in fact these people are committing crimes while in jail, then the district attorney is going to take appropriate action.

GRACE: You know, Ryan, your parents were such loving and peaceful people. And now you`ve got this gang of five, some of who allegedly are trying to arrange a murder from behind bars. Do you get the sense that your parents never had a chance up against this bunch?

HAWKS: Well, it`s hard to just go through the process of the details of the situation.

But I would never say never. My parents were two incredibly strong people, not only physically, but mentally as well. And if they were confronted, you know damn well that they fought their hardest. And it just breaks me just to undertake what they`ve gone through.

GRACE: Well, Ryan, from what I can tell, they were strong people, because the apple doesn`t fall far from the tree.

SHULMAN: Thanks, Nancy.

GRACE: Thank you to both you for being with us. And we will stay on the case.

I want to thank all of my guests tonight. But, as always, my biggest thank you is to you for being with all of us, inviting all of us into your home.

Coming up, headlines from around the world.

I`m Nancy Grace, signing off for tonight. Hope to see you right here tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. sharp Eastern. And, until then, good night, friend.


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