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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Inside the Mind of BTK

Aired June 27, 2005 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


AARON BROWN, HOST: Good evening, everyone. Like you, we're going to dedicate a good portion of the program tonight to Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, and what he said in a courtroom in Wichita. We'd like to believe, all of us would, I suspect, that our serial killers, at the very least, look the part. And in some respects they do, though not in the way we'd like to think.
For the most part, they're not just like the guy next door, they are the guy next door. Rader was the Boy Scout leader, the church president. City bureaucrat guy next door type. What he said and the way he said it suggests a man with a missing part. The psychologist will have a fancy name to it. To us, he just seemed like a man without a soul.

Over the hour, the whys. But first, the what, out of the mouth of a killer. And as you can imagine, not easy to hear.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): For nearly 50 minutes, in a dispassionate tone, with methodical detail, Dennis Rader, showing no signs of remorse, explained to Judge Gregory Wahler, how he killed each of his victims. The first four murder counts, Julie and Joseph Otero, and two of their children, Joseph Jr. and Josephine who were murdered on the 15th of January of 1974.

DENNIS RADER: They started complaining about being tied up. And I re-loosened the bonds a couple of times. Tried to make Mr. Otero as comfortable as I could. Apparently had a cracked rib from a car accident. So I had him put a pillow down for his head. Put a, I think a parka or a coat underneath him. There, I realized -- I didn't have a mask on or anything. They already could I.D. me. And made a decision to go ahead and put them down, I guess, or strangle them. I had never strangled anyone before. So, I really didn't know how much pressure you had to put on a person or how long it would take.

JUDGE GREGORY WAHLER, WICHITA, KS: You worked pretty quick. What did you do?

RADER: Well, I strangled Mrs. Otero. And she went out. Or passed out. I thought she was dead. She passed out. Then, I strangled Josephine. She passed out, or I thought she was dead. Then, I went over and put a bag on junior's head. After that, Mrs. Otero woke back up. You know, she was pretty upset, what's going on? So, I came back. And at that point in time, strangled her for a death strangle at that time. WAHLER: With your hands or what?

RADER: No. With a cord. With a rope. I think at that point in time, I redid Mr. Otero. Put the bag over his head. Went over and took junior -- before that, she asked me to save her son. So, I actually had taken the bag off. And then, I was really upset at that point in time. Basically, when Mr. Otero was down. Mrs. Otero was down, I went ahead and took junior up and put the bag over his head and took him to the other bedroom at that time.

WAHLER: What did you do then?

RADER: Put a bag over his head. Put a cloth over his head. A T-shirt and a bag so he couldn't tear a hole in it. He subsequently died from that. When I went back, Josephine had woke back up.

WAHLER: What did you do then?

RADER: I took her to the basement and eventually hung her.

WAHLER: You hung her in the basement?

RADER: Yes, sir.

WAHLER: Did you do anything else at that time?

RADER: Yes. I had some sexual fantasies. But that was after she was hung.

BROWN: Dennis Rader said he cleaned up the house, took Joseph Otero's watch and left through the front door. In leading guilty to count five, he told the court how he murdered 21 year old Kathryn Bright, on the fourth of April, 1974, after she returned home with her brother, Kevin.

RADER: We started fighting because the bonds weren't very good. Back and forth, we fought.

WAHLER: You and Kathryn?

RADER: Yeah. I got the best of her. And I thought she was going down. And I could hear movement in the other room. I went back. And Kevin -- no. I thought she was going down. And I went back to the other bedroom where Kevin was at. And I tried to re- strangle him at that time. He jumped up. And we fought. And he at that time, about shot me. He got the other pistol in my shoulder here. I had my magnum in my shoulder.

WAHLER: Shoulder holster? Did you have it in a shoulder holster?

RADER: Yes. And I had a magnum in a shoulder holster. The other one was a .22.

WAHLER: All right. RADER: We fought at that point in time. And I thought it was going to go off. I jammed the gun, stuck my finger in there. Jammed it. I think he thought that was the only gun I had. Once I either bit his finger or hit him or got away, I used the .22 and shot him one more time. And I thought he was down for good at that time.

WAHLER: So, you shot him a second time?

RADER: Yes, sir.

WAHLER: What happened then?

RADER: Went back to finish the job on Kathryn. She was fighting, at that point in time. I was basically losing control. The strangulation wasn't working on her. And I used a knife on her.

WAHLER: You say you used a knife on her.

RADER: Yes.

WAHLER: What did you do with the knife?

RADER: I stabbed her -- stabbed either two or three times. Either here or here. Actually, I think at that point in time -- well, it's a total mess. Because I didn't have control on it. She was bleeding. She went down. I think I just went back to check on Kevin. Or, basically at that time, I heard him escape. All of a sudden, the front door of the house was open. And he was gone. I'll tell you what I thought -- I thought the police were coming at that time. I heard the door open. I thought, that's it. And I stepped out there. And I could see him running down the street. So I quickly cleaned up everything I could and left.

BROWN: Rader would strike again on March 17, 1977. Shirley Vian was 26 years old. A mother. Home with her kids. She became count six.

RADER: And at the time I had the gun. And I just kind of forced myself in. Just opened the door and walked in. And pulled out a pistol.

WAHLER: What gun? What pistol?

RADER: .357 Magnum.

WAHLER: So you only have one gun?

RADER: Yes, sir. Uh-huh.

WAHLER: What happened then?

RADER: I told Mrs. Vian that I had a problem with sexual fantasies. That I was going to tie her up. And then I might have to tie the kids up. And if she would corporate with us -- cooperate with me at that time. I went back. She was extremely nervous. I think she even smoked a cigarette. We went back to one of the back areas on the porch. Explained to her that I had done this before. And I think she, at that point in time, I think she was sick. Because she had a night robe on. I think if I remember right, she had been sick. I think she came out of the bedroom when I went in the house. So, I went back to the -- her bedroom. And I proceeded to tie the kids up. And they started crying and got upset.

So I said this is not going to work. So we moved them to the bathroom. And I tied the door shut. We put some toys and blankets and odds and ends in there for the kids. Made them as comfortable as we could. We tied one of the bathroom doors shut so they couldn't open them. And she went back to help me to shove the bed up against the other bathroom door. And then I proceed to tie her up. She got sick. Threw up. I got her a glass of water. I comforted her a little bit.

And I went ahead and tied her up. Put a bag over her head and strangled her. The kids were banging on the door, hollering and screaming. And then, the telephone rang. And they had talked about earlier that the neighbor was going to check on them. So, I cleaned everything up real quick like and got out of there. And went back to my car.

BROWN: Rader's next victim, found seven, Nancy Fox, who was 25.

RADER: Nancy Fox was another one of the projects. When I was trolling the area, I watched heifer go into the house one night. Sometimes -- Anyway, I put her down as a potential victim.

WAHLER: Let me ask you one thing, Mr. Rader. You used that term when you were patrolling the area. What do you mean by that?

RADER: It's called stalking or trolling.

WAHLER: So, you were not working in any formal fashion?

RADER: Well if you read much about serial killers, they do through different phases. That's one of the phases they go through is a trolling stage. Basically, you're looking for a victim at that time. You can be trolling for months or years. But once you lock in on a certain person, you become stalking. And that may be several of them. But you really hone in on that person.

BROWN: On December 8th, 1977, Rader made his move on Nancy Fox.

RADER: I waited for her to come home in the kitchen.

WAHLER: All right. Did she come home?

RADER: Yes, she did.

WAHLER: What happened?

RADER: I confronted her. I told her that I had a problem, a sexual problem. I would have to tie her up and have sex with her. She was a little upset. We talked for a while. She smoked a cigarette. While we smoked a cigarette, I went through her purse. Identifying some stuff. And she finally said, well, let's get this over with. So I can go call the police.

And I said, okay, and she said can I go to the bathroom? And I said yes. She went to the bathroom. And came -- and I told her to make sure she was undressed. And when she came out, if handcuffed her. And I -- sir?

WAHLER: You handcuffed her? You had a pair of handcuffs?

RADER: Yes, sir.

WAHLER: What happened then?

RADER: I handcuffed her. Had her lay on the bed. I tied her feet. And then, I was also undressed, to a certain degree. And then, I got on top of her. And I reached over -- took either her feet were tied or not tied. Anyway, I think I had a belt. I took a belt and strangled her with a belt at that time.

BROWN: On April 27th, 1985, Rader killed 53-year-old Marine Hedge. In court today, she was count eight.

RADER: I waited until the wee hours of the morning. And then proceeded to slip into her bedrooms. I flipped the lights on. I think the bathroom lights. I didn't want to flip her lights on. And she screamed and jumped on the bed and I strangled her manually. After that, since I was in the sexual fantasy, I went ahead and stripped her. And probably went ahead and -- I'm not sure if I tied her up at that point in time. But anyway, she was nude. I put her on a blanket. Went through her purse. Some personal items in the house.

Figured out how I was going to get her out of there. Eventually, moved her to the trunk of the car. Took the car over to Christ Lutheran Church. This was the older church. And kind of took some pictures of her.

BROWN: The murder of Vicki Wegerle, took place on the 16th of September of 1986. In court today, she was count nine. Rader posed as a telephone repairman.

RADER: As I approached, I could hear a piano sound. I went to another door and told them we were recently working on telephone repairs in the area. And they went to her and knocked on the door and asked if I could come and check her telephone lines inside.

WAHLER: Did she allow you in?

RADER: Yes, she did.

WAHLER: What happened then?

RADER: I went over and found out where the telephone was. Simulated that I was checking the telephone. I had a make-believe instrument. And after she was looking away, I drew a pistol at her and asked her if she'd go back to the bedroom with me. I went back to the bedroom, I thought I was going to have to tie her up. She was very upset. And I think I used some material that was in -- that's another thing. I'm not sure. But I think I used a material that they had in their bedroom. And after I tied her hands, she broke that and we started fighting. And we fought quite a built, back and forth. I finally gained on her. And threw her down. And I thought she was dead. But apparently she wasn't.

But after she was down, and not moving anymore. I rearranged her clothes a little bit. And took some quick photos.

BROWN: The final count, count 10, was the murder of Delores Davis, who was 62. On January 19th, 1991. Dennis Rader threw a concrete brick through her patio door.

RADER: She came out of the bedroom and thought a car had hit her house. I told her -- I used the ruse of being wanted. I was on the run. I needed food, a car. Warmth, warmup. And I asked her -- I handcuffed her. And kind of talked to her. Told her that I'd like to get some food. Get her keys to her car.

And kind of rest assured -- talked with her a little bit. Calmed her down a little bit. And then, eventually, I checked -- I think she was handcuffed. I checked where the car was. I simulated getting some food, odds and ends in the house. Like I was leaving. And then, went back and removed her handcuffs. And then tied her up. And then eventually strangled her.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: In the end, Dennis Rader pled guilty to 10 counts of murder today and waived his right to a jury trial. Judge Wahler set the sentencing day of August 17th for the first nine deaths.

In a moment, more on what made Mr. Rader tick. First at about a quarter past the hour, time for some of the other stories that made news today. Erica Hill back with us in Atlanta. Erica?

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Hi, Aaron, good to see you again.

On the Florida Panhandle, the second shark attack in three days. A 15-year-old Tennessee boy was fishing in waist-deep water, 80 miles southeast of where a 14-year-old girl was killed on Saturday. Doctors had to amputate his right leg. But he is expected to recover.

A doctor and a jazz musician have now been formally indicted as al Qaeda conspirators. Tarik Shah and Rafiq Sabir, both U.S. citizens, are alleged to participated in terrorist recruitment meetings with a controversial source and an uncover FBI agent. Attorneys for the pair say they are the undeserving victims of a sting operation. If convicted, they could face 15 years in prison.

Iraq's prime minister says his country will be secure within two years. Speaking in London, Ibrahim al-Jaafari said the timetable could be sped up, if neighboring countries keep foreign jihadis from crossing into Iraq. Meanwhile, in Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged Americans to be patient. Saying that prematurely bringing the troops home would turn Iraq into a sanctuary for terrorism.

Wal-Mart heir John Walton has died. His ultra-light aircraft crashed after taking off from an airport in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The cause unknown so far. Walton was the second son of Wal-Mart founder, Sam Walton. He leaves a fortune of $18 billion. John Walton was 58.

And another setback for NASA. The task force overseeing safety on the space shuttle today says the agency still lacks at fixing holes in a crack and still hasn't eliminated the damage of falling ice on liftoff. So, whether this delays a return to space plan for July, still an open question.

And, Aaron, a reminder, a new feature at our Web site, cnn.com. If you click on the video link, you can get the day's best news clips whenever you'd like. And best of all -- they're all free.

BROWN: Thank you. You know my price. Thank you. Thank you very much. See you in an half hour.

In a moment, we'll return to the confessions of a serial killer. Having heard the what, we'll look at the who and the why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Good luck with your hunting, wrote BTK at the end of that first letter. Yours, truly, guiltily.

BROWN: Beth Nissen on the letters that spelled out BTK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We prefer to think of serial killers as being completely different from us.

BROWN: But are they really? Is there a type? And why does sex always seem to figure in?

Later -- the picture that didn't change at the Supreme Court. And the ones that did. No retirements. Just decisions that touch our lives. From the Internet to the Ten Commandments. And we'll add a commandment of our own. Thou shalt not touch thy remote control. Because this is NEWSNIGHT.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: I don't know that in the end it matters much. But Dennis Rader did not exhibit an ounce of remorse in the court today that we heard. And that is not surprising to those who have followed the case. Long before he was caught, he painted a portrait of himself as a murderer unburdened by shame or sorrow. A portrait that emerged in a series of letters that emerged over the years. Here's NEWSNIGHT's Beth Nissen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the first, the letters taunted police. Describing details from crime scenes that only the killer would know. The body of Julie Otero, one of four members of one family strangled in their home in early 1974, was laying on her back crosswise on her bed pointed in a southwestern direction," wrote the presumed killer.

All four were strangled with window blind cord. Eleven-year-old Josephine's glasses were in the southwest bedroom. Nine-year-old Joseph's radio was left blaring. The watch of the father, Joe Otero, was missing. I needed one so I took it, the author said. Runs good.

The letters spelled out how the killer killed. But not why. Spelled it out with errors that made authorities think the writer was trying to fool them. Trying to seem less educated than he really was.

"It hard to control myself." He wrote in that first letter, "You probably call me psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up ... Where this monster enter my brain, I will never know, but it here to stay."

Profilers said the letter-writer clearly wanted to be recognized. Not only for his chilling crimes, but for his intelligence, his poetry. When the "Wichita Eagle-Beacon" didn't publish a poem he sent them about Shirley Vian, a 26 year old mother of three murdered in March of '77, he wrote to a local TV station to complain.

"I find the newspaper not writing about the poem on Vian unamusing." He wrote, "How many do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?"

In the same letter, he said it was time the media came up with a catchy name for him. "I like the following," he wrote, "how about you? The BTK Strangler, Wichita Strangler, Poetic Strangler, the Bondage Strangler or Psycho. The Wichita Hangman. The Wichita Executioner. The Garrote Phantom. The Asphyxiator."

BTK's poems gave authorities some of their strongest early leads. In a letter claiming responsibility for the December '77 murder of Nancy Fox, BTK enclosed a poem, "O Death to Nancy," patterned after a poem titled "O, Death," that had been published in a Wichita State University textbook. "What is this that I can see," read the author's version, "cold icy hands taking hold of me, for death has come, you all can see."

Authorities started looking at class lists of students who had taken courses at the university who used that text. Dennis Rader was a student at Wichita State. BTK wrote another poem to an intended victim. A woman who did not come home while the killer was lying in wait for her. The ending lines, "Alone again I trod in pass memory of mirrors and ponder why for number eight was not. Oh Anna, why didn't you appear?"

After years of silence, BTK resurfaced last march, with another letter. Wrapped around photos of the body of Vicki Wegerle, a Wichita woman killed in 1986 and a copy of her driver's license. The return address of the envelope, IDed the sender as Bill Thomas Killman. The contents of the letter were not made public, but authorities said it was typical of BTK's writing over the years. Full of teases, challenges, boasts. "Good luck with your hunting," wrote BTK at the end of that first letter, "Yours, truly, guiltily." Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: There are victim of the BTK killings who died horribly. And there are victims who had to go on living, painfully. One of them, Steve Relford, who was in the courtroom today in Wichita, watching, listening closely. Twenty-eight years ago, he crossed paths with BTK. The results were disastrous. He was just a child when Dennis Rader stopped him on the street and used a photograph to trick him. Earlier tonight, Mr. Relford talked with Anderson Cooper about his memories of that day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVE RELFORD, BTK VICTIM: I remember him stopping me on the street. Asked me did I know who the picture was. I told him no. He went to my next door neighbor's. Saw write went. He knocked on the door. Nobody answered. About five, ten minutes later, come to my house. Knocked on the door. Me and my brother raced to the door. I answered the door. Asked me were my parents home?

I told him, yeah. My mom. She's sick in bed. So, he proceeded to come on in. Started pulling down blinds and turned off the TV and pulled out a gun. About that time, my mom came to the bedroom door. Seeing my mama being stripped, taped, plastic bag over her head, rope tied around her neck.

I want people to know she was a good, Christian woman. Went to church every Sunday. Sung in the choir. She's a good woman.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Steve Relford watched Dennis Rader kill his mother, Shirley Vian, nearly three decades ago, in their home.

As we continue, what made Dennis Rader BTK? The building blocks of a serial killer.

Also tonight, how those pieces somehow help creating the same kind of monster, again and again and again. We'll take a break first. Around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: For all his efforts to carve out a place in history, BTK was not as unique as he may have imagined. In truth, the men who commit these sorts of crimes have a great deal in common. In some respects, it's all the same man. Whether it's Ted Bundy or John Gacy or Dennis Rader. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SCHMID, AUTHOR, "NATURAL BORN KILLERS": We prefer to think of serial killers as being completely different from us. As being the ultimate outsiders. As being these monstrous, supernatural figures.

BROWN (voice-over): The reality, of course, is they are not. They are mostly white males of a certain age. Totally unremarkable at first glance. So ordinary, in fact, that the phrase "the banality of evil" seems tailor-made.

DR. ROBERT GORDON, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: They look like every man. In fact, they're people who have been emotionally refrigerated as children. They are individuals who have a contorted sexual development and persons who are systematically and methodically thinking of destroying other human beings.

BROWN: David Berkowitz was a former postal worker from the suburbs of New York City. In the mid-'70s, he stabbed one woman, shot five others. He left a letter in one his victim's ears, calling himself the Son of Sam.

He was eventually caught and convicted, and is still in prison. According to an Internet site called ForgivenForLife, he now says he is sincerely sorry for what he did.

Then, there was John Wayne Gacy, a construction worker from Illinois, who was indicted for 33 murders, nearly all young men. He, too, eventually caught, tried, convicted, and in his case, executed.

Both of a type.

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST: Many serial killers start with a fantasy. Then they take that fantasy, and they start to act on it, in minor ways, by stalking, walking around, casing a joint. Watching women through their windows, perhaps. And then, it will actually proceed where the fantasy and the stalking is not enough.

BROWN: Against the type, to a degree, was Theodore Robert Bundy, Ted Bundy. Young, smart, who between 1974 and 1978, killed 28 women at least. Those are the murders he confessed to. He was suspected in at least 20 more. He was caught, once escaped, then caught again.

He was executed in 1989, in Florida. And like Dennis Rader, spoke without emotion about his victims.

GORDON: These kinds of individual, by their commonness, and by their cold nature, and clinically talking about hurting other people, is a telling matter that is almost unbelievable to a person of normal conscience to comprehend.

BROWN: Unbelievable, too, the number of serial killers that may still be at large. One estimate is 50 in this country, 500 outside of it.

GORDON: These individuals almost have an out-of-body experience, as if they're watching themselves from a clinical and distant and remote location. And it's as if they're not being touched themselves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Caryn Stark is a psychologist who studies this sort of thing, and she joins us tonight. Actually, there are precursor signs. I mean, it's not always true, not every bad student becomes a serial killer, but very often, they have patterns when they're quite young.

CARYN STARK, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: They very often have patterns. And you're right. It isn't always. But you can see it. They kill animals all the time, Aaron. You'll find that they are attracted to something innocent to take the power away. They do get in trouble in school. They're bright.

BROWN: Is it about power? Is that what this is about?

STARK: Well, some of it. The fact that he really wanted the authorities to be in touch with him and give him a title, to be able to take the death out of somebody, the life out of somebody and introduce death, is powerful to being God.

BROWN: What's the whole thing about you're not paying enough attention to me? Is it a need to -- is it looking at your life and saying, I'm nothing unless I do this? And so, make me something?

STARK: Well, it's part of the drive, is to get that attention. These are very, very insecure individuals. These are men that do not have any good sense of themselves. Even though they can fit into society, they can be quite charming, they're not your typical person. They really don't have a sense of self that's powerful at all.

BROWN: There is a -- sex runs -- in some sense, runs through all of this at some point. They talk about that this is somehow sexually gratifying to them. Right?

STARK: It's clearly sexually gratifying.

BROWN: How?

STARK: It's sexually gratifying because they get aroused through killing.

BROWN: What is this -- what is the relationship between -- seriously.

STARK: OK.

BROWN: Between -- I mean, he talks about, I have these fantasies. What the hell kind of a fantasy -- sexual fantasy is killing?

STARK: Well, the first time out, he begins to fantasize about killing someone, starts very early, having a sexual fantasy. Perhaps somebody beat him. We don't really know his background. And when he was beaten, he was aroused. Your sexuality starts very early on. And it becomes fixed in certain ways. And that's one of the ways. If you get aroused over something that's gruesome, that you wouldn't be turned on to necessarily, but they would, this will continue to the point where have to keep getting aroused that way.

One of the reasons they take souvenirs and tokens...

BROWN: Yeah.

STARK: ... is that they can repeat being aroused again after the actual incident has occurred.

BROWN: This guy, not necessarily unusually, had a fairly -- lived a fairly normal life. We don't know all the details of his life. Could he carry on a normal sex life? And have this other kind of -- not kind of but truly weird and sick thing going on?

STARK: Without a doubt. I have no doubt that he could have a normal sex life. Actually, he had two children, I believe. And yet, this wouldn't be the sex that he would prefer. He could perform, and people can do things that are not the thing that turns them on the most. But this is like an addiction. He gets an adrenaline rush from killing someone. So if he really gets his dose of heroin, it's going to be from murdering.

BROWN: Bundy would -- talked about -- he would commit the killing, and then this urge would pass. And then he would feel it over time building up again. And the distance between killing and desire to kill again would shorten, progressively shorten. What is that about?

STARK: The same -- the same idea. That's the way the addiction part comes in. Once you've had that experience, and they're so turned on by that experience, they begin to have a need for it. They need to have the next fix. They need to go ahead and stalk or troll, as he was saying, and kill someone.

BROWN: What would you -- what would you ask him if you were sitting in a room with him?

STARK: That's a good question. I think I would ask him how he feels about being a person? What being human means to him? Because clearly, he can talk about this in that very removed way. And I'm not sure that he's concrete and real the way that we are.

BROWN: Does he care that he was caught?

STARK: I don't think so. I think he was looking to be caught. I think he wanted to be stopped.

BROWN: You'd like to think he was miserable right now.

STARK: He's not miserable.

BROWN: I know. Thank you. It's nice meeting you. STARK: Nice to meet you, too.

BROWN: Thank you. It's like the least we can hope for, is that he's miserable.

Still to come on the program, how the Supreme Court handled the hottest potato this side of abortion, if you will. Is anyone happy with today's rulings? There were two of them on the Ten Commandments. Take a break first. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The Supreme Court made headlines today, not just the expected headlines. Chief Justice Rehnquist, who is 80 and, as you know, battling cancer, did not step down. At least if he did, it wasn't revealed today. Nor did Justice Stevens, who is 85. Nor did 75-year-old Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Instead, it was strictly business, and there was plenty of it.

A court ruling that file-sharing services can be held liable when users share files, mostly songs, though more and more movies these days. It says cable companies can refuse to share high-speed Internet lines with other Internet providers. And the most crucially-fought battle of the culture wars in this term at least, it dealt with two cases on whether the Ten Commandments have a place in the public square.

The answer -- a hotly argued yes and no. No in a courthouse in Kentucky; yes in a display outside the statehouse in Texas. Location, location, location, as they say.

With us tonight, Rabbi David Saperstein. He's in Washington and Ralph Reed is with us in New York. The Old and the New Testament, if you will.

It's nice to see you, both.

Rabbi, let's start with you. How did you see the differences in the two cases? and are you content with how the court decided it?

RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN, REL. ACTION. CTR. OF REFORM JUDAISM: Each side got some of what they wanted, Aaron, but in terms of the rationale used, I think it favored the pro-separation side.

In both cases, the majority of the court said quite clearly, in the United States, under the constitution, the government cannot endorse religious messages and the only way to have the Ten Commandments displayed in government property, involves creating a setting that focuses on the historical context, on our cultural values, on the role of the Ten Commandments on part of the traditions of law in America. That's a sound and resounding defeat for many people on the religious-right, who would like to tear down the wall, separating church and state.

BROWN: Ralph, I think you're on the religious right. We're probably -- we can could concede that point. Is this a solemn and like set of decisions? or would you -- well, I know you'd have been happier to win them both. Can you accept this comfortably, the distinction the court made?

RALPH REED, CENTURY STRATEGIES: Well, certainly, we're very greatly encouraged that the court has acknowledged, I think really, for the first time, because they previously ruled in 1978 and they said that the Ten Commandments couldn't be displayed at a public school, for example, in Kentucky. So, this is an acknowledgment by the court, of the historical, the legal, the cultural and the jurisprudential centrality of the Ten Commandments in the history of western civilization.

And they laid out a case by which they could be displayed and by the way, 28 of the 30 cases before the court involved these monuments, like the ones at the Texas state capitol, that they ruled could be displayed. So, that's encouraging.

BROWN: Most people haven't been down to Austin to see this, but the one the one in Texas -- there are lots of other -- a number of other monuments that surround it. It doesn't sit on its own and I think, David, the court made the distinction, I gather, between the tablets that sit on their own and seem therefore, to have no other purpose but a religious purpose than those that sit amongst a group. Would you have been nervous if the court had given you a clean win?

SAPERSTEIN: Fascinating question.

If the court had struck down both displays, it's quite likely that tomorrow we would have faced a constitutional amendment that would have, for the first time, sought to alter the first amendment, which would have been an extraordinarily divisive and angry debate in American life, right now.

So, this may have been Solomonic in that regard. It upheld the principle of separation of church and state; no government endorsement. It allowed for under certain circumstances, the display of the Ten Commandments, even though it recognized it does have some religious components to it, under any circumstances.

So, it avoided that divisive battle and we're going to go case by case now, in deciding when the different Ten Commandments are allowed.

BROWN: That's what Justice Rehnquist said today, we should look at each of the case by case.

REED: Well, I think that's exactly the problem and it shows just how tortured and Byzantine our establishment clause, jurisprudence, at the Supreme Court level, is, because they basically said, we're going to decide not to really decide.

And the irony is that they said was OK for these monument cases, but that if they were displayed in a courthouse, without a lot of other monuments, that somehow or another it violated the establishment clause. Of course, Aaron, the irony of that is, is that decision is issued beneath a mural that is displayed over the justices that shows Moses issuing the Ten Commandments.

BROWN: But Mohammed's there and so are any number of other things, there.

SAPERSTEIN: Justice Souter made it...

REED: If I could just make my point, the Kentucky legislators that the court ruled against today, made it clear in their legislation that their purpose was just to show the historical significance of the Ten Commandments, which is exactly what the Supreme Court has.

SAPERSTEIN: Well, the court found differently. It found that there was a clear historical record, unbroken; that the intent was to endorse religion and this was a subterfuge of displays.

Very different, they explicitly contrasted it to the Supreme Court in which there's Moses and 20-plus other law-givers, in which they said the display is about law-givers, not about the religious message.

And this is good that the court is keeping government out of religion. The court -- the -- two of the justices recognized, explicitly, that the framers wanted to avoid sectarian competition that comes when religious groups compete for government endorsement for their messages, leaving others who differ as though they're outsiders and that has avoided the sectarian strife that's torn so many countries apart.

Good for religion; good for America.

BROWN: David, thank you.

Ralph, let me give you 10 seconds and the last word.

Is there any sense in which one really should -- I mean, the Ten Commandants are a religious symbol. That's their great and important value. Why would we pretend otherwise?

REED: Well, we don't pretend otherwise, but what we say is that there is a genuine -- even Justice Stevens acknowledged, that there's a genuine historic role that they have played, so we should be allowed to acknowledge them and we couldn't require that the American people be forced to deny their essential beliefs in order to be consistent with the first amendment. That's not what our founders thought and I don't think that's what the Supreme Court should be ruling.

BROWN: Good to see you, both. Not an easy ruling -- rulings for the court, as they made pretty clear today.

It's nice to have you both with us.

Still to come: She survived -- faced the terrors of nature. Shannon Parker. "Then and Now."

Also: New developments in the case of Natalee Holloway.

We take a break first.

This is NEWSNIGHT, from New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The president addresses the country on Iraq tomorrow, 8:00 Eastern time. Coverage begins here, at 7:00 Eastern time, on CNN.

Just about a quarter-till the hour, Eastern NEWSNIGHT time, at least.

Once again, time to check in with Erica Hill and the day's headlines --Erica?

HILL: Hi, again, Aaron.

A rabbi go his orders today, he is heading to the Air Force Academy. Arnold Resnicoff was named special assistant for values and vision, at the school. His mission there: To advise commanders on changing, what many believe, is a climate that promotes Evangelical Christianity and intolerance toward other beliefs.

In Aruba, a judge ordered the release of another man who'd been detained in the case of missing American teen, Natalee Holloway. Party boat disc jockey Steve Croes had been named by two of the three other youths still being held. No one, though, has been formally charged yet in the May 30th disappearance of the 18-year-old Alabama high schooler.

The price of oil set a record today, closing above $60 a barrel for the first time ever. Market watchers say get ready for more to come. But just remember here, folks, adjusting for inflation, oil is still cheaper today than it was back in the early '80s, when it cost the equivalent of $90 a barrel in today's money.

And another reminder for you, the new feature at cnn.com. Just click on that video link when you get to the Web site, for a look at the day's best news clips for 100 percent off the regular price. Can't beat that, Aaron.

BROWN: Of course, adjusted for inflation, we would have paid you 10 years ago.

HILL: Maybe we should work on that.

BROWN: I know the boss. I don't think there's much chance of that. Thank you. We'll talk tomorrow.

A year ago this week, life changed forever for 27-year-old Shannon Parker, when she went for a hike with friends in the Sequoia National Forest. As part of our anniversary series, "Then & Now," we take a look back at her story and how she's doing today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Her name isn't familiar, but her story is unforgettable. Twenty-seven-year-old Shannon Parker was hiking with some friends last summer in California's Sequoia National Park, when she was attacked by a mountain lion.

SHANNON PARKER: I remember making eye contact with him. He lunged at me, and he pounced, and he walked onto the right side of my face.

COOPER: Moments of terror that stretched on for more than 10 minutes. Even though her friends threw rocks and tried stabbing the big cat, the animal would not give up. But neither would Parker.

PARKER: We fought. I actually ended up falling down the hill, down the mountainside, and it was just survival and survival of the fittest.

COOPER: Parker suffered deep lacerations to her legs and her face.

PARKER: This is where one of the cat's fangs went in, through this top part of my eye, through my eyeball. And then the other two went in here and completely pulled out my tear duct.

COOPER: After multiple reconstructive surgeries and a prosthetic eye implant, Parker says she's recuperating, physically and emotionally. She's living with her parents near Bakersfield, California, and begun writing a book and paying off a $40,000 medical bill -- $100 a month. Parker says she wants to raise awareness about the dangers of mountain lions once she finishes her book.

PARKER: I take it one day at a time. It hasn't been the easiest thing to overcome, but each day it gets better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: OK. Quick check of morning papers from around the country, around the world. Start with "The Washington Post," because we don't get it too often.

A front-page picture of Chief Justice Rehnquist. Not looking that good, but he didn't retire, resign today. "Court split over Commandments" is the headline. A very good story on this side of the page, "From memos, insights into ally's doubts about the war. Blair's advisers foresaw a variety of risks and problems." You might want to check that out online.

Also, "survey finds most support staying in Iraq." A kind of, well, what are we going to do quality about it all.

"The Washington Times" leads with the Ten Commandments also. "Court split. Conservative advocates hit restrictions on symbols." James Dobson saying, "it's all part of a witch hunt, a religious witch hunt afoot at virtually every level of the government."

OK. I like "The Rocky Mountain News" headline on this. "Not set in stone," that's their Ten Commandments headline. Get it? "Not set in stone."

"Bush tries to bolster support for the war." The headline in "The Cincinnati Enquirer." TV speech tonight 8:00. See it here on CNN. We have the better picture out of there, by the way.

"Who can you trust?" The headline in "Stars and Stripes." Finding the enemy among allies is tough for U.S. troops training the new Iraqi army.

And finally, if you are looking for a house, a $6.9 million subdivision in the Hamptons. But it does have a pool. So it's probably worth it.

The weather tomorrow in Chicago, "deep-fried." Hot in the Midwest. We'll wrap it up in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: See you tomorrow. Good night.

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