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Convicted Killer Executed; Will a Loophole Keep Juries From Hearing 911 Calls in Court?

Aired November 3, 2005 - 20:00:00   ET


NANCY GRACE, HOST: Tonight, breaking news. A condemned killer, 55- year-old Melvin White, executed just moments ago by needle, lethal injection, likely still on the gurney in that Texas death chamber for the `97 kidnap, rape and beating death of a 9-year-old little Texas girl, Jennifer Lee Gravell. Just in, White`s final comments before death, while candlelight vigils, jailhouse protests are all going down as we speak.
Good evening, everybody. I`m Nancy Grace. I want to thank you for being with us tonight. Legal showdown. Will a legal technicality, a loophole, keep juries from hearing 911 calls in court? That loophole a defense attorney`s dream. Well, the battle is going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife had an accident! She`s still breathing!

911 OPERATOR: What kind of accident?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She fell down the stairs! She`s still (INAUDIBLE)

911 OPERATOR: Is she conscious?


911 OPERATOR: Is she conscious?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, she`s not conscious!


GRACE: But first tonight, breaking news, 55-year-old Melvin White executed moments ago, lethal injection, for the kidnap, the rape, and the brutal beating death of 9-year-old little girl, Jennifer Lee Gravell. The little girl lived in the same Texas neighborhood as White. His defense? He blames the girl`s murder on his own drinking problem. This year, Jennifer Gravell would be a high school senior, planning which prom dress to wear. Instead, she has become the center of a controversy over the death penalty.

Let`s go straight out to Diane Dimond, investigative reporter. Bring me up to date.

DIANE DIMOND, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, it happened while we were preparing the show for you, Nancy. About 45 minutes ago, this man was put to death, the 16th person in the Texas death row so far this year. There are three more scheduled in the next couple of weeks, five more early next year.

As you say, the name we should be remembering maybe isn`t Melvin Wayne White but Jennifer Lee Gravell, just 9 years old when in August 1997 they both attended a neighborhood barbecue. And at some point in time, they both disappeared. This little girl was apparently taken to a rest stop, bound with electrical tape, sexually assaulted with a screwdriver, Nancy, and then hit with a tire iron over her head, crushing her head -- eight, nine, ten different blows.

Now, he did blame all this on the fact that he drank too much, but the state said he was a serial pedophile. He had, according to the state, assaulted his own daughter, tried to get her to be a prostitute for him, had fondled another little 4-year-old girl, another teenager in the neighborhood. So according to the state, this man was an irreparable pedophile that had to be put to death.

And I`ll tell you, Nancy, I`ve been in that room where he was put to death before. Back in 1993, I was doing another death penalty case. It`s a pretty somber place.

GRACE: I want to go straight out to Diane Clements with Justice for All. Diane, he blamed the death of this 9-year-old little girl, his neighbor -- his neighbor! -- on his own drinking problem. He kept telling police over and over and over he had a drinking problem. He hit this girl repeatedly about the head and the face with a tire iron and then he tried to blame -- his defense at trial, the alcohol defense.

DIANE CLEMENTS, JUSTICE FOR ALL: Well, clearly, and fortunately, that defense was not bought by the jury. This man is -- was a serial pedophile, and I, for one, am glad that he has been executed.

GRACE: Long story short, breaking news tonight. Within the past few moments, 55-year-old Melvin White put to death in Texas. He is the 16th death penalty -- death row inmate put to death this year in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court within the last two hours rejected an 11th-hour appeal.

Straight out to Michael Hardy. What was your best argument to keep White alive?

MICHAEL HARDY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I mean, he should be kept alive because we should not be putting people to death, Nancy. I mean, the death penalty is something that a country that`s civilized, like the United States, and believes in the rule of law and the righteousness of punishment -- he should be punished if he committed this crime. He should be in jail for the rest of his life, but we should not have imposed a penalty of death, which only God can impose.

GRACE: Wait. That`s your best shot?

HARDY: Well, that is a valid shot, and...


HARDY: ... and it`s not a question of the best shot. I mean, you know, unfortunately, we have courts that really don`t hear the justifications. You know, it`s better to keep one person who deserves...

GRACE: Oh, good Lord! Not that tired...

HARDY: ... who deserves death alive than all of those who were innocent who have been put to death and those who are on death row today who are innocent who still face death, and with courts...

GRACE: Michael!

HARDY: ... that really won`t hear...

GRACE: Michael!

HARDY: ... their arguments.

GRACE: Michael, why are you talking about a hundred people we don`t know about? This guy has her blood on his tennis shoe, his DNA on her body. Now, why are you trying to bring in all these other people you claim are innocent instead of talking about the facts in this case?

Let me show you something. Dusty (ph), if you can come here? I have this horribly pixilated photo of Jennifer Gravell. This is all that is left of this girl. She should be a senior in high school tonight! Instead, she is gone, and you want to talk to me about other people that are innocent?

HARDY: Well, Nancy...

GRACE: That`s the best argument you`ve got?

HARDY: Nancy, she should be alive tonight, and that is unfortunate, and...

GRACE: Unfortunate? OK.

HARDY: ... and the person who committed that crime was in prison, exactly where he should be and should have been for the rest of his life, which would be a much greater penalty than the penalty of death because now he`s free and can be redeemed.

GRACE: OK. Well, thanks for that insight that death is better than life.

I want to go straight out to Jennifer`s grandmother, just with us by phone. She has conducted a individual vigil for hours now on behalf of her granddaughter, Jennifer Gravell, 9 years old at the time she was assaulted, kidnapped and murdered, her body dumped out on public property. With me now, Dottie Elrod. Mrs. Elrod, thank you for being with us. I think I have Mrs. Elrod with me?


GRACE: Thank you for being with us.

ELROD: You`re welcome.

GRACE: How -- what is your reaction that the death penalty has just been implemented?

ELROD: I think it`s great.

GRACE: Your family has been fighting for this execution since 1997. What took so long, Mrs. Elrod?

ELROD: I have no idea. It should have been done a long time ago.

GRACE: Were you there at the trial?


GRACE: What do you think of his defense that the demon alcohol made him do it?

ELROD: I think he made a choice and it was his choice, and no one, no one is -- he is the only one responsible for it. And I think he should have got the death penalty, and we cannot let people like that mess with our children.

GRACE: Mrs. Elrod, it wasn`t, in my mind, just the death of Jennifer Lee Gravell. Shortly after, in 2003, Charlie Gravell, your son...


GRACE: ... committed suicide.

ELROD: Yes, ma`am, he sure did.


ELROD: He couldn`t handle it. He -- he just -- he would say, you know, I was her dad, I was supposed to have protected her. I was supposed to have took care of her, and I didn`t. And -- but it`s nobody`s fault but Melvin White`s. He`s the one that chose to do this, you know? And he not only brought my family to my knees, but he brought his own family down.

GRACE: What do you mean?

ELROD: His mother lost a son tonight. And as a mother, I know what she`s going through and my prayers are with her. But he had to die.

GRACE: During the years after 9-year-old Jennifer`s murder, how did your son get through? How did he react to her murder?

ELROD: It`s hard. It`s very hard. And today has really been hard on all of the family. But with the good Lord`s help, we`re a stronger family now and we will go on.

GRACE: Mrs. Elrod, why was today so hard on your family?

ELROD: It brought back a lot of bad memories. And like I said, it`s -- my daughter-in-law and I both feel for his mother to lose a son because we know what she`s going through. But it just brought up a lot of bad memories, and that`s not what we want to remember. We want to remember Jennifer as she was, and Charlie as they were, and we know right now they`re OK. They both are perfectly OK.

GRACE: Mrs. Elrod, do you remember the evening that Jennifer went missing?

ELROD: Yes, ma`am.

GRACE: What happened?

ELROD: They had been at a barbecue, and Melvin White was there. And Jennifer -- Beth (ph) had told Jennifer that Charlie was over to the house, and -- because it was just right across the street. And Beth told Jen that it was getting late, that there was school -- I mean, there was something the next day and she needed today go on back to the house. And that was the last they saw of her.

GRACE: I want to go to Shari Silberstein, co-director of Equal Justice USA. What is your best argument this man should have been spared?

SHARI SILBERSTEIN, EQUAL JUSTICE USA: Well, one of the things that the death penalty did is it made Melvin White into a rock star. He`s gotten more air time on CNN now than most...


GRACE: OK, so your problem with the death penalty is air time? That`s your problem?

SILBERSTEIN: Well, I`m saying is that if he had gotten life without parole right from the start, it would have saved the state millions of dollars, which could have put more cops...


SILBERSTEIN: ... protecting people like Jennifer and...

GRACE: So it`s all about money.

SILBERSTEIN: ... he would have been forgotten, you know, by all of us. You wouldn`t be, you know, making him into a celebrity today and...

GRACE: I don`t consider him a celebrity. I consider Jennifer Lee Gravell the celebrity, the little girl that fought for her life. So so far, I got your argument, Shari -- everyone, Shari, co-director of Equal Justice USA -- that it just simply costs too much and you don`t want him to get too much attention. OK, what`s your next argument?

SILBERSTEIN: Well, the fact is that it`s a broken system that costs a lot of money and diverts resources from law enforcement and victims` services. It doesn`t work to protect our society, and it didn`t save Jennifer. And my feeling really go out to -- my feelings go out to her and to her family...

GRACE: I`m pretty sure that Melvin White is not going to commit another rape or murder. So in that sense, I think we`re all a little safer. I mean, for Pete`s sake, have you heard the latest tonight? A guy escaped, a death row inmate escaped from Harris County, Texas, in the last hour. He`s running loose right now. Guess what? If he had been put to death already, he wouldn`t be out threatening citizens right now.

SILBERSTEIN: And the better way to have prevented things like that would have been to put much more resources into other forms of law enforcement and more corrections officers at the prison in the first place, which would have cost a lot less and protected a lot more people than the death penalty is currently doing, costing millions of dollars more than life without parole and making incredible amounts of mistakes, overturning cases at a rate of two thirds because lawyers can`t get it right, because juries don`t understand what they`re supposed to do, because prosecutors hide evidence, and crime labs, including the one in Houston, will screw up even DNA testing and can`t seem to, like, get, you know...

GRACE: Can we talk about...


GRACE: Can we talk about this case, as opposed to a lot of anonymous cases, your indictment on the system itself? Why should this guy, Melvin White, have been spared? His best defense was he had too much to drink that night?

SILBERSTEIN: Well, this isn`t about this guy. This guy did a horrible thing...

GRACE: No, it is about this guy!

SILBERSTEIN: ... and he absolutely needs to be held accountable. The problem is that you can`t create a system that only gets the Melvin White and doesn`t get the people who are innocent, and if...

GRACE: Do you have any doubt in your mind that Melvin White is guilty?

SILBERSTEIN: Oh, I`m absolutely -- I`m sure that he`s guilty, and I`m not saying that he`s not guilty.


SILBERSTEIN: That`s not the issue. The point is that the system that convicted Melvin White and put him to death also convicted some of the people that you`ve interviewed on your show in the past who didn`t commit the crime and spent 10 years on death row for crimes that they didn`t commit.

GRACE: well, you know what?

SILBERSTEIN: You can`t correctly make a system that`s going to get him and not them.

GRACE: So let me get this straight. You have no doubt in your mind this guy raped, raped with a screwdriver, kidnapped and then beat with a tire iron to death a 9-year-old little girl, this girl -- look at her! Look at her! Jennifer Gravell. So knowing that he did that, your argument is the system has been wrong on other occasions.

SILBERSTEIN: And he should be locked up away for life, and we shouldn`t see his picture...

GRACE: OK. Right.

SILBERSTEIN: ... on TV anymore.

GRACE: I just wanted to make sure that I understood that argument. Everybody, we`ll all be right back.

But as I was saying, breaking news. A Texas death row inmate has escaped from Harris County jail, Houston. Authorities say 35-year-old Charles Victor Thompson (ph) managed to get civilian clothes, then convinced the jailer he was with the Texas attorney general`s office, and then he was out of there. Thompson condemned for `98 shooting death of ex- girlfriend Denise Haslip (ph) and her boyfriend, Darren Key Cane (ph).

And tonight, two fugitives escaped from a South Carolina prison break back in police custody today after a three-day manhunt. Jim Causey, convicted kidnapper, John Brewer, convicted killer, caught, apprehended at a local hotel. Ashley Bostick (ph) charged with helping them escape.

Also on the docket, news from Tifton, Georgia. According to "The Tifton Gazette," new evidence Lee Johnson (ph) would have been in jail the night he allegedly killed Rita Hogendorf (ph) had he not been granted parole. He was indicted on murder and rape earlier in her case earlier this week. Johnson paroled after serving only half his sentence.


GRACE: This is a picture of 9-year-old Jennifer Lee Gravell. Back in 1997, she was abducted after a neighborhood barbecue, raped and beaten to death with a tire iron. Breaking news, her killer just put to death in the Texas death chamber. His defense at trial, he had to much to drink that night.

I want to go straight out to Melvin White`s death penalty lawyer. who has been battling for a long time to try to save his life, Adrienne Urrutia. Thank you for being with us, ma`am. What was your argument on appeal? I think I`ve got Adrienne with me?


GRACE: Hi, Adrienne. Thank you for being with us. Everyone, now with us, Melvin White`s death penalty lawyer. Adrienne, what was your argument on appeal?

URRUTIA: I did the last stage of the appeal in federal court. It`s called federal habeas. And what we argued was that the jury was instructed improperly that Mr. White was eligible for good time credit, when by statute in Texas, that instruction is not supposed to be given in capital cases.

GRACE: Was there any other argument?

URRUTIA: We also argued that there was insufficient evidence to prove future dangerousness, which is one of the issues that the jury`s instructed on, on punishment, here in Texas.

GRACE: No, Adrienne, no offense. Everyone, she is a veteran appeal lawyer. But what about the fact that his own daughter said she was raped by him around age 12, and there were other young neighbors and relatives that said he had made sexual advances on him? Wouldn`t that suggest a pattern of future dangerousness?

URRUTIA: Actually, a defense expert testified at the punishment phase that Mr. White would not be dangerous in the future because he wouldn`t be in the presence of young women. And that was -- his main propensity was to be attracted to young girls.

GRACE: How would he not be around young girls?

URRUTIA: If he were given a life sentence and spent the rest of his life in prison, he would not be around young girls.

GRACE: Now, you know what`s interesting, Adrienne? I know your reasoning is correct, but you know, Charles Manson got the death penalty, and then, whoa, suddenly, the death penalty was overruled in California. And he comes up for parole every couple of years. Who`s to say the same thing won`t happen with life without parole, and then this guy, Melvin White, up for parole?

URRUTIA: Well, here in Texas, we actually do now have life without parole. It just got passed in the legislature this last session. But at the time that Mr. White was convicted, he was in his 40s and -- he was almost 50, as a matter of fact, and would have served at least 40 years. So he would have been at a very ripe old age if he would have ever been eligible, which here in Texas, that`s very unusual.

GRACE: Adrienne, did you ever argue on habeas that he was factually innocent...

URRUTIA: Oh, no.

GRACE: ... of the beating death of this girl?

URRUTIA: No. Absolutely not. Mr. White confessed to the offense the day -- actually, the evening after it happened.

GRACE: And it`s my understanding his defense at trial was that he had too much to drink?

URRUTIA: The alcoholism -- first of all, Mr. White, that was one of his wishes, that I try to disseminate this information. He began drinking and became an alcoholic as a teenager, as early as 13 years old. By the time this offense happened, he was buying alcohol in quantities of a half a gallon of vodka. And he had a very serious alcohol problem. It wasn`t necessarily offered as a defense, although he was in a blackout at the time of the offense and had a very difficult...

GRACE: It is amazing to me, if he had a blackout at the time of the rape with screwdriver and the beating death of a 9-year-old, he managed to dump her body and make it back home safely on Texas highways.

We`ll all be right back. Breaking news in the last words of Melvin White, a 54-year-old man convicted of rape and murder.

To tonight`s "Trial Tracking." Four indicted for a string of attacks, leaving six dead across Tift County, Georgia, the victims all Hispanic, murdered during home invasion robberies, four others injured, one raped.

Also on the docket tonight, Walter Steed, a Utah judge -- he`s got three wives. Rut-roh (ph)! But he wants to keep his judge on the bench after the state ordered his removal. Judge, bigamy is a felony even in Utah. But this judge says his private behavior -- I guess he means the three wives -- does not affect his job as a judge.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re talking about an individual who violates the state`s bigamy statute, but believes, and in his community, or at least most of the believe that that`s OK.

WALTER STEED, ACCUSED POLYGAMIST: If that`s a law that has to be lived to receive the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom, then it ought to be legal.


GRACE: Straight out to Diane Dimond. Diane, you have been in the Texas death chamber. Describe.

DIMOND: Yes. Absolutely. There`s fluorescent lighting everywhere. The aisles are very close. There`s a tile floor. It`s the last aisle that the dead man -- it`s dead man walking, just like the movie. And then they get into this room, and they are strapped in. There`s a curtain and a window. And once they`re strapped in there, the curtain opens and the people who came to watch the execution get to see -- actually have the injection of the drugs go in, and they watch the person take their last breath.

It`s really somber, Nancy. It`s very crowded in there. And it seemed to me, when I was in that room, no person was in there strapped to the gurney, but it was just a stifling atmosphere.


SOPHIA CHOI, CNN HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Hello, I`m Sophia Choi. And here`s your "Headline Prime Newsbreak."

Well, newly released e-mail exchanges from former FEMA Director Michael Brown seemed to show he was more worried about his appearance than storm victims. In one e-mail, Brown`s secretary advised him to roll up his shirt sleeves when he was on TV to appear more hard-working.

A pharmaceutical giant wins a major product liability case. A New Jersey jury found that Merck, the makers of the drug Vioxx, did not mislead doctors and consumers about the dangers of using the pain-killing drug. The plaintiff blamed Vioxx for a blood clot that caused him to suffer a heart attack in 2001.

And now to California, where one surfer is feeling a little lucky today. A shark took a big bite out of his surfboard, leaving behind a tooth as a souvenir. He`s OK. Police have posted warning signs since along Maverick Surf Break, which is south of San Francisco.

Well, that`s the news for now. I`m Sophia Choi. Now back to NANCY GRACE.


DISPATCHER: 911. What kind of accident?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She fell down the stairs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) are you ill, or what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 7-11, you`re still eastbound on 66, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need an ambulance?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Exactly what happened?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, a woman screaming...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got a person with a gun.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is she breathing?


GRACE: A jury`s right and ability to hear 911 calls, the very essence of a criminal act, is in jeopardy. It is at the U.S. Supreme Court even at we speak. The case, Washington vs. Davis. It`s a defense attorney`s dream, no jury to ever hear a 911 call.

Diane Dimond, explain.

DIMOND: Well, it all goes back to that pesky thing called the U.S. Constitution, Nancy.

GRACE: Well, hold on. It depends on who`s interpreting it.

DIMOND: Well, that`s right. It`s the Sixth Amendment. And it guarantees -- I`m going to quote here -- "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him." And the idea here is, if you play a 911 tape and you don`t bring that witness into court, say a battered woman or a rape victim, for example, then the defendant doesn`t get their right to confront their accuser.

GRACE: Well, Diane, what about the obvious question? What about when the victim is dead?

DIMOND: Very good point, Nancy. And that`s why you were such a good prosecutor. I mean, look, you and I both know, because we`ve covered a lot of trials...

GRACE: Hey, this sucking up is not going to work this time.

DIMOND: But, you know, it`s true. When you play one of those 911 tapes, they are so chilling and so compelling it literally takes the jury to the point of the crime.

And they can be very compelling. And they`ve been used successfully for a long time. If the Supreme Court decides that they can`t be now, then prosecutors, like you used to be, are going to have to change their tune a little bit.

GRACE: Man, you`re not kidding.

Let`s take a listen to the 911 tape in the Menendez trial. Remember the two spoiled brats that murdered their mom and dad? They got two trials before they were finally convicted.

Let`s roll on that, Elizabeth.


DISPATCHER: Hello, 911 emergency.


DISPATCHER: What`s the problem? What`s the problem? What`s the problem?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone killed my parents.

DISPATCHER: Pardon me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone killed my parents.

DISPATCHER: What? Who? Are they still there?


DISPATCHER: Were they shot?


DISPATCHER: Were they shot?


DISPATCHER: They were shot?


DISPATCHER: Is the person still there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think so.

DISPATCHER: What happened? We have units en route. What happened? Who shot who?


DISPATCHER: You came home and found who shot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom and dad.


GRACE: Richard Herman, how many hours did those two practice that Oscar-winning performance?

RICHARD HERMAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Hey, Nancy, that`s the breaking news. Not every 911 tape is truthful and can be relied upon by a jury. The only way to cull it out is to have that caller on the stand subject to cross-examination.

GRACE: What if the caller`s dead, Richard?

HERMAN: Then you can`t take someone`s liberty away from them, Nancy. It`s not going to be admissible.

GRACE: Well, I`m sorry, the victim`s already dead. I think their liberty -- oh, you mean the defendant`s liberty.

HERMAN: That`s right. You know those defendants, Nancy. Come on now.

GRACE: Let`s go to David Jones. He is the president of the National Emergency Number Association.

Mr. Jones, thank you for being with us. Isn`t it common, in fact practically every murder case there is, there is a 911 call presented to a jury in criminal cases, sir?

DAVID JONES, NATIONAL EMERGENCY NUMBER ASSOCIATION: It certainly is a common occurrence. People have an interest in knowing what happened at that particular point in time where they needed help. So, yes, it is common that 911 calls are presented in criminal trials.

GRACE: With us, David Jones, president of the National Emergency Number Association. What is the impact? Have you ever seen or do you know of the impact on a jury when they hear that 911 call, David?

JONES: Well, I don`t know it personally, because I`ve not served on a jury for that, but I will tell you that I`ve been involved in court proceedings where that, as was mentioned earlier, a 911 call that has that raw, human emotion when that incident occurred, or right after it occurred, can be very compelling in a criminal trial.

GRACE: To psychologist Dr. Patricia Saunders, I`ll tell you why a jury wants to hear it, because it`s the truth. It`s what is happening at that moment.

Now, listen, we just heard the Menendez brothers. We know that was a big, fat lie, all right? The B.S.-O-Meter off the chart. But what we heard was the truth. We heard them creating a story that they would have to stick to when it got to trial or else fabricate some other type of defense.

So what you are hearing is what was going down at that time. It`s not some spin a defense attorney or, frankly, a prosecutor puts on the evidence. It is what the players do at the time of the incident, Dr. Saunders.

DR. PATRICIA SAUNDERS, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, I think you`re right with that, Nancy, that most people who are calling 911 are calling because they`re terrified for their lives and they want help.

The emotional power is there. And, yes, of course it`s going to impact on juries. It compels the reality of the crime to the jury. Most juries are intelligent enough and work hard enough to separate out emotion from fact. And we need to have faith in that.

GRACE: Take a listen to this now-famous 911 call.


DISPATCHER: 911, what is your emergency?

JAYSON WILLIAMS, ACQUITTED OF MANSLAUGHTER: Yes, we have an emergency. Somebody just got shot.

DISPATCHER: OK, where are you?

WILLIAMS: It`s an accident. Somebody just got shot in an accident.

DISPATCHER: Where are you?

WILLIAMS: We are here in my home.


WILLIAMS: Yes, Milford, New Jersey.


WILLIAMS: My friend just got shot. He picked up a gun that was loaded and it shot him. Please hurry up, ma`am.

DISPATCHER: All right. All right. Is he conscious?

WILLIAMS: Yes, but he is out. He is down on the ground.

DISPATCHER: He`s what?

WILLIAMS: He`s down on the ground. He doesn`t look conscious right now.

DISPATCHER: Well, can you check and see if he`s conscious?

WILLIAMS: Ma`am, he is down on the ground. He is barely breathing.

DISPATCHER: OK, can you check to see if he is conscious and responding?

WILLIAMS: Is he conscious and responding? No!


WILLIAMS: Ma`am, he just got shot right in the front of his chest, shot in the chest.


GRACE: You are hearing the 911 call of NBA star Jayson Williams, went on to become a network sports commentator, raking in millions and millions of dollars.

Diane Dimond, you and I know, that came out at trial, that everything he just said was a lie. That he, in fact, had been holding the shotgun when it went off, killing his limo driver, Gus Christofi, and then put the dying man`s hand on the shotgun barrel to make it look like he had committed suicide in Jayson Williams` multimillion-dollar mansion.

Then he goes and jumps in the indoor swimming pool...

DIMOND: That`s right.

GRACE: ... to get all the flecks of blood off his body and try to set up a suicide.

DIMOND: And did you notice, Nancy, on that tape, he says, "Please, ma`am, hurry." "Well, what happened?" "It was an accident. He picked up the gun and it went off."

I mean, he is already creating the story line there in that 911 tape. And as Dr. Saunders says, it is what they are trying to do at that moment that the jury needs to hear. He was trying to make up a story right then and there from the very beginning.

GRACE: Man, you`re not kidding. It all came out at trial.

Let me go to Hillah Katz. Hillah, why is it the defense is struggling so hard to keep these 911 calls from the juries` ears?

HILLAH KATZ, TRIAL ATTORNEY: Well, I think that they are determined to make sure that juries don`t hear these tapes, because, frequently, as soon as the prosecutor puts that tape inside an audio machine and they play it for a jury, you`ll see a jury actually lean forward in that jury box and be totally enthralled with what they`re listening to.

So the defense is trying -- they`re vehemently trying to make sure that a judge in the Supreme Court -- that these justices determine that these tapes, when people call into 911, are meant immediately for prosecution and investigation.

And if you call up for help, you know a prosecution or an investigation is going to start. So therefore you`re creating evidence. And therefore you need to be able to come into court and have the attorney be able to confront you, if the state, or the prosecution, or the government wants that evidence to come in against you.

GRACE: And Hillah, when you have a 911 rolling like that, and you look over at the defendant, and the whole thing`s been proven to be a lie, they`re like, "Ruh-roh." That`s why they don`t want it played in court.

KATZ: Right. It`s a huge battle in the courtrooms over whether or not 911s are admissible or not. And then, at the best, when usually they are found admissible, at this stage, then the defense argues how much weight you should give them.

But nonetheless, no matter what happens, whether it`s a statement of a defendant or a statement of a victim, and especially in a murder case, like you said, when that victim is, in fact, deceased and nobody is there to speak for that person, except that tape, they finally get their day, because they`re letting somebody know what happened to them close in time.

And usually the 911 tapes do happen close in time, they are reliable, and they are trustworthy. But many defense attorneys want to say, just like you`re arguing about the Menendez`s, that maybe those 911 calls, they do come with a certain amount of time for thought and fabrication afterwards.

GRACE: And, everybody, the legal loop hole that the defense bar is trying to use to keep these 911 calls out of the jury`s purview is you may not be able to cross-examination the victim caller, under the Sixth Amendment right to confront or cross-examine your witnesses. They`re claiming their denied that right by the playing of the 911 tape.

But what can you do when the defendant has killed the victim? They`ve taken away the right to confrontation.

Very quickly to tonight`s "Trial Tracking." Today, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney`s right-hand man, pleads not guilty to criminal charges. Libby, the first White House official to be indicted in 130 years. Charged with obstruction of justice, perjury, false statements in connection with the leak.

Also on a docket, attorneys prosecuting Joseph Duncan agree to withhold videotapes from the trial rather than make copies. Why? Explicit. They say the graphic tapes had images made during the weeks Duncan allegedly held Shasta and Dylan Groene captive.



MICHAEL PETERSON, FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER: My wife had an accident. She`s still breathing.

DISPATCHER: What kind of accident?

PETERSON: She fell down the stairs. She`s still breathing. Please come...

DISPATCHER: Is she conscious?


DISPATCHER: Is she conscious?

PETERSON: No, she`s not conscious.


GRACE: That`s a 911 call of famous novelist Michael Peterson. His wife was found with 12 lacerations at the bottom of the stairs. He was on trial for her murder. That`s his 911 call.

Right now, it`s up to the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether juries across this country will no longer hear 911 calls. That case, Washington vs. Davis.

Here`s a 911 call you may remember. Take a listen.


DISPATCHER: Just stay on the line.

NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON, MURDERED EX-WIFE OF O.J. SIMPSON: I don`t want to stay on the line. He`s going to beat the (INAUDIBLE) out of me.

DISPATCHER: What`s your name?


DISPATCHER: What`s the problem?

YATES: I just need them to come.

DISPATCHER: Is your husband there?


DISPATCHER: Well, what`s the problem?

YATES: I need them to come.

DISPATCHER: I need to know why we are coming, ma`am. Is he there standing next to you?


DISPATCHER: You need an ambulance?

YATES: No, I need a police officer. Yes, send an ambulance.

DISPATCHER: What`s your problem, someone burglarizing your house? I mean, what is it? What kind of medical problem do you have, ma`am? Hello?

YATES: I just need a police officer.


GRACE: You heard originally the sound of the Simpson tape. That was his wife.

Very quickly, I want to go to Hillah Katz, defense attorney. She, Nicole Brown Simpson, was dead at the time of the murder trial. Obviously, that was a previous 911 call during a domestic battle.

KATZ: Correct. And frequently, a lot of times, one of the most utilized pieces of evidence by the government in a domestic violence case is a 911 tape, because, later on, domestic violence victims recant or choose not to come into court.

So if the defense can win in the United States Supreme Court, this huge battle that they`re facing, and make sure that none of these 911 tapes come in, then virtually prosecutors all over the country will have very little evidence in most of these domestic violence cases to introduce against the defendant.

GRACE: Back to Diane Dimond, investigative reporter, what 911 calls, in response to what Hillah was just saying, are under scrutiny right now, Diane?

DIMOND: Well, there are actually two cases before the Supreme Court, Nancy, that they`re going to decide, one in Washington and one in Indiana. And the one in Washington that you have mentioned several times, the justices there ruled that, if the 911 tape is testimonial in nature, then it should not be allowed.

And so, you know, the Jayson Williams one you played there was really good. He didn`t just say, "Please come. There`s been an accident. Someone`s been shot." He started to sort of testify. "It was an accident. There was a gun. He picked up the gun," you know, like that. So that`s the question on the board right now.

GRACE: Take a listen to the rest of the Yates 911 call.


DISPATCHER: Are you there alone?


DISPATCHER: Andrea Yates?


DISPATCHER: Your husband there with you?


DISPATCHER: OK. Well, why do you need the police, ma`am?

YATES: I just need them to be here.


YATES: I just need them to come.

DISPATCHER: Are you sure you are alone?

YATES: No, my kids are here.


GRACE: Yes, well, they`re here, but they`re dead.

I want to go to Dr. Patricia Saunders. You know, we had to hear that 911 tape. Why? To determine whether she sounded insane at the time of the act when she murdered her children by drowning, one after the other, methodically.

SAUNDERS: Well, sounding insane is really a technical assessment that needs to be made by a forensic psychiatrist or a psychologist.

GRACE: You don`t think a jury should have heard that?

SAUNDERS: Yes, I think a jury should have heard it, because I think the Andrea Yates case is complicated. And it was very necessary that they heard the deadness and the coldness in her voice, to get a sense of the heinousness of her crime.

GRACE: Straight back to Richard Herman. Now, 911 calls are not always damaging, all right? There are things in them the defense can attack. But what`s your best argument as to why 911 calls should not be heard by a jury?

HERMAN: Nancy, the caller must be subject to cross-examination. These calls are not inherently reliable. Some of them are phony and fake. And as Justice Scalia said, the centerpiece of a trial is cross- examination. Got to have it. This case is bigger than just 911 calls.

GRACE: I thought the centerpiece of a trial was the truth.

HERMAN: Well, it is, but the case going before the Supreme Court is not just 911 calls, Nancy. It`s all out-of-court statements. It`s an enormous case going up to the Supreme Court.

GRACE: So, bottom line, when you`ve got a dead murder victim and they`re calling and telling police who is killing them, because they can`t be cross-examined, you say the 911 tape must be kept out of evidence?

HERMAN: Absolutely.

GRACE: OK. On that note, we`ll go to tonight`s "All-Points Bulletin."

FBI and law enforcement across the country on the lookout for this man, Fernando Collazo, wanted in connection with the murder of Avalla Gonzales (ph), just 19 years old.

Collazo is 23, 5`7", 180 pounds, black hair, brown eyes. If you have info on Fernando Collazo, please call the FBI, 702-385-1281.

Local news next for some of you. But we`ll all be right back. And remember, live coverage of the Robert Blake civil trial, 3:00 to 5:00 Eastern Court TV.

Stay with us as we remember tonight Staff Sergeant Travis W. Nixon, just 24, an American hero.



MICHAEL PETERSON, FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER: My wife had an accident. She`s still breathing.

DISPATCHER: What kind of accident?

PETERSON: She fell down the stairs. She`s still breathing. Please come...

DISPATCHER: Is she conscious?


DISPATCHER: Is she conscious?

PETERSON: No, she`s not conscious.

DISPATCHER: How many stairs did she fall down?


DISPATCHER: How many stairs? Calm down, sir. Calm down.

PETERSON: No, 15, 20, I don`t know. Please, get somebody here right away.


GRACE: Yes, and I almost bought that 911 call until I found out -- ruh-roh -- 14 years before, another female acquaintance of novelist Michael Peterson had been found at the bottom of the stairs with the same number of lacerations to her head.

And then I found out that, during his marriage, he had a thing for gay porn and gay dating sites, and tried to actually set up dates online with other men. Then the 911 call started sounding a little shaky.

Remember that, Diane Dimond?

DIMOND: If a court is where the evidence is going to be presented, Nancy, then all the evidence should come in, especially tapes like that one, from Michael Peterson. I remember that case very well. I thought he was maybe going to be found not guilty, but once that tape was dissected, forget it.

GRACE: And then, of course, Dr. Saunders, you were with us as we covered that, the discovery of another dead body in his past of another female acquaintance 14 years ago in Germany. That took some digging. Same mode of death, bottom of the stairs, lacerations to the head.

Bottom line, what did the 911 tape prove?

SAUNDERS: That he was lying and a faker. I think that Michael Peterson was a sociopath and who just laid is all out for us who he said she had an accident.

GRACE: So, Richard Herman, I`ve only got a few seconds left, but I`m starting to understand why you don`t want these tapes played in front of a jury.

HERMAN: Well, you know, Nancy, they cannot come in. These are...


GRACE: They already came in, buddy.

HERMAN: I don`t want them in. I`m not letting them in. I`m going to fight hard on those.

GRACE: I want to thank all of my guests tonight. But our biggest thank you is to you, again, for being with all of us, inviting us into your homes.

Coming up, headlines from all around the world. I`m Nancy Grace signing off for tonight. A special good night and prayers to the family of 9-year-old Jennifer Lee Gravell.

I`ll see you all right here tomorrow night, I hope, 8:00 sharp Eastern. And until then, good night, friend.


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