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Authorities Reinvestigate Death of Sgt. Peterson`s Ex-Wife
Aired October 31, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAT LALAMA, GUEST HOST: Tonight, a nursing student and young mom of two, the fourth wife of a veteran police sergeant, vanishes into thin air, the Chicago suburbs, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson on her way to meet up with family, but then she`s never heard from again. With Peterson now missing a third day, the state reopens a death investigation on the police sergeant`s ex-wife, wife number three. And we learned that ex obtained an emergency order of protection against the sergeant before her mysterious death, a death ruled an accidental drowning. But tonight, where is Stacy Peterson?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Police in Chicago, in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois, are investigating a case that hits really close to home for them. Stacy Ann (ph) Peterson has not been seen since Sunday morning, and people are concerned. Relatives contacted authorities, and they, in turn, spoke to her husband, Bolingbrook police sergeant Drew Peterson, who said he wasn`t worried about her disappearance. Now, investigators are taking a closer look at the death of Peterson`s first (SIC) wife, Kathleen. She apparently drowned in a bathtub three years ago, just after divorcing her husband. Police say Peterson is cooperating fully with this investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LALAMA: And tonight, a young mom tries to make her way out of a local New York TJ Max store with a cartful of stolen kitchenware and some other goodies. As security tries to stop her, she pushes the cart away and runs, but she forgets one little thing, her newborn baby boy left behind all alone so Mommy can escape. And it`s not the first time she`s caught shoplifting with her kids in tow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A suspected shoplifter was in such a hurry to make a getaway, she apparently left her baby -- yes, her baby -- behind. This happened inside a TJ Max in Hartsdale, New York. Police say when the woman realized she was caught in the act, she panicked and took off and left her baby in his stroller, along with her purse and cell phone. The child has now been placed in protective custody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LALAMA: Good evening. I`m Pat Lalama, in for Nancy Grace. First tonight: What happened to a young mom and wife of a veteran police sergeant, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson vanishing in the Chicago suburbs?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stacy Ann Peterson was last seen by her husband, Bolingbrook police sergeant Drew Peterson. The 23-year-old left the couple`s Bolingbrook home at around 10:00 o`clock on Sunday morning. Police say she was wearing a red jogging suit. She was supposed to meet a family member to help paint a house, but she never showed up. Several hours later, Peterson was reported missing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Illinois State Police investigators will not say whether or not she took her car. They won`t tell me whether or not she has her purse and cell phone with her. So we have no idea whether or not she really is making cell phone calls or whether there`s cell phone activity or whether there`s credit card use, whether or not she took her car. And we don`t know for sure whether or not the husband did receive that 9:00 PM phone call from her. But then, again, he`s a cop. So if he is lying about it, I`m sure he would know that there`s a way to figure out for sure whether or not she did call him at 9:00 PM.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stacy Ann Peterson is the 52-year-old police sergeant`s fourth. Wife Drew Peterson`s previous wife was found in a bathtub in this Bolingbrook home three years ago. Her death was ruled an accident. As for the whereabouts of Stacy Ann Peterson, police say so far, this is a missing person`s case only.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LALAMA: A made-for-TV movie, if I ever heard one. And we`re fortunate to have Joe Hosey from "The Herald News" with us. And I believe you just spoke to the husband, Drew Peterson. Joe, what did he have to tell you tonight?
JOE HOSEY, "HERALD NEWS": Hi, Nancy (SIC). How`re you doing? He`s not too concerned. He believes she might come home or she might not, as her mother didn`t. He tells me her mother went missing about eight years ago, when Stacy was 15 years old, and there`s indications she`s still alive, but she`s never returned.
LALAMA: So you`re just saying you got a little bit of lackadaisical attitude from him, like, you know, Whatever, we`ll wait and see?
HOSEY: Well, kind of. He said she`s taken off on him before, but only for hours at a time.
LALAMA: Well, this is...
HOSEY: This is the longest she`s...
LALAMA: This is the same guy, Joe, who also said when he was questioned, Hey, she`s only missing, as if, Oh, you know, she only went to have a cup of coffee.
Kathy Chaney, reporter for "Chicago Defender," what are you hearing tonight about this case? What`s the latest?
KATHY CHANEY, "CHICAGO DEFENDER": From what I`s understanding is the state police have pulled out their K-9 unit, and they have airplanes with heat sensors that are searching around the Peterson home right now.
LALAMA: All right. You know, Pat Brown, criminal profiler, got to ask you, what is -- let`s just keep in mind that Drew Peterson is not a suspect. We`ve got to say that. But Pat, this really doesn`t smell very well, does it.
PAT BROWN, CRIMINAL PROFILER: Well, no, Pat, it doesn`t. And I think it`s really funny because Sergeant Peterson says, My background shouldn`t matter. Well, excuse me, but your background shows us that you were committing adultery on your third wife with this girl when she was just turning -- she was 17 at the time. Then you divorced the wife. She ends up dead in the bathtub. Now this wife has gone missing. I`m sorry, but we have to look at your past and think something may not be quite right here. You know, wives just don`t keep dropping dead on you or go missing on most people.
LALAMA: You know what? This story is so amazing. I want to go right to the callers and see what they think. Betty Jo in Indiana. What`s your question? Hi.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I would just like to know, was there any reports of any domestic abuse? And what`s going on with her two children?
LALAMA: Well, that`s a very good question. Kathy Chaney, let`s go to you on that. Now, we know that in the third marriage, there were allegations of abuse. There was a restraining order. Do we know anything about a strained marriage in the case of his current wife?
CHANEY: No, other than him saying that she has had a snappish attitude with him lately. He just doesn`t believe that she`s missing. He doesn`t believe any foul play. She`s where she wants to be. That`s what he believes. But other than that, no, there have not been any reports of domestic abuse at all.
LALAMA: Joe Hosey, have you heard anything about that in this fourth marriage?
HOSEY: About -- in this current marriage, if there`s been domestic abuse?
LALAMA: Was there any kind of strain, domestic abuse allegations, anything like that?
HOSEY: He claims no. No, he said everything was fine. He said sometimes the kids get too much (INAUDIBLE) got to live with and she takes off. That`s how he explained it. Like I said, he didn`t seem too concerned.
LALAMA: Mark Novak -- thank you so much. Mark Novak, former New York PD captain, president of Global Security Group, what does this sound like to you?
MARK NOVAK, FORMER NYPD CAPTAIN: Well, it`s interesting. As we`ve seen in the past, many of these cases where the wife goes out for a walk and doesn`t return home, it does turn out there`s foul play involved. But as of right now, I think it`s something they have to look at, treat it as a missing person`s case, and as the profiler said, you want to look at the past and look at all the angles. Is there something more going on here?
LALAMA: But you know what, Mark ? What about the past? I mean, we want to make certain that, you know, allegations of abuse on the third wife don`t necessarily mean that you`re connected to the fourth. And it`s hard not to look at him, you know, and just wonder what`s going on here. Is that fair?
NOVAK: I think it`s fair because, as in a case such as this with a missing person -- and she is right now a missing person -- but I -- with a case such as this, unusual circumstances, potential for foul play, they`re going to look at it and they`re going to treat it as a missing persons with an eye towards any -- is there any foul play? And yes, if you`re going to look at it that way, then you`re going to want to take a look at the persons around here and take a look at the circumstances involved, absolutely.
LALAMA: Dr. Lindsay Thomas, medical examiner, forensic pathologist, let`s look at wife number three. She drowned in a bathtub. It was ruled an accident. Her fingers were pruning. He apparently had come home to bring the children home. He had been on visitation with them. And when the door was locked, he called someone to change the locks, and then had someone else go up and find her.
You know, I don`t know, but let`s look at the fact that she drowned in the bathtub, and they`re apparently going to reexamine that case. Do you have any questions, any suspicions about any of this?
DR. LINDSAY THOMAS, MEDICAL EXAMINER, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: Well, I do. It`s very unusual to have an accidental drowning of an otherwise healthy adult in a bathtub.
LALAMA: All right. I want to go now to go to the lawyers because this is something we can yell and scream about in terms of, Are we being unfair to Drew at this point because I seem to be focused on him and his past. Holly Hughes, former (SIC) prosecutor, Renee Rockwell, defense attorney, and John Burris, defense attorney.
John, let`s go to you first. Is the media treating him unfairly right now?
JOHN BURRIS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, to be honest, I don`t think it`s unfair in terms of the investigation just to look at all the various circumstances. I mean, you do have these factors, if I`m a police officer, I have to look at.
From a defense point of view, obviously, you want to make sure that he`s not unfairly being brought into something without any evidence to support it. So in one sense, yes, but it`s part of the overall concept of what do you do when you have a missing person. I think he`s part of that just because he`s the husband and people look at it. But that doesn`t make him guilty and that doesn`t mean whatever happened in the past ought to be attributed to him as evidence of guilt or evidence of any foul play. So you look at it, but on the other hand, you can`t draw unnecessarily prejudicial inferences from it without facts.
LALAMA: Holly Hughes, what do you say to that?
HOLLY HUGHES, PROSECUTOR: Well, what I have to say, Pat, is this case stinks to high heaven. First of all, there`s too many coincidences to be coincidence here. I mean, this is like getting struck by lightning two times in a house that you won from Ed McMahon.
HUGHES: There is no way that this guy is this unlucky. They need to investigate what he`s done in the past, absolutely look at that death that came before. There`s just too much going on. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it`s not the cheese, Pat.
LALAMA: Renee, does it stink, or are we being unfair on this guy?
RENEE ROCKWELL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know what? Can I quote my good friend, Nancy Grace?
LALAMA: Please do.
ROCKWELL: There is no such thing as a coincidence. But y`all, we don`t even know that anybody`s been killed anywhere, third wife, fourth wife. She might have just been off on a break. Y`all need to leave this guy alone.
LALAMA: Whoa! OK, Julie from Maine, you`ve a question for us. Go ahead, Julie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, Pat. I understand that there were cadaver dogs -- I mean, there were dogs, canines that were used. Were they just cadaver dogs searching, like, the property, the home, or are they actually out there with canines searching areas for a body?
LALAMA: My understanding is we`ve got heat-seeking planes and dogs. Joe, do you know anything about what the search is like and where exactly? Are they searching Drew`s house, where she worked? What have we got?
HOSEY: The state police are saying very little, if anything at all. I don`t know. They might be a little reluctant to talk (INAUDIBLE) investigated the death of his last wife. And that case -- that yielded no charges. In fact, it was ruled an accident. And the state`s attorney must be a little skeptical of their work because he`s reexamining that case right now.
LALAMA: Absolutely. You know, we have to talk about -- I think it`s fair to talk about the fact that many years ago, he was relieved of duty on some allegations that he didn`t report a bribe fast enough, something about soliciting drugs in exchange for information about his agency. Now, all that was dropped. There was no proof of it, and he was reinstated.
But Caryn Stark, just kind of looking at the whole picture here, can you just give us a little bit of a psychological analysis?
CARYN STARK, PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, he doesn`t sound like an aboveboard character, Pat. He sounds very nefarious. If you take a look at this history, as you said, the fact that he was accused of bribery, sort of a flagrant disregard for the law, his past history with women. There was abuse in his household, domestic abuse, and the wife dying suspiciously. And now this person who is so much younger than he is...
STARK: I mean, at 53, what`s he doing with a 23-year-old?
LALAMA: Exactly. And they haven`t been together that long. And Pat Brown, one of the things I want to ask you is that, apparently, on wife number three, her death happened just around the time that they were closing the divorce deal. What does that tell you, anything?
BROWN: Well, kind of convenient. You don`t have to pay any child support, alimony. Those problems just kind of go away.
And I do want to point out something kind of -- which is a problem in these cases. You have to look and say to yourself, What kind of girl commits adultery with a police officer who`s married and still marries him when the wife is found dead in a bathtub? So she could be a little bit, you know, strange herself.
LALAMA: ... young and vulnerable.
BROWN: Exactly. It could mean that she is the kind of person that`s a little off and she is running off to do something. But here`s the real problem. Missing people -- if you can make them go missing and you don`t have the body show up someplace -- after all, wife number three`s body was there and you could go look at it. You don`t want wife number four`s body to show up. If you can make it go missing, it just makes it go on and on and on without any proof of anything. And that`s the best thing you can do if you`re involved in any kind of crime.
LALAMA: Kathy Chaney, what do we know about this young woman? I mean, do people have a sense of why she liked him, why they got together? What are her friends saying?
CHANEY: No, they`re just saying that she was a nursing student. She loved her kids. She wouldn`t go off and leave them, and that`s why the family was so concerned. And they reported her missing after they tried to contact her for almost 24 hours and didn`t hear from her, after she was going to go help a relative paint a house. So they`re saying that this is unusual for her.
LALAMA: John Burris, you know, it`s interesting because she went to help fix up a house at 10:00 in the morning. Nobody ever heard from her. And the husband, Drew, is saying, Well, I spoke to her at 9:00 PM. And then, you know, it took the family to report her missing at 4:00 in the morning. Is there a way -- I mean, can you prove -- is there any proof that they spoke at 9:00, you know, given your...
BURRIS: Well, I guess it depends on how they communicate. But I want to make this other point. I do think it`s unfair to bring up this prior police issue about whether or not...
LALAMA: Why? Why is that unfair?
BURRIS: Because it has nothing -- nothing...
LALAMA: It`s part of who he is.
BURRIS: But who he is, that part has nothing to do at all with the fact that his wife is missing, or if he was implicated in another homicide --
LALAMA: Holly, do you agree?
BURRIS: I really disagree strongly with this.
LALAMA: Do you agree?
HUGHES: You know, Pat, I got to jump in here. I completely disagree...
LALAMA: I`m with you.
HUGHES: ... with John and with Ms. Rockwell, you know, my esteemed colleague, who said, Leave this man alone. That`s the last thing you want to do, Pat. This guy, number one, he could have had his wife`s cell phone because he did something to her, kept the cell phone, called himself from her own cell phone. That doesn`t mean he...
LALAMA: He knows the tricks.
HUGHES: That doesn`t mean nothing happened.
LALAMA: He knows the tricks, right?
HUGHES: He knows the procedures. He knows they`re going to check the cell phone records. What he probably did was held onto the cell phone, called himself to establish that, Oh, I talked to her. You can`t prove who was on the line...
LALAMA: Hang on one second. Joe, what do we know about that phone call? I mean, are there records that, Yes, I spoke to her at 9:00 and she called me on her cell? How does that work?
HOSEY: (INAUDIBLE) give out records. (INAUDIBLE) what he told me tonight (INAUDIBLE) about the phone call (INAUDIBLE) pinging? Is that what you`re speaking of? Hello?
LALAMA: I`m sorry. Go ahead, Joe.
HOSEY: About the phone call from the sister`s boyfriend to paint the house? Is that what (INAUDIBLE)
LALAMA: Well, he`s saying he spoke to his wife at 9:00 PM and everything was A-OK.
HOSEY: Oh, he said (INAUDIBLE) I think it`s 9:00 AM, actually, because he works midnights for the police department. He said he got home about 3:00 or 4:00 o`clock in the morning...
LALAMA: No, it`s PM, Joe. It`s PM. He said the family is saying they didn`t speak, they tried to get a hold of her, didn`t get to her all day long, and he says, I don`t know what the problem is. I spoke it her at 9:00 PM. Everything was fine. And then it took a family member to file a missing person`s report at 4:00 in the morning. Did he address that?
HOSEY: Well, just a couple minutes ago, he told me the last time he saw her was about 9:00 AM, when she was on her way out to paint that house (INAUDIBLE)
LALAMA: But did he talk about the phone call at all?
HOSEY: No, no, no, no. In fact, he told me the last time he saw her was 9:00 AM.
LALAMA: Who`s got the kids, Joe?
HOSEY: They`re in the house. I was there in the house with them. They`re handing out...
LALAMA: With him.
HOSEY: ... trick-or-treat candy.
LALAMA: OK. All right. To tonight`s "Case Alert." A young boy admits starting one of the series of southern California wildfires devastating more than 500,000 acres, the juvenile playing with matches when he set off the Buckwheat fire in Los Angeles County. That was October 21. The county DA is weighing charges. Arson investigations continue, and so far, six arrests.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her husband, Sergeant Drew Peterson, is a 29-year veteran of the Bolingbrook Police Department. We stopped by his house, but he declined to comment, saying he`s taking the advice of his attorney. Stacy Peterson was last seen wearing a red jogging suit and is described as 5 foot, 2 inches tall, 100 pounds, with a tattoo of a blue and yellow carnation on the small of her back. Investigators say she often visits Joliet Junior College.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s spoken to the chief of police. He`s cooperating completely with the investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LALAMA: I`m Pat Lalama, in for Nancy Grace. Let`s go right out to Raquel in Connecticut with a question. Hey. How`re you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. good. I`d like to ask you a question. If the third wife is dead, the fourth wife is missing, has anyone questioned the first and second wife about their marriage with Peterson? And was any violence ever reported?
LALAMA: Well, I think the conventional wisdom is that wife number one and two are not talking right now. Maybe they`re a little bit afraid to.
Very quickly, let me go to Kathy. Do you know anything about wife one and two?
CHANEY: Do not know anything about that, but the police say that they investigating some leads, but they decline to divulge any further.
LALAMA: Dr. Lindsay Thomas, you know, looking at this whole picture - - I just want to read real quickly from the allegations. This is a published report on the allegations in the restraining -- her request for a restraining order, that he was going to teach her a lesson, He`s coming over to the house to deal with me. He wants me dead. He will burn the house down. He has a gun, other weapons. That`s some scary stuff.
THOMAS: Yes. Well, that`s -- certainly, woman who are at risk are -- of, you know, dying at the hands of their spouse are certainly women who have a history of that kind of threats and abuse.
LALAMA: Caryn Stark, it`s scary. It doesn`t mean it happened to wife number four, but you know, you can`t deny that this is something to think about.
STARK: I think you really have to think about it because you could tell that he is capable of violence. He`s very impulsive and angry. So we ought to be very suspicious about him. I can`t help but say that.
LALAMA: I want to go back to that very issue. Renee Rockwell, I mean, you know, Mr. Burris was saying that, you know, his -- the stuff 20 years ago is really unfair. I don`t know. I think you`ve got to paint a picture of someone who may try to get around the rules sometime. Renee, is that not right?
ROCKWELL: No. No. That was a case that he was absolutely exonerated on.
LALAMA: So it shouldn`t be mentioned? Nobody should even mention it?
ROCKWELL: But don`t deflect anything. The first thing that everybody has seized is the fact that wife number three has made allegations against him. I don`t think he ever admitted to those allegations. Wife number four is missing. She might have missing. She might have gone -- she might have just spun out and gone on a break. She`s in school. She`s got kids. I think we really are being precipitous and we need to wait.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some charges against him. He could very possibly be a rogue patrol officer, and everybody`s being very careful about this. Twenty years ago, he was accused of some impropriety, fired from the police force, but then brought back. But obviously, the fact that state investigators are involved proves to me that the locals are a little afraid here that he might turn out to be some big embarrassment to them, and that`s why they called the state in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LALAMA: I`m Pat Lalama, in for Nancy Grace. Mark Novak, former NYPD captain, you know, we`re discussing this issue of Drew Peterson`s past. We`re talking 20 years ago. Yes, that`s a long time ago. And there were allegations -- only allegations, they were never proven, just as the allegations from the former wife, about abuse. How much weight, as a person of law enforcement authority, are you going to place on these allegations?
NOVAK: Well, the allegation from 20 years ago -- I understand it was 1986 -- he was exonerated. It is something to look at, the totality of the circumstances. I don`t think -- if there`s nothing in his past, his police record, recently within the past 20 years, then I don`t know how much weight I would give to it. But I would, of course, examine that.
One of the things I do find interesting, though, is with regards to the death of wife number three, in that I myself in over 20 years with the New York City Police Department have never seen an accidental drowning in a bathtub where there was not some sort of contributing circumstance, be it a slip and fall, if you will, or a person who`s intoxicated or has some other sort of substance that incapacitates them, if you will.
LALAMA: Dr. Thomas, what do you think about that?
THOMAS: Oh, I absolutely agree. I think accidental bathtub drowning is almost impossible to believe if someone doesn`t have the history of a seizure disorder or they`re under the influence of drugs or intoxicated. I think that really needs to be reexamined carefully to see how adequate the investigation was.
LALAMA: Pat Brown, does it seem like they just sort of said, Oh, accident, good night, or, you know -- I mean, it does sound a little strange.
BURRIS: Yes, Pat. It`s odd that we don`t hear more about that drowning because, I mean, when you`re talking about a bathtub, all you have to do is stand up. It`s not like drowning in the middle of a lake. So something else has to make you go under that water, maybe a person.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She went out with her husband, the sergeant of the police department in Bolingbrook, Sunday morning around 10:00. She was supposed to meet up with a friend or a relative later on that afternoon to help paint a house. She didn`t make it to that appointment.
Her family tried to contact her all day to no avail. Her husband said that he spoke with her last Sunday evening around 9:00. After that, her family was still trying to contact her, couldn`t get in touch with her. Around 4:00 Monday morning, they called the Illinois state police and reported her missing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LALAMA: I`m Pat Lalama in for Nancy Grace.
Kathy Chaney, you know, I`m wondering about the state of these children right now. And Joe told us that they`re at the house with him right now. Do you know anything about these children? Has anyone told you what kind of relationship he has with his children or his previous children from the other marriages?
KATHY CHANEY, REPORTER: No, we don`t have any information about that, but he is on like a personal paid leave from the police department right now. And I think he went on that leave maybe Monday.
LALAMA: And he did that on his own. They didn`t tell him to go. He decided he wanted to go hang out for a while and be with family and friends. And that`s another issue.
Now, apparently this department, the family went to the department and said, look, you know, I`m guessing they probably thought it was a bit of a conflict of interest that just they were investigating. There was the impression that they by themselves said, well, we`ll go to the state and get some help. But now we understand that perhaps it was the family that made it happen.
Joe, do you know what the police department`s position is on investigating this case and whether they went to the state?
JOE HOSEY, REPORTER: No, the family of Stacy...
LALAMA: They made that happen, right?
HOSEY: ... state police directly. The Bolingbrook police met with the family afterwards, and the chief assured them that he respected their wishes to work with the state as the lead agency.
LALAMA: Do you get the feeling that they really are going to allow it to be a wide-open case? Or we know there`s a bit of protectiveness when it`s one of your own. I`m certain that they`re an upstanding department, but, you know...
HOSEY: But they`re not -- the state police are investigating it, not the Bolingbrook.
LALAMA: Right. So they`re out of it now, they`re just out of it?
HOSEY: Well, they`re supposedly helping, but I don`t think -- they might be canvassing, whatnot. I don`t think they`re doing direct interviews or anything.
LALAMA: OK, Renee from Tennessee, what`s your question?
CALLER: Hi, Pat.
CALLER: First of all, I have to make a comment.
LALAMA: Go ahead.
CALLER: Laci Peterson, Stacy Peterson.
LALAMA: Yes, you know, I thought the same thing. Oh, my gosh, when I saw the name, oh, my gosh, that`s just too weird, huh? And, remember, he is not a suspect, but, you know, the name, the whole thing.
You know, let me ask you this, Pat, Pat Brown, what is important here? What`s the most important thing right now that we need to be looking at in this case?
PAT BROWN, CRIMINAL PROFILER: Well, I think that it`s very important to determine whether there`s really any reason she would go some place else. I mean, the husband...
LALAMA: Renee, aren`t you the one that said she could have just gone out to get away for a break?
RENEE ROCKWELL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: She might have needed a break. She`s in school. She`s got kids.
LALAMA: Pat, what do you think about that?
BROWN: It`s possible, but it`s not probable. It`s always interesting how the husband is the last person to see the wife. It`s not like she went to the store and disappeared from there or went to a friend`s house and disappeared. He was the last one with her.
What`s real important is to find out how much the police are allowed to do at this point, because when you have a missing person`s case, there`s no crime yet, but yet you want to get into the house. You want to see if there`s a crime scene in that house. You want to find out where the husband has been over the last 24 hours when she was supposedly missing. Was he missing? Did he go to parks? Was his car gone? You know, was he out some place with a shovel? I mean, you want to find these things out, but how can you do that? That is the question.
LALAMA: John Burris, let`s say you`re the rep for this guy right now. What would you do? What would you be telling him to do? And what would you want the public to do?
JOHN BURRIS, FMR. PROSECUTOR, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, frankly, I`d have to have an extensive conversation with him about it. I mean, I think this is a very serious matter. The comments that have been made are very true. These are the kind of things the police need to know.
And, obviously, if you want to cooperate with the police and you`re the husband, then you give up all this information, you cooperate, you give everything you can. On the other hand, sometimes even innocent misconduct can be misinterpreted and cause the police to do things about you they should not do. So I`d be...
LALAMA: Like what? I mean, do you see that happening?
BURRIS: I don`t know that. I`d be careful here. But I`d want to cooperate. If I`m the person, if I`m the lawyer, I`m saying, look, we need to cooperate, assuming you have nothing to do with this. If you do, then obviously I`d kind of want to shut down on this, but I don`t know the answer until I get in and have some conversation. Now, he`s not going to tell you everything, no matter what. It`s up to you as a lawyer to kind of figure out what you need to do in order to protect this person`s constitutional rights.
LALAMA: Holly Hughes...
BURRIS: Those are the interesting questions.
LALAMA: Holly Hughes, what about what John`s saying?
HOLLY HUGHES, PROSECUTOR: First of all, Pat, let me just clear up one quick point. Everybody keeps saying this guy was exonerated of the 1996 charges. That`s an inaccurate statement.
LALAMA: They weren`t proved. They weren`t proved.
HUGHES: That`s exactly right.
LALAMA: And there`s a difference.
HUGHES: The special prosecutor said they didn`t have enough evidence, so he wasn`t exonerated, OK? He wasn`t found innocent. It wasn`t like they didn`t think he did something. They just couldn`t prove it. So let`s get that out of the way.
Now, with respect to the cooperation, John`s absolutely right. And I hate to agree with a defense attorney on anything, but the bottom line is what he needs to do is man up and say, "Yes, I didn`t do anything. I`m not involved in this. Come on in. Look in my house. Go ahead through here. You`ll see there`s no evidence of foul play."
LALAMA: Kathy Chaney, I`m sorry to interrupt, but is he doing that? Is he opening his door? Is he saying, "Come on in, it`s an open book"?
CHANEY: No, at first he said that he wouldn`t make any statements or do anything unless he was advised by his attorney to do so.
LALAMA: All right, and, Joe, do you get the sense that he`s an open book, and does he have an alibi for that night? Where was he? Does he have any proof? Where were his little babies?
HOSEY: He said he was home with the children. As far as an alibi...
LALAMA: Does he have a witness?
HOSEY: ... that was about as far as we got with that. I don`t know if I mentioned that he told me tonight that her mother actually is a missing person, as well, Stacy`s mother is...
LALAMA: What does he mean by that?
HOSEY: Well, I asked him about it, because on their marriage certificate the wife`s mother was listed whereabouts unknown. And he said she took off when Stacy was 15 and was never heard from again.
LALAMA: What was his point of -- what was his point of saying that?
HOSEY: I think he`s saying it runs in the family.
LALAMA: He`s saying that they just got this gene where they say, "I`ve got to get up and go now, I`m tired of hanging around"?
HOSEY: Well, he did mention that she does take off for a few hours at a time to blow off steam. I guess this is a little longer than usual. He didn`t seem too upset, though.
LALAMA: Caryn Stark, how does that sound to you?
CARYN STARK, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: It doesn`t sound very good, does it, Pat? I mean, take a look at what you`re saying here. It`s as though he`s actually saying that there`s a heredity inclination to pick up and leave and, you know, she just took off a little bit, only this was Sunday and today is, what, Wednesday?
LALAMA: It doesn`t sound too good, but we have to reiterate, they`re not even calling him a person of interest, not a suspect. He`s done nothing wrong that we know of in this case. But I think it`s fair to look at what we know about him.
Renee Rockwell, and Holly and John, you know, John, are we attack dogs? Are we being attack dogs?
BURRIS: Well, sure, you`re being an attack dog, when you start talking about something that happened 25 years ago. There`s no proof even that the wife who died there`s any crime that was committed there or not.
LALAMA: Holly`s right that he was not exonerated. He was not exonerated. It wasn`t proven...
BURRIS: It wasn`t proven, and that`s a point. It wasn`t proven. And so you don`t have any evidence of him having committed a crime that anyone could attached to him from a credibility point of view. My point is this. There are a lot of things squirreling around this particular guy, but the question is, what is the proof that you have? You don`t know. I have to believe that there was an investigation that took place around a wife`s dying in a bathtub. There had to be something. I would bet he had an alibi for that, for that period of time. I don`t think that`s going anywhere.
LALAMA: Speaking of an alibi, Mark Novak, wouldn`t you be out there in front of the house going, "I was here on Sunday night," and, you know, or maybe not? Maybe that`s not a good strategy.
MARK NOVAK, FORMER NYPD CAPTAIN: Of course. The alibi is going to be -- is often easy to fabricate, and, absolutely, he`s going to be there, and he`s going to say, "This is where I was." And as it was alluded to earlier, he knows what the tricks are. He knows what they`re going to check. He knows how to cover his tracks or create an electronic trail as to where he was.
So, I mean, alibis are fine, as well as you`re going to investigate them fully and have something to corroborate what he says. But by itself, alibi is just -- it`s something to look at. But I don`t give it 100 percent weight that it means he`s absolutely has nothing to do with this.
LALAMA: Renee, shouldn`t he be in his front yard saying, "Here`s where I was, and I`ve got nothing to do with this, I love my wife"?
ROCKWELL: You know what? If he says anything, he`s painting himself in a corner. I wouldn`t say anything. I would get a lawyer and say, "I`ve said enough. Y`all make your investigation and go try to find my wife."
LALAMA: Holly, what do you got to say...
HUGHES: I`d say, if you`re an innocent man, you`re going to cooperate. You`re going to want to find the mother of your children. I don`t care if you don`t love her and you want out of the marriage, you should be upset about this. This is a mother of a 2- and a 4-year-old who`s been gone for four days. And the best he can come up with is, oh, her mother took off? Well, that`s awfully convenient. If you want to do away with your wife, you can say, well, hey, this runs in the family. You know what that smell is? That smell is the manure he`s spreading around with that line.
LALAMA: Wow. OK. I hope those babies are all OK.
All right, when we come back, a young mom leaves her newborn baby behind in a shopping cart full of stolen merchandise all so she could run from security at a TJ Maxx store.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s not unusual to see mothers shop while pushing a baby stroller. Believe it or not, police say it`s not unusual for some people to shoplift while pushing a baby stroller. That`s exactly what police say Suzette Gruber did at this TJ Maxx store in Hartsdale.
The 39-year-old is accused of stuffing $185 worth of house wares into the bottom compartment of her baby carriage. When security went to stop her as she left the store, police say she ran off, leaving the stroller and her 8-month-old son behind.
Gruber has been arrested 10 times and convicted nine times for crimes such as theft and criminal impersonation. She`s from the Bronx, where those who know her had no comment. Police say they were able to identify Gruber and determine where she lives because they say she left her cell phone and wallet in the stroller. The child is in good condition and in the custody of child protective services.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LALAMA: I`m Pat Lalama in for Nancy Grace. Wow, this story has got lots of attention.
Let`s go right to Rebecca Baker, reporter for the "Journal News." What is the latest on Suzette Gruber?
REBECCA BAKER, REPORTER: Well, Suzette Gruber has pled not guilty to all charges, which right now include felony child abandonment, endangering the welfare of a child, and petty larceny. She says she didn`t abandon the child, because the child was left with her friend who was in the store with her and who eventually also took off shortly after she did.
LALAMA: All right. Chief John Kapica from Greenburgh Police Department, that may not necessarily be the case, right? It`s my understanding that she didn`t say, "Here, take care of my kid," or anything like that.
CHIEF JOHN KAPICA, GREENBURGH POLICE DEPARTMENT: No, absolutely not, Pat. She didn`t do anything of the sort. She pushed the stroller in the direction of the security guard so he would have to stop the stroller`s forward motion so she could flee. The security guard, never thinking that someone would abandon their child, actually said to the woman that remained behind, "Please go get her and bring her back here." And, obviously, that second woman just fled the scene, as well.
LALAMA: Can you just run down the details as quickly and succinctly? It`s about what time? How was she noticed? And it happened outside the store, I understand. Just real quickly, give us the synopsis.
KAPICA: Well, at 8:15 Sunday night, the security officers at the TJ Maxx store noticed that she was putting merchandise in the under part of the stroller. They did not approach her until she left the store. And when they tried to stop her, this is when the incident happened with her pushing the stroller toward the security guard and her fleeing the scene.
LALAMA: Right, OK. Well, Michael Braverman, you represent Ms. Gruber. And I believe, if I`m not mistaken, you`re the one who said that she left the baby in the care of her friend. It appears that may not be the case. How do you plead, sir?
MICHAEL BRAVERMAN, ATTORNEY: I plead that there`s a differing of opinion here.
BRAVERMAN: And as the facts of this case play out in courts, at this time, I was able to reveal that, in fact, she did entrust the care of her child to a friend who she has known for several years who is gainfully employed.
LALAMA: Wait, wait, are you talking about that very night, that woman that she was with?
BRAVERMAN: Yes. Before she left the store, at this point, I am able to disclose that she intended to leave that child with her friend who, as I said, she has known for many years, who`s gainfully employed, who has no contact with the criminal justice system, as far as I know.
LALAMA: OK. Hold on, Michael.
Chief Kapica, what do you think about that?
KAPICA: It`s baloney. There was no intent to leave that child with anybody. She fled the scene. I mean, she did the same thing. She used the child in a similar matter in the city of White Plains, a crime for which she was sentenced for on October 24th, just a few days ago, and she was sentenced to three years probation. She didn`t abandon the child in that incident, but she certainly used the child in the same manner.
LALAMA: Michael, you know, that`s a big, wide area we`re talking about of difference of opinion.
BRAVERMAN: It is.
LALAMA: And, again, let`s keep in mind, she did it allegedly, although she did plead guilty, so it`s not alleged anymore. She did something like it before. Does your client have a problem?
BRAVERMAN: Well, I could tell you, as I`ve disclosed yesterday in court in my bail application, I have known Suzette for a few years now, and she has been in counseling for the past two years. She did serve 60 days, I think in 2003. After that, she entered an intensive psychotherapy program for a year and has been in psychotherapy for the past two years. However, at this time, I can`t comment on the type of therapy, but she has been in this type of therapy to deal with shoplifting.
LALAMA: She could be looking at some serious trouble here. I think we`ve got Lorraine in New Jersey. Lorraine, you`ve got a question for us?
CALLER: Yes. I`d like to know, is she really safe to have her child anymore?
LALAMA: Well, I think her child -- she has three children, I understand. Chief, where is the child, the little one?
KAPICA: Well, this particular child -- and she does have another 14- year-old that we`re aware of, because the 14-year-old accompanied her the last time she was arrested, as well, along with this infant, who at the time was about two weeks old. But the child presently has been turned over to the birth father by child protection services.
LALAMA: All right.
Pat Brown, there`s a whole rap sheet on this woman, and it looks like she was in trouble just about every year, except she took 2006 off. She took a break there.
BROWN: She didn`t get caught. She didn`t get caught in 2006.
LALAMA: Good point. Good point.
You know, I ought to tell you, my other half, he is a criminal defense attorney, I admit it, and he represented a very prominent woman from Beverly Hills, California, very prominent, didn`t need the money, but she liked to steal. Could this be a decent woman who`s got a 12-step issue?
BROWN: No, it isn`t. This is a woman who has an incredible, long criminal history. And what`s wrong with our criminal justice system is, even though she`s been arrested 10 times, which means she`s probably committed crimes 10 times more than that, gives her three years` probation, why? So she can take her family on another criminal venture. So, I mean, this is a woman who needs to be put away in jail because she is flaunting the criminal justice system and her children need to be removed from her because she`s introducing them to it.
LALAMA: Pat`s taking the tough road.
John Burris, what road are you taking on this?
BURRIS: I don`t agree with that at all.
LALAMA: I didn`t think so.
BURRIS: I think this lady has, I think, a personality disorder, and we have to deal with that. People have problems in life, and the criminal justice system is not equipped to deal with it.
LALAMA: Well, then they need to not make it a crime, John. I mean, it`s a crime.
BURRIS: Well, I`m not saying it ought to be a crime. I`m saying you`ve got to deal with this person who obviously has a personality, has some psychological issues, and we try to get her out of this system. She has three kids. We want to try to do what we can to make this lady whole. I don`t think we ought to be prosecuting her and then sending her to state prison. That we should not be doing.
LALAMA: Holly, Holly, the system is not working. She`s got a whole history of this, right?
HUGHES: That`s exactly right. This is a woman who is thumbing her nose at the system. She`s had the ability 10 times now, she`s been arrested 10 times, to say, "I need help. Somebody get me counseling. Get me job skills counseling so I don`t have to go out and steal."
She wants to steal. She`s a flat-out criminal. And you know why she keeps doing it? Because we let her get away with it, because we give her probation. She pled guilty to the same thing, shoplifting, four days before she committed this new offense. Do you think she takes the criminal justice system seriously? Lock her up. It`s time for her to sit still and think about what she`s doing.
LALAMA: I`ve got to go to Renee. I know you`re dying to weigh in. This is a woman who works with cerebral palsy patients in their homes. Are you doing the sympathy route for her?
ROCKWELL: No, Pat. Let`s put her in prison so we can let a child molester out. That`s baloney, like Chief Kapica said. She has a problem. She is not a thief. She might be a kleptomaniac, where she`s doing it not for money, not for anything other than a thrill. It`s probably good she got caught, because now she needs to get some therapy and get it all together. She might need some help, not jail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s not really terribly unusual for people to use children in crimes. What is unusual is for them to abandon the child at the scene of an event. That is most unusual. Hopefully that child will be placed in a decent home, and I certainly think that his mother has proven she`s not the one he should be with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LALAMA: Caryn Stark, I want to get back to this issue, you know, is this a psychological problem? Yes, it`s a crime. But a lot of people put this in the 12-step category of people who just can`t help the compulsion and, other than that, they`re decent people. What do you think?
STARK: Well, she clearly can help it and probably is like an addiction. When somebody steals, it`s not, as was mentioned before, because they really need to steal. In this case, I don`t think so. It`s more like the Winona Ryder or whomever else they were talking about. However, she does know the difference between right and wrong. This is not somebody who doesn`t know what she`s doing. So, in that sense, this is a crime.
LALAMA: And there is a baby. There is a baby. Winona was just on her own claiming to be practicing for a movie.
LALAMA: Carla from Missouri, very quickly, your question?
CALLER: Yes. Are they going to rack up any child endangerment charges for pushing that stroller into the officer like a stopping stump?
LALAMA: I think there is child endangerment. Chief?
KAPICA: Endangering the welfare of a child, Class A misdemeanor.
LALAMA: And that`s a bad one. That`s a bad one.
All right, what does she face, Chief? How bad can it be for her? Because it seems like she violated the probation, very quickly.
KAPICA: Well, obviously, a probation violation is something she has to contend with immediately, but she also faces up to a year on each misdemeanor, and probably one to three on the felony.
LALAMA: Very quickly, the father of the child, is he fit to take care of the baby?
KAPICA: Well, CPS turned him over to him, so I`m assuming that CPS did a thorough background examination and found that to be the case.
LALAMA: All right, thank you so much.
Tonight let`s stop to remember Army Private First Class Brandon Thorsen, only 22, from Trenton, Florida, killed in Iraq. Dedicated to family and country, awarded the Bronze Spar, remembered for his sense of humor. He loved restoring his prized truck, the outdoors, air boating, and spending time with friends. He leaves behind grieving parents, Don and Susan, sisters Sharony and Amber, brother, Dereck, fiancee, Shauna (ph). Brandon Thorsen, an American hero.
Thank you to all our guests and to you at home for being with us. I`m Pat Lalama in for Nancy Grace. Nancy, thanks again for this opportunity. I love you. See you tomorrow night, 8:00 Eastern. Until then, have a wonderful, wonderful evening. Be safe, and take care of your kids.