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CNN Saturday Morning News

Bret Michael Edmunds Arrested in WV Hospital

Aired June 22, 2002 - 07:02   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, let's get back to our top story, the arrest of a fugitive police want to question about the disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart.

Bret Edmunds under heavy guard at a West Virginia hospital where he's being treated for a drug overdose. We have a crew in West Virginia and in Utah, where Elizabeth was kidnapped. CNN's Bob Franken standing by live in Martinsburg, West Virginia. And in Salt Lake City, CNN's Jeanne Meserve.

We begin with Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Miles, you're absolutely right, he's under very heavy guard on the sixth floor of the hospital, city hospital in Martinsburg, Virginia (sic). You see it in back of me.

Bret Edmunds, who has been here since very early in the morning on Thursday when he tried to check in using the name Todd Richards. He had some drug overdose problems. Officials will not say what the drug was. He was suffering liver failure. He continues to be in serious condition. His condition has not changed overnight, which means he is lapsing in and out of consciousness.

Now, he came to the hospital in the green Saturn automobile that officials have been looking for across the country, parked in this parking lot. It was towed away from the lot yesterday after people figured out that in fact he was Bret Edmunds, that he was the person who was being hospitalized here. Officials have taken the car to an impound lot not far from here waiting for warrants before they begin an extensive search to look for any evidence which might help them in the search for the whereabouts of Elizabeth Smart.

Now, Edmunds is in, as I said, serious condition. There are FBI agents and marshals in the office. Salt Lake City officials, both federal and local, are expected here later today. But they have not been able to question him yet to try and get any information about the whereabouts of Elizabeth Smart.

As you pointed out, she -- he is not considered a suspect. But we have to add the words "at this time." Once they're able to talk to him, they'll try and figure it out. There are other charges which they'll rely on to extradite him back to Utah, but that's down the road a little bit. First some extensive hospitalization. And now we go to Jeanne Meserve in Salt Lake City.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, an update, Bob, on some developments overnight. Cadaver dogs are going to be pressed into service this morning in a town south of Salt Lake. Search dogs last night run by volunteers hit on something in a pile of dirt at a construction site. Authorities want to go back with cadaver dogs this morning to see if they have found something significant and something that might have a bearing on this case.

Meanwhile, investigators here are very anxious to hear what Bret Michael Edmunds has to say. They've wanted to talk to him for some time.


(voice-over): Bret Michael Edmunds, described by police as a doper and a drifter, wanted for more than a week for questioning in the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart.

CHIEF RICK DINSE, SALT LAKE CITY POLICE: He's a question mark, and we want to put a period on that question mark, and that's all it is at this time.

MESERVE: The questions arose when Edmunds was recognized at a candlelight vigil for Elizabeth Smart shortly after her June 5 disappearance. Some of the numbers on the stolen license plates on his car match those on a suspicious vehicle seen in the Smarts' neighborhood in the days close to the abduction. But Edmunds fled, and police have been looking for him every since, though they do not describe him as a suspect.

DINSE: He is just somebody we want to talk to. He is a fugitive, he is wanted. He has a criminal background. All of those things are important to us, obviously, and we want to talk to him.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are no sexual offenses on 26-year-old Edmunds' criminal record, but there are at least two outstanding warrants for his arrest. One was issued after he fled from police right up the hill from the Smart home near what's called the Block U (ph).

And there are other reasons for police to be interested. Edmunds once worked in the Smarts' neighborhood collecting trash, so he knows the local geography, and he's been known to loiter in the area. He does not, however, match the physical description of the abductor. Edmunds is taller and heavier. The Smart family said the news of Edmunds' capture continued their emotional roller-coaster ride.

DAVE SMART, ELIZABETH SMART'S UNCLE: We're not going to hang our hat on, I mean, we're just not, we're not going to hang our hat on anything until we have Elizabeth in our hands, in our arms.


MESERVE: The search for Edmunds has consumed a lot of time and resources, and authorities are glad to have him in custody, whether he turns out to be their man or not. But they hope he will -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Jeanne Meserve in Salt Lake City. Thank you very much.

Let's get to the expert right now and ask some questions about all this, Mike Brooks, who looks at security matters for us, all matters relating to these sorts of things, having been linked to the FBI task force on terrorism and other matters in the past.

Mike, good to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: Let's talk first of all, based on what we know about Bret Edmunds, we can call him a fugitive, but the authorities refuse to call him a suspect. Is this a bit of semantics, perhaps?

BROOKS: It could be semantics. Right now, though, as a suspect, they would have to have some solid information that would make him a suspect in this disappearance. Right now, they don't. But he does -- he may know some things, since he's, number one, he used to collect trash in the neighborhood. He knows everyone in the neighborhood. He knows the area. He knows the terrain. He may have seen some things that could be useful to police. He may know some specific things about this family.

You know, they've looked at the family, they said they're continue looking at the family. There have been stories about the different things that the Salt Lake City and the FBI are looking for. He may have some additional information to add.

But, he is a fugitive. He did, he does have a history of violence, he has a warrant for assaulting a police officer and one other outstanding warrant. Now he has interstate flight to avoid prosecution. That's why the U.S. marshals and the FBI are (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BRIEN: All right, so, but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, flees like a duck, it's a duck, right?

BROOKS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), it could be, there's a possibility. If I were investigator in Salt Lake City, I'd want to talk to him.

O'BRIEN: All right. But the fact that Edmunds has turned up in West Virginia, I suppose you could make a case that he didn't know he was wanted for questioning, he's a man without a home.

BROOKS: He had to live on the moon not to know that people were looking for him. Yes, he is a heroin addict, and he has been on the run. What is his motivation? If he is involved in this crime, you know, is it money? Well, usually with a heroin addict, someone who, or other drugs that someone's addicted to, it would be money, you know, petty theft, this kind of things.

But we can't, that's speculation right now, but we have, I'd wanted to make sure I talked to him before we make that speculate, before we make that allocate, you know, accusation.

But now his car, you know, I'd want to also process his car. Jeanne Meserve said they're waiting for warrants right now to process his car, and that's what they need to do that. So they will take it back to a FBI secure lot, keep it there until you get the proper warrants, and the FBI evidence response team in Pittsburgh will most likely come into West Virginia and go over that car with a fine- toothed comb.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, let's talk a little bit about the tactics on interviewing this person White House, at this point, is lapsing in and out of consciousness.

BROOKS: Right.

O'BRIEN: I suppose there's a concern that he could, he could pass away. It is, after all, a drug overdose. It -- there must be a bit of urgency on the part of investigators to question him. At the same time, this is a person who's obviously very ill.

BROOKS: There is. But if they get into his car, maybe they can go back and find receipts, the where he has been, go back and talk to people, see if he had an alibi, see where he has been, talk to those kind of people.

Now, again, talking to him, in and out of consciousness, it could be some problems. They said he had liver failure, which is not good, as you know, and, but I'm sure they to have someone right there so if he does become conscious, they are able to talk to him immediately.

O'BRIEN: What would the tactic be and the strategy be on interviewing a suspect like -- oh, I used the S-word, I'm sorry -- a fugitive wanted for questioning in this case.

BROOKS: Right. Well, you want to know the who, what, when, where, why, and how if he is involved in the crime. If not, you still want to know where he has, where he's been, who's he talked to, and what does he know about Elizabeth Smart?

O'BRIEN: All right, Mike Brooks, who looks at all matters relating to law enforcement and terrorism for us, thank you for being with us. We're just getting started.


O'BRIEN: Tell you what, we'll buy you a cup of coffee.