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Man Wanted for Questioning in Smart Abduction in Police Custody

Aired June 21, 2002 - 15:46   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: In about 15 minutes, Salt Lake City officials will be holding a press conference, perhaps revealing some of the questions they are anxious to ask to Bret Michael Edmunds.

And now they have an opportunity, because, early yesterday morning, Bret Michael Edmunds checked himself into a Martinsburg, West Virginia, hospital after overdosing on a drug called Lotridin (ph). He checked himself in not under his real name, but under the name of Todd Richards. But he made the mistake of giving a correct home phone number for himself and his mother's true name and phone number.

And when hospital authorities tried to reach his mother and called those phone numbers, they found out that something was fishy here. He's not Todd Richards, but instead Bret Michael Edmunds. And then hospital authorities then called officials in their neck of the woods. And then they were able to get the U.S. Marshals involved, where all of the right people were now up to speed on who they had in custody there.

And now, in about 15 minutes, Salt Lake City officials will be addressing cameras and reporters there, telling people what kinds of questions they want to ask Bret Michael Edmunds. They are still saying he is not a suspect in connection with the disappearance of 14- year-old Elizabeth Smart. Instead, they have been saying for two weeks now that they merely have questions.

Now, this development came to CNN's attention about an hour and a half ago. And this all comes after about 2 1/2 hours of a press conference that took place in Salt Lake City involving the family members. And, for the first time, we saw a very tearful Ed Smart, the father of Elizabeth Smart.

We want to bring you part of his press conference once again.


ED SMART, FATHER OF ELIZABETH SMART: I want to thank all those people who are out there praying for us, for all the effort that has gone forward to help bring Elizabeth back to us. I can't thank you enough for your prayers and would ask that you would continue to pray and please plead for her return.

I'm asking and I'm pleading with whoever has her that I would do anything to have her back in my arms. And please realize how much she is missed. She's missed tremendously.

I want to read a comment that President Hinckley made on faith, which I feel really demonstrates our feelings. Faith is something greater than ourselves, that enables us to do what we have said we'll do, to press forward when we are tired, or hurt or afraid, to keep going when the challenge seems overwhelming, and the course is uncertain."

I want to reinforce to you that we still feel that Elizabeth is out there. We still need each one of your help. We need you to be the eyes and ears in the neighborhood. We need you to be the eyes and ears wherever you are going, and one of the most important things is that each person is a searcher. It doesn't matter where you are, please keep your eyes and ears open. I truly feel that this is the way Elizabeth is going to come back to us.

I want to thank all of you for being here today and for supporting us, because this is truly the way that Elizabeth will come back. I just would like to, again, thank everyone for all of their love and support, for the incredible community that we have, for the support of the community, the support of the nation, and the support of the world. It's been very humbling to us, and I'm really grateful for all of your prayers and all of your help, and I know that Elizabeth is still coming back to us. I really have a tremendous faith that she is. I still have a feeling that she is out there waiting for us to find her. And it will take everyone's effort out there to find her.

Thank you.

Louis would be here. She was sick last night. And she's sick this morning, and she just needs a day to rest.

QUESTION: You seem a little bit more upset than you did yesterday. Are you OK? Is there something...

SMART: No, I'm fine. I just want everyone to really know it's not a feeling of upset. It is a feeling of thankfulness. I really want everyone to know how thankful I am. I am just overwhelmed at the response that we've had from everyone, and for the caring and the love. It is just -- it's -- it's just overwhelming. And -- but I want everyone to keep going forward, because I know that's how we will find her.

QUESTION: Mr. Smart are you disappointed that the police have decided not to continue these briefings?

SMART: No. No, I am not. I know when we get to a point were there is a briefing that's needed, they will be here, they will be supportive. I want them to be out there working and doing everything that they can.

Thank you.


WHITFIELD: The words from a visibly devastated father of Elizabeth Smart.

And it wasn't long after that that it was revealed that Bret Michael Edmunds, the man that Salt Lake City officials have been wanting for questioning, had already checked himself into a Martinsburg, West Virginia, hospital.

For more on the details as to how it was discovered that Bret Michael Edmunds was already in custody and being treated in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Kelli Arena has some details now from Washington -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, we have been told by the FBI that Edmunds has been -- is now arrested.

As you know, he's not been arrested in relation to this case. He was wanted on other charges out of Salt Lake City. The FBI field office that has jurisdiction over West Virginia is actually located in Pittsburgh. They did send their agents down to just basically take him and put him under arrest.

I am told that his automobile that he had been driving apparently crosscountry in had been searched. No body has been found in that car. As to other evidence, it is unclear at this point. And I'm sure that that does need to go through some forensic investigation.

We are told that officials from Salt Lake City are on their way to interview him as soon as they possibly can. He is and remains in critical condition, we are told. So, he's not going anywhere anytime soon. Salt Lake City police remain the lead agency in this investigation, not the FBI. FBI, though, we are told FBI agents from Salt Lake may accompany Salt Lake City police, so that they can question Edmunds together.

This is what we have got at this point. He is surrounded, as we heard earlier, by agents and U.S. Marshals. And his vehicle, obviously, as a piece of evidence, is surrounded as well -- Fredricka back to you.

WHITFIELD: Now, Kelli, obviously, hospital authorities are working feverishly to try and upgrade his condition, anywhere from between stable and critical condition. It was reported earlier, thanks to a U.S. Marshals Office official, that he had already been suffering from a liver collapse. Do you know anything more about that as a result of this drug overdose?

ARENA: No. Law enforcement officials would not give out any medical information. It's not their habit to do so. That would have to come from the hospital.

If they chose to do that, there are some privacy issues that are involved here. So, whether or not we hear from hospital officials is unclear at this point. But, basically, the general information that law enforcement is giving out is that he is in serious enough condition that he's not going to be moved any time soon. He won't be transported. And perhaps they may have to get him somewhat more stable before an intensive interrogation can begin. So, things are very sketchy right now. This is someone who just went through a pretty heavy-duty medical problem. And that situation has to be stabilized first before the law enforcement situation. So, obviously, everyone is very anxious. Law enforcement is very anxious to talk to this man.


ARENA: They are looking for any information that he may have to offer on Elizabeth Smart, if he has any at all. We have heard repeatedly, even though his face has been plastered across the nation, that he is not a suspect. But, obviously, they were very anxious to talk to him. They will have that opportunity soon.

But you do have to wait for the appropriate officials, those being your Salt Lake City officials, to get to West Virginia to take over the case.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kelli Arena, from Washington, thank you very much.

Of course, we all have a whole lot of questions about Bret Michael Edmunds. But, more importantly, Salt Lake City police say they have an awful lot of questions that they want to pose toward him. And that's why they have been looking for him for about two weeks now.

To help us get a better sense as to what kinds of questions they may want to be asking him once he's coherent enough to answer any questions is Bo Dietl. He's a former New York homicide detective. And he joins us to help us better understand this prosecutorial and evidentiary phase now of this investigation.

Bo, thanks for joining us.

Initially, we know the obvious questions are: What might he know about the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart? But how do you actually strategically try to get those questions answered, if the direct questions don't give you the answers you're looking for?


But the thing is that what has happened -- and I could never understand. I've been following the case pretty closely. I could never understand how they were so emphatic about the fact that he was not a suspect. Until you find the person that kidnapped this young girl, everyone is a suspect. For them to say that is pretty irresponsible, because we don't know for a fact that he's not a suspect.

Now, when they get the car there, they are going to be going through that. They got to get a warrant. They are not just going to go through it, because, if they find any kind of hair samples or evidence that that young girl dropped, that evidence could be thrown out. So, they will apply for a warrant. They will do that and comb through that car with a fine-tooth comb as far as to find any physical evidence that there was a possibility that that girl was there.

Also, they are going to reconstruct his leaving Salt Lake City until he ended up in Virginia and try to answer the questions and do a timeline of all these days that he has been missing, and then verify, check, and crosscheck with any kind of alibis of where he stayed and where he had gone.

Remember, he has an active warrant on him that he's running from. So, at this point right now, we don't know if he's directly involved with the missing girl. But we certainly cannot say that he's not a suspect. That's irresponsible for any law enforcement person to say that. The only time you will say someone is not a suspect is when you catch the suspect.

WHITFIELD: Well, Bo, isn't one obstacle or a major obstacle is the fact that he is being treated medically now? We don't know exactly how coherent he is. But time is of the essence. And so, if investigators have to wait for some amount of time to elapse because of his medical treatment, how are they going to go about trying to track his journey from Utah to West Virginia? How much resources do you have in order to ask all the questions?

DIETL: Well, you don't have to wait to apply to a magistrate for a search to possess that car that he was in. And that's the same car that in fact was around Salt Lake City.

Also, the fact that what he did with the license plate, buried the license plate, his actions, to me, if I'm the detective working on the case, he's a suspect in my mind until we eliminate him. But, obviously, what he's in the hospital for, an overdose of what? If barbiturates, it will take time for them to come out of his system.

There's a lot of different variables, but you can get the (AUDIO GAP) aspect of it going immediately. In a flatbed truck, when they get that car on a flatbed, you can get that thing to a lot. And you can go through that car, if that gal was in there, and any hair and fibers.

Also, his clothes, you want to get a warrant to subpoena all the clothes that are in that car and also his clothes to see if there's any of her bodily fluids on it or any blood or anything; and also a search of his body. You would want to get a search under his nails, to see if there's any marks or injuries on his body. If the person struggled with him, there could be mark of injuries.

There are a lot of things that could be going on and (AUDIO GAP), state lines, which is good, because you have FBI involved, which will be able to get these warrants for (AUDIO GAP) that I just mentioned.

WHITFIELD: Now, Bo, let's reiterate that Salt Lake City police are not considering him a suspect. As you have said, they only want to -- and we have said -- they only want to ask him some questions.

But, in your mind, you sound as though you have some great suspicion about him. You are already ready to see how he could be a suspect. What sort of questions would you want to ask of him, if you had that opportunity, since you're not directly involved in the investigation? But what questions would you want asked?

DIETL: He is a suspect. Everyone in that house is a suspect until you eliminate, until you find the person who did it. The question that I'd want to ask him is, I'm not interested in fleeing from the law because you have a warrant, but what you were doing in Salt Lake City, from that day when the girl disappeared? Where were you at that time?

Where did you go from there? Oh, I slept in the Sleepy Hollow motel. You know, you want to backtrack his whole actions. And then try to verify -- all right, there could be a reason. There could be a motive for running.

Like I said, all of a sudden he has a warrant and he could have committed some petty crimes along the way. Maybe he did some burglaries that he's running from also. At this point, we're not at all concerned about his breaking into a house.

We're concentrating now on this beautiful little girl and finding her. And that would be my motive to talk to him, to tell him, look whatever you did, breaking into a home or a store, that really isn't what we're interested. We're interested in specific questions about his whereabouts around that little girl's house, and if he had that little girl.

WHITFIELD: All right, Bo Dietl, thank you very much.





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