Nasty Nancy Nation

Recently by William L. Anderson: Tucson Murders and the Modern American Political Culture

Because we don't have cable or satellite television in our home, I rarely watch the cable "news" shows that feature confrontational "debate," as people scream unfounded accusations at each other, all in the name of discussing "issues." Thus, we are deprived each night of watching Nancy Grace "seek justice," and that alone makes missing The History Channel and Mythbusters worth the self-denial.

These days, Nancy Grace, the former prosecutor turned television host, is a popular person. Fox Business News apparently wanted to "balance" the liberty-minded shows by Judge Andrew Napolitano and John Stossel with a show in which anyone accused by the State automatically is guilty of whatever crimes the show's host claims. Alas, the deal fell through because Grace kept upping the ante for salary and perks, and she stayed with the HLN network.

I must admit to not being very familiar with Grace until the Duke Lacrosse Case burst into our body politic in the spring of 2006. A stripper with a criminal record made rape accusations against three members of Duke University's lacrosse team, and despite the fact that her stories did not match the laws of time and space, Grace immediate declared the lacrosse players guilty, and permitted her nightly show on CNN to be a conduit of outright lies, fabrications, and innuendo.

Because the show's clips were available on the Internet, I was able to watch her interrogation of anyone who did not agree with her assessment, and I am not sure that I ever have seen a nastier person at work. When one skeptic of the case noted that the law required criminal defendants to be regarded as "innocent until proven guilty," she declared that such viewpoints were what one would expect in Nazi Germany. (That is right. Nancy Grace declared that the Rights of the Accused really were a product of Adolph Hitler, and that declaring someone guilty even though there were no proof was a product of a free nation. And people enthusiastically buy these lies.)

Throughout 2006, Grace and her frequent sidekick, Wendy Murphy (who claims that there is no such thing as a "false rape accusation," declaring on Grace's show, "My own statistics speak to this fact") backed up whatever prosecutor Mike Nifong said was true, even though Nifong's stories continually shifted. No matter how many holes appeared in the case, Grace continued to ape the same narrative: the boys come from "privileged" families; a poor prostitute has accused them of rape; therefore, they are guilty of rape.

As people familiar with the case know, the whole thing began quickly to unravel when at a December 15, 2006, hearing Nifong's supposed DNA expert admitted under oath that he and Nifong conspired to withhold important DNA results that would have been considered exculpatory to the three defendants. That bit of news never made it to Grace's show, as it violated the established narrative.

In April 2007, North Carolina's attorney general, Roy Cooper, announced after an extensive investigation of the charges by two experienced prosecutors that there had been no rape, that the stripper-prostitute Crystal Mangum was lying, and that Nifong was a "rogue prosecutor." The players, Cooper declared unequivocally, were "innocent." Now, one would think that such news would be very important to Grace, who declares often that "I want justice." After all, justice clearly was being done here.

The truth, however, is not Nancy Grace's style. She refused to appear that night, leaving a guest host to announce Cooper's actions and at that point, the Duke Lacrosse Case went down Grace's Orwellian Memory Hole. In a recent post on his famous blog, Durham-in-Wonderland, K.C. Johnson included a Daily Show commentary on Grace’s performance during the lacrosse case, including her non-appearance on the night of the exoneration of the players. (Scroll down on the post until you reach the embedded broadcast.)

Why is Grace so afraid of the truth? Perhaps it is because Grace herself has had a problem with telling the truth in important situations. When Grace was a college student in the late 1970s, her fiancé was murdered; that much can be verified. Furthermore, Grace, whose shattered life was changed by that event, decided not to be an English major and went into law and became a Georgia prosecutor instead. Unfortunately, after that fact was established, Grace began to play fast and loose with the facts of the case.

Grace publicly has claimed a number of things about the murderer and the case:

  • The killer was a 24-year-old career criminal who killed her fiancé after robbing him;
  • The killer denied his crime and a jury took three agonizing days to convict him;
  • In a moment of weakness, Grace told the court she did not want the killer executed;
  • After that, the killer filed a series of appeals, further traumatizing Grace and her family.

Thus, her own personal experience, according to Grace, is "proof" that the American justice system is too much weighed toward the "Rights of the Accused," and if we want "justice," the "rights of the victims" must be put front-and-center. While Grace's emotional appeal seems to be rooted in her tragic story, it turns out that Grace has not been telling the truth. The New York Observer, after investigating the case, found out the following things:

  • Her fiance was shot not by a random robber, but by a former co-worker;
  • The killer, Tommy McCoy, was 19, not 24, and had no prior convictions;
  • Mr. McCoy confessed to the crime the evening he was arrested;
  • The jury convicted in a matter of hours, not days;
  • Prosecutors asked for the death penalty, but didn’t get it, because Mr. McCoy was mildly retarded;
  • Mr. McCoy never had an appeal; he filed a habeas application five years ago, and after a hearing it was rejected.

For that matter, Grace has failed even to get the year correct (the murder was in 1980, not 1979) and her fiance's age right (he was 23, not 25). So, while Grace's fiancé, indeed, was murdered, the real story does not fit Grace's "the killer thumbed his nose at the justice system" narrative.

As a prosecutor, it turns out that Grace also embraced lies, even when the truth itself was strong enough for a conviction. In 1994, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned a conviction in Bell v. State because Grace “exceeded the wide latitude of closing argument” by comparing this heroin case to unrelated cases involving murder and rape.

While her conduct in the Bell case might be explained by overzealousness by the "justice-seeking" prosecutor, her contempt for simple "due process of law" and "fairness" helped to influence the Georgia Supreme Court to overturn a murder-arson conviction against W.W. Carr.

But, it gets even worse. It seems that Grace managed to move from overzealousness to outright lying during court proceedings, with the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2005 that she “played fast and loose” with her ethical duties, failing to “fulfill her responsibilities” as a prosecutor in the 1990 triple murder trial of Herbert Connell Stephens.

While the court said that it could not prove that she used a detective's testimony, knowing that it was false, nonetheless the justices wrote that it was "difficult to conclude" that she had not lied. Grace, it seems, had told jurors that there were no other arrest warrants for others (from a detective's false testimony that Grace had used during the trial) in the case when, in fact, she had been made aware of those warrants before the trial began.

What is significant here, I believe, is that the court did not overturn the murder conviction despite Grace's misconduct. No doubt, Grace would argue that this was a controversy over nothing, but as I see it, this incident goes directly to her character: Grace lied in a trial in an attempt to secure a conviction, even though the truth was enough to convince jurors that the defendant was guilty. In other words, she lied simply because she could do it.

By the time the 11th Circuit noted Grace's lack of truthfulness, she already was becoming a TV star, holding forth in an imperious style first on Court TV and then with CNN. That national television shows would hire someone who had lied while performing her duties as an officer of the court tells us volumes about the desire for veracity in the corporate offices of cable news outfits. Furthermore, Grace's fractured telling of the story of her fiancé's murder should have been enough to warn broadcast officials that she was willing publicly to lie.

While I never have had any personal contact with Grace (thank goodness), nonetheless I know people who have had to deal with her accusing and dishonest tongue. I have come to know a number of the families in the Duke Lacrosse Case and to a person, they loathe Grace and everything about her. This woman, literally not knowing one correct fact in the case, nonetheless regularly slandered the players and their parents.

(She purposely misrepresented DNA evidence, claiming on the air that the "flesh" of David Evans was found under Crystal Mangum's fingernails. It turned out that the "flesh" was a DNA mixture with 14 other young men on a false fingernail that was found in the trash can in the bathroom where the rape allegedly occurred. Grace called this "finding" a "home run" for the prosecution when, in fact, it pointed to Nifong's dishonesty and ultimately led to the case falling apart when his DNA "expert" under oath confessed to professional misconduct.)

The Tonya Craft case brings Grace even closer to my circle of friends. Last year, Craft was acquitted of child molestation in a trial that involved more prosecutorial, police, and judicial misconduct than I ever have witnessed before. North Georgia jurors not only acquitted her, but publicly declared that the case was a farce and said that they knew the prosecutors were lying and the judge was teaming with the prosecutors in an obvious attempt to frame Craft for something that never happened.

The evidence supporting these charges was so tainted and so contrived that even Nancy Grace should have seen what was happening. Instead, Grace in her Pavlovian style told Craft that she was "guilty" of all charges after Craft went to Grace's office to present the facts to her.

(Actually, Grace did not have personal contact with Craft, instead, sending an assistant to tell Tonya, "She says you are guilty." Furthermore, when Craft was acquitted after a month-long trial, Grace did not air that result. Again, according to Grace, once there is an indictment, guilt is always assumed and if a person is found innocent, then that result either was due to "slick lawyers" or jury misconduct.)

Nonetheless, despite the fact that she represents the worst of prosecutorial misconduct and openly is willing to defend lies by officers of the court sworn to tell the truth, Grace is very popular. And why not? Anyone who has been a victim of crime knows just how bad the government system of "justice" can be, and Grace manipulates this situation.

As I see it, Grace has become the embodiment of modern American society, where truth and the Rights of the Accused are openly despised. Unlike nations like the former U.S.S.R., China, and Vietnam, where people living under government tyranny have sought – sometimes at the cost of their own lives – to be free, Americans have come to despise their liberties and openly to support the worst of dictatorship.

Grace plays off the American hatred for liberty and the lust of people for vengeance, an attitude of "someone must pay, even if the person accused is innocent." With Grace, anyone accused automatically is guilty, and in Nasty Nancy Nation, that is the new standard of justice.

June 17, 2011