Nancy Grace is abrasive, confrontational and arrogant. There is no one better in the tabloid legal arena of taking content worth 15 minutes of coverage and stretching it into a interminable Law and Order style interrogation.
Nancy can be tiring. When a case has been beaten to death so badly even vultures have stopped circling we can count on Nancy to find a crime scene stalker, expert witness wannabe, or friend of a friend of the maid’s sister’s friend to interview. Her coverage of the Natalee Holloway disappearance was agonizingly redundant. No horse was spared. For better or worse this is Nancy’s style. It has made her the queen of tabloid legal. She understands that the first rule of tabloid television is to create content when there is little or nothing left to talk about. This is done by creating, prolonging or exaggerating controversy.
Many a witness, person of interest and experienced attorney has walked into her studio with confidence, hoping to tell a story. Many have left with a grimace and a sign that says “You Are The Story Sucker!” stuck on their back. Nancy does not back down. She has been accused of going too far with her guests. The family of Melinda Duckett think so. They have sued Nancy and CNN to make the point.
Melinda Duckett was a troubled single mother. There was a contentious divorce from Joshua Duckett, the father of her son Trenton. There was an on-going custody battle. By all reports she lived a chaotic life. This included alleged involvement in an online amateur porn business including some disturbing images of her allegedly posing nude on her son Trenton’s crib.
On August 27, 2006 Melinda contacted the police and reported Trenton missing. She claimed someone had entered her residence and kidnapped him. An Amber Alert style search for Trenton ensued. The focus of the investigation eventually turned to Melinda. The initial theory being that she had handed the child off to someone she knew. Melinda was eventually narrowed down to the sole person of interest. This is nothing new in these types of scenarios. Statistics overwhelmingly point to a primary care giver or other family member. A kidnapping by a stranger is a statistical rarity. Melinda adamantly denied any involvement. The case became the focus of intense national media scrutiny. As would be expected the entire tabloid machine quickly revved into jet motion looking for any angle to create content and keep the drama alive until resolution for better or worse.
Melinda was approached by representatives of The Nancy Grace show. Melinda and Josh Duckett agreed to do the show. On September 8th Melinda and Josh Duckett appeared on the show. A review of the show transcript reveals a fairly even keel interview until Nancy begins to hammer Melinda about her refusal to take a polygraph exam. Josh Duckett had already taken two and passed. Nancy’s legal guests chime in. They all but accuse Melinda of lying about Trenton’s disappearance. Melinda begins to fluster and stammer. You can read the transcript here.
Melinda Duckett walked into the interview with Nancy Grace hoping to tell her story. Melinda left the interview considered the prime suspect by both law enforcement and the tabloid public. Was Melinda naive, stupid or calculating in what she hoped to achieve? In a battle of wits the war was lost to Nancy before Melinda ever did the interview. It was no contest. We will never know what Melinda’s true motives were. A day after the taping Melinda Duckett committed suicide.
The Duckett family has brought a wrongful death suit against CNN and Nancy Grace. They allege that Nancy lured an unsuspecting and emotionally unstable Melinda in the interview under false pretenses. They allege that it was Nancy’s plan all along to ambush Melinda, painting her as the prime suspect in her son’s disappearance. It was the emotional distress brought on by her aggressive questioning that caused of Melinda to kill herself.
They have retained a Harvard professor as an expert witness. says CNN Headline News host Nancy Grace’s relentless questioning of a Florida mother three years ago contributed to her suicide, according to a filing in the family’s wrongful death case. Dr. Harold J. Bursztajn, a clinical professor of psychiatry, wrote in a filing this week that Grace “struck a highly accusatory tone.”
Did Nancy Grace have a duty to protect Melinda Duckett from herself or at least warn her of the show’s agenda? Did she “create a mood” that led to suicide? Melinda Duckett had a troubled life long before she met Nancy Grace. Linda Duckett knew she was a person of interest in the disappearance of her son before she agreed to do the show. Linda Duckett voluntarily did the interview. She could have stopped it at any time. Melinda was outgunned and over-matched. It is unclear how that translates into a duty to warn her of anything.
Did Nancy Grace do anything wrong?
As rhetorical as the question seems, there is precedent for an extremely “gracious” verdict. In 1999 The Jenny Jones Show was ordered to pay 25 millions dollars to the family of Scott Amedure. Jonathan Schmitz killed Scott three days after Amedure revealed his secret crush on Schmitz during a taping of a “same-sex, secret crush” episode of the show.
The Ducketts should not be getting too excited over similar prospects. The Amedures had the benefit of an extremely friendly jury instruction. It stated that the negligence of the Jenny Jones show only had to be “a cause” of the circumstances leading up to the killing of Scott Amerdure. The Amedures never collected on the verdict. It was thrown out by an appeals court. The court stated that Jenny Jones show owed no duty to protect Scott Amdedure.
In 2002 The Jerry Springer Show was sued by the son of a guest who was murdered just hours after the segment was broadcast. Nancy Campbell-Panitz was murdered by her ex-husband after they appeared on a May 2000 episode in which he revealed that he had secretly remarried. The lawsuit alleges that the Springer Show created a “mood that led to murder”. The lawsuit was ultimately dropped by the family
Nancy Grace is guilty. She is guilty of being Nancy Grace. While that might be a death sentence to some watching her show, it has worked for well for her over the years. Neither her nor CNN owed any duty to warn Melinda Duckett that Nancy would be tough on her. It is difficult to imagine a realistic scenario in which they would affirmatively create such a duty unless Melinda told them she was going to harm herself if Nancy were too hard on her. The Ducketts will probably not be getting that same “Jenny Jones jury love”. Trenton Ducket is still missing…..