Nancy Grace No Stranger to Controversy

ByERIC HORNG

Sept. 15, 2006 — -- She ends every show with a warm smile and the words "good night, friend." But anyone who has watched "Nancy Grace" on CNN Headline News knows the 47-year-old former prosecutor has a tongue as sharp as they come.

Now Grace is coming under fire for her confrontational interview with Melinda Duckett, the mother of a missing 2-year-old Florida boy.

Duckett committed suicide a day after taping a phone interview with Grace, during which the talk show host pressed Duckett for details about the case.

"Where were you?" Grace demanded. "Why aren't you telling us where you were that day?"

Grace continued to hammer away after Duckett refused to give direct answers. "Ms. Duckett, you are not telling us for a reason. What is the reason? You refuse to give even the simplest facts of where you were with your son before he went missing. It is Day 12," said Grace.

Though police have focused increasing attention on Duckett's movements prior to her son's disappearance, they stopped short of calling her a suspect. Her family is now holding Grace's show partly responsible for her suicide.

"Nancy Grace and the others, they just bashed her to the end," said Bill Eubank, Duckett's grandfather. "She and that baby loved each other. She wouldn't hurt a bug."

On ABC's "Good Morning America," Grace was unapologetic.

"If anything, I would suggest that guilt made Melinda Duckett commit suicide," Grace told ABC News' Chris Cuomo. "To suggest that a 15- or 20-minute interview can cause someone to commit suicide is focusing on the wrong thing."

Some media watchdog groups have blasted Grace's actions.

"This was a case of a TV news outlet thinking [that] playing Perry Mason is going to attract ratings," said Jim Naureckas, editor of Extra!, a publication put out by media watcher Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. "Playing detective on TV, I don't think, is justifiable."

Naureckas said shows like "Nancy Grace" blur the line between news and entertainment shows such as "Jerry Springer" and "Jenny Jones." In 1995, a Jenny Jones guest murdered another guest after the two had appeared on an episode called "Same-Sex Secret Crushes."

"[Nancy Grace] is compelling TV in the same way Jerry Springer would get into arguments with his guests. People have a fascination with conflict," said Naureckas.

And Grace is no stranger to controversial comments.

After police arrested 50-year-old handyman Richard Ricci in the weeks following the 2002 disappearance of Elizabeth Smart from her Salt Lake City home, Grace was outspoken on CNN and CourtTV about her belief that Ricci was guilty, even suggesting that Ricci's girlfriend was involved in a cover-up.

Months later, after two other individuals were arrested for the 15-year-old's abduction, and Ricci was shown to have no connection to the crime, Grace defended her comments about Ricci, who had died in jail.

After a jury acquitted singer Michael Jackson of child molestation, Grace harshly criticized the verdict on her show, saying it was a case of "not guilty, by reason of celebrity."

Minutes later, an attorney for Jackson's parents blasted Grace on her show. "Well, this is the bitter pill you're going to have to swallow, Nancy," said Debra Opri. "This is the reality, not the reality you have created for the last year. Michael Jackson is not guilty. Let him live his life in peace and stop trying to retry the case, and that's what you're doing."

Despite drawing the ire of some, Grace's show has a loyal following with half-a-million viewers tuning in on a typical night.

Many fans are drawn to her own story. Grace's fiancé was killed in a botched robbery attempt in 1980. In her 2005 best-selling book, "Objection!," Grace said that tragic loss led her to change her mind about being an English professor to pursue a legal career, instead.

Grace joined Court TV in 1997 after a decade as a special prosecutor in the Atlanta Fulton County District Attorney's Office. She received her own show on CNN Headline News in February, 2005.

A passionate advocate for victims' rights, her show regularly focuses on missing persons stories, including the cases involving Natalee Holloway, Jessica Lunsford and runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks.

Since Duckett's suicide, Grace's program has continued to examine the case of Duckett's missing son, Trenton.

"Long story short, Trenton Duckett is still missing," Grace said on "Good Morning America." "And now, police are agreeing with me."

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