Rabid, self-righteous and sensational were but a few words used to describe legal commentator and media celebrity Nancy Grace. Fueled by her fiancé's murder in 1979, the New York University-trained pr...
Macon, Georgia, USA
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Nancy Grace was born in Macon, GA on Oct. 23, 1959. The youngest of three children from a working class family, her mother was a payroll clerk at a local manufacturing plant and her father a freight agent for Southern Railway. Grace expressed an early interest in literature, particularly Shakespeare, and after graduating from Mercer University in 1977, intended to become an English professor. That path diverged after her fiancé, Keith Griffin, was shot to death by a coworker in 1979, leading Grace to pursue a career in felony law and victim rights. She received a J.D. from her alma mater before continuing her legal studies at New York University. After clerking for a federal court judge, Grace practiced anti-trust and consumer protection law at the Federal Trade Commission before returning to her home state as a professor of litigation and business law at Georgia State University. During the 1990s, Grace went to work as a Special Prosecutor in the Atlanta-Fulton County District of Georgia. Never one to shy away from tough subjects, her caseload focused on serial murder, child molestation, rape and arson.
From the beginning, Grace's career was controversial. In 1994, the Supreme Court of Georgia declared a mistrial in her Bell v. State case after she reportedly drew inappropriate comparisons between rape and murder during a closing argument, unduly prejudicing the jury; in 1997, the courts overturned a murder-arson conviction after concluding Grace's conduct during the trial violated the defendant's right to due process and fairness. Ethical boundary pushing and recklessness characterized her years as a litigator, and after more than a decade of practicing law, Grace left the public sector to join CourtTV - first as a legal commentator alongside celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochran, and then as host of her own solo trial coverage show. She quickly ascended to the ranks of bigwig barristers with her host position on "Closing Arguments" (CourtTV, 2001-07), covering court cases across the country. Grace won over audiences with her easy-access analysis and candid, if somewhat incendiary, observations. The program elevated her profile, and she was soon being featured regularly as a guest commentator on major networks and programs like "Larry King Live" (CNN, 1985-2010), " ESPN's SportsCentury" (1999- ) and "E! True Hollywood Story" (1996- ).
In 2005, CNN Headline News began airing "Nancy Grace" (2005-2011), a nightly primetime legal analysis hour where Grace would unearth, analyze and follow U.S. cases. The show featured her hard-hitting and often polarizing style, well evidenced by coverage of Melinda Duckett and Casey Anthony's trials. Grace interviewed Duckett on the show in September 2006, less than two weeks after Duckett's two-year-old son went missing. During the dialog, Grace pummeled Duckett with leading questions, insinuating she was to blame for the boy's disappearance. The next day, before the show was aired, Duckett shot herself. The Duckett family blamed her death on the media's lambaste, and later targeted Grace in a wrongful death suit; she reportedly settled with the family in the amount of $200,000. Grace's hyperbolic style landed her in the hot seat again with the 2005 release of her book, Objection! How High Priced Defense Attorneys, Celebrity Defendants and a 24/7 Media Have Hijacked Our Criminal Justice System. She was accused by the press of misrepresenting the facts of her fiancé's murder case to benefit her own professional positioning; she also included a passage likening defense lawyers to Nazi concentration camp guards within the text.
Grace left CourtTV in 2007 to focus on her CNN career and other opportunities. She dabbled in new modes of entertainment, with a commentary role in the independent documentary "A Lawyer Walks Into a Bar" (2007) and then opposite talk show host Star Jones in the season eight finale of "Law and Order: SVU" (NBC, 1999- ). Her personal life also began to dovetail with her professional ascension when she abruptly married her longtime boyfriend in the spring of 2007 and, in November of that year, at age 48, gave birth to twins. But motherhood did little to slow Grace down; she continued her CNN duties, even finding time to guest star on "The Wire" (HBO, 2002-08) and appear in Will Smith's anti-hero comedy "Hancock" (2008), as well as release her first work of fiction, The Eleventh Victim in 2009 and a second, Death of the D-List, in 2010. Grace also returned to daytime television with "Swift Justice with Nancy Grace" (2010- ), a syndicated CBS series featuring small claims litigation, and played herself in two episodes of Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" (2009- ).
During the late 2000s, Grace was also airing her most captivating coverage to date, covering the prosecution, trial and conclusion of State of Florida vs. Casey Anthony. She was credited with elevating the case - which accused Casey Anthony of killing her two-year-old daughter Caylee Anthony, burying her body and providing false evidence - to a national level. Over three years of proceedings, Grace was on the front lines of Anthony's character condemnation, insisting on her guilt and referring to her as "Tot Mom." Grace moved her CNN program's productions to Florida during the final weeks of the trial to focus exclusively on the proceedings. After a jury acquitted Anthony in July 2011, Grace responded with a notorious on-air statement, "Tot Mom's lies seem to have worked. The devil is dancing tonight." Despite her disappointment in the verdict, during the weeks leading up to the acquittal, Grace's coverage of the trial increased her viewership by 100 percent. Only a month later, Grace continued to capitalize on her growing notoriety by joining the season 13 cast of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ).
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