To my critics
Grace says she'll never back away from an argument
Editor's note: CNN.com is releasing excerpts from "Objection," a book by Nancy Grace, host of CNN Headline News' legal analysis show. In her book, published by Hyperion, the former Atlanta-Fulton County special prosecutor covers a number of topics, including the "blame-the-victim" defense, the effect of the "celebrity factor" on trials, and the debate surrounding the death penalty. The opinions expressed in this excerpt are those of Nancy Grace.
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From page 302:
Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. The realization sank in a few months after my fiancÚ's death that my life was not going to be what I had mapped out. Wife, mother, English professor -- it was not meant to be. Instead, as part of God's mysterious plan, I found a new and very different life.
I'm reminded of a true story about a woman in New York City who was battling breast cancer. She took up running as part of her recovery from the devastating illness. After months had passed, she decided to enter a 5k -- a 3.1-mile race through Central Park. She got there about an hour and a half beforehand and was surprised to see hundreds of other women already warming up. She quickly joined in. At the start of the race, when the gun sounded and the runners took off, the woman thanked her lucky stars she'd gotten there early and was ready for the competition. About an hour into the race, she passed the five-mile sign, and immediately thought, "This is not the race I signed up for!" She continued running as best she could and I'm happy to report that she ran, not walked, across the finish line, her arms raised in victory. It was not the race she'd signed up for, but, by God, it was the race she was in.
I think of that story when I recall my courtroom battles. There were many, many times when I sat alone in the courtroom at the end of the day -- by then it was evening, and it would be dark outside when I left the courthouse. I'd often think, How did I get here? It was not what I had planned, not what I had bargained for, not the race I'd signed up for. But, by God, it's the race I am in.
Many times on air, when a defense attorney runs out of legal or factual attacks, I become the target. That's okay. There's a wise old saying in the legal world that goes like this: "If you have the facts, argue the facts. If you have the law, argue the law. If you have neither, just argue!" When I get attacked personally on air, I'm torn between the usual feelings of anger or hurt and the realization that the other side's assault is based on their knowledge that they have neither the facts nor the law on their side. I really believe that.
During all the years I practiced law, I kept Keith's murder to myself. I did not want it to be part of some ridiculous defense argument that I was bent on revenge. It simply was not true. There is no satisfaction in putting the wrong perpetrator behind bars.
There have been times on "Larry King Live," on "The John Walsh Show," and other programs when Keith's murder is used against me. During one live show, I recall being accused of wearing his death "like a badge." That hurt. The truth is, my story doesn't change the law or facts in any of the cases I argue. A reporter once told me during an appearance on "The John Walsh Show" that I wasn't fit to analyze cases because I had opinions as a victim of violent crime. Somehow the reporter reasoned I wasn't fit to comment. I didn't know how to react in front of a huge studio audience. I chose, naturally, to fight back, and it turned into such a battle, the incident hit the papers the next day.
I am proud to have survived many blows, proud to be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves, and proud to continue fighting the good fight as I see it. I have been confronted many times, on air and off, by "journalists" who accuse me of not being one of them. I am accused of having beliefs, opinions, and convictions. I plead guilty.
I've never once made a secret of the fact that I am not a journalist. I never pretended I was. I am what I am. I am first and foremost a survivor who lived through the court system, endured the pain, and made it my business to master the law and the rules of evidence to return to that system and do battle there. I love the law. I believe in our system. It causes me genuine pain to see Lady Justice, who is really all we have to protect us, mistreated, tricked, and degraded. I am an advocate for other victims. I have tried to use my knowledge of the law as my sword and shield and studied it in great detail, keeping it at the tip of my tongue and at the forefront of my mind at all times. The reason I am not and never could be a journalist is that I also keep that knowledge of the law deep in my heart, and when I need the shield, I raise it. When I need the sword, I draw it out.
Defense attorneys -- but amazingly not Johnnie Cochran -- have routinely attacked not only my point of view but also me. That's okay, though. It's nothing compared to being accused of using dirty tricks to win a trial or being held in contempt of court. Nothing can sober you up like the thought of being thrown into the county jail overnight while you should be working your case. I remember that while under siege on air. If I were to back away from an argument, I would be letting down not only Keith but all victims who go unheard.
I recall the night in April 2003 when Scott Peterson's father, Lee Peterson, called in to "Larry King Live" and lambasted me. He insisted I had a "personal vendetta" and was out to get his son. I was torn between really lacing into him with questions I knew he couldn't answer about his son and thinking of my own father and how he would fight to the finish to save me. The thoughts of my own father won out, and I held back. Lee Peterson was hurting, too, and I knew that. Of course, it was "great TV," as several producers said after the show. It wasn't TV. It was real. And it hurt. The next morning, it was replayed on talk shows throughout the day. I didn't watch.
When I watch the manipulation of evidence, the endless arguments, and the posturing in a court of law, I can't pretend I don't know what is the truth. Trials are not "stories." They are the pain, the suffering, the raw emotions of victims and defendants, of witnesses -- and many shrink back, either too afraid or too apathetic to speak out. I don't see it as fodder for conversation. I see it as a battle of right versus wrong. I want the truth to win out.
Political correctness be damned. On-air or in-court "performances," legalese, arguments for argument's sake be damned. None of it matters. All that matters is the truth and it remains the same, no matter how attorneys twist it and turn it and repackage it. The truth doesn't change. "See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil" while hiding behind the presumption of innocence and political correctness is something I'm not willing to do. It's not okay, and if people are not willing to take a stand for others, then who will take a stand for them when the time comes?
It's hard to swallow, but the truth is not always told in court. Contrary to what some of my critics have said, I don't believe in "guilty until proven innocent." I firmly believe in "innocent until proven guilty." That's the standard I followed in every case I ever tried, and if I am ever judged, that is the standard I pray my jury holds sacred as well. But that is not the end of the judge's charge. An accused is presumed innocent "unless and until that presumption is overcome by evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." That is the law. If we choose to ignore the law, victims have no recourse, no hope.
On "Larry King Live," I have been confronted several times by legal analysts and defense attorneys like Mark Geragos about the fact that I, along with the police, contended Richard Albert Ricci was a perfect suspect in the Elizabeth Smart abduction case. I stand by my statement. Wisely and correctly, before his death, he was never charged. I recall that at the beginning of the search for Elizabeth, a man named Michael Edmunds, a drifter, was spotted in the neighborhood by a milk-truck driver and all hell broke loose.
Edmunds was the first suspect we knew of. The press and the cops chased that poor guy all over the country until they got him. I actually agreed with Geragos on air at the time regarding Edmunds as a suspect and said, "This doesn't make sense to me. Something doesn't fit." To all the critics who claim I think everybody's guilty: Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Copyright (c) 2005 Nancy Grace and Diane Clehane. All rights reserved.
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