Being absorbed in the crime-news world as a prosecutor, legal analyst and TV host for over 30 years, Nancy Grace knows evil can lurk around every corner. That’s why she’s not ashamed to say she’s an overprotective mother to her 10-year-old twins, Lucy Elizabeth and John David. Since becoming a parent, it’s become especially tough for her to cover any crime stories involving children.
And the first high-profile case that she will debate with Dan Abrams, her cohost on A&E’s “Grace vs. Abrams,” is in fact, the murder of a child: Caylee Anthony. Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony, was famously tried in 2011—and found not guilty—for her murder. You can be sure Grace, a self-described “victim’s advocate,” will have some thoughts about that case.
Grace spoke with A&E True Crime about whether the double-jeopardy rule should be abolished, recent cases the media isn’t paying enough attention to and whether it’s opportunistic to report on crime stories.
Of all the cases Grace vs. Abrams will cover, which are you most excited to dive back into?
They all are so unique and multi-layered, multi-faceted. It’s amazing that you think you know the story, but we are managing to locate different witnesses, different experts, different players that were not necessarily introduced at trial that shed a whole new light on the case. I have been loving it. We’ve done Casey Anthony to Chandra Levy to Drew Peterson.
Your fans know that you have a history with Dan Abrams. How do you maintain a professional working relationship and friendship with someone you often disagree with?
Dan and I met many years ago, before I even started on Court TV. I was sitting on a panel and Dan was in the audience. Of course, he didn’t agree with me even then. That was in 1996 or 1997. There are times we do agree. But [even when we don’t,] it’s in good nature. You can believe something very strongly and advocate it and not back down without ending a friendship.
Why do you think America is fascinated by crime stories?
Generally speaking, I believe people are good, good-hearted. When you see someone …[like] Scott Peterson who—not to me, but to many other people—is physically attractive, and he has a college degree, a loving family that would do anything for him, a beautiful wife, a beautiful home, a baby on the way, the works, living the dream…[it’s] hard to believe that person can commit such a heinous crime (of murdering his wife). It’s a conundrum. And I think it’s intriguing and mysterious.
…It’s hard to imagine that Scott Peterson or Casey Anthony would do such a horrible thing.
So for instance, when a mom walks into a courtroom, charged with murdering her 2-year-old daughter, you think, ‘No mom would do that.’ And you’re intrigued. And almost like a soap opera, bit by bit, you get more pieces of the puzzle and at the very end, you fit it together and you see the truth, or hope you see the truth. [But it] doesn’t always happen that way.
As a mother, how hard is it to cover murder trials when children are involved?
People who are close to me know this: I can’t take it. I have to get in the car and drive to [my children’s] school and just check on them. After the Florida shooting, I got straight in the car and went over there to make sure their school is under lockdown. If I just drive through the parking lot, I’ll feel better. Or I’ll email the teacher with some innocuous thing and she’ll write and say, ‘Everything’s fine.” It makes me feel better. Has it affected my life? Yes. It affects it every single day.
I still fight with my son, who is now taller than me at age 10, about not going into the men’s bathroom [alone], about coming [into the women’s bathroom] with mommy. Can I tell you what a big struggle that is? Because every time I look at a public bathroom, I think about kidnapping and child molestation. Every time I walk outside with the twins, every time I go to the playground, I’ll look around and see if there are fences. Who can get in? Where’s the parking lot? Do I have cellphone coverage? That’s just the way I live now.
Would you consider yourself a more protective parent because you’re hyperaware of the evil in the world?
I assume you’ve heard of a ‘helicopter mom.’ I would say I’m more of a ‘straitjacket mom.’ But I’ve got to do it in a way so the twins don’t know just how protective I am because I want them to grow up and have a normal life—well, as normal as it can be with me as your mom.
What are some of the biggest issues you see in criminal cases that have, in your view, negatively affected the outcome?
I remember trying cases where the jury would see the defendant seated, flanked by his lawyers, immaculately groomed, wearing a nice suit or looking preppy like [the] Menendez brothers in court, and would, day-by-day, get to know them, whether they took the stand or not. But they would never be allowed to see photos of the victim because that would be deemed irrelevant to the case at hand.
Victims really don’t have a say in the courtroom under our Constitution. And I’m not advocating a change in the Constitution, but it does put the victim at a disadvantage. Every day the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights get chipped away at, every single day.
When a victim comes into the courtroom to testify, they’re treated like dirt. They don’t have a right to remain silent, but when they do take the stand, they’re cross-examined as if they’re the perpetrator.
I remember working on getting the Rape Shield Law passed in the state of Georgia. It was amazing how hard it was to get passed because so many of the legislators were defense lawyers back home in their home jurisdictions, or members of private law firms.
I remember coming off my program at Court TV one day and going to my office. I started reading emails and a viewer had written me, ‘Hey, did you know Keith’s killer just got out of jail?’ (Grace’s fiancé, Keith Griffin, was murdered in 1979.) Nobody told me. I didn’t know whether there was a hearing. I didn’t know anything. And that’s not just me. That’s commonplace.
In the past you’ve said it’s hard to get a guilty verdict when a celebrity is on trial. Do you think things have changed in the last 10 years or so?
Two words: Harvey Weinstein. Why isn’t he in jail? Why hasn’t he at least been formally charged? The NYPD had an alleged victim wired up and still no action. It is an intentional decision not to move forward on a case.
Do you think it’s the because of his celebrity? His money? His power?
They go hand in hand.
Everybody’s talking about it now, but it’s a lot of talk and no action. I want to see action. I want to see criminal charges. All of these women cannot be lying. You always hear their detractors say, ‘They’re just jumping on the bandwagon.’ I don’t believe that. But even if it were true, if one woman is telling the truth, he needs to be prosecuted.
Which current or recent trial fascinates you most?
One I was covering very closely was the Cherish Perrywinkle trial, where a little girl was abducted from a Walmart. (The victim’s mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, allowed a stranger who was, unbeknownst to her, a registered sex offender, to take her and her three children clothing shopping. Donald Smith has been charged in the case and found guilty of kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder. He is currently awaiting sentencing.) You would think in this day and age everybody knows about child safety. That’s not true. The mother in that case has taken a lot of heat. Yes, she made a bad decision, but not everybody has the benefit of a great education and awareness. I think that’s grossly inaccurate to blame the victim’s mother in that case.
Which current criminal trial do you think the mainstream news media isn’t paying enough attention to?
I would say Mariah Woods (a 3-year-old who was killed by chloroform poisoning). Also right now, continuing to publicize the missing [Wichita, Kansas] child, Lucas Hernandez. I don’t think [those cases are] getting enough attention. I do think that a victim’s social status comes into play, and that often dictates how much focus they’re getting. I don’t like that, and I have continued to bring minority and lower socioeconomic children to the forefront who are missing or being mistreated.
Which trial outcome from the last 20 years has you most outraged?
Oh, dear Lord in heaven. That could be anything. That could be [O.J.] Simpson, [Robert] Blake. I mean it just goes on and on.
Do you think that we should be allowed to retry people for crimes? In other words, abolish the double jeopardy rule?
I can think of very few things that would make me happier.
Who would you retry?
Well, for starters, Simpson and Blake. I would love that. But it’s heresy to suggest any tenet of the Constitution may possibly have a crack in it. So I accept [it]. I’m playing the hand I’m dealt.
Those who cover crime are often accused of being opportunistic and insensitive. How do you find the balance between covering horrific news and being opportunistic?
Everybody who covers crime has been accused of that, but what’s the alternative? That we don’t cover it? That we don’t put out missing-children alerts? That we don’t talk about heinous crimes? Is it okay to talk about a war raging somewhere and genocide in other countries, but it’s not okay to talk about crimes on women and children in our own country? I don’t get it at all. That’s narrow-minded.
But no matter what our intentions are, or how much good we may do, there are always going to be detractors and if we listen to them, we’d be hiding under the bed right now.
Full Episodes: ‘Grace vs. Abrams’
Marcia Clark on Life After O.J. and Digging Up New Answers in Famously Complex Crimes
Former Sex Crimes Prosecutor Linda Fairstein on the Case That Keeps Her Up at Night
Dan Abrams on the ‘Most Disappointing’ Murder Trial Verdict