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For better or worse, Nancy Grace has influenced the outcomes of some of the most memorable court cases in recent history—although perhaps not from a legal standpoint. Millions of viewers have relied on her as a sort of abrasive moral compass, and while her critics can say what they will, Grace has been nothing if not consistent. Whether debating marijuana legalization with 2 Chainz, shaming the mothers of lost children, or speculating wildly in her distinctively confrontational tone, she’s played a key role in shaping modern American punditry. She’s also been a self-described “crusader for victims rights,” arguably creating a few new victims in the process—and she’s vowed to continue her work outside of the spotlight after leaving her top-rated HLN series on October 13. Here’s a look back at the complicated legacy she leaves behind.
Her fiancée was murdered
Before studying law, Grace pursued a degree in Shakespearean Literature with the goal of becoming an English professor. At 19, her life and ambitions changed dramatically when her fiancée was shot and killed by a former co-worker. She enrolled in law school following his death and went on to become a felony prosecutor and victim’s rights advocate.
Years later, Grace was accused of embellishing the circumstances surrounding the murder and the killer’s trial in order to benefit her image. She wrote about the murder in her book Objection!, and referenced it in broadcasts countless times, citing it as her reason for becoming prosecutor. In 2006, she was taken to task in an article in the New York Observer which pointed out numerous contradictions in her retelling of the story, just one of many public controversies throughout her career. Grace has vehemently denied any dishonesty in her version of events.
She gave birth to twins at 47
In 2007, an unusually emotional Grace paused during an episode of her show to announce she was pregnant with twins. She had married her longtime friend David Linch just months earlier; given that she was 47 at the time, the pregnancy announcement caused quite a stir. While Grace is certainly not the only celebrity to give birth in middle age, it is widely considered something of a health risk, especially with twins. Grace has not disclosed whether fertility treatments were involved, but has been open about her grueling and life-threatening pregnancy. After an extended hiatus from her show and a pregnancy riddled with complications, John David and Lucy Elizabeth Linch arrived two months premature.
Two of her broadcasts have been linked to suicide
In 2006, Melinda Duckett appeared on Grace’s show to discuss the disappearance of her two-year-old son. Grace pressed Duckett for details surrounding the disappearance which Duckett had been advised not to offer, and would not disclose whether a polygraph had been administered. Grace surmised publicly that Duckett should assume responsibility for the disappearance, and before the episode could air, Duckett shot and killed herself. The family blamed Grace’s interview—and the resultant outpouring of shame from the public and the media—for the suicide, and filed a wrongful death suit against Grace and CNN. The settlement resulted in a $200,000 trust fund dedicated to finding Trenton.
In 2011, Toni Adrette Medrano accidentally killed her baby while sleeping on the couch with him, and told police she’d consumed a fifth of vodka the night before. When Grace covered the story, she referred to Medrano as the “Vodka Mom” and shamed her on air, demonstrating the amount consumed by placing a fifth of vodka on the table during her commentary. Medrano was subsequently charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter, which would have resulted in a 10-year prison sentence upon conviction, but Grace argued that the charges were too light, saying Medrano should have been charged with murder. Three weeks later, Medrano committed suicide by setting herself on fire. Medrano’s family filed suit, calling Grace cruel and arguing that the cyberbullying that followed her broadcast was a contributing factor in the suicide. Again, Grace settled with the family out of court.
She has inspired numerous fictional characters in film and television
Grace has appeared as herself in shows such as The Wire and Raising Hope, placed fifth in a season of Dancing with the Stars, and even starred in a six-episode run of her own cooking show, but one is even more likely to spot fictionalized versions of her in film and on TV. Her controversies have inspired stories in numerous series, including Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, which based one storyline on the suicide controversies, while Criminal Intent developed Faith Yancy, a recurring character thought to be based on Grace.
The Onion pulls no punches with the character of Shelby Cross, a clear and regular sendup of Grace on The Onion News Network. She was represented in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom, and has been routinely mocked on Saturday Night Live over the years. She also inspired the character of Ellen Abbot in the bestseller (and subsequent hit film) Gone Girl, which she has referred to as her favorite portrayal.