Did Nancy Grace Contribute to Fla. Woman's Suicide?

Is Nancy Grace, the crime-obsessed CNN Headline News host and former prosecutor, at least partly to blame for the suicide of a Florida woman whose son has been reported missing?

According to the family of Melinda Duckett, a harsh interview Grace taped with Duckett was one of the factors that put her over the top:

Duckett shot herself a day after taping an interview with CNN Headline News' Nancy Grace, who frequently focuses on missing-persons cases. Stumbling on questions like whether she had taken a polygraph test or where, specifically, she was shopping with her son before his disappearance, Duckett, speaking by telephone, became audibly exasperated.

Before it was over, Grace was pounding her desk in a raised voice, saying, "Where were you? Why aren't you telling us where you were that day?"

"Nancy Grace and the others, they just bashed her to the end," Melinda Duckett's grandfather Bill Eubank said Tuesday. "She wasn't one anyone ever would have thought of to do something like this. She and that baby just loved each other, couldn't get away from each other. She wouldn't hurt a bug."

As you would expect, Grace denies this. On Monday's show, instead of focusing on 9/11, she devoted basically the entire program (except for a small mention of the terrorist attacks at the end) to the Duckett case. Everything Grace said about the case, plus a comment, is below the fold.
GRACE: There was a very sad development before our show aired on Friday night, and that is the apparent suicide of Trenton's mother. Captain Rockefeller, how, if in any way it did, did her suicide set this investigation back? [...]
Let's go out to the lines. Liz, let's go to Stan in Kentucky. Hi, Stan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. How are you, Nancy?

GRACE: I'm good, dear. What's your question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is, you are such a good interviewer and everything. I just wonder, with the pressure that you put on the mother with your questions your last show, is there any possible way that you feel you might have somehow pushed her over the edge or contributed to her suicide?

GRACE: You know, Stan, speaking as one that knows firsthand, when you suffer a tragic loss, you look for somebody to blame. You look hard. I do not feel that our show is to blame for what happened to Melinda Duckett. The truth, Stan, is not always nice or polite or easy to go down. Sometimes it's harsh, and it hurts.

I'd like to also point out that Melinda committed suicide before that interview ever aired. It had never gone to air. The purpose of this show is all about finding Trenton Duckett. That's what we're about. And I'd like to also point out that, seemingly, police agreed with my line of questioning. You've got to know that we are deeply saddened to learn about her death, Melinda Duckett's, the mother of Trenton, the day after she taped our program. It was last week.


I hope the viewers keep in mind that this show is one of the single most active in looking for missing children. And as part of that, I often -- always, I would hope, I ask parents the same questions I would ask any mom and dad about an investigation in a missing child case, where they were when the child went missing, what happened, what's the timeline, anything to help find that missing child. I also ask whether the parents have taken a polygraph, as I did with Melinda. And at that point, and at this point, Trenton is still missing, and our focus is on finding him. [...]

To Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist. Robi, as Jack Trimarco said earlier, for a long time, parents were never viewed as possible suspects. And I understand that. It's hard to question a parent's love. Robi, why do parents kill? It's something nobody seems to understand, including me.

ROBI LUDWIG, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: Yes, it's really hard to imagine how a parent can go there, especially a mother, because we don't really like to think of mothers as murderers, especially when it comes to their children.

But this is what we know about maternal suicide, that when mothers kill, very often it's due to a mental illness where they can be depressed, psychotic, or even suicidal. So in some cases, mothers kill because they view the child as an extension of themselves. So if, unfortunately, this woman somehow viewed her child as an extension of herself, she would off her child and then eliminate herself.

Again, we really don't know what happened here. This could be a fragile personality who was reacting to the trauma and loss of her child, and this is what she did. So there's still a lot of questions.

GRACE: Anne Bremner, a response?

BREMNER: O.J. Simpson, remember, he had the note where he looked like a suicide note. Guess what? He was acquitted. The prosecutors didn't even use that in the courtroom. So the question of her trying to kill herself, et cetera, being involved in this doesn't equate.

And the fact is, grief-stricken, horrible situation, a tragedy compounded by a tragedy. This woman -- you can't speak ill of the dead here, Nancy. This is somebody that has not done -- done anything wrong.

GRACE: The big problem with your reasoning is that O.J. didn't commit suicide. According to his civil jury, he committed double homicide. Correction.

BREMNER: He had a suicide note. He had a suicide note.

GRACE: Blah, blah.

BREMNER: He did.

GRACE: A note, a note. Right, a note, OK.

BREMNER: It's the same kind of argument, Nancy, in this case. This woman, there's no indication of her guilt and the child may well be alive.

GRACE: Let me correct you on another point, Anne.

BREMNER: To make sure that you get the word out so people look for clues to find this child, Nancy.

GRACE: Anne, we are not about convicting Melinda Duckett.

BREMNER: That's true.


GRACE: We are here to try to find Trenton Duckett.

BREMNER: That's true, but in the process, let's make sure we have the right person. And in the process, let's make sure that we don't malign somebody. I'm not just saying that you are. I'm just saying let's be careful to not come to conclusions where they're not there yet. They're just not.

Certainly Grace is not responsible for Melinda Duckett's death. As Dan Riehl puts it, "For all anyone knows, the Mother may have been guilty of something, but we may never know, now. And television isn't the forum to play this madness out."

Still, one does have to wonder: At what point does aggressively covering average people become counterproductive? Could Grace's badgering style of questioning made Duckett humiliated enough to end it all? It's difficult to say--words that would be nice to hear Grace say once and a while.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013