11th Circuit: Nancy Grace 'Played Fast and Loose' With
Fulton County Daily Report
Nancy Grace, the host of a self-titled legal show on CNN Headline News, "played fast and loose" with her ethical duties as a Fulton County, Ga., prosecutor in 1990, a federal appeals panel has declared.
Monday's decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a triple murder conviction won by Grace, explaining that her actions didn't change the result of the trial. It is the third time appellate courts have admonished Grace for her conduct as a prosecutor in Georgia. Grace served as an assistant district attorney in Fulton from 1987 to 1996, leaving that year to join Court TV as a commentator.
The three-judge panel on Monday criticized Grace for not following her obligations
to disclose to the defendant's lawyer information about other possible suspects. The 11th Circuit also agreed with a magistrate who found it hard to believe that Grace did not knowingly use a detective's false testimony that there were no other suspects.
"Despite the failure of the prosecutor to fulfill her responsibilities," wrote Judge William H. Pryor Jr., the Georgia courts were not unreasonable to have upheld the convictions of Herbert Connell Stephens. A Fulton jury held Stephens responsible for the June 1990 murders of John Davis, Toria Pope and Tony Daniel at the Red Oaks housing project in Atlanta. Stephens was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.
Grace on Tuesday denied hiding that other people might have been involved with the crime, noting one of her witnesses said so in open court.
"While some of the comments of the court are hurtful to me," she added, "I am thankful for the unanimous decision"keeping the verdict intact.
Stephens' lawyer, G. Terry Jackson of Savannah's Jackson & Schiavone, said he was disappointed with the ruling and would consider asking the full 11th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
"It's very clear Mr. Stephens did not receive a fair trial," said Jackson.
"It's very clear Mr. Stephens did not receive a fair trial," said Jackson. Stephens' original trial lawyer, Fulton public defender Kenneth D. Kondritzer, called the court's description of Grace as playing "fast and loose" with ethical rules "an understatement."
Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor from New York University School of Law, wrote in an e-mail that Grace's actions regarding the detective were serious, because submitting false sworn testimony to a court is probably the gravest violation of legal ethics."
This is the third time Grace's conduct as a prosecutor has been criticized by an appellate court.
In 1997, the Georgia Supreme Court skewered Grace for her actions in prosecuting Weldon Wayne Carr for allegedly setting fire to his house and murdering his wife. Carr later was freed when Fulton prosecutors waited too long to bring him up for a retrial. While the court reversed Carr's 1994 conviction for other reasons, the justices said Grace withheld evidence entitled to the defense and made improper opening statements and closing arguments.
"We conclude that the conduct of the prosecuting attorney in this case demonstrated her disregard of the notions of due process and fairness, and was inexcusable," wrote then Chief Justice Robert Benham. Carr v. State, 267 Ga. 701 (1997).
In 1994, the Georgia high court voted 6-1 to reverse a heroin trafficking conviction won by Grace because she "exceeded the wide latitude of closing argument" by referring to drug-related murders and serial rape, which were not at issue. Bell v. State, 263 Ga. 776 (1994).