Conviction Upheld Despite Nancy Grace's Misconduct
In an opinion written by Bush recess appointee William Pryor, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a murder conviction against a defendant notwithstanding findings that prosecutor Nancy Grace "played fast and loose" with the rules.
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.
What kind of message does this send to prosecutors other than you can break the rules and get away with it?
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.
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."
Nancy Grace's prior admonitions from the Georgia Supreme Court include:
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).
Nancy's reaction is one of apples and oranges:
It's a lifetime of work," she said, noting that she decided to become a lawyer after her fiance was murdered.
Judge Pryor's nomination was stalled in Senate after initial approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is one of the extremist judges whose nomination was rejected by the full Senate but whose nomination Bush has resubmitted to Congress for confirmation. If not confirmed, his recess appointment will end in December, 2005.
It was Pryor who once referred to Supreme Court Justices as "nine octogenarian lawyers."
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