Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Fictionalized Life

Remember what I said about the value of a good back story when it comes to selling yourself and your work? It doesn't just apply to authors.

The New York Observer has a story about Nancy Grace, Goddess of Justice (Snap Judgment Division) and Our Lady of the Jerking Knee. Here's her celebrated back story about the tragedy that drove her to become an undefeated criminal prosecutor and vulgar harpy of prime time television:

As she tells it, in the summer of 1980, she was a 19-year-old college student in small-town Georgia, engaged to Keith Griffin, a star third baseman for the Valdosta State University Blazers. The wedding was a few months away. Then, one August morning, a stranger—a 24-year-old thug with a history of being on the wrong side of the law—accosted Griffin outside a convenience store. He shot him five times in the head and back, stole $35 from his wallet, and left him dead. Police soon tracked down the killer, and a new phase of suffering began for Ms. Grace. The suspect brazenly denied any involvement. At trial, Ms. Grace testified, then waited as jury deliberations dragged on for three days. The district attorney asked her if she wanted the death penalty, and in a moment of youthful weakness, she said no. The verdict came back guilty—life in prison—and a string of appeals ensued. For Nancy Grace, the ordeal she describes felt nothing like justice.

But that isn't really how it happened. What really happened isn't as engaging, or even all that motivating. What really happened was:
  • Griffin was shot not by a random robber, but by a former co-worker.
  • The killer, Tommy McCoy, was 19, not 24, and had no prior convictions.
  • Mr. McCoy confessed to the crime the evening he was arrested.
  • The jury convicted in a matter of hours, not days.
  • Prosecutors asked for the death penalty, but didn’t get it, because Mr. McCoy was mildly retarded.
  • Mr. McCoy never had an appeal; he filed a habeas application five years ago, and after a hearing it was rejected.

Killed by a disgruntled co-worker with no criminal record who confessed and never appealed doesn't sound as good on Larry King, especially not being able to portray her anguish as she suffered through endless appeals. It was a senseless tragedy, yes, but there wasn't enough suffering involved to turn Nancy Grace into the self-appointed crusader that she became.

Maybe her backstory is simple PR. Or maybe it hides a deeper motivation that has nothing to do with justice and the law. Only her shrink knows for sure.

But I'm guessing Nancy was pissed that McCoy didn't get the chair and if it hadn't been for the damn defense attorney and the soft-assed jury with their consideration of the murderer's state of mind, she would have gotten to see that retard fry, which is what she really wanted, God DAMMIT! and then she could have gone back to Shakespeare and lived a life of peace and beauty rather than become the aging frustrated gargoyle that she is today.

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