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Diss Graceful

Glenna got a heapin', steamin' dose of Nancy Grace Friday night. Yecch. In short: What's "a fact"?

Horror, sheer horror.

Three minutes into my appearance on CNN Headline News Friday night, and I was ready to leap through the television monitor and rip out through Nancy Grace's flared nostrils the calcified organ in the center of her chest--you know, what other people call a heart. But after humiliating me in front of a national audience, Grace was on to other participants in the narcissistic exercise she calls "television's only justice themed/interview/debate show." By that, I presume she means, "Don't let the facts get in the way of a good rant."

Let me start at the beginning.

When someone from Nancy Grace called on Friday to ask me to participate in a broadcast that night about the Lisa Diaz case, I stalled for time. It wasn't because I knew much about Grace or her show, but because I know talking about complicated trials is difficult on television. It calls for economy of words--not my skill.

But writing about the Diaz case last year was heart-wrenching. The young mother was acquitted by reason of insanity after drowning her two children in 2003. Now, at the recommendation of hospital doctors, she'd been released from the state hospital in Big Spring after only 27 months of treatment. From what little I knew about Grace--bombastic former prosecutor with an instinct for the jugular--I figured she was agin' the release. Fair enough. Lots to talk about there. But I said OK only after I heard Diaz's defense attorney, Robert Udashen, who did an excellent job of showing the jury the depths of his client's mental illness, was also going to be on.

One of Grace's producers called me before the show, which airs live at 7 p.m., for a "pre-interview." She told me Grace would be asking me about the day when Diaz murdered her children. Using my story, I refreshed my memory about the awful events, which occurred on September 25, 2003, and the producer gave me some sample questions. It all flooded back: how the soft-spoken young Hispanic woman in the throes of delusionary psychosis believed there were evil spirits in her house, that crows on her lawn were telling her to ease her children's suffering by sending them to heaven.

The producer told me to show up at InMotion Studios on Hi-Line Drive half an hour early to get my makeup done and offered to send a car for me. I figured since the studio is about a mile from our offices I could find it with no problem.

At 10 minutes till 7, Udashen and I--both of us airbrushed with foundation--sat on stools in front of a camera. Grace would ask us questions through our earpieces. Several times one of Grace's producers asked Udashen how to pronounce his name. The show opened with music and there she was: Grace, with one of those shrill, outraged voices setting up the case. Almost immediately she went to me.

"Has Lisa Diaz been released?" Grace demanded. "Where is she now?"

What happened to the events of the day? I knew Diaz had been released from talking to Udashen, but I had no idea where she was. My son later said I had that deer-in-the-deadlights look.

She asked me to describe the hospital where Diaz had been confined. Again, no idea. I hadn't been allowed to interview Diaz there. I said something lame. She went to another reporter, Art Harris, for the details of the murder.

She mispronounced Udashen's name not once but twice, and she allowed him to say little about the facts of the case. The lawyer and I looked at each other with bewilderment. Then, as Grace went off on her main tear--"This woman wasn't mentally ill, she was looking for attention from her husband!"--we both realized the TV host wasn't really interested in anything we had to say except as window-dressing.

Grace dragged out the Texas psycho-mom cases: Dena Schlosser, Deanna Laney, Lisa Diaz and, of course, the queen of all the kid-killers, Andrea Yates. She ranted about the Diaz jury, about the judge, about the psychiatrists who testified Diaz was psychotic when she drowned her children. Everybody was wrong except Nancy Grace! Nancy Grace--who hadn't heard any testimony. Who didn't bother to learn the facts of the case! Who didn't see the 12 hours of a still extremely disturbed Diaz being questioned by a forensic psychologist in the days after the murders.

About 15 minutes into the show, I started getting really pissed off. I realized Grace simply sets up straw men--Udashen, the jurors, the judge, everyone involved--and runs at them with her big bayonet, stabbing and stabbing and stabbing. Since she controls the questions and the cameras and gives no one a chance to get a word in edgewise, no one stabs back. In the end each show is about Grace's self-righteous indignation. But nothing is learned and nothing accomplished, except Grace cashing a paycheck.

So, just in case you want to know, here are the facts about Lisa Diaz:

Every psychiatrist who examined her--even those hired by the prosecution or assigned by the judge--diagnosed Diaz as psychotic and paranoid with schizophrenic features. That's a brain disorder. Nothing to do with "attention-seeking."

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Probably depressed most of her life—and who wouldn't have been with no mother, abusive caretakers and a father who showed up only to force her to give him oral sex?--Diaz channeled all her anguish and fears and delusions into hypochondria. She visited scores of doctors and believed she had dozens of illnesses. At one point, she described how the backs of her eyeballs would shake when she tried to sleep. She burned sage to rid her house of evil spirits. She drank her own urine. She thought an MRI machine was talking to her, saying, "Open up." She believed her children suffered from whatever was plaguing her and believed she had to kill them to save them.

But, see, Nancy Grace isn't going to be fooled by a woman faking mental illness.

She never did come back to Udashen and me for more questions. I prayed no one struggling with mental illness was listening. As I left, what upset me most was the fact Grace was once a prosecutor. Last month I wrote a story about Entre Karage, a young Cambodian man wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. There was no evidence against him, but the prosecutor manipulated the facts, and a Dallas judge went along with him. After all, they knew he had to be guilty--until he was exonerated by DNA.

It occurs to me that someone should go back through every case Grace ever prosecuted in which the accused was convicted and re-examine the evidence. Maybe someone this self-righteous, this all-knowing, "helped" the trial process along. Because, as I'm sure Ms. Hang 'Em High would acknowledge, it's all about justice. --Glenna Whitley

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