In the words of attorney Stephan E. Seeger, Nancy Grace may have finally “put [her] foot in [her] mouth” a little too far. And to sensationalize matters a tad more, a previously convicted member of The Kennedy Clan may be the one to nail Nancy Grace for defamation.
Uh oh, ya’ll! A defamation lawsuit landed on Nancy Grace’s anchor desk. Michael C. Skakel – a Kennedy cousin – wants to punish the HLN star for stretching the truth a little too far.
In short, back in 1975, teenager Martha Moxley was murdered in Connecticut. For years, the case went unsolved. In 2000, Michael C. Skakel, Ethel Kennedy’s nephew, was convicted of the crime. In 2013, however, a judge overturned the ruling and granted Skakel a new trial. As you might suspect, Nancy Grace has been on the case. But Skakel thinks Nancy and co. didn’t just stretch the truth when discussing his situation, but snapped it – so he’s suing for defamation.
Background: The Murder and Investigation
On Halloween eve, 1975, 15-year-old Martha Moxley was murdered. The following morning, her body was found underneath a tree near her Greenwich, CT home. At first, law enforcement officials pegged Thomas Skakel as the prime suspect. Suspicion then turned to the Skakels’ live-in tutor who’d only recently come to Greenwich – but he was also eventually cleared.
Despite multiple suspects, police never solved the case. Years passed. The case remained unsolved, and the Skakel adults shipped Michael off to The Elan School — a private, behavior modification, therapeutic boarding school in Maine.
Fast forward a few decades. The case remained unsolved – but it did attract the interest of crime writers and murder mystery enthusiasts.
As the years lumbered on, key figures in the case changed their stories. Eventually, two former Elan classmates of Michael Skakel agreed to testify against the almost-Kennedy. According to his Elan classmates, Skakel confessed to Martha’s murder. One witness swore he bragged, “I’m going to get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy.”
In 2000, Massachusetts authorities indicted the divorced 40-year-old father of one. Skakel lost and was sent to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, CT.
But that’s not the end.
In Oct. 2013 a Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Bishop overturned Skakel’s conviction on the grounds if ineffective counsel. Skakel was released on $1.2 M bail and is now awaiting his next hearing.
What Nancy Grace Said That Led To A Slander Lawsuit
As the former prosecutor is known to do, Grace opted for the shock when discussing Skakel’s situation with another “legal analyst.” Basically, Grace heavily intimated that Skakel’s DNA had to be at the scene of the crime because he was masturbating in a tree very near to where the victim was found. The exact exchange was as follows:
Nancy Grace: “Isn’t it true that the Kennedy cousin apparently was up in a tree masturbating trying to look into her bedroom window?”
Beth Karas: “Well, his DNA was found, yes, up in the tree.”
Nancy Grace: “Beth, I love the way you put it so delicately, ‘his DNA,’ you know it was sperm.”
Beth Karas: “Correct.”
Why Does Skakel Say Nancy Grace’s Statement Defamatory?
Skakel, however, had a problem with Nancy Grace’s characterization and filed a defamation lawsuit against her, Karas, in addition to HLN, Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting producers.
Skakel’s argument turns on three main points:
- No DNA evidence, nor talk of masturbation, made it into the trial; so Skakel says, Nancy Grace should shut her proverbial pie hole.
- Saying Skakel was “found” at the scene of the murder is light years away from admitting “he climbed a tree near the Moxley’s house to masturbate on the night of the murder.”
- It doesn’t matter if Skakel’s reputation is already ruined because he has a possible re-trial on the horizon and will need an unbiased jury to prevail in said case. As such, being accused of acts of “moral turpitude” could have a significant and devastating material impact on Skakel and “all other discretionary benefits that he may, as a matter of law or right, seek in prison or in our Courts.”
Skakel’s attorney expressed the negative impact of TV procedurals’ take on DNA testing and evidence. He explained:
“Look, when you see the letters DNA and put that in any story and hang that around any defendant’s neck, the whole world believes that there is DNA evidence that is lock, stock and done. It’s totally misleading. Anyone who is watching that show now forms the belief that the DNA was there: We all know he’s guilty, period.”
Team Nancy Grace’s Counter Arguments
Team Nancy Grace is fighting back with the following counter arguments:
- The conversation between Grace and Karas was not defamatory because it was “substantially true.”
- Skakel’s reputation is already shot to smithereens, so the defendants’ on-air musings wouldn’t have done any serious damage.
Whether or not Nancy Grace will escape Skakel’s lawsuit is yet to be seen. It’s a tricky situation since there is a sliver of truth to Grace’s and Kara’s reporting; however, considering the circumstances, what was said and what was actually presented in court are radically different – and with a new trial on the horizon, Skakel may just squeak this one out.
Do you need to speak with a defamation lawyer? Kelly Warner’s slander and libel law practice is established, efficient and knowledgeable. We’ve seen every type of defamation case you can think of. Whether you’ve been accused of defamation or are looking to sue for defamation or trade libel, get in touch today. If you want to learn a little more about us before taking the plunge, please go here, here, here and here to read up on our attorneys and our firm.