By SHEILA MARIKAR
Nancy Grace Settles Lawsuit Over Mom Melinda Duckett, Who Committed Suicide After Interview
The family and estate of Melinda Duckett, the young mother of a missing child who fatally shot herself after being battered by tough questions from talk-show host Nancy Grace, have dismissed a lawsuit against Grace and CNN.
According to court records obtained by The Associated Press, the settlement requires that Grace establish a $200,000 trust dedicated to finding Duckett's missing son, Trenton, who was 2-years-old when he disappeared.
If Trenton is not found alive by his 13th birthday, money in that trust will be transferred to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Trenton would be six today.
If Trenton is found alive before his 13th birthday, his adoptive grandmother will gain control of money in the trust until his 18th birthday, when Trenton could then use the funds as he wishes.
In 2006, Duckett, then 21, appeared on Grace's show soon after her son, Trenton, went missing. Grace accused Duckett of hiding something, apparently because of her vague answers and unwillingness to take a lie-detector test. Police later named Duckett the prime suspect in the boy's disappearance.
Duckett committed suicide the day the taped interview was scheduled to air, Sept. 8, 2006. Soon after, her family filed a lawsuit charging Grace with the wrongful death of Duckett.
"Nancy Grace and the others, they just bashed her to the end," Duckett's grandfather, Bill Eubank, said following her death.
The lawsuit accused Grace, whose show airs on CNN's sister network HLN, of inflicting emotional distress on Duckett with her interrogation about the missing boy.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Ocala, Florida, in 2006. The settlement agreement between Grace and the Duckett family lawyers was filed Friday and still needs a federal judge's approval. The trial was scheduled to begin next month.
CNN said in a statement Monday that network officials were pleased the lawsuit has been dismissed.
"After four years of litigation and extensive discovery, the parties now agree that Nancy Grace, the producers of her program, and CNN engaged in no intentional wrongdoing in the course of dedicating a program to finding the missing toddler, as alleged in the lawsuit," Jay Paul Deratany, a lawyer representing Duckett's family and estate, said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
In the wake of Duckett's 2006 suicide, Grace faced harsh criticism from her peers in the press. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough called the tragedy Grace's "Jenny Jones moment," referring to a 1995 taping of "The Jenny Jones Show" that preceded one guest murdering another.
Grace, a former prosecutor, defended her actions. In an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" following Duckett's death, Grace said, "If anything, I would suggest that guilt made her commit suicide. To suggest that a 15 or 20-minute interview can cause someone to commit suicide is focusing on the wrong thing."