Chapter 4: Victim or Master Manipulator?

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Is Nikki a victim or is she a master manipulator who planned and plotted Chris’ murder? This question was at the heart of Nikki’s trial. There, the defense team put forth a cache of evidence of abuse. But the prosecution suggested that Nikki wanted attention, tried to destroy her credibility and asked: if the abuse was so bad, why didn’t Nikki leave? Justine unpacks the trial, and what the verdict says about how our criminal legal system views self-defense laws when it comes to people in abusive relationships.


Justine van der Leun is the host and lead reporter. This series is produced by Justine van der Leun and supervising producer Kristen Lepore. The associate producer is Giulia Hjort. The production assistant is Rory James Leech. Additional reporting by Kristen Lepore and Giulia Hjort. Mixing and sound design by Kegan Zema. Music by RRA aka Sara Abdelaal. Fact checking by Justin Kloczko. Additional audio engineering by Ivan Kuraev. Story editing by Jackie Danziger. Story consulting by Amy Metsch. The executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and Spiegel & Grau.

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Gail Grover, Elizabeth, Ben Ostrer, Robert Tendy, Justine van der Leun, Nicole Hepler, Michelle Horton, Jon Ingrassia, Nikki Addimando, Sarah Caprioli, Kristen, Lisa Whalen, Leigh Goodmark

Justine van der Leun  01:08

Hi, listeners, if you’re just tuning in, I suggest you go back and start listening from chapter one. Before we get started, a content warning. This episode contains accounts of domestic and sexual violence.

Justine van der Leun 

This summer. I showed up at the backyard of one of the jurors on this case. I’ll call her the frowning daughter. She tended to have a very somber expression during the trial. I was there that day to talk about Nikki. She was more interested in power washing her fence. But she did take a minute to give me an unfiltered recap of what went down.

Justine van der Leun  03:04

This is BELIEVE HER. I’m Justine van der Leun.

Justine van der Leun 

Chapter Four, victim or master manipulator.

Justine van der Leun 

The first day I met Nikki, we passed each other on the stairs at the Dutchess County Supreme Court. It was two months before her trial. She was there for a hearing and I was there to check things out.

Nikki Addimando

I remember being in the courthouse with all of these people of the state, you know all of these big scary people. And then I turn the corner. Thank God finally I’m going down the stairs I’m leaving. And you’re standing right there at the top of the stairs leaning against the wall. Just like a normal person, like an actual human person. And I just remember my sister saying, oh, this is Justine she wants to write about you. And I was just okay. I don’t know if I had any reaction. I don’t even know if I spoke to you.

Justine van der Leun  04:24

She barely spoke to me. She’d been advised not to talk to the media before or during the trial. So I’d never seen Nikki in person before. I just been reading about the case in the Poughkeepsie journal interviewing a few people. In that stairwell, on that day, I was immediately struck by how small and painfully shy Nikki was. I said something like really nice to meet you. And Nikki looked away and kind of whispered. Hi. It was awkward. Jon Ingrassia and Ben Ostrer were Nikki’s lawyers. I first met with them in this case carpeted, windowless basement conference room at John’s office. They’d been trying to prepare Nicky for months.

Nikki Addimando 

It was a lot of them like being like, well, you have to be prepared that this is what they’re going to say to you. And I was just like, No. Because to like practice just didn’t feel right. What am I practicing? I’m just telling my life; I’m just telling what happened. There’s nothing to practice. So we didn’t really prep in a sense of like, they would throw questions at me that I should know people probably going to ask and they were always really harsh when with me crying and like shutting down.

Justine van der Leun 

When I was meeting with John and Ben in the conference room, the trial was just weeks away, their team looked miserable. And at one point, I turned and I saw Ben paging through a book called Defending Battered Women On Trial. And I thought, well, that doesn’t give me a jolt of confidence. Ben and John wouldn’t say much, except that the case would hinge on if they could convince a jury that Nikki had been justified in pulling that trigger.

Leigh Goodmark  06:11

We’re talking about imminence. We’re talking about having a gun pointed at you. In that moment, we’re talking about kind of the struggle over the gun scenario.

Justine van der Leun 

That’s really Leigh Goodmark, a professor of law at the University of Maryland who’s represented many domestic violence survivors behind bars. I started talking to Leigh during this trial to make sense of what was happening. Leigh explained to me that when you’re charged with murder, and you claim self-defense, you argue that yes, you killed someone, but it was justified.

Leigh Goodmark

The law of self-defense assumes a couple of things, it assumes that you are in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm. It assumes two people of equal size and strength. And it assumes that your actions are reasonable. And the problems, of course, for particularly women who fight back is that they’re often size and strength differentials, that they’re not fighting back right in that moment. It’s not the struggle over the gun, but it may be a little bit later, when there’s a clear break in the action when they have the ability to keep themselves safe in some way. And their actions may not look reasonable to others, like for example, the trial judge and Nikki Addimando’s case, who said, well, you could have walked out the door, you could have walked away.

Justine van der Leun 

So were Nikki’s actions reasonable? Was she justified in killing Chris? Self Defense laws vary by state, but usually as with Nikki’s case in New York, a jury has to decide if a hypothetical reasonable person knowing what the defendant knew, would also have reasonably believed themselves to be in imminent danger. And how does one assess if Nikki was in imminent danger? Typical considerations include, did the attacker have intent to cause great bodily injury or death? Did they have means? Did they have the opportunity to use those means? Nikki and Chris were both very small. Nikki is five feet tall. She tops out at 110 pounds, usually less. Chris was slightly taller, five foot three, he did outweigh Nikki by 25 pounds. So he was not a big guy. But he was a black belt in Taekwondo and was by all accounts super-fast, strong and nimble. I’ve seen videos and Chris’s athleticism is astounding. Remember a couple episodes ago when his mom said he sprinted up a hill and pulled a duck from the jaws of a fox. According to Nikki, Chris bragged that his hands and feet were trained deadly weapons. Here’s Leigh again.

Leigh Goodmark  08:44

What would the reasonable person have done in this scenario? And I think it’s impossible to understand what reasonable looks like if you’re not standing in the shoes of the person who has been abused over a period of time. The reasonable man, right, this mythical reasonable man of the law, might say, well, of course, she could have walked out the door. Right? Of course, no one was holding a gun to her. She had the gun. She had the power. But she also had two kids who were in that apartment who were not in her arms in that moment. And she had a partner who had abused her unbelievably, and a real belief that that was going to continue and then the harm would come to not just her but to her children as well.

Justine van der Leun 

But how could the abuse continue? If it never really happened? The lead prosecutor Hannah Kraus, she planted a lot of seeds that made people doubt everything Nikki said. She questioned if Chris ever hurt Nikki. She questioned why Nikki never left. And then she made a strong argument that no matter what, in the moment when Nikki shot Chris, the shooting was not justified because according to Hannah Kraus, Chris was asleep when he died, I’ve heard the prosecution strategy described as the spaghetti against the wall approach. You throw a pot of spaghetti against a wall, and you see what sticks. In this trial, much of the corroboration that you’ve heard us report in previous episodes, it was considered hearsay. It was not allowed in court. So Nikki was stuck in a game of he said, she said, except he, was dead. I was totally baffled by what I saw unfold in that courtroom. Nikki’s lawyers were, too. Here are her attorneys, Ben and John reflecting on the trial.

Ben Ostrer 

There’s not always slut shaming like we had in our case.

Jon Ingrassia 

I mean, there were, you know, people say this was a case about domestic violence. It was, but first, the jury had to decide whether it was a justifiable homicide.

Justine van der Leun

Ben and John knew the system was stacked against defendants, but they weren’t expecting these tactics. Here’s Nikki’s lawyer, Ben again.

Ben Ostrer

On the record if there was, what I was most surprised and disappointed in is the shaming that the prosecution resorted to in an effort to discredit Ms. Addimando.

Justine van der Leun 

The lead prosecutor Hannah Kraus and her colleague, Larry Glasser, they had their own ideas about what happened in Nikki and Chris’s apartment and in their relationship, and Hannah was ready to spread them far and wide. That’s Hannah in an episode of a true crime TV series. This case didn’t happen in Hannah’s jurisdiction. But Nikki’s county had previously assessed Nikki as a victim of abuse. To avoid a conflict of interest. They passed it on to Putnam County, and that’s how Hannah got involved. I met Hannah Kraus in March 2020. I interviewed her at her office for a piece I was writing. She didn’t allow me to tape the interview, but I took notes. I learned that she majored in polisci in college and minored in theater, a pretty good combination for a trial lawyer, they have to perform. I learned Hannah is a mom that she loves being a district attorney and that she’s been recognized for her dedication. Two years before Nikki’s trial, Hannah won an award for her honesty, integrity and commitment to justice. She’s known for prosecuting violent crimes, including child abuse and sex crimes. Hannah told me she gives her all because every case has an impact. She told me that when she trains young prosecutors, she tells them, quote, the hardest part of our job is making sure we get it right every single time to the best you can. Your reputation is everything. When one of our producers called Hannah more recently, she wasn’t so keen on being featured on a show called Believe Her because Hannah doesn’t believe Nikki, and she doesn’t think anyone should.

Justine van der Leun 

She ultimately declined to be interviewed for this podcast. The trial took place in Judge Edward McLaughlin’s courtroom. The walls are decorated with portraits of the judges who came before older white guys in dark robes, just like McLaughlin. The judge didn’t allow recordings throughout the month-long trial. And so for this episode, we’ll be relying on my own experience sitting through the trial, additional interviews and trial transcripts. There was a familiarity that settled over the courthouse. I recognize the cops at the entryway, the bailiff scanning the room, the journalists in the front, the stenographer, the lawyers, and then there was the jury filing in day after day with their travel mugs. Blondie. Frowning lady, teary lady, puffy hair lady, flowy dress lady, the guy who were the same LL Bean fleece constantly. The gallery itself was divided into colors. To one side, Nikki’s supporters all in purple, the Domestic Violence Awareness color, to the other side, Chris’s supporters in his favorite colors, red and black. But in the end, all eyes were on Nikki. Here’s Nicole Hepler, the gymnastics mom from Episode Two.

Nicole Hepler  14:54

When you walk in the courtroom and you see her sitting there, my stomach dropped I was like, holy shit, like, holy shit, like, there she is. And like, you know, you stare at her hands, you stare at her movements, you stare at her, you know, just stare at her like how and why. And then the jury comes in and you’re like, oh my god, your heart’s beating your just like start the day.

Justine van der Leun 

The mood was tense, full of grief and uncertainty. And the trial itself was a tsunami of information. Nikki’s older sister, Michelle, remembers.

Michelle Horton

I don’t even have a word in English language to describe the shit show. That happened in that courtroom. And that Hannah, it really felt like, there was just it was a dramatic performance. And I’m going to be as convincing as I need to be. And say whatever I want to say. I had no ability to say anything. And if I did get on the stand, I still don’t have an ability to tell the truth. I was told again and again; trials are not about the truth.

Justine van der Leun  16:12

Hannah took the floor first. Her opening remarks were about, among other things, a text message that Nikki had sent to a woman named Lisa Whalen. Lisa was a Mr. Todd’s mom back when Nikki coached, they became friends and stayed in touch. Lisa was one of the women Nikki confided in about the abuse. She had once seen Nikki totally beaten up. When the police did an extraction on Nikki’s devices. They found text messages between Nikki and Lisa sent five weeks before Chris’s death. And one line, it played a major role at trial.

Lisa Whalen 

My testimony stemmed around an emoji.

Justine van der Leun

Here’s Lisa explaining that correspondence with Nikki.

Lisa Whalen 

She had asked me over the course of a day or two who had done my daughter’s shoulder surgery. And my response was why. And she said, I think I need to get both shoulders done.

Justine van der Leun 

Lisa told Nikki she needed to be safe. Nikki replied that she had recently tried to leave Chris, but it had quote, backfired.

Lisa Whalen 

She said, I am going to wait until my children are old enough to go to school to get a job basically, so she could support them. And I always was Nikki said, I need to make sure we need to make sure that you’re safe. Don’t worry about the job. And that’s when she said if I could find a way to kill him and get away with it, I would, with a grimacing emoji.

Justine van der Leun 

The text message read; I haven’t figured out a way to kill him without being caught. So I’m still here. And then the big teeth nervous grin emoji. Nikki called it an eek face. Personally, I use that emoji a lot as an oh shit smile. Nikki’s lawyers argued that the emoji showed that the text wasn’t serious. The prosecution however, called it a grimacing face. For what it’s worth on your phone, that emoji will pop up for grimace and eek and nervous and yikes, the list goes on. The language of emojis is ever evolving. But the eek versus grimace debate took nearly a day in court. It descended into absurdity. The judge became visibly frustrated. And later, I thought, maybe that was the point, to get everyone’s attention, fixated on emojis. And away from Lisa, the person who’d actually been communicating with Nikki.

Lisa Whalen  18:48

That was so taken out of context that it is. It is insane to me that the rest of the conversation was not presented. Because anyone who read the entire conversation would see that it was just a figure of speech that she said. And if you backtracked, it probably wouldn’t have been something I wouldn’t have said somewhere along the way, as well, right?

Justine van der Leun 

Well, I mean, you got a husband.

Lisa Whalen 

I have an ex-husband. I’ve said it several times.

Justine van der Leun 

I’ve seen the full exchange because Lisa sent it to me. Sure, no argument. It is not a good message to have on your phone if you later killed the guy, but it was presented with no context. Because Nikki also wrote that she planned to stay with Chris for her children. They needed a good life, she said. She messaged that she was worried that if she left the Grover family would be furious and they would blame her for the breakup. She didn’t have any money for lawyers. She thought she could lose her kids. She wouldn’t risk it. She’d wait it out. No one will believe it. She messaged Lisa; everyone loves him. that part, it wasn’t entered into evidence. More of the story after the break

Justine van der Leun  22:21

So that text message is how the prosecution started to build the case that Nicki plotted out a murder. In her opening statement, Hannah urged the jurors to put their feelings aside just before she showed them the dash cam footage that you heard in the first episode, she said this, a direct quote. We talked a little bit about sympathy during jury selection. And at times you’re going to see the defendant carry the child, her daughter that was in the car and her son and Chris Grover’s daughter and son and natural instinct is to feel emotion and to feel empathy at that moment. But each and every one of you promised during voir dear and I will remind you, when I stand up here at summations, that sympathy can play a role here. Christopher Grover is dead. Sympathy cannot play a role here. End quote. It was as if she was saying, don’t look at this woman carrying this toddler in her arms, the way you have all carried a toddler in your arms. Don’t think about the blood in her underwear or allow her children’s screams to influence you. Don’t be fooled by your empathy. A man died. That’s all that matters. As Assistant District Attorney, Hannah Kraus works under the elected District Attorney of Putnam County, Robert Tendy. And so our producer Kristen called Robert to get his perspective on this case.

Robert Tendy 

I don’t know if you’re aware of this. There are internet searches, which Ms. Addimando deleted, where she looked up in advance, how to murder someone, how to kill them while they’re sleeping.

Kristen  24:00

Are you referring to the searches on Chris Grover’s phone?

Robert Tendy 

Yeah, but they were done by her. Let’s assume he searched his own phone, use his own phone to make a search. Maybe he wanted to kill her in her sleep. What are the odds of somebody doing research on how to kill someone in their sleep? Winding up being the one who’s killed it asleep? It doesn’t happen. Maybe in a Hollywood script it does, but not in real life.

Justine van der Leun 

The searches Robert is talking about were made at around 11:30PM On September 27 2017, within two hours of the shooting. The searches were made on Chris’s phone, and more. They were about among other things, how to kill a woman and yourself. Listen to the pronouns used. I’m going to read you some verbatim. When shoot her when asleep? Will they know she’s asleep when examining her? Will police know if she was asleep when I shot her part of brain to shoot in suicide. And then they were all deleted. And by the way, these searches were next to searches for the types of porn that repeatedly showed up on Chris’s devices like, quote, doggy style rough compilation and tied and abused girls. They were also an extra searches for stuff like games workshops, and gymnastics meets. Now, let’s circle back to Nikki’s version of that night, Nikki testified that Chris showed her his registered gun, and then showed her diagrams of the human brain. He pointed to places to shoot to kill, and places that would result in her losing her ability to speak and to remember, and later, Chris said to Nikki, according to her testimony, I’m going to kill you, and I’ll shoot myself and then your kids, will have no one. So when District Attorney Robert Tendy asks.

Robert Tendy  26:13

What are the odds of somebody during research on how to kill someone in their sleep? Winding up being the one who’s killed asleep?

Justine van der Leun 

I’m no statistician, but just hypothetically, for a guy who is planning a murder, suicide, and whose murder suicide goes wrong, those odds are pretty high. Also, according to New York State’s own DNA analyst, Chris’s DNA was all over that gun. And Nikki’s DNA was not at detectable levels. She held that gun, his gun, for such a short time that she barely left a trace. And yet, the prosecution had a photo of Chris dead on the couch that gripped the jury.

Robert Tendy 

Every picture tells a story. Some pictures tells a thousand stories and pictures of worth a thousand words. Look at the picture up on the couch. He’s sleeping.

Justine van der Leun 

The picture was projected on a flat screen on the third day of trial. I was sitting in the front row of the courtroom. Chris’s family and friends were just behind me. When the picture came up, they put their heads in their hands. I heard someone break into sobs. In the crime scene photo, Chris is lying on the couch. His feet are stretched out in front of him. His arm rests softly on his stomach. His head rests on a throw pillow. He does look like a man who’s napping, except for two things. First, his eyes are open. Second, he has a bullet wound to the skull. Hannah ran through the night of Chris’s shooting. She kept insisting that Chris was killed in his sleep as if this was indisputable. But it’s very important to mention here that the county medical examiner testified that it’s impossible to know one way or another if Chris was asleep or awake when he died. Nikki insists that Chris was lying down, but he was awake and he was threatening her. She said then, on that stand and under oath that in the moment that she pulled the trigger. She felt it was her only choice if she wanted to live. The day they showed that photo of Chris on the couch. I left the courtroom with a pit in my stomach. That was only day three. And over the next month. There were many other photos that we saw, the elected DA Robert Tendy, he said every picture’s worth 1000 words. Nikki agrees.

Nikki Addimando  28:56

That’s a thousand words. What about the pictures of me cut opened, bruised and burned and that means nothing.

Justine van der Leun 

Nikki gave her lawyers plenty of photos of her injuries, and they put them up for the jury to see. How could you deny what happened if you saw those, some of the most shocking photos came from a state funded program, a place Nikki once went to get help.

Sarah Caprioli 

This was a program where she could document the injuries, get pictures taken without having to report to the police. And that was a really big selling point for her.

Justine van der Leun 

That’s Nikki’s therapist, Sarah Caprioli, who you heard from in the last two episodes. After one particularly bad beating Nikki had gotten in touch with Sarah.

Sarah Caprioli 

She had actually contacted me outside of a session to let me know that something had happened and that she was in a lot of pain and she actually said that she couldn’t you know, it hurt when she moved her jaw.

Justine van der Leun 

Sarah suggested Nikki use New York’s SAFE program, SAFE is an acronym for Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner. Forensic Nurses are trained to collect documentation in a compassionate setting and preserve evidence in case it needs to be used later in court. Law enforcement is not involved because it is very common for victims do not want cops around when they first report a sexual or domestic assault. Nikki used the program to document bruises on her face. And then, soon after, she went for injuries on her body and her genital area. The second visit occurred about two years before she killed Chris. The abuse she was reporting happened when Nikki was pregnant with Fay. She says that one morning she was cooking eggs for baby Ben.

Sarah Caprioli  30:46

And Chris came into the kitchen and told her that she better be making enough for him too and Nicole as domestic violence victims sometimes do, talk back a little bit. She said yes sir. And he didn’t like that and told her that she needed to learn some respect. She had been cooking at a gas stove and the burner was still on. Chris took a metal spoon from the kitchen and heated it in the open flame of the gas stove. And then press her to her skin over and over again. And he concentrated on the area of her upper thighs between her legs. Her labia, vulva and also inserted the spoon several times. And when it cooled down, he would put it back in the flame to heat it back up again and then press it to her skin again.

Justine van der Leun

Sarah, the therapist was at that exam, and the nurse took her aside to explain.

Sarah Caprioli 

She said, somebody did this, and she took her hand and pressed it to my arm and kept it there. And her perspective was that our pain reflexes would prevent somebody from doing that kind of burn to themselves from holding it there in such excruciating pain. And she said, from her perspective, the likelihood that Nicole could have done this to herself was zero.

Justine van der Leun  32:05

But team Chris and so many others, they grabbed on to anything that might show that Chris would never do such a thing. Here is Chris’s mom, Gail.

Gail Grover 

She tried saying that Christopher pinned her to the floor with the other hand turned on the stove and took a spoon and burned her female areas. Okay? They showed pictures of that. How humiliating for one are you and for another. Christopher’s DA came flat out and said, looking at these pictures, don’t you get them type of rashes from waxing or shaving? And that’s exactly what it looked like.

Justine van der Leun  32:58

That explanation for Nikki’s injuries. It was first floated by Hannah. At trial, Hannah speculated that the marks on Nikki’s vulva, were bug bites, or the result of a botched wax job. In that courtroom, official documentation taken at a hospital by a forensic nurse at a state sexual assault program turned into the work of an attention-grabbing liar. And there’s more. Hannah and her team had to cover all their bases to counter the evidence of abuse. If it wasn’t insects, or wax, Hannah said, you couldn’t rule out the possibility that Nikki may have been self-harming. But if Nikki was doing all this, slamming her head against furniture until her jaw fractured, burning her own chest and vagina, shoving objects up herself until her insides prolapsed. Wouldn’t, Chris, if he was such a nice goofy, wholesome dad? Wouldn’t he get her some help? Like if the mother of your children keeps getting so badly injured even if she’s doing it herself? Shouldn’t you do or say something about that? And then there’s another thing about that theory. Nicki’s been incarcerated, tried for murder and separated from her kids for four years. It’s been stressful, to say the least. And yet, during all these years, while her body has been monitored by the state, there’s no record of Nikki hurting herself. Not one injury. Not since Chris died.

Elizabeth  34:45

I sat through that trial, and I was so curious. How could the jury and I come away with such different viewpoints? I tracked most of them down but generally they didn’t want to talk except for a few, including the woman you heard from at the beginning of this episode. The one who kicked me off her lawn. And another woman. I found her at her workplace. She loved to talk. Let’s call her the chatty juror. As a journalist, I was allowed to transcribe this trial. I had a record that evolved in real time. But chatty told me that jury was advised against taking notes. And they also couldn’t talk to each other about the case until deliberations at the very end. The jury relied a great deal on their impressions. Chatty for one, recalled Nicki’s lawyers, but not for their expertise. So chatty saw a real-life murder trial, and it made her think of TV drama. The prosecutor was one of those Law-and-Order style heroes, while Nikki’s lawyer reminded her of the bumbling Columbo and all those witnesses, Nikki had them fooled, like any good female villain. For example, there was Elizabeth, the music teacher who testified.

Justine van der Leun  37:10

Because this level of abuse that Elizabeth was talking about, doesn’t happen like that in real life. Ultimately, chatty felt if Nikki stories were true, she would have left Chris. Chatty preferred the prosecutors narrative, Nikki was just a messed-up murderer. The chatty juror connected with the story put forth by the prosecution. And this is common. In the state of New York, prosecutors have a 72% trial conviction rate. They have the enormous power of the state behind them. But also, they’re rarely held accountable for mistakes or willful bad acts. Studies have shown that the courts punish prosecutorial misconduct in less than 2% of cases where it occurred. To be clear, the prosecutors on this case have not been found to have engaged in any wrongdoing. But looking at the bigger picture, experts argue that the largely unchecked power of prosecutors accounts in part for a crisis of mass incarceration. We have nearly 2.3 million people locked up in the US. That’s more than any country in the world. A prosecutor played a key role in putting most of those people behind bars. So how do prosecutors do it?

Justine van der Leun  39:07

It often begins with a plea deal. Plea deals are common in US criminal cases, more than 90% of people plead guilty on the state and federal level, not necessarily because they are guilty, but because defendants are scared of the inflated sentences they face in America. And because trials take lots of time and effort, prosecutors and public defenders have an incentive to avoid them. And by the way, Nikki was offered a plea. She turned it down because she told me the truth is worth fighting for. But, like Michelle said earlier, a trial is not about truth. It’s about winning. And to win, lawyers often have to tell a story that jurors have already been primed by society to accept, here’s chatty again. This way of thinking, this idea that Nikki liked it, or at least that she had somehow consented, in part because she and Chris were together. It’s baked into our legal system and our culture. Many of our laws are based on British common law, which was written by white male jurists who were hardcore literal Puritans. In the 1600s, one major jurist wrote that by signing a marriage contract, a wife forever consents to sex. And this thinking it made its way into our modern law. Here’s Liegh Goodmark again, the professor you heard from before, she studies the intersection of gender and the law.

Leigh Goodmark  40:53

Oftentimes, sexual abuse just feels like that thing that you cannot describe no matter what. That’s all bound up, of course, in our ideas about particularly for married people, marital rape, and whether you can in fact rape your partner, the answer is, of course you can. But that wasn’t true in many states, even until recently.

Justine van der Leun 

It wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape became a crime nationwide in the United States. Spousal rape is now illegal, but the system still treats it with leniency, in October this year, yes, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that mostly eliminates an antiquated law that granted lower penalties to people who raped their spouses.

Leigh Goodmark 

And so this is all kind of bound up in our own shame about sexuality in kind of what people believe that sexuality says about them. And then in these ideas about what one partner in a relationship should be able to do.

Justine van der Leun 

It can be hard for people to grasp why Nikki stayed with Chris for almost a decade if the abuse was so bad. But Leigh, she sees this all the time.

Leigh Goodmark  42:04

For those of us who do this work on a regular basis, the depth of people’s cruelty is not, not credible. It’s absolutely credible to me. And when Nicky described things like being burnt with a hot spoon, that’s consistent with some of the things that I’ve seen over time.

Justine van der Leun 

But remember, Nikki’s story is the upside-down story, in the prosecution’s telling Nikki lied, self-inflicted, plotted to kill Chris. And then it turns out, she’s also the real abuser. Here’s Robert Tendy, the elected DA who oversaw this case.

Robert Tendy 

People have to realize that men can be abused too. It doesn’t happen often. But it does happen. And that’s what happened here. And I know it’s not sexy. And it’s not something that is placed well in the media, to have a woman who appears to be a terrible victim of abuse, to be actually the one who was the abuser. But that’s what happened in this case.

Justine van der Leun 

Sexy? Does anyone here find this podcast sexy? Anyway. How was Nikki abusive? Well, according to the prosecution, it came down to a text fight with Chris. In the fight. Nikki was upset that Chris wasn’t helping her enough with the house and the kids. She insulted him. The worst job was that she called him an asshole man-child. So I probably shouldn’t say this on a podcast about how the system can railroad you using your own joking words. But you should hear what I’ve said to my husband when I’ve been sleep deprived with two little kids and he’s left dirty clothes on the floor.

Robert Tendy 

If you took all these facts, Kristen, look at it this way. Take all of these facts and turn the person who is killed into Nicole and Chris as the shooter. He was hanging from the rafters everybody would be.

Kristen  44:04

That’s something I’m trying to figure out.

Robert Tendy

This is reverse sexism. Just because she’s a female people find it hard to believe that she could do this, is reverse sexism.

Justine van der Leun 

That’s Robert, talking to our producer Kristen.

Robert Tendy 

Ms. Addimando’s claims were totally uncorroborated, unsubstantiated. He was a very loving, patient, caring person who had the misfortune of staying with someone who was plotting on his murder. He stayed with her for too long.


I want to go back to something you said about uncorroborated. I know how we as journalists corroborate things but I’m less familiar with how it goes down in trial and in the legal system. Just elaborate on why it was not founded in your eyes.

Robert Tendy 

There was never anyone who witnessed Mr. Grover at any point, being short, or curt, or nasty or mean, to Ms. Addimando. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the abuse didn’t happen. Some people do hide it very well. But no one ever had any inkling at all.

Leigh Goodmark 

She had pictures of the things that had happened to her. And one of the most infuriating things for me in these cases is often well, it’s He Said, She Said, and we don’t know that it’s true, because there’s no physical evidence and apparently, unless you have the video of Ray Rice punching his wife so that you can see who the perpetrator is, there’s no level of proof that’s good enough.

Justine van der Leun 

That’s Leigh Goodmark again, she’s talking about Ray Rice, the football player who punched his fiancée into unconsciousness, an attack captured on an elevator camera. Leigh has studied Nikki’s case.

Leigh Goodmark 

So Nikki’s testimony is not enough, the pictures are not enough. The fact that she identified her partner to other people, as the person who had done this to her is not enough. And so what is enough? You know, is enough that the person comes back from the grave somehow and testifies, and unless you’re willing to find a person story credible, it’s never going to be enough, so it will never be reasonable.

Justine van der Leun  46:13

It’s never enough. Not for someone like Nikki. We’ll hear from her after this break. The first day Nikki testified, the air was sucked from that room. She walked up to the stand wearing a white cardigan that she kept pulling over her thumb. The whole gallery was transfixed. At first Nikki was visibly shaking, but then she pulled it together. When Nikki faced Hannah across examination, one of the first things Hannah did was to bring up Butch Nikki’s childhood abuser. Hannah talked about the men, Cesar the maintenance man and Dave […] the cop. She talked about how Nikki ruined reputations. She laid out her own version of Nikki’s life story.

Nikki Addimando  48:59

I don’t think I’ll ever get out of my head. Hannah’s voice, not even really asking me questions but trying to pull out the answers that she wants to fit her narrative to them as a  case, this is a story. The defendant, but like these are my actual experiences. This is my life this was, this isn’t their story.

Justine van der Leun 

In the end Nikki’s fate was in the hands of the jury. Was Nikki justified? Was Nikki’s fear reasonable? The 12-person jury would decide to set her free or send her away, maybe for good. It took them four days to deliberate. They revisited some evidence and they finally got a chance to talk it out. You can probably guess the outcome. They found Nikki guilty of murder. Here’s the chatty juror again, Clearly, the jury just didn’t believe her. And they followed the law. And that’s that. Right? Not quite, because there was actually at least one person on that jury who did totally believe Nikki, and she still voted to convict.

Justine van der Leun 

This is a juror I’ll call the crying juror, because she was crying in court. And then when I tracked her down, she started crying again. She told me she still hasn’t recovered from that trial. I just like to talk about your perspective and experience and what you think because other people aren’t thinking like you. But we, I saw you there. And I know that it’s not the same for you as it is for them. She didn’t want to talk more. But when I told her I was going to visit Nikki in prison, she did want me to pass on a message. You can tell her I believe everything she said but I can’t. Sorry. So this juror believed Nikki, but she and her fellow jury members still found her guilty. If that’s the case, then can we finally say, this system just doesn’t deliver justice for survivors. People look at the moment of Chris’s death. And they say at the very least he was at rest. She was armed. So she was in control. But in reducing it to that you erase the unfolding of that night, his threats, the kids, the effects of continuous abuse and coercion on a person’s psyche. You erase the whole context of the relationship. But it’s always been a legal strategy to erase people’s lives and experiences in order to make a simpler story. One that creates a clear situation with a right answer and a wrong one. Pure innocence or total guilt. Here’s Lee on that false binary.

Leigh Goodmark  53:16

I mean, I think Hannah Kraus was pretty clear about how she justified it. She didn’t believe that Nikki was in imminent danger. She believed that Nikki had other options. She didn’t believe that Nikki was a victim. And what’s interesting about what happens to victims who become criminal defendants is that for police and prosecutors, it is as though a switch flips. And you are no longer able to see that person as a victim in any way. You only see them as a perpetrator. I think that’s what happened here. And it’s very, very common. And you see prosecutors use this over-the-top language, I think in part because they can’t believe that they are prosecuting victims, because that is inconsistent with their worldview. Their worldview is I am the protector of victims. I am the Avenger of victims. So it cannot be that I am prosecuting a victim. That’s not my role. So the only way to deal with that cognitive dissonance is to say that person is not a victim. They are so deeply invested in the system and the way that that system works, that that again becomes part of their narrative. If you didn’t go to the system for help. You’re not really a victim. If you didn’t call police, you’re not really a victim. And when you claim to be a victim and you do something like this, you do a disservice to all victims by suggesting that this is the experience and that this is what should happen or could happen. As long as there is a criminal legal system there will be criminalized survivors. You either get to be a victim or you get to be a defendant but you don’t get to be both.

Justine van der Leun  54:53

10 months after Nikki was found guilty, all the major players in this story gathered in court for Nikki’s sentencing Nikki was led in, shackled. She sat at the defense table in an oversized orange jumpsuit. Those affected gotta have a final say. Chris’s mom Gail spoke, you destroyed so many lives that day, she said, and the prosecutor Hannah Kraus spoke too. She painted Nikki as sick, as someone who likes attention. And then it was Nikki’s turn. Here’s an excerpt from Nikki statement, which she wrote in her jail cell. The judge wouldn’t let anyone record so I’m going to read it to you. I wish more than anything, this ended another way. If it had, I wouldn’t be in this courtroom. But I wouldn’t be alive either. I wanted to live. I wanted this all to stop. I was afraid to stay, afraid to leave afraid that nobody would believe me afraid of losing everything. This is why women don’t leave. I know killing is not a solution and staying hurts. But leaving doesn’t mean living. Often we end up dead or where I’m standing, alive, but still not free.

Justine van der Leun  56:15

Judge Edward McLaughlin, he got the final word. He spoke directly to Nikki. He said to her quote, even though the abuse here that you allege is in this Court’s opinion on determined clearly someone who would make the choices you did is a broken person. No one really knows what goes on in the privacy of a relationship. Maybe he was engaging in intimate acts that you were very uncomfortable with and didn’t want to engage in. Maybe you were worried people would find out that you reluctantly consented and it would hurt you in some further proceeding. It’s not clear. Later, he said to her quote, your family can visit you. The Grover family has to go to a grave site. When you boil it all down, it comes to this. You didn’t have to kill him. And with that, he sentenced her to 19 years to life in prison.

Justine van der Leun 

Next week on Believe Her, there’s a glimmer of hope. Nikki gets a new lawyer and he’s arguing that there was crucial evidence left out of her trial evidence he thinks could take years off her sentence.


BELIEVE HER is a co-production of Lemonada and Spiegel and Grau. I’m your host Justine van der Leun. The production team includes me and our supervising producer Kristin Laporte, our Associate Producer Julia York, and our production assistant Rory James Leech. Mixing and sound design by Kegan Zema music by Sara Abdullah. Factchecking by Justin Classico. Story editing from Jackie Danziger. Additional audio engineering by Ivan Kuraev. Our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Spiegel and Grau. Thanks to Ariana Giles for editorial feedback. Special thanks to Michelle Horton and Elizabeth Clifton for archival tape. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at the or call 1-800-799-7233 help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms or find me at @JustineVDL. You can also get bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada Premium. You can subscribe right now in the Apple podcasts app by clicking on our podcast logo and then the subscribe button. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners please join our Believe Her podcast community on book clubs. Join for free at Thank you so much for listening.


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