MJ Morning Show suggests lawyer for "Hiccup Girl," raising questions about media and justice
As the story unfolds of murder charges against St. Petersburg's Jennifer Mee -- a teen whose trouble with uncontrollable hiccuping earned her nationwide attention as the "Hiccup Girl" -- Tampa radio jock Todd "MJ" Schnitt has positioned his MJ Morning Show at the center of the action.
This morning, Schnitt's show featured an interview with attorney John Trevena, a media-savvy lawyer who has represented some of the area's best-known criminal defendants. In his first broadcast interview, Trevena revealed or confirmed lots of tidbits about the case -- that Mee has been receiving disability payments related to a "serious medical problem" and that he had her MySpace and Facebook pages taken down to help with her public image. He also talked about whether Tourette's syndrome would be part of Mee's defense.
At the end of the interview, Schnitt admitted a curious fact: He recommended Mee's mother Rachel Robidoux hire Trevena for the case.
"We just suggested the name of an attorney she could talk to," said Schnitt in an interview today. "What transpired after and her decision to hire him, we had nothing to do with that...In jennifer’s mother's time of distress, we made a simple recommendation. If Jennifer is found guilty of this crime, she needs to face the harshest of consequences.”
The revelation highlighted the delicate line Schnitt is walking in this case, where his friendship with the family from the days of Mee's hiccup-fueled notoriety has provided unique access to a criminal case generating worldwide attention. Since news broke of her arrest Sunday night, Schnitt has featured a tearful interview with Mee's mother and an ex-girlfriend of 22-year-old Shannon Griffin, who Mee is accused of luring to a spot in St. Petersburg where her friends tried to rob him and instead Griffin was shot dead.
Later, when taking calls from listeners about the case, Schnitt faced off against a man who accused him of trying to help Mee avoid the case's harshest penalties by personalizing her story. His call came after a different listener expressed sympathy for Mee, saying it "doesn't sound like she's a bad person."
Schnitt responded by stressing that "if she did the crime, she's going to do the time." But the caller's point was significant: Schnitt has helped Mee hire one of the best known criminal defense attorneys in the area and lent publicity to the notion that she was a nice girl who fell in with a bad crowd at a time when details are still emerging about the crime. If her case does go to trial, potential jurors might be listening to the way this case is being framed right now -- a fact Trevena likely knows well.
"I'm not taking sides here...I have equally discussed all sides of this," said Schnitt, noting that's he's going to have the victim's sister, Shana Griffin, on his show Wednesday morning to tlak about her brother. "I don't want to be portrayed as sympathetic (to Mee). I'm just trying to tell the story from all sides."
Already, by virtue of her previous fame, Mee is better known than anyone else in the case, including the victim. Every story on the crime so far has featured lots of detail on her struggle with hiccups and the worldwide fame it generated. And given that her accused accomplices and the victim are all black men, will race play a factor in how the legal case plays out?
Schnitt's show has become a concentrated example of the media dynamics at hand -- humanizing Mee at the very moment her attorney may be trying to land a lighter sentence and make the case that other people arrested for the crime were more culpable.
Mee may have found her previous media notoriety a burden, but it may also help her in a case Schnitt dubbed the "Hiccup Homicide" -- yet another example of modern-day fame's double-edged effect.