Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

'Hiccup Girl' Jennifer Mee: Mastermind or bystander?

ST. PETERSBURG — Every teenager tries on an identity.

And so a 15-year-old returned to Northeast High School after a monthlong absence in 2007, with 10 letters pressed into her lacquered pink fingernails:

H-I-C-C-U-P G-I-R-L.

Jennifer Mee had transformed into Hiccup Girl, a star of the moment on the Today show, Inside Edition, Tampa Bay media and YouTube because of the relentless hiccupping she suffered for weeks at a time.

Now a 22-year-old Mee is back in the spotlight, with all the same cameras focused on her again.

The only difference is Mee's identity. Hiccup Girl has now become Murder Defendant. If convicted of first-degree murder, she will face only one possible sentence: life in prison with no possibility of parole.

• • •

"She's the mastermind behind it."

That's how Jacklyn Allen, 25, views Mee.

Allen's brother LaRon Raiford was convicted last month in the same murder that Mee goes on trial in this week. She pointed to police statements indicating it was Mee who used a social networking site to set up a meeting with Shannon Griffin, 22, in St. Petersburg.

"If it wasn't for her, none of this would have happened," Allen said.

Prosecutors say Mee and two men plotted to lure Griffin to the 500 block of Seventh Street so he could buy marijuana — but that it was really a plan to rob him.

Griffin was shot and killed. Under Florida law, if three people commit a robbery and someone dies as a result, all three can be charged with first-degree murder.

However, Mee's attorney, John Trevena, says: "Jennifer did not participate in any robbery."

It's true someone used a phone to communicate with Griffin and get him to come to the meeting, he said. But a lot of people had access to that phone — not just Mee.

And if Mee wasn't part of the plot to rob Griffin, Trevena said, prosecutors can't get her convicted of murder.

"They don't have the foundation to build it on," he said.

But a St. Petersburg police detective said in her 2010 bail hearing that "she stated it was her intent for a robbery to occur."

Was Mee the mastermind or the bystander? That is the question for this week. If the jury believes she planned a robbery, she can be found just as guilty as the person who pulled the trigger.

• • •

In ninth grade, Mee was "a good person and a great friend," recalls Miranda Kelsey, who had a couple of classes with her. They would go to Mee's house or hang out at the park, watching the boys play basketball.

"She was a good girl," she said. "I don't understand what happened to her."

One day in ninth grade, Mee went to Northeast's school clinic. She had been hiccuping for 15 minutes, which seemed like a really long time.

But the hiccups lasted weeks. Hiccuping 50 times a minute went from funny to annoying to much worse.

The constant spasms hurt her chest and hips. She ate foods such as applesauce, Jell-O and ice cream so she could swallow them quickly between hiccups.

She had started to worry the hiccups would prevent her from getting married. "It's so depressing, Jennifer says, that she's considered jumping off the Sunshine Skyway, just to make it stop," a 2007 Times article said.

The ailment affected others too, including her sisters. Jennifer had to go to sleep first because no one else in the room of five girls could sleep with her hiccuping.

Her story was among the first local ones to go viral nationwide on the Internet. The media became as relentless as the spasms convulsing her body.

At one point, Good Morning America left her 57 messages, according to her family. NBC paid to fly Jennifer and her mother to New York City and put them in a hotel for four days for the Today show.

After 37 days, the hiccups finally stopped and Mee could go back to high school. A day later, they returned.

Mee made the news again in the summer, when she disappeared for 24 hours. Her parents found her crying on a bench in Fossil Park.

She was out of the spotlight for nearly three years.

• • •

Behind the scenes, there were troubles. At the time of her disappearance — still years before her arrest — family members told investigators that Mee suffered from seizures, that she had been placed in a psychiatric hospital and that she may have been beaten by a boyfriend.

She withdrew from Northeast High and never finished.

By 2010, she was living away from home, receiving Social Security disability. On her Facebook page, which was still up last week, she was sounding harsh.

This was a post from Sept. 2, 2010: Maken mo money then da avarage b----

And three days later: Bae gave me 2beans n refa im f--- up gota work at 930am wtf

Around that time, she moved into an apartment at 610 Fifth Ave. N with her boyfriend Lamont Antonio Newton, with Raiford, and with a woman named Jennifer Charron.

One night in October, Charron said in a formal interview with lawyers, the other three all left the apartment at nighttime. Mee said they were going out to get money — without explaining what that meant.

Before long, Mee came running up the stairs and into the apartment saying "that she heard gunshots, that someone had got shot."

Charron said Mee "was freaking out a little bit" and couldn't tell her where Newton and Raiford were. So Charron decided to leave the apartment and look. Then Raiford came up the stairs.

"He was extremely upset," Charron recalled. "He came in, punched the wall, screaming that Lamont, bro, was dead. Lamont was dead."

But Lamont Newton wasn't dead. Soon "Lamont staggered in, collapsed on the ground, out of breath," she said.

But not so out of breath that he couldn't say something:

"He said he had to do it, he had to kill the guy or he was going to get killed himself."

Raiford was convicted and sentenced to life in prison last month. Newton goes on trial at a later date.

Jury selection for Mee's trial begins Tuesday.

Days before the trial's start, Mee's mother was arrested on a warrant on a charge of interfering with child custody.

Rachael Robidoux, 43, who lists a Tennessee address, was arrested Saturday evening at the Pinellas County Jail, records show.

Details of the warrant were not available Sunday. But Mee's attorney called the timing of the arrest "questionable."

Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232. Follow him on Twitter: @ckruegertimes.

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