Monday, May 21, 2018
News Roundup

Judge allows 'Hiccup Girl' Jennifer Mee to give interviews

LARGO — A judge on Friday refused to stop "Hiccup Girl" Jennifer Mee from giving interviews to the media in the final days before her murder trial.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley also refused an unusual request to allow the Dr. Phil show to have a cellphone-sized video camera in the courtroom to interview Mee during breaks in her trial.

Next week's trial of Mee is expected to attract widespread media attention. Mee and her attorney, John Trevena, scheduled interviews in the Pinellas County jail with the Today show, Dr. Phil, Inside Edition, Bay News 9 and the Tampa Bay Times.

But prosecutors objected in a motion filed Wednesday, saying the media blitz "could make it difficult to select an impartial jury." It also said potential jurors could be exposed to "irrelevant and inadmissible statements" designed to "elicit sympathy for the defendant."

Ley said she believed impartial jurors can be found.

After the hearing, the Sheriff's Office and Trevena scheduled the media interviews for Monday morning, but that didn't end the controversy.

Prosecutors said they would send a homicide detective to sit in on the interviews, with a video camera, in case Mee says something incriminating. Trevena objects, saying "that's pure intimidation."

Trevena has said Mee wants to do the interviews and has a First Amendment right to do so.

Jurors typically are asked whether they have read news coverage of cases to ensure they haven't decided someone's guilt before a trial begins.

Also Friday, Trevena said the Dr. Phil show was interested in providing a small video camera to interview Mee during breaks in the trial. He said the footage would be aired at some point after the trial.

Trevena explained later that a member of the legal team could have interviewed Mee during courtroom breaks. This camera would have been in addition to the usual news cameras expected to be used by photographers throughout the trial.

"If your question to me is, 'Judge Ley, can we have Dr. Phil's little camera or recorder in the courtroom for breaks in the trial …' my answer is no thank you," Ley said.

Diane Dimond, a reporter who specializes in covering criminal justice issues, said in an interview she had never heard of a lawyer carrying a camera for a TV show.

Dimond said Joe Amendola, attorney for convicted child molester and retired Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, arranged a pretrial interview with NBC sports anchor Bob Costas and facilitated an audio interview aired on Penn State radio platforms before his sentencing.

Both interviews, intended to humanize Sandusky and present his perspective, were used as evidence against him, Dimond said. "My warning to the lawyer is: The hand that feeds can also bite you," she said.

One of the other people accused in the St. Petersburg murder was convicted last month in a trial that received scant publicity. Laron Cordale Raiford, 23, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The third defendant, Lamont Antonio Newton, 25, will go on trial after Mee.

St. Petersburg police said the trio plotted to rob Shannon Griffin, 22. He was found shot to death at a vacant home just north of downtown.

Under Florida law, someone can be convicted of murder if he or she commits a serious felony, such as robbery, and someone is killed. That's what happened here, prosecutors say.

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