Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas prosecutors seek to bar jailhouse interviews with 'Hiccup Girl' Jennifer Mee

LARGO — With Inside Edition and Dr. Phil poised for jailhouse interviews, prosecutors filed an emergency motion on Wednesday asking a judge to prevent "Hiccup Girl" Jennifer Mee from making public statements before her upcoming murder trial.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley did not order any such restrictions on Wednesday, but she did schedule a hearing for Friday to discuss the motion. She also told Mee's defense attorney, John Trevena, that she hoped Mee would not give media interviews before then.

"I am expecting that nothing will occur in the meantime," Ley said, but noted, "I am not restricting the press."

In response, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office — which operates the county jail — suspended all interviews with Mee until after the 1:30 p.m. hearing Friday, a spokeswoman said.

Mee, 22, goes on trial Tuesday. She is one of three people accused in the 2010 killing of Shannon Griffin, 22, in St. Petersburg.

From the very beginning, the case has attracted widespread media attention because Mee had previously gained notoriety as a teenager when she had a case of hiccups that wouldn't stop.

The media interest continued this week as Mee and her attorney arranged for interviews in the jail with Today, Dr. Phil, Inside Edition, Bay News 9 and the Tampa Bay Times. The Today show was up first, but that scheduled interview did not happen Wednesday morning because of the state's emergency motion. Other interviews had been scheduled for later in the week.

The motion prepared by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office said the barrage of interviews likely would prejudice the upcoming jury selection and trial and "could make it difficult to select an impartial jury."

The memo said potential jurors could be exposed to "irrelevant and inadmissible statements" designed to "elicit sympathy for the defendant."

In comments to reporters after the hearing, Trevena acknowledged that presenting a favorable impression of Mee is part of the reason he wanted to allow such interviews.

"That's the goal, absolutely," he said. "Otherwise, why would we do this?"

However, he also said he did not think the interviews would prevent the court from finding jurors who could be fair.

Trevena said Mee wants to do the interviews and that she has a First Amendment right to do them. The pretrial interviews might make the jury selection process slower, he acknowledged, but he called that the "price of a free society."

Jurors typically are asked whether they have read news coverage of highly publicized cases in an effort to make sure they haven't decided someone's guilt before the trial even begins.

One of the other people accused in the 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.

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