ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg police took the unusual step of arresting a witness in a murder case Thursday, gingerly carrying the partially paralyzed woman down the outside stairs of a second-floor apartment.
"I'm a nervous wreck right now," Jennifer Charron said in a telephone interview before her arrest.
"It's a nightmare," her mother, Joanne Hughes, said, just after her daughter was placed in the back of a police cruiser.
Charron could be called as a witness in murder trials against "Hiccup Girl" Jennifer Mee and two others.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley issued the arrest order for Charron during a pretrial hearing Thursday, and stressed that it was a last resort.
"The last thing I want to do is order the sheriff to go out and have to pick up this poor young lady who has a health condition that requires a wheelchair,'' Ley said.
But the defense witness had not responded to several attempts to persuade her to appear in court — including a court order for Thursday's hearing, Ley said. "I don't see what choice I have.''
Ley said Charron is accused of civil contempt, not criminal. She will be released soon if she cooperates with attorneys and pledges to appear in the future. Ley compared the situation to a parent being arrested for failure to pay child support, then getting released upon payment.
Reached by telephone by a reporter Thursday, Charron said that she is paralyzed from the chest down because of a spinal infection, and that sitting in a wheelchair for even an hour or so wears her out for days.
"It's going to be a strain — mentally, physically, emotionally." She said she was willing to testify, but worried that the trip to the courthouse would be too physically demanding.
She lives on the second floor of an apartment with no elevator. When she leaves, friends have to carry her out.
During Thursday's hearing, attorneys and roommates of Charron said she would not answer her telephone and had made it clear she had no intention of coming in.
Authorities say Mee, Lamont Newton and LaRon Raiford plotted to meet Shannon Griffin, 22, to rob him in 2010. Instead, Griffin was shot and killed.
No one is saying Charron witnessed the crime, but she has told police she overheard Newton say he fired the fatal shot.
Less clear is whether that would help any defendants. Under Florida law, people who commit certain felony crimes that result in someone's death can be charged with murder.
Mee gained international notoriety as a teenager because of incessant hiccups. She had faded from public view until her arrest in 2010.