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The strange celebrity of Hiccup Girl

Strange, what makes for celebrity.

Think Debra Lafave, the Tampa teacher who was news around the world for her blue eyes, blond hair and predatory bent, whose too-pretty-for-prison sentence for having sex with a 14-year-old boy banned her from telling her tale to the tabloids for cash.

And thank you for small favors.

But the truth is, we consume these stories like leftover Halloween candy until we feel a little sick, until the TMZ types move on to someone more outrageous, more of-the-moment. But we're always willing to double back, should an ex-celebrity get interesting all over again.

And so comes this unexpected twist: The young woman formerly known as Hiccup Girl is charged with murder.

Her story was so odd and endearing it landed her on the Today show: At 15, Jennifer Mee could not stop hiccuping. But back in the real world, she grew up, dropped out, hooked up with the wrong people, was referred to on her MySpace page as a "hustla." Now 19, she is accused in a murder that is both tragic and, when it comes to killings that regularly play out in your local courthouse, tragically familiar.

The allegations are a law school lesson in felony murder. Police say Mee lured a young man named Shannon Griffin to an empty house so her boyfriend and another man could rob him. There were gunshots. Griffin was killed. If you are committing a felony and someone dies, that's felony murder.

"And if she did not have the hiccup history," says her attorney, John Trevena, "this story would be the back of the B section."

Instead, the arrest of Hiccup Girl made Time and the Washington Post. This morning, Trevena appears on Today. A normally routine bail hearing was crowded, and afterward, a TV reporter wanted to know if Mee had been faking those courtroom hiccups. (For the record, Trevena says her condition has jail officials treating her with Thorazine and other medication.)

It is both fascinating and horrifying to hear him describe the dance of those who want to own the story of Hiccup Girl Gone Bad. No stranger to headline-making cases, he says he has fielded calls from media representatives he won't name offering to post her bail.

Then, "basically, they would own her," he says. She could only talk to reporters or go on shows they named, a defendant and an investment.

"I said 'What if they set a million-dollar bail?' " Trevena says. The response: "'We'll entertain it.' " He says he and his client's family declined. Bail has since been denied.

Will Mee's celebrity affect her case?

Trevena points out the least culpable person often gets a plea deal for a lesser charge in exchange for cooperating and testifying. He says he's offered. No takers.

Then again, authorities say all three confessed, so maybe they don't need Mee.

Trevena also wonders if race — she is white, the two men are black — has authorities extra careful not to give her a break. This would be ironic, considering an American justice system known for tilting the opposite way.

So can the Hiccup Girl case be like any other, even with the strange celebrity that follows her still?

The answer is: in a courtroom, it should be and it has to be, both for Mee and for the man who died that night. Even if the world is watching.

The strange celebrity of Hiccup Girl 11/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 11, 2010 7:48pm]
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