ST. PETERSBURG — Jennifer Ann Mee's unyielding hiccups earned her fame as the "Hiccup Girl." Her arrest this weekend on a first-degree murder charge has now brought her infamy.
Doug Bolden called her something else: a predator.
His cousin, 22-year-old Shannon Griffin, was the victim in Saturday's murder. Police said he was shot and killed in a robbery gone awry — a robbery allegedly orchestrated by Mee, 19, Lamont Antonio Newton, 22, and Laron Cordale Raiford, 20.
All three now face charges of first-degree murder.
"It's upsetting," Bolden said. "My Shannon is a Hurricane Katrina survivor. I brought him here because my family was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
"He's never, ever been arrested in his whole life. He works a full-time job. All he was looking for was a date."
Bolden, 42, said in the days since his cousin's death, he has heard all about the problems Mee has suffered: the Tourette's syndrome; the debilitating hiccups and seizures; the side effects of her medication; potential mental issues; and physical abuse, police said, at the hands of an old boyfriend.
Mee's mother, Rachel Robidoux, described her daughter in a radio interview as a "lovable, sweet little girl who wouldn't hurt a fly."
That doesn't sit well with Bolden.
"These parents are producing predators, and when they get caught they run to them and say 'poor little baby.' They need to take accountability for it."
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Mee was 15 when she gained international fame in 2007 for her extreme case of hiccups. The painful spasms lasted six weeks. Media outlets fought for her story. The Today show flew her to New York and hid her from Good Morning America.
They all came back this week. Hundreds of media outlets besieged her attorney, John Trevena, on Tuesday hoping to coax the family out for an interview.
Except for a few words on the radio and in print, Trevena said the family will stay quiet until he knows more about the case and how Mee's medical and mental issues could affect it.
Mee's family said she was diagnosed with the neurological disorder Tourette's syndrome, which causes involuntary and repeated movements and tics. Her attorney said it's "a much more serious neurological condition than anyone really realized."
But when their daughter went missing briefly in January, the family revealed much more to investigators: Mee has seizures; she may have the "mental ability" of a 13-year-old; her medicine caused hallucinations and thoughts of suicide; she was placed in a psychiatric hospital; and her family told police she often bore the marks of domestic violence — bites, bruises, black eyes — inflicted by her then-boyfriend, Regional Lee Jr.
They couldn't charge him, police said, and she wouldn't stop seeing him. An investigator called Mee "irresponsible and at times irrational." Lee, 19, was later jailed on unrelated charges.
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Mee's grandfather, Robert McCauley, said her life got harder when she turned 18. The hiccups never really went away. She moved in with her boyfriend, Lee. They lived like transients. She went on Social Security disability. She never finished school.
Her family said the hiccups got Mee kicked out of an FCAT exam in the spring of 2008. The school district said Mee withdrew from Northeast High School for good in March 2009. She enrolled in Northeast Community School but never attended classes.
Ashley Tollison, 19, of St. Petersburg knew Mee before the fame and the infamy. Mee's problems accelerated after she stopped going to school, Tollison said. She fell in with a bad crowd.
"She had good friends," Tollison said, "and then she started hanging out with the wrong friends."
Online, Mee portrayed herself as a bad girl. Her MySpace page — her attorney has since had it taken down — says she lives in "ST PISTOL" and that she's the "female version of a hustla."
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Mee's mental and medical issues haven't yet been diagnosed for the purposes of her court case. Those issues can't really keep her from prison, legal experts said. But they could keep her from spending the rest of her life there.
All three suspects were arrested under Florida's felony murder statute: Anyone who commits a felony that results in death can be charged with murder. Their intent doesn't matter.
First-degree murder is punishable by life in prison — without the possibility of parole — or the death penalty. If Mee were convicted of that, the best she could hope for is that her past might spare her from a death sentence.
But if the state allowed her to plead to a lesser charge, such as second-degree murder or manslaughter, then her diagnoses and history could persuade a judge to reduce her sentence.
Mee has pleaded not guilty. She could risk a trial and go for acquittal. But police believe they have a strong case: They said all three suspects confessed, left the murder weapon behind and can be linked to the victim using online and cell phone records.
Prosecutors will ask a grand jury to indict them on Thursday. All three are being held without bail in the Pinellas County Jail.
That's why Trevena said he will speak to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office about striking a plea bargain. Helping Mee avoid a first-degree murder charge, he said, is the "primary goal."
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Mee is accused of befriending the victim using the social networking website MocoSpace.com. She lured him out to be robbed by an armed Newton and Raiford, police said.
But Griffin fought back, and police said in the ensuing struggle he was shot four times with a .38-caliber revolver.
Saturday was supposed to be a special night for Griffin. It was his first week of paid vacation after a year of working at the Pinellas Park Walmart Supercenter. He had broken up with a girl at work and was excited about the new girl he was about to meet.
"He received some texts and he was smiling like a kid at Christmas," Bolden said. "The next thing I know he's running out. I was happy for him. He's got a date."
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It was everything Bolden hoped for when he brought Shannon (pronounced Sha-NAHN) Griffin to Florida last year to help him jump-start his life. Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the Gulf Coast and the home Griffin grew up in, his grandmother's house in Sheeplo, Miss.
He was 17 at the time of the 2005 hurricane. He lost friends and relatives in the storm. He stopped going to school. He wouldn't even leave the house. "He was shell-shocked," Bolden said.
So last year he dragged his cousin back to Florida, and it was working. Griffin passed the GED test and was looking at college.
"I literally threw him in my car and brought him over here for a new life, man," said Bolden, his voice quivering, "and now look at this."
Times staff writer Craig Pittman and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.