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'Hiccup Girl' one of three accused of murder in St. Petersburg robbery

ST. PETERSBURG — She was just 15 when a mysterious malady turned her into an international oddity: Jennifer Ann Mee could not stop hiccupping.

The teen hiccupped up to 50 times a minute. She couldn't sleep or go to school. The media deluged her. Eventually she got help, and the world was done with "Hiccup Girl."

But her story went on, and St. Petersburg police said it took a horrific turn this weekend: She and two men are accused of killing Shannon Griffin, 22, in a robbery gone awry.

Police said Mee, now 19, was a co-conspirator in the plot: She was the bait.

"She knew the plan, she knew they were waiting for him," said Maj. Mike Kovacsev, "and she brought him to their waiting arms."

Mee and Lamont Antonio Newton, 22, and Laron Cordale Raiford, 20, were arrested Sunday on charges of first-degree murder. All are being held without bail.

The life of "Hiccup Girl" was never easy. It got worse when she turned 18, according to family and police: She didn't graduate; she struggled to make ends meet; her medication had severe side effects; she suffered mental problems and, police said, domestic abuse.

Now her fame has turned to infamy, only this time it has enmeshed a shy man from Mississippi who police said was doomed when he agreed to meet face-to-face with the girl he had just met online.

• • •

The hiccups started in first-period science class. Mee was a freshman at Northeast High School. After 15 minutes she went to the clinic. It didn't stop.

She tried all the classics: holding her breath, sugar under the tongue, breathing into a paper bag. Strangers offered advice.

Then came the doctors. She couldn't go to school, so tutors came to her. She couldn't eat hard food or sleep without medicinal help.

Rachel Robidoux called the St. Petersburg Times to publicize her daughter's strange plight. Someone out there, mom thought, could end her daughter's painful, unrelenting spasms.

The story ran on the front page on Feb. 15, 2007. The next day she was on NBC's Today show. "It hurts a lot," Mee told Matt Lauer.

Country singer Keith Urban hugged her on the show. More cures poured in. The story went national and viral.

Not all of the attention was flattering, especially online. Mee ran away that summer. Eventually her hiccups subsided with medication. She still had bouts. In August 2007, she was back at school — and on the Today show, telling how the hiccups helped her meet her estranged father.

Mee's mother said her daughter started hiccuping while taking the FCAT in the spring of 2008. Mee was asked to leave. She left the school and never went back.

• • •

She turned 18 on July 28, 2009.

Then, in January, her parents reported her missing. She turned up the next day, but St. Petersburg investigators wanted to talk to her about her boyfriend, Reginald Lee Jr.

Rachel Robidoux brought her daughter to the police station. Mee and her family told investigators about her turbulent days after life as "Hiccup Girl."

According to police reports, Mee was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome. Her medication caused nausea, suicidal thoughts and hallucinations. But sometimes she skipped her medication and had seizures.

She was placed in a psychiatric hospital in 2008. Her daughter "functions on the level of a 12- or 13-year-old," the mother said.

Her parents told police they believed Lee abused her.

"They have seen numerous marks on Mee's body, including bruises and bite marks," the investigator wrote. But she always explained away her injuries. The mother told police that her daughter "may be afraid of what he'll do if she leaves."

Lee denied the allegations. No charges were filed. The couple stayed together but lived like transients.

Then on March 31, Lee, 19, was arrested and accused of robbing and choking a woman. He is being held in the Pinellas County Jail on $10,000 bail.

Sometime later, police said, Mee and Lamont Newton started dating. They lived at 610 Fifth Ave. N with Laron Raiford. All three came up with the scheme that ended in Shannon Griffin's death, police said.

• • •

Griffin met Mee online just a week before his death, police said. They arranged to meet Saturday night at 511 Seventh St. N.

It was a trap. The three plotted to lure Griffin to the empty home and rob him, police said.

Griffin pulled up about 10 p.m. Mee led him to the back, where police said Newton and Raiford tried to rob him.

Mee kept on walking, but seconds later gunshots rang out. Griffin struggled with the men, police said, and was shot three times in the chest and once in the shoulder with a .38-caliber revolver.

No one reported the gunshots. Police found Griffin when a caller reported a sleeping transient about 11 p.m. Saturday.

Police found the gun and shoes left behind by a suspect.

Griffin had less than $60 on him when he was killed.

• • •

Shannon Griffin played football in Petal, Miss., but left for St. Petersburg about a year ago to get a job, said his stepfather, John Merritt. He worked at the Walmart Supercenter in Pinellas Park. He recently got his GED and enrolled in college classes.

"He was a good guy, quiet," Merritt said. "He always had good intentions."

As the sun rose Sunday, detectives worked to solve Griffin's slaying. They found witnesses who overheard the suspects talk about the murder.

All three eventually admitted taking part in the robbery, police said, though investigators don't know who fired the gun.

Mee did not suffer any hiccups during her interview, police said. But did she show any remorse?

"She was emotional throughout the interview," Kovacsev said.

Her mother, Robidoux, cried as she gave a radio interview on the MJ Morning show early Monday. She described her daughter as a "lovable, sweet little girl who wouldn't hurt a fly."

Mee's family hired high-profile lawyer John Trevena later Monday.

"I don't think she knew what was going to happen because that's not Jennifer," Robidoux said. "She's not out to hurt anyone."

But she did set out to rob someone, police said. Under Florida's felony murder statute, anyone who commits a felony in which someone is killed can be charged with murder.

"Unfortunately what they thought would be a simple robbery ended a life," Kovacsev said, "and destroyed theirs."

Times staff writers Craig Pittman, Richard Martin, Dominick Tao, Mary Jane Park and researchers Carolyn Edds and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or 727) 893-8472.

'Hiccup Girl' one of three accused of murder in St. Petersburg robbery 10/24/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 8:26am]
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