CLEARWATER — Three months after a jury convicted Jennifer Mee, known as Hiccup Girl, in the death of a man she met on a social networking site, another jury on Friday decided her boyfriend played a role in the victim’s death, too.
Lamont Newton, now 25, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the Oct. 23, 2011, death of Shannon Griffin, 22. The jury handed down its verdict after about 3 1/2 hours of deliberation.
Pinellas Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley sentenced Newton to life in prison, the only possible punishment under Florida law. Ley gave Mee, 22, the same sentence in September.
“I know it’s got to be done,’’ Newton’s brother, Ernest Smith, told the judge. Then he turned to his brother and reminded him he would have the emotional support of his family while he was in prison.
“Keep your head up because nothing is going to change.’’
Investigators say the couple – along with a third suspect, Laron Raiford, now 23, who is already serving a life sentence in connection with the crime – were involved in a robbery that went awry.
After communicating with Griffin on Moco Space.com, Mee arranged for Griffin to meet Newton and Raiford, with whom she was living, in a dark alley at 511 Seventh St. N. in St. Petersburg, ostensibly to buy $60 worth of marijuana, investigators say.
Instead, the two men tried to rob Griffin at gunpoint, Griffin fought back, and was shot four times in the chest.
The pair accidentally left a .38-caliber handgun behind, and Raiford’s DNA was found on the weapon, as well as on shell casings inside the revolver, prosecutors have said. In addition, investigators found Griffin’s belongings in a plastic bag, hidden in a bathroom vent, in a north St. Petersburg apartment to which the trio had access. Griffin’s wallet, which contained his driver’s license, and his cellphone were in the bag.
As with Mee, Griffin’s own words were the most damaging evidence against him.
Mee admitted to setting up Griffin both to investigators and to her mother in a taped conversation from the Pinellas County Jail. Newton admitted to the plan in a taped interview with detectives after they told him they knew Mee lured Griffin to the alley, Assistant State Attorney Christopher LaBruzzo said during closing arguments.
It didn’t matter whether Newton pulled the trigger, LaBruzzo told jurors. He still had to be held accountable under Florida law because he participated in a robbery that resulted in a death.
Just as prosecutors presented similar evidence, namely the confessions, at the two trials, defense attorneys for Mee and Newton tried to plant doubt in jurors’ minds by suggesting an alternative sequence of events.
As Mee’s attorney, John Trevena, had done, Newton’s attorney, Larry Sandefer, suggested another woman who lived with the three, Jennifer Charron, Raiford’s girlfriend, was the one who met Griffin in the alley. When Raiford came upon the pair, he flew into a rage and killed Griffin, the two attorneys suggested.
Charron was not charged in connection with the shooting.
In 2007, Mee became known to millions as “Hiccup Girl” for her inability to stop hiccuping for five weeks when she was 19.
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