CLEARWATER — Defense Attorney John Trevena set up a handful of media interviews this week with one of his better-known clients: Jennifer Mee, otherwise known as the “Hiccup Girl.”
The trouble is, the interviews with the “Today” show, “Inside Edition” and the “Dr. Phil Show,” among others, were to take place the week before Mee, 22, is scheduled to stand trial for murder.
Prosecutors balked, arguing in a two-page emergency motion filed Wednesday morning that if the public is inundated with news about Mee right before her first-degree murder trial that finding 12 fair and impartial jurors would be tough.
Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley scheduled a hearing on the matter Friday.
In the meantime, Ley told Trevena during a brief hearing Wednesday that she expects no interviews to take place before Friday’s hearing.
In almost the same breath, though, Ley also said she was not restricting the press — effectively, putting the burden on Trevena.
“I’m expecting nothing to occur,” Ley told him. “I’m hoping that would be respected.”
Mee is accused of setting up a man she met online for a robbery that turned fatal. On Oct. 23, 2010, she and two accomplices, Laron Raiford and Lamont Newton, lured 22-year-old Shannon Griffin to a dark alley in St. Petersburg, promising to sell him $60 worth of marijuana, according to police. The robbery went awry, though, and Griffin was killed.
Raiford was convicted in Griffin’s death last month and sentenced to life in prison.
In 2007, Mee became known to millions as “Hiccup Girl” for her inability to stop hiccupping for five weeks when she was 19.
If convicted as charged, Mee faces life in prison.
In their two-page emergency motion, prosecutors asked that Ley stop Mee — and Trevena — from talking about the case in the media.
“Given the proximity of the trial and the variety of the scheduled coverage, the anticipated publicity will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing the upcoming jury selection and trial proceeding due to its creating an imminent substantial detrimental effect on the ability to select fair and impartial jurors that have not been exposed to irrelevant and inadmissible statements or evidence seeking to elicit sympathy toward the defendant,” the motion says.
Trevena said in court he set up the interviews at Mee’s request and that Mee was exercising her First Amendment rights to talk about her case.
He also said the “Today” show, which was scheduled to talk to Mee Wednesday morning, and “Inside Edition,” which was scheduled to talk to her Thursday, had invested considerable money to conduct the interviews and that stopping them would pose a financial burden.
Among other expenses, the shows’ producers are paying for detention deputies to provide security at the Pinellas County Jail during the interviews, Trevena told the judge.
Outside court, Trevena said he was not being compensated for setting up the interviews and that he was unsure if he would comply with Ley’s wishes.
“The question is, ‘Do we do the interviews and suffer her wrath?’ ” Trevena said.
Wednesday afternoon, Trevena said he would wait until Friday’s hearing before deciding what to do next.
“I’m not rocking the boat,” he said.
A fair and impartial jury could still be impaneled if interviews with Mee were aired on TV and published in the local press, Trevena said. The interviews could make jury selection more difficult and cost taxpayers more money, but those concerns are outweighed by the importance of Mee’s First Amendment rights, he said.
“That’s the price of a free society,” he said.
Trevena said his goal in setting up the interviews was to create a favorable impression of Mee with prospective jurors.
“She is not this ghetto-type of person” who should be categorized as a murderer, Trevena said. “That to her is very painful.”