CLEARWATER — A Florida woman who appeared on several national television programs as a teen because of her uncontrollable hiccupping went on trial on a murder charge on Tuesday.
Prosecutors and attorneys for Jennifer Mee began selecting a jury in a Pinellas County courtroom. Judge Nancy Moate Ley told potential jurors that the trial would probably wrap up by the end of the week.
Mee, who is 22, suffered from prolonged hiccups of up to 50 a minute in 2007. Videos of her hiccupping gained her national attention, as did her attempts to quell the problem. She tried home remedies and consulted medical specialists, a hypnotist and an acupuncturist, until the hiccups finally stopped on their own. She appeared on several TV shows and while on the "Today" show, was hugged by fellow guest and country music star Keith Urban.
Her 2010 arrest was her first.
The 22-year-old Mee is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Shannon Griffin, a 22-year-old Walmart worker. Prosecutors say Mee lured Griffin to a St. Petersburg home under the pretense of buying marijuana — but instead two of Mee's friends robbed him at gunpoint. Griffin struggled with the suspects and was shot several times.
Detectives said Mee accepted a friend request from Griffin on a social networking website five or six days before the robbery, but it was unclear if Griffin had recognized her as the "hiccup girl."
Mee's co-defendant, LaRon Raiford, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in August. Lamont Newton, the other co-defendant who was also Mee's boyfriend at the time of the crime, has not yet gone to trial.
At issue is whether Mee is a bystander or the person who planned the robbery — prosecutors say she played an active role in planning the robbery, which lead to Griffin's death. Under Florida law, a person can be convicted of murder if he or she committed a serious felony crime — such as robbery — and someone was killed as a result.
John Trevena, Mee's attorney, said his client suffered from Tourette's Syndrome, a neurological disorder that can cause involuntary movements and speech problems. He said that the hiccups were one symptom of Tourette's and said Tuesday that he will mention that during the trial.
"It won't be used as a direct cause for what occurred but it might help explain her errors in judgment and her often thoughtless response to law enforcement," said Trevena, who said that Mee did not participate in the robbery.
He added that his client has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and that he plans to explain that to the jury as well.
Trevena said Mee has been in jail pending trial since her October 2010 arrest — much of that time in isolation because detention deputies say she is a high profile inmate.
Mee has experienced periodic bouts of hiccups while in jail, said Trevena, and she is being treated with a drug called thorazine.
"It controls the hiccups," he said.
Mee wore a teal dress and her long, dark hair loose during the first day of the trial. She looked sadly at the potential jurors when the charge against her was read by the judge.
Mee is not facing the death penalty. If convicted, she will face life in prison without the possibility of parole.