May 7, 1999
A jury has found the US Jenny Jones talk show guilty of negligence in the wrongful death of a gay guest who was shot dead after appearing on the show. The jury of five women and four men took just under seven hours to return the verdict during their second day of deliberations and award $25m in damages against the chat show.
Washington Correspondent Rob Watson said the verdict was a "sensational end to an extraordinary case". "The killing prompted a nationwide debate about America's often lurid daytime talk shows and their frequently explicitly sexual and violent content", he said.
Scott Amedure featured on the show in 1995, talking about a sexual fantasy involving Jonathan Schmitz. Mr Amedure's family had argued that a mentally ill Mr Schmitz had been lured onto the talk show in 1995 believing he would meet a woman. They said he had been humiliated when his secret admirer had turned out to be Mr Amedure.
They argued that three days after the show had been taped, Mr Schmitz had driven to Mr Amedure's trailer in Oakland County's Orion Township and had shot him twice in the chest.
Schmitz buried face in hands
The jury in Michigan decided on Friday that the show's producers should pay about $25m in damages to Mr Amedure's family.
Lawyers for Warner Bros., the show's owner, argued that Mr Schmitz, who has said he is heterosexual, was told his secret admirer could be a man or a woman. They argued the show, which was never broadcast, had played no part in Mr Amedure's death. They also argued that Mr Schmitz might have killed Mr Amedure, 32, because the two had had a sexual encounter. Mr Schmitz's attorney Geoffrey Fieger denied this.
Before reaching their verdict, jurors watched the taped show, with Mr Amedure talking about the sexual fantasy. It showed Mr Schmitz reacting by burying his face in his hands.
They solicited a victim.
Mr Schmitz, who was then 24 but who is now 28, was found guilty of murder in 1996, but his conviction was thrown out on appeal. His retrial is set for August 19.
His lawyers admitted he had killed Mr Amedure, but contended the show had humiliated had Mr Schmitz, and that he was fighting alcoholism, depression and a thyroid condition.
Mr Fieger said the show's staff "solicited a victim. They picked a murderer and provided a motive. They did everything in this case except pull the trigger."
As well as the cost of funeral expenses, jurors awarded $5m in damages for the victim's suffering before he was killed, $10m to the family for the loss of their loved one's companionship, and $10m for the loss of money Mr Amedure would have earned.
Lawyers for the show said they were confident the verdict would be overturned on appeal.
Aug. 19, 1999
Three years ago, defense lawyers blamed TV producers for ambushing Jonathan Schmitz, a mentally ill man who was lured into meeting his gay secret admirer on camera, bringing him, they said, to a rage that caused him to kill.
That strategy didn't work and a jury convicted him of second-degree murder. an appeals court threw out that verdict, and now Schmitz is back in court with a new team of lawyers and an all-new strategy.
Testimony in the new trial began today.
For this trial, in essence, the defense is blaming the victim, Scott Amedure, the 32-year-old unemployed bartender who proclaimed his interest in his neighbor Schmitz on a taping of The Jenny Jones Show.
"The Jenny Jones Show never would have known about Jonathan Schmitz if not for Scott Amedure," says defense lawyer Jerome Sabbota.
The defense embarked on this strategy just months after a civil jury held Jones' show liable in Amedure's death late last year, awarding his family $25 million.
"I won't ask you to set him free," Sabbota told jurors in opening statements today. "I want you to convict him of what he did." He argued that Schmitz should be convicted of manslaughter.
Sabbota says the evidence will show Amedure "stalked [Schmitz], pushed him and wouldn't leave him alone."
The attention escalated after the taping, they contend, and turned into an obsession that frightened Schmitz, prompting him to lash out.
But in her statement, Oakland County assistant prosecutor Donna Pendergast called the crime "the epitome of senseless violence and destruction, the cold-blooded and unwarranted obliteration of human life."
She said Schmitz was "a man with a gun, a man with a grudge." She played the 911 call from Amedure's roommate and said Schmitz clearly had set out to kill Amedure.
No Mental Illness Defense
The judge in the new trial ruled that the defense won't be allowed to present evidence of Schmitz's extensive history of mental illness.
Under Michigan law, diminished capacity cannot be used as a defense against a charge of second-degree murder. Such a defense was allowed in the first trial because the charge there was first-degree murder.
In the civil trial, lawyers for the show argued that Schmitz did not kill Amedure until after Amedure left a suggestive note on Schmitz's front door with a stolen construction light.
Prosecutors say proof of stalking is not a defense to murder.
Schmitz's previous lawyers also raised the stalking angle, but it was not stressed.
"Twenty-five years' imprisonment for a man who is mentally ill, who was betrayed, who was lied to, who was set up, who was ambushed, who was stalked, and who was pursued relentlessly and who snapped - where is the justice in that?" defense attorney James Burdick wrote in December 1996, after probation officials recommended Schmitz be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for the conviction that was later overturned.
Aug. 26 , 1999
A Michigan jury has found Jonathan Schmitz guilty of second-degree murder, soundly rejecting the argument that he was "pushed" beyond reason by a public confession of another man's affection for him.
It is the second time Schmitz has been found guilty of the 1995 shotgun murder of Scott Amedure, a gay acquaintance who surprised Schmitz by confessing his crush during a taping of The Jenny Jones Show.
That conviction, and sentence of 25-50 years, was thrown out on a technicality. This time, the jury took less than three hours to decide that Schmitz was guilty of the same charge.
As the verdict was read, Schmitz hung his head, stared down and clasped his hands under his chin as the jurors were each polled. He was also found guilty of using a firearm to commit a felony, an offense that carries an automatic sentence of two years.
Homosexuality 'Not the Issue' Schmitz killed Amedure, 32, with two blasts from a shotgun three days after they appeared on a taping of a March, 1995 Jenny Jones show on same-sex secret admirers. Schmitz had told friends he hoped his admirer would be his former girlfriend, and even bought new clothes for the occasion.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Jerome Sabbota took the unusual tactic of introducing himself to the jury as Jonathan Schmitz and speaking in the first person. He argued that his client should be found guilty of manslaughter and not second-degree murder.
"I killed Scott Amedure because I was pushed," Sabbota said. "I was pushed to the point that I lost all reason. I was pushed to the point that I acted out of impulse and I acted out of passion."
Sabbota said Amedure's continued pursuit of Schmitz, 24 at the time of the killing, caused him to snap after finding a handwritten note from his admirer on his doorstep. The jury requested to see that note during deliberations.
"He created a situation where I think any reasonable person would have snapped, because he wouldn't let up," Sabbota said.
But Oakland County assistant prosecutor Donna Pendergast said Amedure's homosexuality was not the issue.
"This trial is not about homosexuality is proper, or whether or not you agree with it. This trial is about murder."
"If the defendant's crush had been an African-American woman and he had issues with that, would there be any question that this would be a murder?" she asked.
Third Deliberation on Case It was the third time a jury has debated who was responsible for the shooting, which sparked a national debate over the tactics used by ambush-style television shows.
But this trial avoided many of the arguments that filled Schmitz's first murder trial in 1996 or the civil trial last April against Warner Bros., the corporate parent of The Jenny Jones Show.
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"Jonathan Schmitz - aka: a Homophobic, Suicidal, Manic Depressive, Hyper Thyroid, Homicidal "Time Bomb!": Ambushed, Embarrassed and Humiliated on a TV talk show.
Schmitz was found guilty of Murder II, for the shooting my brother to death. Schmitz was sentenced to 25 to 50 years.
Schmitz's conviction was over turned, he was retried and found guilty of Murder II once again.
I believe my brother would be here today if it weren't for the inhumane selfserving and totally irresponsible actions of The Jenny Jones Show. I also believe Scott would be here today if it weren't for Jon Schmitz. There are many reasons and issues relating to why this happened...
...but not even one of them, is an excuse!"
The Second Trial
It's finally over, Schmitz got the max for Second Degree Murder, 25 to 50 years...
Frank J. Amedure Jr.
...Not quite, Schmitz's conviction was over turned. We had to go through that terrible ordeal again. This time it was over in about a week.
The Schmitz defense actually tried to get a Manslaughter Conviction this time around. He placed blame on my brother for his own death and he blamed Donna Riley. He didn't blame his client, the shooter, the cold blooded murder.
Donna Pendergast, the Prosecutor, convinced 13 jurors that Jon was guilty of Murder II. His sentencing is scheduled for September 14, 1999 at 1:00 P.M. He was sentenced to 25 to 50 years again.
I hope "The Jenny Jones Show/Warner Bros." will pay for what they did as well and stop their inhumane and totally irresponsible form of entertainment.
Can justice truly be served? I don't think so, unless they could magically take away the pain they have caused and bring back my brother...
Schmitz is now in prison serving 25 years to life; Amedure's family filed a civil suit and were awarded US$29 million in 1999, but the judgement was overturned on appeal in 2002