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Talk-Show Guest Convicted of Murder

Courts: Jury finds defendant guilty of 2nd-degree count. He shot a gay man who, at 'Jenny Jones' taping, revealed his crush on the killer.

November 13, 1996| From Times Staff and Wire Reports

PONTIAC, Mich. — In a case that put "ambush television" on trial, a "Jenny Jones Show" guest Tuesday was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting a gay man who revealed a crush on him during a taping.

In deciding against a first-degree murder conviction, the jury found that 26-year-old Jonathan Schmitz acted without premeditation in the 1995 slaying of Scott Amedure, 32.

Schmitz could get from eight years to life in prison, with the possibility of parole. First-degree murder carries no hope of parole.

Jurors said they concentrated almost entirely on Schmitz's state of mind when he shot Amedure, who revealed an attraction to Schmitz three days earlier as a studio audience whooped and shouted.

Juror Joyce O'Brien said that for Schmitz, it was like "someone pulls the rug out from under you."

"Even a sane person might have trouble dealing with all that stuff," O'Brien said.

"We all felt he had a definite mental problem . . . and the show exacerbated that," said another juror, Dale Carlington.

The case focused attention on "ambush" television and titillating daytime TV tactics, with Schmitz's lawyers arguing that the show misled him into believing he was going to meet the woman of his dreams.

They said he was publicly humiliated when his secret admirer turned out to be a man. That, coupled with his history of depression, suicide attempts, a thyroid ailment and other problems, left Schmitz incapable of forming the intent necessary to commit first-degree murder, his lawyers said.

The show was never aired but was played for the jury. In it, Amedure outlined sexual fantasies of Schmitz. Schmitz reacted with an embarrassed smile but no apparent anger. But three days later, Schmitz bought a shotgun, drove to Amedure's home and killed him.

In a statement after the verdict, Jim Paratore, president of Telepictures Productions, a division of Warner Bros. that produces the "Jenny Jones Show," said: "The criminal trial is over, and we feel it is inappropriate for us to comment on it. However, it doesn't lessen the sadness and sorrow we feel about the senseless murder of Scott Amedure and the pain and sorrow his family and friends have been suffering."

Barbara Brogliatti, a Warner Bros. spokeswoman, added in an interview: "We continue to believe that neither the show nor anyone connected with the show was in any way responsible for this crime." Defense attorney James Burdick said Schmitz would appeal and predicted the judge would be lenient at Schmitz's sentencing Dec. 4 and give him the minimum of eight years.

Most talk-show hosts and producers were loath to comment on the verdict Tuesday, especially with Telepictures Productions and Warner Bros. facing a $25-million civil suit from Amedure's family.

"Why should we comment? We don't think we do that kind of show," said a spokesperson for one talk-show host.

One host who was willing to comment was Gordon Elliott, who said in an interview that he thought the impact of the case already had occurred.

"I think the impact was felt on some shows the day of the murder," said the host of the syndicated "Gordon Elliott Show," which is carried on 135 stations around the country. "I never did ambush shows; I think that's moral cowardice. But it was a tool [before the murder] on some shows. Shows that continue to do it are under greater risk."

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