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Sharing the Guilt

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THE FIRST TASK OF THE JURY IN Pontiac, Mich., last week was to determine who was really on trial. Was it Jonathan Schmitz, the 26-year-old ex-waiter with a history of manic depression who unloaded two 12-gauge shotgun blasts into the chest of a gay admirer? Or was it talk show host Jenny Jones, whose staff lured Schmitz to her show in March 1995 by promising to reveal a secret admirer, only to humiliate him by disclosing, on-camera, that the admirer was a man? In the end, of course, the jury couldn’t ignore the fact that three days after the show was taped (it never aired), Schmitz drove to Scott Amedure’s trailer home and shot the 32-year-old unemployed bartender. But in convicting him of second-degree murder, they neither forgot his “diminished capacity” defense nor exonerated Jenny Jones.

Schmitz “was living a very stable life, working all the time,” juror Joyce O’Brien said after the verdict Nov. 12. “And then when the show came, it was a catalyst that threw him back into an emotional tailspin.” Adds fellow juror Dale Carlington: “We all felt [Schmitz] had a definite mental problem, and the show exacerbated it. It played a part. A big part.” Even Frank Amedure Jr., the victim’s brother, concurred: “None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Jenny Jones exploiting [the issue of] homosexuality.”

Schmitz showed little emotion as the verdict was read. He turned to his weeping mother, Connie, and whispered, “You’re all right, Mom. Take it easy.” For him, the future—up to life in prison—is a certainty. For Jones and ambush-style talk shows, the jury is still out. The Amedure family has filed a $25 million civil suit against Schmitz and The Jenny Jones Show. Jones denied intending to ambush Schmitz but was otherwise vague on the witness stand. “I don’t produce the show, I don’t book the show,” she said.

Ultimately, though, this is not a case in which there are winners. Concluded juror O’Brien: “Everybody in this instance was a victim. I feel just as bad for both families.”