The Netflix series Trial by Media re-examines cases that played out not just in court, but in the court of public opinion

By Jeff Truesdell
May 12, 2020 04:20 PM
Scott Amedure

Jonathan Schmitz knew that a secret admirer would be revealed to him during a TV taping of The Jenny Jones Show in 1995 — but the identity of the admirer came as a shock to him.

The person with a secret crush on Schmitz was another man, his acquaintance Scott Amedure — and three days after the show was recorded for broadcast, Schmitz bought a shotgun, knocked on Amedure's door, and fired two fatal shots at him. Schmitz then drove to a gas station, dialed 911, admitted his crime and, when asked why, said he'd been embarrassed on national TV.

The show never aired. But in the criminal and civil trials that followed — Schmitz served 22 years for his conviction of second-degree murder — Jones and her show became Exhibit A in an indictment of the perceived excesses and manipulations of talk shows and tabloid TV. Yet many other TV show hosts did and still do mine that same concept, as argued in a new Netflix series Trial by Media, even as those on all sides of sensational criminal cases try to spin media infatuation in their favor.

(The trailer for the show, which began streaming Monday, is shown below.)

With executive producers that include George Clooney and Court TV founder Steven Brill, the six-part Trial by Media explores what can happen when headlines overwhelm the justice system, through figures such as the convicted former Illinois governor (and Celebrity Apprentice contestant) Rod Blagojevich and the New York City subway vigilante killer Bernard Goetz.

In the Jenny Jones incident, Amedure's brother, Frank Amedure, looks back at the 25-year-old case, placing the fault on the culture at the time as much as the killer.

Jonathan Schmitz
Michigan Department of Corrections

"He was a victim, too," he says of his brother's murderer. "I don't argue that. I blame the producers probably just as much, because it was their job to go out and find people that they could exploit. That's what they do for a living."

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Schmitz, then 24, had been promised only that his secret admirer would be revealed on the show, and that it could be a woman or a man. He, Amedure and a mutual female friend then spent the post-taping hours together without incident. But Schmitz, who said he was not gay, grew enraged, according to his trial defense, when he subsequently found what was portrayed as a flirtatious note from Amedure.

Schmitz fatally shot Amedure, 32, at the latter's home on March 9, 1995, in suburban Detroit. He was sentenced in 1996 to 25 to 50 years in prison. He initially served about two years before he was tried and convicted again in 1999, after the first verdict was overturned on appeal.

“He spent 22 years [behind bars], so that sounds like he’s completed virtually his entire sentence,” Geoffrey Fieger, an attorney who represented the Amedure family, told PEOPLE when Schmitz was set free in 2017. “I’m not absolving Schmitz of his crime. I’m just saying that The Jenny Jones Show and the people that were behind the show were equally responsible.”

The Amedure family also filed a civil suit against the show and its partners, including Warner Bros., and was awarded $25 million. But that verdict and award were overturned on appeal.

Jenny Jones
Paul Warner/AP

Jones, whose show ran from 1991 to 2003 and who now operates a cooking website and philanthropic organization, told PEOPLE in 1999 that only one person was ultimately to blame. “It was not the ‘Jenny Jones murder,’ ” she said then. “It was the Jonathan Schmitz murder.”

She never apologized about the outcome, according to the Netflix series, for which she did not respond to an interview request.

"The one thing that I sort of came away with after all this is, I really am just very cynical about the press," she said in an undated archival interview in the first episode of Trail by Media. "You know, this was a rush to judgment, it was unfair reporting, for the sake of a sensational story."

Archived episodes of The Jenny Jones Show include those on topics such as "Biker Makeovers," "Too Big -- Too Sexy," "Too Buff to Date" and "Bimbo School."

Trial by Media is streaming on Netflix now.