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The first episode of Netflix’s “Trial By Media” — a six-episode docuseries which focuses on highly publicized trials — tackles a murder which ended up casting a critical shadow over the talk show genre as its trial became a show of its own.
Michigan man Jonathan Schmitz, then 24, was invited onto “The Jenny Jones Show” in 1995. "The Jenny Jones Show" began in 1991 as a traditional talk show where serious topics were discussed, but by 1993 it transformed into something more like "Maury" and "The Jerry Springer Show." The show's segments began ranging from paternity tests to out-of-control teens to secret crush reveals.
During the taping of this particular episode, which was entitled “Same Sex Secret Crushes,” Schmitz's acquaintance Scott Amedure, 32, revealed his crush on him while also describing details of his sexual fantasies about him. While Schmitz appeared to be a good sport about it — he was mostly smiling and laughing — he was deeply humiliated. At points, he covered his face with his hands; he also turned to Amedure and the female friend who brought him on the show and said, “You lied to me.” His father had made multiple homophobic statements in the past and Schmitz seemingly feared being perceived as gay, as the docuseries points out.
Just three days after the taping of the show, Schmitz shot Amedure to death with a shotgun in their Michigan hometown of Lake Orion. Schmitz turned himself into police and admitted to killing Amedure, claiming he did so because he embarrassed him on national television, the Associated Press reported in 2017. Because of the killing, the episode that featured Schmitz and Amedure never aired, though parts of it did run in news segments about the murder.
While Schmitz was originally charged with first degree murder for the slaying, his defense lawyer James Burdick successfully convinced the court that the show was partially to blame for his client’s actions. He even tried to get the show’s host, Jenny Jones herself, on the stand, the Chicago Tribune reported in 1996. At this point, the highly publicized trial became a show of its own, as the docuseries demonstrates.
Schmitz was found guilty of second degree murder in 1996 and sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison. His conviction was overturned on an appeal, but he was found guilty yet again of the same charge and his sentence was reinstated in 1999.
Jones did take the stand in 1999 in another courtroom when the Amedure family sued "The Jenny Jones Show" and Warner Bros. Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who represented the Amedure family, cross-examined Jones on the stand, pushing her to admit that the show didn't get permission for Schmitz to be humiliated on national television. Fieger alleged during that trial that the show neglected to look into Schmitz’s past mental health and substance use issues before using his emotions for ratings.
He successfully convinced the jury that the program had acted irresponsibly and was negligent. The Amedures were awarded close to $30 million but that judgment was later overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals. The family did not ever see any of the money, but Fieger told Oxygen.com that the trial did result in some changes. He said talk shows like “The Jenny Jones Show” have since implemented psychological profiling when searching for guests.
Where is Schmitz now?
In August 2017, Schmitz, then 47, was released from prison on parole after serving 22 years of his sentence.
“I wanted assurance that the (parole board’s) decision was not based on just good behavior in prison,” Amedure's brother Frank Amedure said to the Associated Press at the time. “I’d like to know that he learned something, that he’s a changed man, is no longer homophobic and has gotten psychological care.”
A Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman told PEOPLE he was released because of “good behavior” credit.
Fieger told Oxygen.com that Schmitz has kept a low profile since his release and is still in Michigan. Fieger also said Frank Amedure spotted Schmitz out in public recently.
Oxygen.com was unable to reach Schmitz for comment.
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