Volume 1, Issue 10 (Originally Published on 7 May 2012)
May 7, 1995 – US Jury Finds Daytime Talk Show Guilty of Wrongful Death
On this day in 1995, a Michigan jury convicted daytime talk show The Jenny Jones Show of negligently causing the death of a man who had been outed on the show as a secret admirer of another male guest. The Jerry Springer-esque show featured a segment in March about secret crushes and encouraged Scott Amedure to reveal his secret attraction to his friend, Jonathan Schmitz, on national television. Schmitz had appeared amused and even flattered during the confession, joking around with Amedure and host Jenny Jones.
However, three days after the taping, Schmitz purchased a shotgun and killed Amedure after receiving a sexually suggestive note from him. He was convicted of second-degree murder. Schmitz had unsuccessfully argued the gay panic defence, claiming that Amedure’s sexual advances toward him on national television angered and humiliated him. The jury found that his actions were not an ‘immediate response’ required by the defence, since he waited three days before responding to the revelation. Nonetheless, his became one of the most high-profile uses of the controversial defence.
Concurrently, Amedure’s family sued The Jenny Jones Show and its owner Warner Bros for acting negligently in misleading and humiliating Schmitz, claiming the show’s producers set him up in a way that triggered the murderous chain of events. They claimed that Amedure’s wrongful death was a ‘direct and proximate result’ of the show.
Evidence presented at trial showed that Schmitz had a history of mental illness. He had admitted to friends and family that he had been embarrassed and embarked on a drinking binge. The family argued that the producers deliberately ambushed Schmitz and intentionally withheld the segment topic (‘same-sex crushes revealed’) so that he would think his secret admirer was a woman. They argued that the show had a duty to prevent or refrain from placing Amedure in a position of unnecessary or unreasonable risk of harm, including criminal conduct by a third party. The Jenny Jones Show was ordered to pay $30 million in damages and the show never went to air.
The judgment had a chilling effect on the talk show entertainment industry. However, in 2002, the Michigan Court of Appeal overturned the decision and held that while the actions of the producers were ‘the epitome of bad taste and sensationalism’, they did not have a legally recognized duty of care to protect against third party criminal acts.
To view the unaired segment, visit
For a copy of the appeal judgment, visit http://coa.courts.mi.gov/documents/OPINI ONS/FINAL/COA/20021022_C226645_64 _233O.226645.OPN.COA.PDF