'Trial by Media’: How a gay man revealing his crush on ‘The Jenny Jones Show’ led to a horrific murder
A 24-year-old man, Jonathan Schmitz, from Michigan, one day received an unprecedented phone call from the 1990s popular talk show 'The Jenny Jones Show.' Schmitz received an invite from the makers of the show to feature on one of its 'Secret Crush' segments, where a person wished to reveal their secret crush on him on public television.
"You've been identified by someone who has a secret crush on you. It could be a man or a woman," the show makers told him. Possibly excited about the prospect of a woman revealing her crush on him, Schmitz flew to Chicago to appear on the show. On the day of the taping, the secret admirer was introduced first to the audience and the host Jenny Jones, Schmitz, however, had no idea about who this admirer was.
When he was called on stage, he saw two of his acquaintances on the set, Donna Riley and Scott Amedure. Still clueless, he headed towards them with a big smile and greeted them. It was then when he was told that it was Amedure who had a crush on him. The 32-year-old, after prodding from the host, confessed his love and sexual fantasies about Schmitz on television. Schmitz's smile froze on his face. It was difficult to comprehend what he was feeling, as there was no other display of emotions other than the plastered grin. The 24-year-old, however, vehemently stated on the set that he was a heterosexual man, suggesting he had no interest in Amedure.
Schmitz had known Amedure was gay. He met the 32-year-old through Riley who was a co-inhabitant of the building the 24-year-old lived in. However, he had expressed no interest in Amedure or knew of his sexual interest in him.
A few days after the taping of the show on March 6, 1995, Schmitz showed up at Amedure's house, had a brief discussion with him, and shot him dead on March 9. Realizing what he had done, a hysterical Schmitz drove to a nearby gas station and call 911 to confess the crime. He surrendered his weapon to the police and was arrested.
What triggered Schmitz's attack on Amedure? It was revealed that days after the taping of the show, Amedure had left a sexually provocative note for him at his doorway. That spurred Schmitz to purchase a weapon and go to Amedure's house to threaten him, who after seeing the gun engaged in a tussle with the 24-year-old and a shot was fired.
Schmitz's defense and his father, during his trial, explained how the 24-year-old — who had bipolar disorder — was left humiliated after his experience at the talk show. Hours after the taping of the show Schmitz had reportedly called his father from Chicago, saying: "That thing didn't work out very well in Chicago for me dad." The defense stated that Schmitz was emotionally distraught and taken aback by the public confession and a lurid fantasy, which the show's host Jenny Jones, had prodded Amedure to disclose to the viewers.
The trial became explosive after the popular show's culpability in the murder was also called into question. This was the first time "ambush television" in the '90s was being questioned. Shows like 'The Jenny Jones Show' functioned on sensationalism and voyeurism. The murder case put the television on trial.
"We are talking about experimenting on people for ratings," Scott Amedure's brother, Frank Amedure, said years later of the nature of the manipulative shows.
Schmitz's defense described him as a very gentle man, who was manipulated, pushed around, tormented, and triggered into doing something terrible. The 24-year-old had a troubled life growing up where he was depressed, suicidal, and was physically abused by his father, who once whipped him with a belt in front of his classmates for poor grades. Schmitz was aware of how it felt to be humiliated in public early on. After a lengthy trial, he was found guilty of second-degree murder of Amedure and was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years imprisonment in 1996, while the 'The Jenny Jones Show' was charged with gross negligence. All this while Amedure's murder case was featured on multiple news television, especially Court TV, which the Amedure family now thinks could have impacted the final ruling.
"The jury and the media was sorry for Schmidt so he got off on murder two (second degree)," Frank said recalling the trial. Frank, however, continued his fight and sued 'The Jenny Jones Show', Telepictures, and Warner Brothers for $50 million. Frank hired then-popular attorney Jeffrey Fieger, who also had a penchant for theatrics.
"Everything was done for the purpose of ratings and ratings is money. Somebody lost their life for money," Fieger told Netflix's 'Trial By Media.' Fieger, during the trial, laid bare how the show's host Jenny Jones and the show's producers were complicit in the murder as they exploited Schmitz's emotions for higher ratings. He stated that although it was evident that the 24-year-old was not comfortable discussing his sexuality on television — considering how rampant homophobia was in the '90s — Jones continued bringing it up. The host testified at the trial where she had to admit that Schmitz had no idea what was about to unfold before he stepped onto the stage.
The judgment was ruled in favor of the Amedure family, who were awarded $5 million.
More than three years after the verdict, Warner Brothers, however, challenged the ruling in the Michigan Court of Appeals, where they won the case. The Amedure family never received any financial settlement in the case.
Schmitz "was a victim too," Amedure's brother told Netflix years later. "I have to say that I blame the producers probably just as much... they exploit people."
Meanwhile, 'The Jenny Jones Show' continued to air till 2003, and Jenny Jones was never apologetic for her role in the tragedy.
Netflix's docuseries 'Trial By Media' premieres May 11.