'Jenny Jones' Sets Precedent

Although talk show host Jenny Jones says she does not agree with a jury's decision fining her program $25 million for the shooting death of a man who appeared on her show, many legal observers say the case has set a precedent that could impact the mass media.

Scott Amedure, 32, was shot to death in 1995, three days after he admitted during a taping of The Jenny Jones Show that he was attracted to Jonathan Schmitz, who had agreed to appear to meet his secret admirer.

An Oakland County jury last week ordered the show and its corporate owner, Warner Bros., to pay Amedure's relatives. Lawyers for the show have said they will appeal the damage award.

Jones said she regrets Amedure's death, but believes her show is not responsible.

"I think it's an awful, awful tragedy. I really don't think we can be held responsible," Jones said on Dateline NBC Sunday.

Jones said she might have felt guilty if the two had been introduced on the show, but they had met beforehand.

"Because they knew each other, that's why I keep saying that with or without the show, the same relationship could have developed," she said, adding that the show's content is protected by the First Amendment.

The attorney for the Amedure family, Geoffrey Fieger - formerly the lawyer of self-assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian - told CBS News on Monday that the argument for freedom of speech in this case is "nonsense."

"If you abuse people, if you misuse them, if you lie to them, if you deceive them, if you embarrass and humiliate them for other people as a form of entertainmentÂ…and somebody gets hurt...you could be held responsible in this country, and that has nothing to do with free speech," he said.

During the March 6, 1995 taping, Schmitz was kept offstage while Amedure declared his attraction to him and described a sexual fantasy involving Schmitz. Brought onstage and told his secret admirer was Amedure, Schmitz smiled, covered his face with his hands, and told Amedure that he wasn't interested.

Three days later, Schmitz, then 24, bought a shotgun and shells, drove to Amedure's mobile home in Orion Township and shot him to death. His lawyers admitted he killed Amedure but contended the show humiliated Schmitz and he was fighting alcoholism, depression and a thyroid condition.

His 1996 conviction on second-degree murder charges was thrown out on a technicality. His retrial is set for this summer.

In the civil trial, lawyers for Amedure's family argued that the show "lit the fuse" leading to his death by first deceiving, then embarrassing, an already disturbed Schmitz.

"They're one of the causes," Fieger said. "They solicited the victim. They picked the murderer. They provided a motive. They did everything but pull the trigger and in America, more than one cause can be responsible for an injury."

Jones said the show staffers made it clear to Schmitz that his secret admirecould be a man or woman, and that they had no way of knowing about Schmitz's past suicide attempts or struggles against alcoholism.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report