In her first interview since being charged with murder, Jennifer Ann Mee, known as the “Hiccup Girl,” spoke out about the possibility of spending life behind bars for her alleged role in a botched robbery that ended in death.
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There isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t think about the victim, Mee told NBC’s Amy Robach in an exclusive jailhouse interview Tuesday. “I think, ‘What if that was me behind that barrel?’ ” she said, in tears. “That could have been my life taken. He was very young; he was only a couple years older than I was. I think about it every day, it eats me alive.”
Still, Mee, 19, insists that she is not guilty of murder. “I didn’t do nothing wrong. I’m not guilty of anything,” she said.
According to police, in October 2010, Mee conspired with her boyfriend, Lamont Newton, and his friend Laron Raiford, to rob the victim, Shannon Griffin, 22. Mee met Griffin on a social networking site and, police say, acted as the bait to lure him into a vacant home in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“She knew the plan, she knew they were waiting for him,” Maj. Mike Kovacsev told the St. Petersburg Times soon after her arrest. “She brought him to their waiting arms.”
Mee admits that she told police two different versions of the events. First, she told authorities that Griffin had been romantically involved with Raiford’s girlfriend and that had sparked the violence. “When Laron found out he had some type of relationship with his girlfriend, he snapped,” she told investigators in a tape obtained by NBC News.
But later that night, she told another story, breaking down and confessing that she had lured Griffin to his death.
She has since recanted that confession, and now insists that she has no idea why she admitted to a role in a crime that she says she didn’t commit. “I don’t know. It’s hard. It’s hard to explain,” she tells Robach. “I made a mistake. I thought since I was ‘famous’... young, nothing would happen to me. But in all reality it put me behind bars.”
Four years ago, Mee was a shy high school freshman with a strange malady — she couldn’t stop hiccuping and did so up to 50 times a minute. The chronic condition turned her into a national oddity, and Mee says that the fame she gained from it took a toll on her.Video: ‘Hiccup Girl’ on murder: ‘I’m not guilty’ (on this page)
After she appeared on TODAY in 2007, she became a celebrity at school. “Every time I walked into school,” she said, school mates would call out, “Oh, there goes the ‘hiccup girl’... ‘Oh, look at Jennifer, let’s be friends with her.’ That was still very overwhelming to me. People that I’d never thought I’d even talk to came up to me and acted like they wanted to be my friend.
“I basically let it all go to my head and just started to do what I wanted to do,” she told Robach.
Soon, Mee admits, she began running with a tough crowd. “I took the path of the devil, I really did. Instead of keeping my faith with the Lord, I let the devil overcome me,” Mee said. By the time she was 17, she had left home. Two years later, she was facing first-degree murder charges.
Her attorney, John Trevena, maintains that Mee suffers from a form of Tourette’s syndrome — which he says accounts for the hiccups that now no longer plague her — and will raise that issue in her defense.
“If you really believe her story, she’s really not guilty of anything except poor judgment of who she associated with,” he said.Story: Mom: ‘Hiccup Girl’ doesn’t understand her situation
But according to legal analyst and defense attorney Rikki Klieman, Mee may have effectively torpedoed that strategy in her interview with TODAY, when she essentially argued that she had made a false confession.
“Her future is really tenuous,” Klieman told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “We went overnight from an insanity defense, which is what we thought it was going to be — I did it, but the Tourette’s syndrome is a mental disease that caused me to go along with this and I didn’t understand the consequences of my action — and with this interview, it’s gone. That defense is gone.
“What we have now is a false confession case, and we know that many false confessions lead to the conviction of an innocent person,” Klieman said. “What the defense would love is to polygraph her. She either did lure him there, or she didn’t. She either was involved or she wasn’t.”
But the risks are high. Under Florida felony murder statute, the prosecution doesn’t have to prove that Mee pulled the trigger in order to convict her. All the prosecution has to prove is that she knowingly participated in the robbery that led to the slaying, Klieman told Lauer.
“This defense attorney needs to go this prosecutor with the tape of this interview — I think the interview is wise if this is the defense that’s going to stick, false confession — and say, ‘Wait a minute, you’ve got to reinvestigate this. You have to start again.’ ”
But it could be two years until Mee gets the chance to raise any of that at trial. In the meantime, Mee remains behind bars.
Life in prison has been hard on the girl who once thought of herself as a celebrity. Up until three days ago, she said, she was locked in her cell 23 hours a day. “I only came out a half hour each day, able to make a phone call, which is only 20 minutes, and able to get in the shower, maybe talk a couple minutes to the other female inmates,” she said.
The separation from her family, she said, has been hard. So has the fear that she may spend the rest of her life in prison. “I’m scared,” she said. “I want to go home; I can tell you that. My sisters are growing up, my mom is missing me. It’s hard for me to see my mom and my sisters through a TV screen and talk to them through a phone, instead of being able to give them hugs and kisses and be home and have dinner with them and say goodnight.”
But the hardest thing, she said, was missing her grandmother’s funeral. “That broke my heart,” Mee said, her tears overwhelming her. “I feel like I had a big part of what had happened with her passing away.”
She knows that when she does go to trial, she will have to face the victim’s family, and while she continues to deny that she helped bring about his death, Mee says she has this message for them. “I just want to say that I’m sorry for the loss ... I wish that everything could have been different ... because he didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve to go,” she said.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints