Chat show found liable for murder

A DAYTIME television show that specialises in revealing guilty sex secrets and extracting confessions from guests while on the air was found liable yesterday for a murder committed three days after the victim and his assailant appeared on an episode of the highly popular programme on same-sex crushes.

Jurors in Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, found that the Jenny Jones Show, its producers and its corporate parent, Time Warner - the world's largest media corporation - were responsible for the death in 1995 of Scott Amedure, 32. They awarded his family damages of $25m (pounds 15.2m).

The verdict was an indictment of the lurid talk-show productions that crowd America's television schedules every day. While practitioners of the genre include well-respected hosts such as Oprah Winfrey, others, like Jerry Springer as well as Ms Jones, have recently been the target of widespread public opprobrium.

The tragedy was set in motion when Amedure responded to an invitation to members of the public to appear on a programme about unrequited homosexual attractions. He told them that he wanted to unveil himself to a friend he had long fantasised about, named Jonathan Schmitz.

Three days after the programme, Schmitz bought a shot-gun and cartridges and went to Amedure's trailer home, near Pontiac. He fired two shots into Amedure's chest from close range while Amedure's room-mate looked on. Schmitz then drove to a petrol station and called emergency to confess to his crime. He was found guilty of murder in 1996, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. He will be retried this year.

The pivot of the trial was the claim that Schmitz was driven to murder by the humiliation he suffered on the programme, although it was never aired. Jurors watched a tape of the programme, with Amedure describing his fantasies of sex with Schmitz. Schmitz was seen burying his head in his hands.

"[The defendants] solicited a victim. They picked a murderer and provided a murder," Jeffrey Fieger, lawyer for the Amedures, said yesterday.

Lawyers for Warner Bros attempted to convince the jury that no effort had been made to dupe Schmitz into believing that he was to meet a female admirer on the programme. They also argued that the two men may have had a sexual encounter after the taping of the programme and it was that that drove Schmitz to murder, not the show itself.

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