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'Hiccup Girl' deemed competent, murder trial proceeds

Tampa Tribune (FL) - 9/18/2013

Sept. 18--CLEARWATER -- "Hiccup Girl" Jennifer Mee's first-degree murder trial is moving forward after a court psychologist evaluated her and concluded she is mentally competent to stand trial.

After conducting an on-the-spot examination of Mee this morning, Jill Poorman told Pinellas Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley that she and Mee had discussed Mee's purported paranoid schizophrenia. Based on that discussion, Poorman said she does not believe that mental illness should affect Mee's ability to understand her case as it goes to trial this week.

"I do not see that interfering in any way with her ability to proceed with the trial," Poorman testified..

The impromptu exam came after Mee's defense attorney, John Trevena, disclosed this morning he had only recently learned Mee might be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. That disclosure immediately called into question Mee's legal competency to stand trial and her ability to understand the charges against her and what's happening in her case.

In 2007, Mee, then a 15-year-old St. Petersburg high school student, gained national attention for her seeming inability to stop hiccuping.

Mee, now 22, is accused of setting up a man she met online in October 2010 for a robbery that went awry and ended in Griffin's death. Mee and two accomplices, Laron Raiford and Lamont Newton, lured Griffin to a dark alley in St. Petersburg, where he was expecting to buy $60 worth of marijuana, and tried to rob him, according to police. Raiford was convicted of murder last month and sentenced to life in prison; Newton has yet to stand trial. Like Raiford, Mee faces a life sentence, if convicted as charged.

Ley put Mee's trial on hold so court officials could determine whether she is legally competent to stand trial. With that issue settled, lawyers are now making their opening statements, after which witnesses will begin testifying.

At this point, it's unknown whether Mee's possible schizophrenia will be an issue during trial. Trevena won't be allowed to mention it during his opening statement.

Trevena said he didn't learn of Mee's supposed diagnosis until Tuesday, when the lawyers were busy sorting through prospective jurors. He knew she suffered from Touretz syndrome and learned of the second mental disorder while questioning Mee privately about her Social Security payments, he said.

Today, Trevena said he needed his own expert to validate Mee's mental state.

At the very least, this morning's investigation into Mee's mental state could extend the trial, which court officials had said yesterday could conclude as soon as Friday.

Stay with TBO.com for updates during the trial.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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(c)2013 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)

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