Daytime talk shows ruled the airwaves in the 1990s, and one of the biggest shows was The Jenny Jones Show. Hosted by Canadian American Jenny Jones, it was on the scandalous side of TV, covering everything from extreme makeovers to family and relationship drama. After 12 seasons, a major scandal took it off the air.
On March 6, 1995, Jones arrived at the studio, ready to tape an episode entitled “Same-Sex Secret Crushes.” Unfortunately, the episode never aired due to the devastating events in the days following the taping. It ultimately caused the show’s drop in ratings and subsequent cancelation.
It Started Innocently
Originally from Canada, Jenny Jones never intended to become a talk show host. But after appearing on The Price Is Right in 1979 and winning Star Search in 1986, she found some success. Around 1990, Jones was approached by Telepictures to host her own daytime talk show called The Jenny Jones Show.
When the series premiered in 1991, it followed the traditional talk show format similar to The Oprah Winfrey Show. Jones was charismatic and thoughtful, and her on-screen presence worked for the first two years. However, things started to change by the show’s third season, and Jones had to adapt.
The Ratings Dropped
Towards the end of the second season, ratings started to drop, so the producers tried to figure out how to save it. They noticed that shows like Maury Povich and Jerry Springer were succeeding with less serious and more scandalous topics, so they began to move away from important subjects.
To boost ratings, The Jenny Jones Show began to focus on unusual subjects and themes such as out-of-control teens, paternity tests, confronting former bullies, extreme makeovers, and more. Once the show changed, the ratings rose, and The Jenny Jones show became one of the top talk shows on TV.
Trying to Be Different
The Jenny Jones Show tried to set itself apart by having regular live performances by bands of different genres. Lesser-known bands from around the US and Canada and well-known performers like Usher and Ludacris performed on Jenny Jones. The show tried to be different, but there were still comparisons.
When the show changed during its third season, critics started comparing it to Jerry Springer, which was produced at the same studios. However, Jones said her talk show was not nearly as outrageous. Critics also thought that Jones copied ideas from Ricki Lake after her show overtook Jones’ show in ratings.
They Weren’t Doing Anything New
Many of the themes on The Jenny Jones Show, like DNA testing and secret crushes, were things that appeared on several other shows. The producers weren’t creating anything new or outside the box, but it still worked. The show often used sensational titles for segments that often rhymed.
One segment on Jenny Jones was called, “You May Shake It for Money, but Leave Those Sexy Clothes at the Club, Honey!” This described a makeover segment for women who worked in nightclubs or strip clubs. The rhyming titles also began in the show’s third season. At least they tried to be creative.
The Beginning of the End
On March 6, 1995, Scott Amedure went on The Jenny Jones Show to confess that he had a secret crush on his straight friend, Jonathan Schmitz. Initially, Schmitz had been waiting in the green room, unable to hear what was said on stage.
Meanwhile, Amedure was telling the audience about his sexual fantasies involving Schmitz. When Schmitz was brought on stage, Amedure revealed his feelings. Schmitz appeared light-hearted about the revelation until the audio of Amedure’s fantasies was played back. He then looked uncomfortable and said he was heterosexual.
He Was Blindsided
Schmitz thought he was coming on the show to get back together with an ex-girlfriend. But he felt blindsided when Amedure revealed his feelings. The producers later claimed they told Schmitz that his secret admirer could be a man or a woman.
He tried to laugh it off, but he looked embarrassed. Amedure told Jones he wasn’t disappointed that Schmitz didn’t like him as more than a friend, and the host said Schmitz should take it as a compliment. Still, no one could have predicted what was coming.
No Warning Signs
After the taping, Schmitz and Amedure hung out together and went to a bar. Everything seemed to go back to normal, and there were no signs that Schmitz was troubled. Their friend Donna Riley said Schmitz wasn’t unhappy about being on the show.
He had nothing negative to say about Amedure. It seemed that things returned to normal following the taping. It wasn’t until Amedure reportedly left a provocative and suggestive note on Schmitz’s doorstep that things between them turned sour. It caused Schmitz to snap.
He Bought a Gun
Amedure wanted Schmitz to find the note. He left a flashing construction light with the letter and wrote, “You have the tool to turn this off.” It had been three days since the taping, and Schmitz became angry that Amedure wouldn’t leave him alone.
Schmitz was enraged and made an irrational decision to withdraw money to buy a shotgun. He then drove to Amedure’s mobile home and went inside to speak to him. Schmitz told Amedure he had to turn off his car, so he walked outside and retrieved the gun.
A Lethal Confrontation
As Schmitz approached Amedure’s home with the gun, Amedure called out to his roommate, Gary Brady. He said, “Gary, help. He’s got a gun.” Amedure grabbed a chair to protect himself before Schmitz fired two rounds. He hit Amedure in the chest, killing him instantly.
Brady was in shock when he heard the shots. However, he didn’t have to call the police because Schmitz had already driven to the nearest payphone and phoned 911. He said he shot Amedure because he had been embarrassed on national TV.
He Was Hysterical
When Schmitz called the police, he said, “I think I just shot a man. I’m turning myself in. I just walked in and f***ing killed him.” He was hysterical on the phone with the 911 operator. Schmitz immediately knew what he did was wrong and that he would pay the price.
With a confession and an eyewitness, police arrested Schmitz. When they questioned him, he said he killed Amedure “because he played a very bad thing on me. He took me on Jenny Jones.” He couldn’t handle the embarrassment.
A Media Frenzy
When Schmitz first went to trial in 1996, the trial caused a media frenzy. It was widely publicized because of the circumstances surrounding the case. The trial was also aired on TV, and people sympathized with Schmitz for being “humiliated” on The Jenny Jones Show.
Schmitz was charged with first-degree murder and committing a felony with a firearm. The prosecution needed to prove that the murder was premeditated to convict him on the first-degree charges. Schmitz faced the possibility of life in prison without parole.
They Thought It Would Be Easy
The prosecution thought they had a clear-cut case because embarrassment didn’t justify murdering someone. The state argued that Schmitz drove to one store to purchase the shotgun and another for ammunition. He then drove to Amedure’s home to kill him.
It seemed clear that Schmitz thought about murdering Amedure before he arrived. The crime scene also showed that Amedure tried to defend himself with a chair. However, Schmitz’s confessions were inadmissible because he wasn’t read his Miranda rights or given right to counsel before confessing.
The Defense Came in Strong
Schmitz hired James Burdick and Fred Gibson as his defense attorneys, who came in with the “gay panic” defense. They claimed that Schmitz’s manic depression and Graves’ disease caused him to kill Amedure, arguing that Schmitz was too fragile to commit premeditated murder.
In Gibson’s opening argument, he said, “There was no murder here. There was a shooting, but there was no murder.” Schmitz’s defense stated that he was pushed by Amedure, who wouldn’t leave him alone. Burdick went as far as saying Amedure was asking for it.
He Had a Lot of Baggage
During the trial, Dr. Habib Vaziri testified on behalf of the defense. The psychiatrist evaluated Schmitz, stating he was depressed and had previously attempted to take his life. Schmitz also told Dr. Vaziri that his father was abusive growing up and once spanked him at school.
Schmitz’s father, Allyn, also took the stand to confirm that he punished his son in front of his classmates for skipping class. Allyn stated that Schmitz tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of heart medicine. They painted Schmitz as a victim.
Disease Messed With His Brain
Dr. Michael Garcia, Schmitz’s endocrinologist, testified about Schmitz’s Graves’ disease diagnosis. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. Dr. Garcia said Schmitz was severely thyrotoxic when he evaluated him, which could have caused him to be irrational and violent.
However, that didn’t give Schmitz the right to kill Amedure. Unfortunately, he was embarrassed and exploited on TV, but that isn’t a good reason for him to take a man’s life. However, the jury didn’t see it that way. They saw Schmitz as a sacrificial lamb for a talk show.
Influenced by the Media
The judge worried that the jury would be influenced by the media frenzy surrounding the case. During the trial, the defense painted Amedure as the bad guy who taunted and pushed Schmitz until he snapped. The jury felt sorry for Schmitz because he was “mentally fragile.”
The defense’s argument that the revelation on The Jenny Jones Show shattered Schmitz’s already unstable psyche was enough for the jury to make a decision. Instead of finding him guilty of first-degree murder, Schmitz was found guilty of second-degree murder.
Their Families Were Upset
When Schmitz was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison, his family was disappointed. They felt he should have received a more lenient sentence because of his mental state when the murder occurred. His father said Schmitz was the victim in the whole situation.
On the other hand, Amedure’s family hoped for a harsher sentence because Schmitz took away Amedure’s life. His brother, Frank Amedure Jr., agreed that Schmitz shouldn’t have been on TV in the first place and blamed The Jenny Jones Show as much as he blamed Schmitz.
It Could Have Been Avoided
In the ‘90s, homosexuality was a curiosity reserved for daytime talk shows like The Jenny Jones Show. The producers looked for people to exploit, and many believe Amedure would have been alive if he and Schmitz hadn’t gone on the show.
Although the episode never aired, people thought Jones and her producers were negligent in their behavior. Jones testified at Schmitz’s trial, stating she thought the segment was “light-hearted” and “fun,” not considering how revealing these feelings on national TV could hurt people.
Amedure’s Family Sued the Show
Following Schmitz’s conviction, Amedure’s family filed a civil suit against The Jenny Jones Show, Warner Bros., and the producers for $50 million. They felt the show was the catalyst in the events that led to Amedure’s murder. Schmitz’s attorneys even thought Jenny Jones should be held responsible.
The civil suit caused even more media attention, and other talk shows watched to see if they could be found liable. Amedure’s family enlisted the help of Geoffrey Feiger, an over-the-top lawyer. He was a publicity hound who might have wanted to gain publicity more than justice.
It Was a Circus
The civil suit trial was even more chaotic than the initial murder trial. It started with a two-and-a-half-hour opening statement from Feiger, who rambled and repeated himself. The defense followed it with a 60-second opening statement, and that was just the beginning.
Throughout the trial, Feiger was argumentative and combative in his cross-examinations. Most of his questions were followed by objections. He hounded the producers for telling everyone to lie to Schmitz and said everything was done for the purpose of ratings and money.
A Tough Argument
When one of the producers took the stand, he testified that the show doesn’t deceive, embarrass, or humiliate people. Even the defense knew that was a lie because deception and humiliation were sources of entertainment on shows like Jenny Jones.
The more the guests felt embarrassed, the higher the ratings. That statement was a tough thing to sell to the jurors. Defense attorney, James Feeney, argued that the show’s producers didn’t owe any “legally cognizable duty” to Amedure to protect him from a third party.
Focusing on His Mental State
Feiger focused his argument on Schmitz’s mental health. He said Jenny Jones sent Schmitz into a downward spiral, and the shift in his mental state was noticeable to people around him. Schmitz’s father testified that his son was “noticeably disturbed” by his experience.
On his way home from the show, even the passenger next to Schmitz said Schmitz seemed preoccupied with what had happened. Feiger emphasized that Jenny Jones was one of the first things Schmitz mentioned in his 911 call. The producers could have done more screening.
They Didn’t Provide Help
Schmitz had a pre-show interview with the producers, but they didn’t do a good job screening him. Feiger claimed that the producers should have looked into his history of mental illness and suicide attempts before allowing Schmitz to appear on Jenny Jones.
The producers never asked if Schmitz had been hospitalized for mental illness. While their screening failed, the show could have provided post-show counseling to Schmitz to ensure he was okay. He had just found out shocking news, and they sent him on his way without a care.
Jenny Jones Testified
Jones testified during the civil suit trial. Initially, she was smiling on the stand as if she didn’t care that Amedure had been killed after her show. However, her smile went away when Feiger started asking her tough questions. He got her to say Schmitz didn’t consent to the embarrassment.
Feiger was winning in terms of making Jones look bad. She wasn’t prepared to face Feiger, and Jones cracked under pressure. She tripped over her words and gave round-about answers. Ultimately, she probably shouldn’t have testified on the show’s behalf.
More to the Story
One of the defense’s biggest arguments was that something happened after the taping that set Schmitz into a rage. Feeney presented evidence showing that Schmitz and Amedure chose to fly home together. They then went drinking with their friend Donna Riley and continued the party at her apartment.
Amedure reportedly told one of the show’s producers that he and Schmitz slow danced and kissed at Riley’s apartment. According to Riley, that never happened. It seemed like the defense was trying to prove if Schmitz could have been gay and killed Amedure to hide that.
They Initially Won
In May 1999, the jury found The Jenny Jones Show both irresponsible and negligent, stating the show purposely created an unpredictable situation without concern for the consequences. Amedure’s family was awarded $25 million for funeral expenses and pain and suffering compensation.
They needed eight of the nine jurors to rule in favor of the Amedure family, but the decision was not unanimous. One of the jurors sided with the defense, which Feeney said showed that the verdict would not stand up on an appeal, and he was right.
The Appeal Was Overturned
The Jenny Jones Show’s defense attorneys filed an appeal following the ruling. They claimed that Jenny Jones couldn’t have predicted Amedure’s murder. The defense argued that the producers had no legal obligation to protect Amedure, and they won the second time around.
Over three years after the civil suit verdict, Warner Bros. challenged the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling. The court ruled in favor of Warner Bros. in a 2-to-1 decision. The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear the case and the Amedure family never received financial compensation.
An Error Led to a Retrial
In 1998, Schmitz’s conviction was overturned due to an error in the initial jury selection. He was retried for second-degree murder in 1999 after the civil suit trial. His father took the stand, begging the judge for leniency, asking the judge to keep Schmitz’s mental history in mind for the sentencing.
While the first trial clearly illustrated Schmit’s mental instability and fragile psyche, that evidence could not be used in the retrial. Schmit’s lawyers also couldn’t use the diminished capacity defense for a second-degree murder charge.
He Received the Same Sentence
Amedure’s parents addressed the court during the sentencing, asking that he receive a harsh punishment for killing their son. His mother pointed out that Schmitz would still be a young man when he got out of prison, but her son never got to grow old.
The jury found him guilty of second-degree murder again because he had three days after the show to reconsider his actions and deal with the humiliation. The judge said Schmitz made a calculated decision to kill Amedure and sentenced him to 25-50 years in jail.
The Show Stayed on the Air
Despite the fallout from the highly publicized trials, Jenny Jones remained on the air until 2003. Jones upheld the show’s innocence in the death of Amedure, and she showed no remorse or responsibility for what happened. She blamed the media for sensationalizing the story.
The show’s rating dropped the season after the murder trial, and it wasn’t getting picked up in as many markets. The producers decided to “soften the content,” but they still exploited people. They learned nothing from Amedure’s murder and took no responsibility.
She Stepped Out of the Spotlight
Jones stepped out of the spotlight when the show ended and laid low for a few years. She reemerged in 2006 with a cookbook but never returned as a talk show host. However, Jones has remained active online with a cooking YouTube channel and a cooking website.
While she never showed remorse for what happened on her show, Jones became deeply involved in philanthropic work after the incident. She created the Jenny Jones Foundation in 2005 to assist those in need. She has also been an advocate for women’s health.
Troubled by the Decision
In August 2017, Schmitz was released from prison on parole at age 47. He spent 22 years in jail, but Amedure’s brother, Frank Jr., was troubled by the parole board’s decision. He told the Detroit Free Press that he didn’t know if Schmitz had learned his lesson.
Frank Jr. said, “I wanted assurance that the decision was not based on just good behavior. I’d like to know that he learned something, that he’s a changed man, is no longer homophobic, and has gotten psychological care.” Schmitz has since remained out of the spotlight.
He Grew Up in a Judgmental Household
Throughout the murder and civil trials, it was clear that Schmitz grew up in a homophobic and judgmental household. On Jenny Jones, Schmitz’s friend, Donna Riley, said Schmitz’s family had questioned if he were gay. Schmitz’s father testified that this was true.
After Schmitz told his father, Allyn, what happened at the taping, Allyn used homophobic slurs. During his testimony at the civil trial, Allyn made it clear that he would have been disappointed if his son were gay and wouldn’t have accepted him. Schmitz might have killed Amedure to hide his sexuality.
It Was Brought Up Again
Many people had forgotten about the Jenny Jones trial, but Netflix brought it back into the public eye. In 2020, Netflix released a series called Trial by Media, in which they examined criminal cases fueled by the media. The first episode was about Amedure’s murder.
Amedure’s brother was heavily featured in the episode to shed light on his brother’s story. He said his brother would have been alive if it weren’t for the show. He also said his brother just wanted to be on TV but wouldn’t have done it if he knew how Schmitz felt.
Although everyone has tried to put the case behind them, the Netflix special created renewed interest in the effects of daytime talk shows like Jenny Jones. Jones and Schmitz declined to talk to Netflix for the episode, but they were the focus of what happened.
Frank Jr. admits that Schmitz was a victim of the ambush talk show and blames the producers equally. His brother could have had a long life, but it was cut short because of a TV show. Schmitz showed remorse at his trials and apologized to Amedure’s family but hasn’t talked to the press.