Minnesota mother of smothered infant kills herself weeks after ridicule on national TV
A Cottage Grove, Minn., mother has killed herself -- a month after being lambasted on national TV for inadvertently killing her infant son. Toni Medrano, 29, died Saturday at Regions Hospital in St. Paul after setting herself on fire in her mothe...
A Cottage Grove, Minn., mother has killed herself -- a month after being lambasted on national TV for inadvertently killing her infant son.
Toni Medrano, 29, died Saturday at Regions Hospital in St. Paul after setting herself on fire in her mother's back yard.
Medrano was the subject of a June 11 segment of the "Nancy Grace" show on the HLN cable news channel. Medrano drew the attention of the show's producers because she had been charged with manslaughter in the November suffocation death of her 3-week-old son, Adrian.
On the show, she was dubbed "the vodka mom" because she allegedly drank a fifth of vodka the night Adrian died, then slept on the same couch with him, smothering him. The story and the "vodka mom" label were picked up by other national news outlets.
The show and the online comments that followed struck Medrano's husband, Jason Medrano, as cruel.
"The things people said were horrible," he said outside his townhome Monday. "It shows that cyberbullying happens to adults, too."
It's happened before -- with the same show.
According to ABC News, a Leesburg, Fla., mother told police in 2006 that her baby was missing. Police considered her a possible suspect. She appeared on "Nancy Grace," where she was intensely interrogated. The woman killed herself about one week later.
Attempts on Monday to contact representatives of the show and its parent CNN were unsuccessful.
Is the show -- hosted by legal commentator and former prosecutor Nancy Ann Grace -- to blame?
Not directly, said Chris Ison, professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota.
It's impossible to know the motivations of suicidal people, so no news program can be blamed for a suicide.
Still, Ison said, such cable news/talk shows damage the reputations of journalists by addressing serious subjects in a non-serious way.
"There can be bad consequences," Ison said. "It is troubling to track such serious topics and use them as entertainment -- in a way that is sensational, mocking, accusatory and loud.
"One of the basic principles of journalism is to minimize harm, but we cause harm all the time. We have to weigh it against the value of the news presented, and shows like this one are out of balance."
First Assistant Washington County Attorney Steve Polvony stopped short of criticizing the broadcast but said, "We all have a responsibility to be careful how we say things. This was already a tough situation for the family."
He said Toni Medrano was caught at "a vulnerable moment."
On the night of Nov. 21, 2011, Medrano allegedly drank a fifth of vodka before falling asleep on a couch in her Cottage Grove home. She slept next to her son.
About 10:30 a.m. the next day, police received a call that the baby had died. An autopsy found he was asphyxiated when Medrano fell asleep drunk and smothered him.
On June 8, Medrano was charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter by the county attorney's office. Her blood-alcohol content was 0.11 in a breath test taken at 11:04 a.m. Nov. 22.
At 4 a.m. on July 2, Medrano doused herself with a flammable liquid in her mother's back yard in St. Paul Park, according to the St. Paul Park Police Department.
She was rushed to Regions Hospital with life-threatening injuries. She died five days later.
Police said Medtrano was "despondent and suicidal over personal issues."