Toni A. Medrano's relatives blame a national talk show host in connection with the Cottage Grove woman's decision to burn herself to death.
Police reports released recently indicate that Medrano, the mother who was criminally charged in her newborn son's suffocation death last year, made suicidal statements to relatives hours before she lit herself on fire at a St. Paul Park home last month.
An attorney for Medrano's family says crime talk show host Nancy Grace intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the 29-year-old mother and defamed her in a nationally televised segment in which Grace pilloried Medrano for reportedly drinking heavily before rolling over on her sleeping newborn.
Attorney Michael Padden said in an interview that Grace's treatment of Medrano was "unbelievably shocking" and defamatory. He said he is attempting to negotiate a cash settlement with CNN, the parent company of the HLN network that airs Grace's show and will consider suing the network if a deal is not negotiated.
Padden said Medrano watched the Nancy Grace segment, in which Medrano was labeled "Vodka Mom" and Grace suggested she should face first-degree murder charges. Medrano was affected by that and by how her story was handled by other national media and comments posted to Facebook and other online sites.
Padden declined to specify how much money he is seeking from the network, but said there is precedent for a settlement. In 2010, Grace reached a settlement with the family of a Florida woman who four years prior shot herself the day after Grace aggressively questioned her in an interview about the disappearance of her son.
An autopsy report concluded Medrano's 3-week-old son died of suffocation in November 2011. At the time, Medrano told police she had consumed a bottle of vodka before falling asleep with the infant on a couch in their Cottage Grove home. She got up hours later to find her son unresponsive.
In June, Medrano was charged in Washington County District Court with felony manslaughter and accused of negligence in connection with her son's death.
After the charges were filed, Grace spotlighted Medrano's case on her criminal justice talk show that focuses on high-profile cases. Grace poured glasses of vodka while interviewing guests and shouting statements about Medrano's drinking.
"Did Mommy booze it up and kill her baby?" Grace said.
Padden said the segment was defamatory because Medrano was not a public figure and there was no evidence to back up the suggestion that Medrano deserved first-degree murder charges.
"It's just unbelievably shocking and it's defamatory," Padden said. "It's not really a rocket science argument: you've got to be careful about what you say to people."
Padden said he expects to know within about 45 days whether a settlement will be reached.
"We are attempting resolution; we'll see what happens," he said.
A spokeswoman for CNN said the network would not comment on the Medrano case or whether it is negotiating a possible settlement with Padden.
New details of Medrano's death emerged in final investigation reports released last week by the St. Paul Park Police Department.
Medrano had been drinking in downtown St. Paul Park with her sister and a friend before returning to her mother and father-in-law's Chicago Avenue home around 1:30 p.m. July 2. Her mother said Medrano "had been dealing with many personal issues for the last few months" and that she made a comment that she "wanted to walk down to the railroad tracks and end it all," according to the report.
Her mother said that she and Medrano's sister talked to Medrano until about 3:15 a.m. and went to bed believing Medrano was feeling better.
Less than an hour later, police reports show, Medrano's mother, sister and father-in-law were awakened by screams and found Medrano standing naked in the kitchen with severe burns all over her body. They put her in the shower and called 911.
Outside, they found two fires burning in the backyard, a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid and a book belonging to Medrano titled "You Can Heal Your Life." A page in the book had writing from Medrano stating that her mother was to have custody of three of her children.
The reports indicate Medrano had used keys to enter a locked garage, where she obtained lighter fluid she used when he light herself on fire. Medrano told her mother and paramedics that she was trying to kill herself.
Medrano was rushed to Regions Hospital but died five days later.
St. Paul Park Police Chief Mike Monahan said his department's investigation of Medrano's death is closed.