A 29-year-old Cottage Grove woman charged in the death of her newborn son has died after lighting herself on fire.
Police said Toni Medrano used a flammable liquid to set herself on fire in the backyard of a home in St. Paul Park last Monday. She was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul where she later died.
While no one knows exactly what was going through Medrano's mind when she killed herself, police say she was despondent over personal issues and her loved ones say national exposure of her son's death is at least partially responsible.
Medrano was charged with two counts of manslaughter in the death of her 3-week-old son last November. She allegedly drank vodka before falling asleep on the couch with her baby.
The medical examiner's report concluded the baby suffocated.
The case gained national attention last month when it was featured on HLN network's Nancy Grace TV talk show. Nancy Grace dubbed Medrano "the Vodka mom" and poured shots of vodka throughout the segment.
Medrano's mother, Yvonne Hill, told FOX 9 News her daughter was already struggling to come to terms with the death of her son, Adrian, when Grace highlighted the case and asked why Medrano hadn't been charged with murder.
According to Hill, Medrano became depressed after the show.
"She was trying to build and get by and live with what happened," Hill explained. "When she saw that, it broke her spirit in the worst way."
Hill said her daughter went drinking one week ago before returning to her mother's home and lighting the fire that led to her death.
Medrano is not the first mother to commit suicide following exposure on Grace's programming, and University of Minnesota journalism professor Chris Ison says cable commentary shows like Grace's can blur the lines between news and entertainment.
"Media can have a big impact on a case like this -- and on a person like this," he said.
Ison said that while traditional journalists try to balance the importance of news against the potential for harm, cable commentators may not say things the same way.
"If you are treating it like entertainment, the news value is reduced -- and sometimes when you are ridiculing or making a person more embarrassed, the potential for harm can go up."
Now, Hill herself knows the pain of losing a child, but she says her daughter deserved a better end than the one she chose after Grace's program aired.
"She didn't know my daughter," Hill said of Grace. "She only knows what she heard. She didn't know the true Toni."
In 2006, Melinda Duckett appeared on Grace's show after her 2-year-old son Trenton went missing. The host accused Duckett of hiding information. After the taping, Duckett shot herself, and relatives alleged Grace's badgering and other media scrutiny were factors in the suicide.
In 2010, the family of Melinda Duckett reached a settlement with Nancy Grace requiring she establish a $200,000 trust dedicated to finding her missing son.
FOX 9 News attempted to contact Grace's publicist about this story, but did not get a response.