Judge says 'Alpha Dog' can run
EmptyA federal judge ruled Wednesday, after hearing arguments and personally screening the film, that Universal can unspool "Alpha Dog" in wide release as planned Jan. 12, despite objections from murder suspect Jesse James Hollywood.
An attorney for Hollywood, on whom the film is based, said he will file an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court to press his contention that releasing the film will make it impossible for his client to get a fair trial.
"Due to the alliance between the motion picture company and the District Attorney's Office, it is our belief the movie should not be released because in essence it destroys the presumption of innocence and the defendant's right to obtain a fair trail," said attorney James Blatt, who is representing Hollywood both in the legal action against Uni and in his upcoming murder trial.
"It is the first time ever that a deputy district attorney has released the contents of an entire criminal file to a motion picture company while a case is pending," Blatt said. "(Santa Barbara) Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen also acted as a consultant and participated in the creative process of developing the screenplay. It's also the first time a major motion picture about a crime is being released prior to trial. There have been documentaries and TV movies but never a motion picture with significant stars."
"Alpha Dog," which was screened at January's Sundance Film Festival, stars Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone and Justin Timberlake.
Even though characters' names have been changed in the film, Blatt said that the movie could taint the jury pool. Uni fought for the right to distribute the film on First Amendment grounds, and U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner agreed with the argument.
"The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that government restriction of speech in the form of a prior restraint against the media constitutes the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights," Klausner wrote. "Prior restraints may be justified only in the most exceptional circumstances, such as to prevent the dissemination of information about troop movements during wartime (or) to suppress information that would set in motion a nuclear holocaust."
Prosecutors say Hollywood was the mastermind behind the August 2000 kidnapping and murder of Nicholas Markowitz. They contend the teenager was abducted from the San Fernando Valley area as part of a feud Hollywood had with the victim's older half brother over a $1,200 drug debt.
The teen's body was found in a remote Santa Barbara County camping area.
Hollywood fled after being charged with murder and was captured last year in Brazil. He has pleaded not guilty to charges and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Four others have been convicted in connection with the slaying. No date has been set for Hollywood's trial, but Blatt said he expected it to be scheduled for sometime in 2007.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.