Docudramas about sensational crimes are good box office.
So a Los Angeles production company hopes to make a TV movie about a grisly 1986 murder case in which 14-year-old Shaun Quillette was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat by classmate Rod Matthews in Canton, Mass.
Shaun's mother, Jeanne Quinn, is bitterly against a movie being made. Given TV's spotty record concerning accuracy in docudramas, her fear of Shaun being victimized a second time--by scriptwriters--is understandable.
"I didn't want this thing done," she said by phone from Canton. "They're dragging that baby out of his grave and saying they can do whatever they want with him. Poor Shaun. Let him rest."
But they won't let him rest. And Quinn, who remarried twice after divorcing Shaun's father, has made a deal with the very producer she sought to block.
She and the murderer's parents, Janice and Ken Matthews, have separately sold TV movie rights to reputable Dave Bell Associates Inc. for $35,000 each. They would also get a small percentage of the profits.
Quinn calls the payment "blood money."
Why would Quinn agree to cooperate in the making of a movie that she doesn't want made, a movie that she fears will sicken her?
She felt she had no alternative. Reality intruded.
"They told me they could do this without my permission," Quinn said. "And I found out they can. So there's no choice but to get involved. How else can I protect Shaun?"
Quinn first learned of Bell's plans for the movie from a newspaper story reporting Bell's deal with the parents of Todd, who was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He could be paroled in 15 years.
Todd, then 14, reportedly told friends he killed Shaun just "to know what it was like." Two of Todd's former friends testified that he told them of planning the murder and even took them to see the body, which police didn't discover until four months later.
"I was disgusted that the company would even approach them (Todd's parents) first," Quinn said.
After reading the story about the Matthews selling their rights, Quinn reached Bell associate Dennis Bogorad by phone. "He told me he didn't contact me (with an offer) out of sensitivity," Quinn said. "But how sensitive was it for me to read about it (the Matthews' deal) in a newspaper?"
According to Bogorad, who is Bell's executive producer for this project, the company had planned to contact Quinn too. Bogorad said that the story about the Matthews family signing was printed prematurely.
A month later, Bell made her the same offer that he had made the Matthews family, Quinn said.
Quinn said she continued to plead with Bogorad and later with Bell to abandon the movie plans. She said she told them how painful it would be for her to relive her son's murder through a movie.
"Do you know what it was like," she asked recently, "to come home and turn on TV and see a picture of your son laying in the woods, and to know that during the time you were at home praying he was safe and making his favorite cookies, that he was in the woods, frozen solid? What is this, a frozen pizza we're talking about?"
Her pleas were rejected.
Quinn said the day after she asked Bogorad for time to think about the movie rights offer, Bell called and sounded angry.
"He said that they were gonna go through with the movie anyways. He said that I had my chance to be a part of this and I chose not to and that I wouldn't be hearing from them again."
Meanwhile, not knowing what else to do, she protested the proposed movie to her state senator and to the U.S. Department of Justice. And she sought advice from Sherry Price, an official of the Sunny Von Bulow National Victim Advocacy Center, a resource data bank for groups lobbying for legislative changes on behalf of victims.
"She told me that I'd better go in on it," Quinn said, "because if I don't, they're gonna do it anyway. She told me that Shaun had no rights."
TV movie-wise, she was right.
"If we didn't do it, someone else would," Bogorad said.
Indeed, the inevitable Hollywood frenzy is already under way. Quinn has been contacted by three other producers seeking to make a movie about the case. And "60 Minutes" has a segment on it scheduled for early fall.
"The law says this is a public domain story," Bogorad said. "Is it any different than the Baby M or Bernhard H. Goetz cases?"
No, and each of those was turned into a TV movie recently.
Finally, Quinn said yes to the Bell offer--but with conditions.
"I told them I would have to have some input in how they would use my son," she said. "Then they would have to do everything in their power to dedicate the movie to the memory of Shaun. And third, I didn't want a penny. I wanted all the money to go to Shaun's sister (a 15-year-old paraplegic who lives with Quinn), who needs the money. I want it sent to my lawyer and put in her name."
Bogorad confirmed that those were Quinn's terms.