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Implicating a Murder Manual

August 06, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

X's first original movie, "Deliberate Intent," asks the provocative question: Can words incite someone to commit murder? The legal thriller, premiering Sunday, examines the controversial decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit, which ruled that words indeed can kill. The court determined that a book "aided and abetted" a murderer in a triple homicide, therefore the publisher was not guaranteed First Amendment protection.

Even the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of Paladin Enterprises, publisher of the book in question, "Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors."

"Deliberate Intent" was chosen as the first FX original movie because of its topicality. "We are living in a time where data and information is flowing more freely than at any point in the history of mankind, and this film really begins to discuss that," says FX Networks president, Peter Lugori.

"In addition, other court cases have come up which started to dance around this issue," says Lugori. "We feel that one of the important things that we can do with these films is bring an issue to its head and stir some debate."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 6, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 4 Foreign Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
FX Networks President--The spelling of FX Networks President Peter Liguori is incorrect in today's TV Times cover story on the movie "Deliberate Intent."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 13, 2000 Home Edition TV Times Page 3 Television Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Peter Liguori--The spelling of FX Networks president Peter Liguori was incorrect in the Aug. 6 TV Times cover story on the movie "Deliberate Intent."

Based on the book by First Amendment attorney Rod Smolla, "Deliberate Intent" focuses on a former Motown recording engineer, Lawrence "L.T." Horn (James McDaniel), who hires a hit man, James Perry (Clark Johnson), to murder his ex-wife, their paraplegic son and the son's nurse in order to obtain his son's insurance money. Perry used "Hit Man," which he bought by mail order, to help him with the crime; he followed 22 of the 26 steps from the book.

Though the murderers were brought to justice, the members of the victims' families filed a lawsuit against Paladin Enterprises. The families' attorney, Howard Siegel (Ron Rifkin), enlisted the help of Smolla (Timothy Hutton) who was well known for representing Larry Flynt against the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Initially very reluctant to join Siegel, Smolla ends up risking his reputation as the defender of the First Amendment by siding with the families in the lawsuit against Paladin and its former Green Beret owner Peder Lund (Bill MacDonald).

Oscar winner Hutton ("Ordinary People") had avidly followed the Rice vs. Paladin case in the media because, he explains, "no one had ever sued a publisher and won for the content being responsible or being liable."

The ramifications of the case were a major cause of discussion between the cast and creative team during the filming.

"I questioned [the decision] all the time: Should a publisher be allowed or not allowed to publish anything?" Hutton recalls. "Does it incite?"

Hutton still doesn't know if the court made the right decision. "We all had trouble with the outcome of the verdict," he confesses. "It's not a situation where you can definitely say, of course, Paladin should have lost this case. But on the other hand, when you understand all the steps that were taken by the hit man ... "

The actor read "Hit Man," which was written by a woman whose identity has remained protected. Besides offering a step-by-step look at how to commit murder, Hutton found that the "how-to" tome also plays with the bruised psyche of the reader.

"The book says that [the reader] has been treated badly [in life] and is the lowest rung of the ladder," he says. "It's that kind of manipulation appealing to someone who is down and out that was pretty awful."

Director and co-writer Andy Wolk ("Criminal Justice") wanted "Deliberate Intent" to present strong arguments for both sides of the case.

"When defense attorney Tom Kelley (Cliff DeYoung) gets up in court and says this is a book, this is writing and in America, we prize freedom of speech, I agree as a writer. The idea that the First Amendment is not something hard and fast, but flexible like this, can be very unsettling to me."

But when Smolla counters by asking the judges, "If this book didn't exist and you could have these three lives back, which would you choose? I don't think there is anything redeeming in the book," adds Wolk. "It is a vicious cookbook."

*

"Deliberate Intent" airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on FX. The network has rated it TV-PG-VD (maybe unsuitable for young children with special advisories for violence and suggestive dialogue).

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