A defense lawyer has asked a judge to block the release of a film about the slaying case against Jesse James Hollywood — a fair trial versus free speech argument that has failed in similar cases.
The lawsuit against Universal Studios seeks to keep “Alpha Dog,” based on the kidnapping and slaying of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz, from being distributed before the trial.
The film, which stars Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone and Justin Timberlake, is to be released Jan. 12. The characters’ names have been changed.
“I’ve seen the movie and it depicts Mr. Hollywood in an extremely negative light,” defense attorney James Blatt said. “If people see this movie, there will be no question in their mind that they are going to believe he perpetrated these crimes.”
Universal declined to comment on the lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court.
Judges have denied injunctions against pretrial airings of TV movies involving the Menendez brothers, O.J Simpson and “Billionaire Boys Club” defendant Joe Hunt.
Experts couldn’t recall a similar case involving a theatrical release, however.
“It could create an interesting precedent,” said Michael Landau, a professor of law at Georgia State University.
Blatt said the case involves a “classic clash of constitutional rights.” A nationwide release could infringe on Hollywood’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial by tainting the jury pool.
However, if a judge granted an injunction, the decision could hamstring First Amendment rights.
“Then newspapers and magazines couldn’t publish articles about a case before trial because the public is reading about it,” said Ron Sobel, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.
Hollywood is accused of masterminding a plot to kidnap and kill Markowitz in August 2000 because the boy’s older half brother owed Hollywood a $1,200 drug debt.
Markowitz’s body was found in a remote camping area in 2000, and Hollywood fled after being charged with the killing. He was captured in Brazil last year and has pleaded not guilty to charges that carry the death penalty.
Four others have been convicted in the case.
An appeals court ordered prosecutor Ron Zonen — who served as an unpaid consultant on the movie and gave filmmakers probation reports, police files and other confidential records — removed from the case in early October. The court said Zonen’s actions cast an “unseemly shadow” over the case.