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Winning Verdict for Attica Drama

Actors Alan Alda and Morris Chestnut are the emotional core of Showtime's The KillingYard, an original movie about the 30-year-old uprising at Attica Correctional Facility and the subsequent cover-up by the authorities.

With its focus more on the courtroom drama than the prison riot itself, the movie concentrates on one defendant, Shango (Chestnut), a black inmate accused of slashing the throats of two white prisoners.

Yard
not only covers key points in the months-long trial, but also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the eventual rapport between Shango and civil-rights attorney Ernie Goodman (Alda). The movie benefits from scriptwriter Benita Garvin's friendship with Goodman, plus input by such "historical consultants" as Shango's eventual wife Linda Borus, Goodman's son Bill and Judge Joseph Mattina.

Nearly two hours long, the drama gets off to a slow start but comes alive when the legal proceedings begin. Throughout, much is made of Goodman's poor health to needlessly manufacture suspense — but ultimately we learn that he practiced law till his death at age 90 (in 1997).

Dr. John Edland (Arthur Holden) — the medical examiner who did the autopsies on the Attica victims — delivers the most dramatic moment when he reveals that the hostages and others were slain by state-trooper gunfire, not by having their throats slashed by inmates.

At first, portraying the troopers' recapture of the prison as a chaotic, gunfire-filled flashback sequence near the movie's end seems to be a mistake by director Euzhan Palcy. But that timing adds power to Edland's testimony, especially since most viewers never knew or have long since forgotten the details of the Attica riot during fall 1971.

While the drama concludes on a high note with Shango's acquittal, the epilogue supplies unhappy endings as well — Shango's murder three years later and an $8 million legal settlement with surviving inmates, arrived at only last year. Moreover, no charges were ever filed against the troopers or state authorities involved.

Actors Rose McGowan as Borus and Eleanor McCoy as Shango's mother contributed strong supporting performances.

Showtime premieres The Killing Yard
on Sept. 23 at 8 p.m.