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Hollywood plays defense attorney

In 1977, Randall Dale Adams was convicted of killing a police officer in Dallas County. His appeals for a new trial were denied, and Mr. Adams seemed destined to spend most of his life in prison. Then this summer a documentary film, called ``The Thin Blue Line,'' played in movie theaters across the country. The film presented a case that police and prosecutors virtually framed Mr. Adams, and that another man, David Harris, allegedly killed the police officer.

It turned up new evidence in the case, including an elliptical confession to the murder by Mr. Harris, who is on death row for another murder. Harris was the government's star witness during the original trial.

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The movie shook the public. Groups in New York City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and other cities formed a ``Free Randall Adams Campaign.'' They sent some 8,800 signatures to District Judge Larry Baraka, and set up a legal defense fund for Adams.

Now, after 12 years, a state court is pushing for the case to be heard again. Earlier this month, Judge Baraka heard evidence about the trial and recommended that the court of criminal appeals order a new trial. The criminal appeals court has not indicated when it will decide the issue.

There's some dispute whether the movie will ultimately affect the Adams case. ``Mr. Adams would have gotten justice with or without the movie,'' says Leslie McFarlane, the assistant district attorney handling the case for the state.

Randy Schaffer, Adams's lawyer, agrees that the movie did not directly affect Adams's judicial appeals. But it helped speed things up, he says. Adams's first move for a new hearing took three years, he says.

``This time, we filed the writ in mid-September and got it in late November. The movie got our case on the front burner,'' he concludes.

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