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N.Y. Subway-Murder Suspects Deny Movie Link

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three teenagers charged with the gruesome murder-by-fire of a clerk in a Brooklyn subway booth have indicated they had not seen the movie “Money Train” before the attack, even though several public officials, including Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, quickly linked the crime to scenes from the film.

“We have no evidence to indicate that ‘Money Train’ was the reason why this crime was attempted,” Brooklyn Dist. Atty. Charles Hynes said Monday.

“Money Train” opened four days before the grisly incident on Nov. 26 and contains two scenes that are virtual replays of the crime, sparking speculation that the movie inspired the mayhem.

But Hynes said two of the three suspects flatly denied having seen the film, while the third “gave a blank look like he hadn’t even heard of it.”

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The claim that the fiery assault was a copycat crime caused Dole, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, to cite it as an example that Hollywood goes too far in its depiction of violence. In a speech on the Senate floor, Dole called on Americans to boycott “Money Train” to send a message to the film industry.

Dole (R-Kan.) earlier this year gained wide attention when, while campaigning in Los Angeles, he roundly condemned the entertainment industry for an excessive emphasis on violence and sex.

A Dole spokesman on Monday said the senator laid blame on the movie only after Giuliani and top New York police officials first made the connection. The Dole aide also suggested that the suspects may be lying.

Neither Giuliani nor Police Commissioner William Bratton could be reached for comment Monday.

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Taken into custody in connection with the case last week were James Irons, 18, Thomas Malik, 18, and Vincent Ellerby, 17.

New York police have said that Irons told them he had stood lookout while the other two squirted a flammable liquid into the subway token booth. The clerk, Harry Kaufman, begged, “Don’t light it! Don’t light it!” authorities said Irons told them.

But when Kaufman wouldn’t turn over the money in the booth, they set the booth on fire and it blew up, police said.

Kaufman, 50, died Dec. 10 from burns over more than 70% of his body. All three youths have been charged with second-degree murder.

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“Money Train,” which stars Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, is about a pyromaniac who terrorizes New York subways. In the uproar immediately after the crime, its producers said the controversial scenes were based on actual episodes that occurred in the 1980s.

Columbia Pictures, which released the film, declined to comment on the latest development. Previously, the studio issued a statement saying that company officials were “appalled and dismayed” by the attack.

Brooklyn prosecutor Hynes had declined to make a connection between the crime and the movie.

On Monday, he said: “People in public life leap too quickly to make the connection of violence in the street to violence on the screen. It may be true. But I’d rather hear what a sociologist has to say than a person who jumps to a podium to condemn it.”

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He added: “Don’t get me wrong--this is no endorsement of this movie. I think it’s a tacky use of the 1st Amendment. But I do treasure the 1st Amendment and I can’t think of a way of prohibiting that kind of exercise of free speech.”

Times staff writers Elaine Dutka and Bob Sipchen contributed to this story.


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