A made-for-television movie based on Christopher Porco, the Bethlehem man in prison for the 2004 ax murder of his father and attempted killing of his mother, is temporarily on hold pending a hearing today on a request to go forward with the planned airing.
That is scheduled for Saturday night on Lifetime Network.
The temporary restraining order against the movie was requested by Porco and granted on Tuesday by State Supreme Court Justice Robert J. Muller, who is based out of Warren County. Because of the rapidly approaching air date, Lifetime attorney Michael Grygiel has asked an appeals court for an emergency motion to vacate the ruling.
The request from Porco is based on the premise that the movie, “Romeo Killer: The Christopher Porco Story,” is a violation of his civil rights because he didn’t grant permission for his name and/or likeness to be used for a commercial enterprise.This has been an ongoing issue for him, which he has monitored from prison in Clinton County where he is serving 46 years to life. His legal battle became more pressing last month when it was announced that the movie would air Saturday.
“A temporary restraining order is necessary to protect my rights,” Porco wrote in an affidavit.
His argument is that the movie isn’t a protected form of speech, like newspaper coverage of an event. He said that using his likeness, name and story for an “inspired by a true story” movie to make money is a violation of state civil rights law.
Lifetime has been in contact with Porco for months, as he has repeatedly attempted to stop the movie. In December 2012, he wrote to a Lifetime official and demanded they cease production.
In a January written response, Lifetime attorney David A Schulz stressed, “The use of your name and likeness in the film will not violate … civil rights law or any other of your rights.”
“Lifetime thus declines your request to cease all productions on the film,” the letter concluded.
Muller rejected the idea that Porco wouldn’t suffer immediate harm from the movie and dismissed the producers’ contention that preventing the movie would lead to a slippery slope where people could prevent any coverage they didn’t like.
Grygiel is appealing this decision to the state Appellate Division’s Third Department in Albany on the basis that it wasn’t issued properly, represents a muzzling of Lifetime’s First Amendment rights and there isn’t the possibility of harm to Porco if the movie airs.
“My client ordinarily doesn’t comment on pending litigation matters,” said Grygiel in a phone interview, but he highlighted the First Amendment argument of his appeal.
“[The temporary restraining order] constitutes a prior restraint that is presumptively invalid under the First Amendment,” he said.
Also, his argument for appeal is based on legal precedents that say the state’s civil rights law, which Porco is citing, only protects people whose name or likeness is being used for advertisements. Grygiel’s court papers contend Porco is too broadly interpreting the definition of commercial protections, as the movie is not an advertisement.
The movie stars Matt Barr as Porco and “Will & Grace” alum Eric McCormick as Joe Sullivan, the lead detective in the case.
National media has already captured the intrigue surrounding Porco. His case was featured in an episode of CBS Network’s 48 Hours Mystery, an episode of TruTV series Forensic Files. Also, CBS Network’s CSI series had a scene that resembled the murder of Porco’s father.
Porco is not expected to attend today’s procedure, but will monitor via telephone or teleconference.