Writer: Steve Johnson, based on an article by Skip Hollandsworth
Stars: Holly Marie Combs, David Lipper, Cassidy Rae, Gary Grubbs, Kurt Fuller, Joanna Garcia, Joanna Canton and Dee Wallace Stone
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Here’s the chronology. Diane Zamora and David Graham began dating in August 1995, while high school students. She attended Crowley High and he Mansfield High, each named for the neighbouring towns in Texas in which they can be found. It was apparently a lightning romance, as the couple announced their engagement in September, planning to marry after graduating college. However it was also problematic, as Graham confessed to infidelity around 1st December, with Adrianne ‘AJ’ Jones, a fellow runner on the Mansfield High track team. On 4th December, Jones was murdered on a remote road near Grand Prairie, northeast of Mansfield. Zamora and Graham were arrested in September 1996; both were now cadets at US military academies, she at the Naval Academy and he at the Air Force. Zamora was tried in February 1998, Graham separately in July 1998; each was quickly found guilty of capital murder and awarded life sentences. As I write, in February 2016, both are still behind bars.
It’s not hard to understand why and, in fact, protests didn’t just come from the legal defence teams; the parents of the victim also protested. The strongest objections were legal ones though, suggesting that a prominent TV movie speculating on a case that hadn’t even reached trial yet would be likely to prejudice jurors. Sure, Graham quickly confessed his crimes and his confession was printed in The Dallas Morning News, so there wasn’t much doubt in anyone’s minds about what went down, but innocent people have confessed before and airtight cases have been known to fall apart in court. NBC did succeed in quoting precedent and got this film on the air two months before Zamora’s trial and seven before Graham’s, but it would have been awkward for them if something new had come to light to change everything. Clearly they were willing to sensationalise the case because the film’s title is completely irrelevant; while both Zamora and Graham were cadets when they were arrested, neither was when the murder took place.
We begin, of course, with the actual murder, which happens at night in the middle of nowhere. We see a couple in a car; she thinks they’re going to neck just like all American teenagers do in TV movies but he has other plans. She gets out, but he stalks her. She makes it over a fence but he goes back to get a gun from the car and he shoots her dead. There’s someone else sitting up in the back seat too, from a hiding place on the boards. We don’t see any of them well and off the car drives, leaving a corpse in a field. It’s certainly a lot more enticing for viewers than the first line we hear. ‘Diane’s beautiful eyes always played the strings of my heart effortlessly,’ narrates David while he types it into a word processor, presumably confessing to the cops in inappropriately florid fashion. We skip over to Diane next, as she flounces into a school corridor talking about him. ‘He’d do anything in the world for me,’ she tells a friend. Twice. Given what we’ve just seen, of course, these two brief scenes are complete giveaways.
And now we get down to business. After an hour of meltdown, Diane calms down to proclaim that ‘She’ll have to suffer the consequences. She will have to die.’ Oh yeah, she’s really out there, and David is such a 24 carat wuss that he’ll let her do whatever she wants. Because, you know, ‘Once she’s gone we can go on as before.’ Oh joy. At this point I was torn between whether Holly Marie Combs was really good in this role or really bad. On the one hand, she sells the story well, believable as a girl who is quite willing to kill someone just because her guy cheated with her but still go to school in the meantime like everything was right with the world. On the other hand, she looked her 22 years so was a little too old for us to really buy into her being a high school student and she’s so obsessive and possessive with David that, even without a backbone, we wonder why he stuck with her. AJ was clearly his best option and Cassidy Rae plays that up without being pushy. David Lipper is the weak link as I don’t buy into him being such a pushover.
In fact, Wallace is so powerful in this scene that it remains with us through the routine investigation that follows. Sure, Bryan McMillan seems like a perfect suspect, given that he was obsessed with AJ, is unable to recall whether he rang her because of a combination of alcohol and pills and even answers rhetorical questions from the cops like, ‘If you did kill her, where would you have left the body?’ So the real killers move onward and upward, even though they’re dumb enough to go to the funeral and walk out halfway, while arguing about not proving anything. ‘That young man is a recruiting poster,’ Baker tells Green, as they look through the files again. In fact, as solid as both Grubbs and Fuller are in their roles as cops, it’s Dee Wallace who elevates the film with each successive appearance, even if there aren’t many. She gets a good scene where she comes into the station to ask what’s happening in the case and an even better one to wrap up the film, crying but attempting to compose herself by the memorial tree planted for AJ.