U nabs rights to Times’ series on freed killer

Universal Pictures has acquired the film rights to journo Barry Siegel’s recent Los Angeles Times’ series about the unprecedented federal proceedings that set free a convicted “trailer trash” murderess because she was illegally imprisoned as a co-production between Will Smith and Lynwood Spinks’ production banners.

As part of the deal, Universal also optioned the life rights of Christina Rainville, the attorney who took the pro bono case based on a habeas petition filed by Lisa Lambert, the convicted murderer.

Siegel’s articles detailed the seeming rush to judgment by a Lancaster County judge, after hearing the case without a jury, to find Lambert guilty of first-degree murder.

Regarded as “trailer trash” by many of her neighbors, Lambert issued a hand-written habeas petition, which led to a federal hearing that has implications for criminal cases around the country after she was found by a federal judge to be “actually innocent.”

The story has elements of “The Accused,” with an attorney from a prominent Philadelphia law firm defending a client whose reputation and outward appearance clearly put her on the other side of the tracks.

The film will focus on Rainville’s fight to bring Lambert’s writ of habeas corpus — the final legal opportunity available to convicts seeking freedom — to a federal hearing and her client’s eventual release. Beyond the fact that habeas petitions are rarely granted by federal judges, Lambert’s case was significant because it marked a federal judge usurping a state judge’s decision.

The producers soon will hire a writer to pen the screenplay.

The project is one of the first to be set up under Smith’s newly formed production banner at Universal. Smith and his partner James Lassiter will produce the film along with Spinks’ HyperFilms, also based on the Universal lot.

Rainville was repped on the deal by Robert Bookman and Brian Siberell of CAA. Siegel’s deal was brokered by the CAA agents on behalf of his New York agent Kathy Robbins.

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