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ALTA VIEW INCIDENT GETS NATIONAL AIRING IN MADE-FOR-TV MOVIE

Published: Tuesday, April 28 1992 12:00 a.m. MDT

By now, the story is well-known in Utah. Just before midnight on Sept. 20, 1991, Richard Worthington stormed Sandy's Alta View Hospital.

Enraged because he believed a doctor there had wrongly sterilized his wife, Worthington shot nurse Karla Roth to death, took eight people - including three infants - hostage and threatened to set off a bomb.Eighteen hours later, the standoff was resolved without further bloodshed.

There was plenty of national coverage of the incident, and the country got another look at the murder/hostage-taking Tuesday night when CBS aired a made-for-TV movie based on the events. Former "L.A. Law" star Harry Hamlin portrayed Worthington, and Teri Garr played nurse Susan Woolley.

Many of those involved had already seen "Deliver Them From Evil: The Taking of Alta View" and found it an emotional experience.

"It was very difficult to watch," said Woolley, who was portrayed by Garr in the film. "I had read the script and I had spent time with those people, but then actually watching it was still hard.

"Several of Teri Garr's lines were extracted essentially verbatim from the letter I wrote to my daughter. After seeing it, I felt like I'd watched my own autopsy, at least my own psychological autopsy."Nurse Marjorie Wyler, one of the hostages, saw the movie late last week at Alta View Hospital with other survivors.

"The beginning was really hard when they showed Karla's death," Wyler said. "After that, we kind of got more into critiquing it and it wasn't as emotionally difficult."

Richard Worthington's former wife, Karen, their children, his mother and several of his siblings gathered at Karen's home Sunday evening to watch a videocassette of the movie. (Neither the production company nor the network provided the Worthingtons with a copy, so the Deseret News passed one along.)

"At first it was very difficult (to watch)," Karen Worthington said. "Probably a little more difficult with the whole family together."

Of course, seeing yourself portrayed on television can be an unsettling experience. "She sure doesn't look much like me," Wyler said of her fictional counterpart.

Quite understandably, Karen Worthington was curious about how she'd be portrayed.

"Is she fat?" she asked before seeing the movie. "I was afraid they'd show me as this old motherly type, a 150-pounder who'd had 10 kids. Then people would watch and say, `I can understand why he did it.' "

But beyond the physical attributes, it's a trauma to see some of the worst moments of your life portrayed on screen.

"I can't believe this is my life," Karen Worthington said.

As to the production itself, the consensus was that, while not a great movie, it was, for the most part, accurate.

"In terms of accuracy, I thought it was very well done," said Woolley. "They really did their very best to maintain the integrity of the events."

Richard Worthington's defense attorney, Andrew Valdez, found the movie "pretty frightening but fairly accurate." He said his client "would dispute that he made some of those threats," as well as the scene of Roth being killed.

"I disagree with the way that was portrayed," he said. (The movie showed Roth grabbing the shotgun and being shot several yards from Worthington.) "The grabbing of the weapons and the discharge of the handgun were instantaneous. We have ballistics information that she was shot at a distance of 2 to 3 feet."

Wyler had some limited praise for the moviemakers.

"Basically, I think they tried to tell the story," she said. "But you sit and watch it and you say, `No, no, no, no.' "

Her two primary bones of contention had to do with the portrayal of the hostages.

"(The movie) showed all of us under less control than we were actually under," Wyler said. "We really stayed calm. We didn't argue with him."

And, in her view, there was even less accuracy in the depiction of the hostages' feelings toward law enforcement officers.

"I couldn't believe how much anger they showed toward the police. It was all through the movie. It appeared like we hated the police," she said. "It really wasn't like that."

And many who've seen the movie object to its characterization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Oddly enough, "Deliver Them From Evil" never uses the words "Mormon," "Latter-day Saints" or "LDS." The characters refer to "the church" and "our faith."

But it's obvious what church they're talking about. Not only is it set in Salt Lake City, but Hamlin's Richard Worthington talks about having served a mission.

And a statement by Hamlin's Worthington was disputed.

"You know what the church teaches," the movie version of Worthington says. "The man is to be the priesthood bearer. The woman is to be the child bearer. Makes me spiritual head of my household."

After viewing the movie, Worthington's mother and two of his siblings wanted to set the record straight. They prepared the following statement:

"Because of this movie and other statements made on recent talk shows, people may have the wrong ideas about the LDS Church. Whatever Rick may have said at Alta View Hospital was his own opinion and not necessarily the doctrine of the LDS Church.

"We are not making a statement for the LDS Church, but our opinion only is that the role of husband and wife is more equal and that decisions such as how many children to have are agreed upon mutually.

"Seeing this movie once again emphasizes the heartache our family has gone through, realizing that the person who causes this is a member of our family. In spite of all that has happened, we love Rick and hope that he receives the help he needs in prison."

Actually, recent appearances by Hamlin and Garr on various talk shows have stirred up more resentment than the movie. In addition to the Worthingtons' statement, others have objected to the two stars' characterization of the LDS Church.

Drawing particular heat was Garr's appearance on "Regis & Kathie Lee," when she said that all Mormon women have 10 to 15 children, stay at home and do exactly as their husbands tell them.

"Everybody (at Alta View) is angry about that," Wyler said. "I think that's a real inappropriate and inaccurate statement. I was just appalled."

*****

(Additional information)

'Tis season for true-crime films

"Deliver Them From Evil: The Taking of Alta View" is of particular interest locally because it depicts an incident that took place in Sandy last September.

But nationally, this is just one more true-crime, made-for-TV movie clogging the airwaves during the May sweeps. ABC, CBS and NBC have scheduled eight such telefilms - four this week alone.

And "Deliver Them From Evil" is just another true-crime drama in terms of quality as well. It's not the worst of the genre, by any means, but it's also nowhere near the best.

Viewed in strict terms, this movie isn't overly entertaining. It has its moments of suspense and horror but can't keep up the tension for two hours.

(Of course, it doesn't help that most local viewers already know the entire plot.)

The telefilm's most intense scene is the shooting of nurse Karla Roth, which is relatively graphic by television standards. Parents will want to keep young children, and even some older children, away from this.

In his first role since leaving "L.A. Law," Harry Hamlin turns in a credible performance as Richard Worthington, a man who has lost control of his emotions and himself, a man who commits murder and threatens to kill himself and his hostages.

And Teri Garr is believable as a nurse who maintains her poise despite the trauma.

But while some true-crime dramas probe beneath the action to the causes of the tragedy, there's little of that here. This movie was made to capitalize on a sensational crime and offers what ends up being a voyeuristic view of other people's woes.

And, unfortunately, it's just one more in an increasingly long line of similar TV movies.

On the screen and tube

"Siege at Alta View," a CBS Network television movie scheduled for broadcast Tuesday, is the latest on a long list of made-for-TV movies, books and theatrical releases chronicling some of Utah's best-known criminals. During the past 11 years, entertainment executives have beaten a steady path to Utah to bring Ted Bundy, Frances Schreuder and the Singer-Swapp clan to prime-time and to get their bizarre stories into print. Several of these efforts have received praise and acclaim, such as the book, "Executioner's Song" and a subsequent network movie of the same name. But simply having a "Utah angle" isn't a guarantee of success. Just ask CBS, which last year aired "Aftermath: A test of Love," a best-forgotten TV movie retelling of the Ogden Hi Fi murders.

D.B. Cooper Theatrical movie "The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper" 1981 Treat Williams

Gary Gilmore NBC movie "The Executioner's Song" 1982 Tommy Lee Jones

Ted Bundy NBC movie "The Deliberate Stranger" 1986 Mark Harmon

Frances CBS movie "At Mother's Request" 1987 Stefanie Powers

Schreuder "Nutcracker: Money, Madness, Murder" 1987 Lee Remick

HiFi murders CBS movie "Aftermath: A Test of Love 1991 Richard Chamberlain

Singer/Swapp NBC movie "In the Line of Duty:

siege at Marion" 1992 Tess Harper

Alta View CBS movie "Siege at Alta View" 1992 Harry Hamlin

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