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Murder in the First

Murder in the First theatrical poster
Directed by Marc Rocco
Produced by Marc Frydman
Mark Wolper
Written by Dan Gordon
Starring Christian Slater
Kevin Bacon
Gary Oldman
Embeth Davidtz
Brad Dourif
William H. Macy
R. Lee Ermey
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Fred Murphy
Editing by Russell Livingstone
Studio Le Studio Canal+
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) January 20, 1995
Running time 122 min
Country USA
Language English

Murder in the First is a largely fictitious 1995 film, directed by Marc Rocco, about a petty criminal named Henri Young (played by Kevin Bacon) who is put on trial for murder in the first degree.



As a 17-year old orphan, Henri Young stole $5.00 from a grocery store/U.S. Post Office to feed himself and his little sister, both of whom are destitute. He is apprehended by the store clerk, and his sister is sent to an orphanage. Although Henri's goal was only to steal $5.00 from the store, it doubled as a U.S. Post Office and he was convicted of robbing a post office, which was a federal offense. Henri never sees his sister again and is sentenced to Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas. Young is later transferred to Alcatraz where he participates in a scheme to escape.

The plot fails due to the betrayal of a fellow inmate, Rufus McCain, and Young is sent to solitary confinement, where he is left for three years (except 30 minutes at Christmas). During this extraordinary period in solitary confinement (typical confinement lasts no more than 19 days), Young slowly begins to lose his mind. Upon being released from solitary confinement, Henri experiences a psychotic episode in the cafeteria and attacks McCain, who is still in general population, stabbing him to death with a spoon in full view of the prison staff and convict population.

Henri is put on trial for the murder in the first degree, in what is assumed to be an open-and-shut case by both the prosecution and the public defender's office. James Stamphill, a recent law school graduate, is given the case. After discovering the facts behind Henri's case, the young lawyer attempts to put Alcatraz on trial, alleging that the conditions in Alcatraz caused Henry to commit the murder. In a highly politicized and contentious trial, Henri is convicted only of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter, but later dies after returning to Alcatraz to serve his sentence. After the events of the film, Milton Glenn, the associate warden in charge of day to day activities of Alcatraz, is convicted of mistreatment and is banned from working in the penal system.

Production notes

The producers wanted authenticity so Bacon, Slater and Oldman spent some of their free time locked in jail cells while the movie was being filmed. Kevin Bacon even lost twenty pounds for his role as the Alcatraz inmate.

Filming during one of the courtroom scenes was interrupted by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.

Historical accuracy

The movie ends with the fictional Henri Young being returned to the dungeons of Alcatraz in the early 1940s where he dies. In reality these areas were already closed by then.

Neither was the real Henri Young convicted of stealing $5 to save his sister from destitution. He had been a bank robber who had taken a hostage on at least one occasion and committed murder in 1933. Before being incarcerated at Alcatraz in 1936, Young had already served time in State prisons in Montana and Washington. He entered federal correctional facilities for the first time in 1935 at the U.S. Penitentiary on McNeil Island, Washington.

Young remained at Alcatraz for 12 years before being transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, Missouri in 1948. When his federal sentence expired in 1954 he was sent to Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla to begin a life sentence for his earlier murder conviction.

In 1972 Young was released from Washington State Penitentiary but he jumped parole. According to Washington State authorities his whereabouts are unknown. Young therefore might still be alive, but it is unlikely given that he would be at least 90 years old as his exact day of birth in 1918 is not known and only 4.3 percent of American white males live to be 90 years old, according to a 2007 study by the National Center for Health Statistics.


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Murder in the First is a 1995 film about a petty criminal named Henri Young who is unjustly sent to Alcatraz. The man is put into solitary confinement for 3 years (when the maximum is 19 days) making him go mad, and causing him to kill another inmate. A young lawyer is assigned to his case and defends him, while putting Alcatraz on trial by pointing out that the incredible brutality his client endured was in a sense the real killer.

Directed by Marc Rocco. Written by Marc Rocco and David L. Wolper.
The trial that brought down Alcatraz.



James Stamphill: Did you kill Rufus McCain?
Henri Young: I was the weapon, but I ain't no killer.

James Stamphill: How do you think the Yankees will do against the Redskins this year?
Henri Young: The Yankees are a baseball team. The Redskins are a football team. Personally, I think the Redskins would kick the shit out of them.

James Stamphill: I will ask you what I want to ask you.
Henri Young: And I answer what I want to answer.
James Stamphill: Fine.
Henri Young: Fine.

James Stamphill: Unlike many men who lived long after, Henry Young did not die in vain. In the end he was not afraid. He lived and he died in triumphed. If only we could all do that.

Henri Young: Action: I won. Reaction: you can't ever take that away from me


  • They locked him up. They crushed his spirit. But they couldn't hide the truth.
  • One was condemned. The other was determined. Two men whose friendship gave them the will to take on the system.
  • The trial that brought down Alcatraz.
  • "I accuse Alcatraz of crimes against humanity." - The lawyer
    "I was a weapon, but I ain't no killer." - The accused
    "I am not on trial here." - The warden
  • One broke his silence. The other broke the system.


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