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TNT's "Deadlocked" is an open-and-shoot case.

Trial by Fire

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Everything looks like a lock for the prosecution in "Deadlocked." The accused's fingerprints are all over the crime scene. There's DNA evidence in body fluids left on the victim. The accused was known to be the only person at the scene when the rape and murder occurred. The accused refuses to say a word, not to investigators, not to his public defender lawyer, and not to the jury. It's what the prosecution likes to call an open-and-shut case.

The jury sees it that way too, and the defendant is convicted. In the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecution asks for the death penalty. This, too, looks like a lock.

But it isn't, because when the defendant's father is called to testify, all hell breaks loose.

When he first takes the stand, the father is quietly determined to persuade the jury that his son is incapable of such a heinous crime. But instead of offering anything concrete for the jury to consider, the father begins to lash out at the inadequacies of the public defender. "Everybody knows that justice is for sale in the country," he says. "If my son had been rich, he'd be walking out of here a free man."

But the judge isn't buying this line of argument. She cautions the father, and when he persists, she has him removed from the stand. Instead of taking his seat in the courtroom, the father pulls a gun, grabs his son from the defense table and herds the jury and the victim's husband into the jury room where he holds them hostage.

He doesn't want to talk to his son's defense lawyer, however. He asks for the prosecutor, and when the prosecutor responds, the father issues an ultimatum: "Find new evidence within 24 hours that proves my son didn't commit this rape and murder or I start shooting jurors, one by one."

It's a premise fraught with potential for edge-of-your-seat tension and drama, and TNT — whose reputation for its original productions is spotty — this time fulfills the plot's promise. "Deadlocked" is well worth watching.

Credit the screenplay (by David Rosenfelt and Erik Jendresen) — and its surprise dénouement — and the cast for the success of "Deadlocked." David Caruso (whom you'll remember from the first season of "NYPD Blue") delivers an on-target performance without much of the fussiness he's famous for. Charles S. Dutton ("Roc") brings power and conviction to the role of the father, and Jo D. Jonz ("First Time Felon") handles the difficult task of switching his character's demeanor, degree by convincing degree, from that of a convicted killer to one of a man innocently wronged. And "Deadlocked" will keep you entertained, minute by minute, as it proves that a lock can be unlocked, if you can find the right key.

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