Opening Arguments Begin in Stagliano Trial

Jul 13, 2010 11:00 AM PST
WASHINGTON — Opening arguments for the obscenity trial of John Stagliano began this morning.

Speaking for the government’s case, federal prosecutor Bonnie Hannan told the jury, “This case is about crossing a line.”

Hannan said the case was not about putting the adult entertainment industry on trial, that the only people on trial were the defendants — John Stagliano, John Stagliano Inc. and Evil Angel Productions Inc.

Hannan told the jury, “your job is not to legislate but to determine whether [the two films in question and the trailer] violate community standards.”

Hannan gave a brief but graphic description of some of the acts described in the film “Milk Nymphos” and “Storm Squirters 2,” including milk being pumped into “the anus and vagina” and shot into the mouths of others. She described the use of close-up shots of genitalia with no real plot line.

She promised that an FBI agent who purchased the films will describe for the jury the rest of the films and that they will witness some portions themselves.

The prosecutor also began to describe to the jury the “tools” they would need to evaluate whether something is obscene and started giving the three prongs of the Miller test, derived from Miller vs. California.

Prior to the jurors' entrance to the courtroom, Judge Richard J. Leon told both sides that juries did not like it when opening statements were interpreted by objections from opposing council. But when Hannan got to the description of the Miller test, defense raised an objection.

After a conference at the bench with the attorneys on both sides, Hannan continued. She finished by describing how an FBI agent went to the public area of a local hotel and “within four clicks of a mouse” was able to access the trailer to "Fetish Fanatic 5.”

Paul J. Cambria Jr., representing John Stagliano for the defense, then gave his opening remarks, starting with the point that the evidence will show there was no distribution of the films or the trailer to children, there was no intent to distribute to children and that “no children are involved in the case.”

Cambria told the jury that the FBI agent decided to download the trailer in a public place, while also making sure no one could see what he was doing, solely so the government could argue that the material was viewable in public.

He also told the jury “these movies are not intended for 14 strangers in a courtroom.” The movies, he explained, are for those adults who make a “personal decision to acquire movies like this.”

Cambria argued that the movies contained exactly what an adult who purchases these kinds of films would expect and referred to the actors and actresses as “sexual athletes” who perform entertainment for other adults.

The movies were not advertised on billboards or on the interstate, Cambria said. He told the jury he believes they can “look at the world in 2010, as opposed to 1955” and realize that people in society, including a city like Washington, D.C., which contains so many cultures, and allow other adults to make such choices to purchase and view movies like these if they so choose.

Attorney Allan Gelbard, representing Evil Angel Inc., did not speak for long. He laid out his argument that Evil Angel Productions Inc. as a corporation was disbanded in 2005 and that the government cannot even figure out which company to indict.

H. Louis Sirkin, representing John Stagliano Inc. explained to the jury how the FBI agent came to pursue the case in the Washington by ordering a film and having it sent to a post office box to the city.

After the prosecutors and defense gave their opening statements the jury was released for lunch.

Afterwards, with the jury out of the courtroom Leon ruled on the defense’s motion to compel the jury to see all five and a half hours of the films. Leon ruled that jurors are not required to view “every frame of film” of a work in order to judge whether it is obscene, and therefore the jury will not be required to watch the full length of the videos, nor can the defense show the remaindered of the films not shown by the prosecutors to the jury. The films will be available to the jury as a whole in evidence and they can choose to view some or all of the films in their deliberations.

Leon did agree that the defense will be able to show other portions of the film, but which portions and how much, he stated would have to be ruled on a case-by-case basis.

Outside the courtroom, another issue is brewing as to whether the public and media will be able to view the videos shown to the jury. The court has indicated they will have a screen that is viewable to a portion of those sitting in the audience, but sound will only be available via two headphones which will be provided to only two members of local, credentialed media. It is not yet determined which media will be granted headsets and in what matter such determinations will happen.

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