The already bizarre Movie Buffs pornography trial just got even more difficult to figure out.
Just a day after prosecutors moved to dismiss the most potentially incriminating evidence against Movie Buffs general manager Larry Warren Peterman, defense attorney Jerry Mooney planned to ask a 4th District judge Friday to let the jury watch the X-rated movie anyway.As if three days' worth of watching actors having sex weren't enough for the nine jurors, now they have to try to figure out why the roles have reversed. Instead of the Utah County Attorney's Office showing the allegedly pornographic films, now the defense hopes to display the most graphic of all the 16 sexually explicit films that have been conspicuously sitting on Judge Lynn W. Davis' bench for the past week.
The jury better get it figured out fast, because it could be deliberating whether Peterman is guilty of multiple counts of distributing pornography, a class A misdemeanor, as soon as Friday afternoon.
On Thursday, prosecutors asked Davis to dismiss the 16th pornography count against Peterman because they wanted to withdraw the video "Shooting Star" from evidence. They were convinced to do so after Mooney sent them purchase and rental records for that video, casting doubt on whether Peterman knew the store had the X-rated version instead of the less graphic cable version.
"We became satisfied that our evidence would not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that they know about that video," said prosecutor James Taylor. "What we really wanted to do is have a determination as to these other 15 movies."
Mooney was expected to try to convince jurors that the X-rated copy of "Shooting Star" had been planted in the American Fork Movie Buffs store Oct. 25, 1996, just hours before police confiscated it and 828 other videos there.
Mooney told jurors in opening statements last week that Movie Buffs rents only cable-edited versions of adult films, and that the more graphic X-rated version was planted in the store by American Fork newspaper publisher Brett Bezzant.
But prosecutors decided that trying to sort out the truth about that point would distract jurors from the task of determining whether the cable-version films exceed Utah County's community standard for pornography. That's what the Utah County Attorney's Office has aimed to achieve ever since the videos were seized, anyway.
"Rather than confuse the case with that issue, we decided to concentrate on these 15," Taylor said.
Mooney said that if Davis allows jurors to watch the X-rated film, they will better be able to distinguish between cable-version films and X-rated films. The difference, he said, is that cable versions don't show penetration, but X-rated films do.
Making that distinction could persuade jurors that the cable versions aren't pornographic, while something like "Shooting Star" is, Mooney believes. He thinks that turning the tables and making "Shooting Star" a part of his own case instead of the prosecution's could help Peterman be acquitted.
"The good news is that one of the counts (of distributing pornography) is dismissed," Mooney said. "The problem is that so is the movie ("Shooting Star"). I want the jury to see it."
After jurors finished watching the 15th video on Thursday morning, prosecutors nearly wrapped up their case. Utah County sheriff's detective Jeff Robinson testified that he visited 31 video stores from Alpine to Payson and found that none of them rented films comparable to the cable versions at Movie Buffs.
The closest thing available in Utah County, Robinson said, are "Playboy" videos at one store in University Mall and another in south Provo. Prosecutors are attempting to establish for the jury a community standard by which they can judge if the Movie Buffs videos are obscene.
Attorneys and Davis spent several hours Thursday afternoon hammering out jury instructions. Both sides see the instructions as critical to the ultimate disposition of the case, and they disagree about just how Davis should word instructions to the jury concerning what constitutes pornography.
Also Thursday, Davis ruled that he would not allow the defense to call a University of Utah psychologist to testify about whether the sexual acts depicted in the films represent healthy or unhealthy behavior.