Obscenity? What Obscenity?

Larry Peterman, former manager of the Movie Buffs chain of video stores, was acquitted of 15 felony obscenity trafficking charges on March 31, after a jury watched 15 cable versions of XXX tapes and found none to be obscene.

It was the second trial Peterman had faces on the same charges, though between his original hung jury and this year's acquittal, nine felony counts had been dropped, and the Movie Buffs chain had been forced to close due to bankruptcy.

Terming his double prosecution "frightening," Peterman said, "The laws on community standards open the door for any particular movie to be questioned" - including, presumably, Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, which Peterman had also placed in his stores' adult section.

Randy Spencer, Peterman's court-appointed attorney, had argued that the city of Lehi, in which Peterman had originally been arrested, had issued Movie Buffs a business permit which allowed the store to carry "non-X-rated" titles, all of which were displayed in a separate room accessible only to those over 21 years of age. The defense also noted that the movies comparable to the tapes in question were abundantly available in other video stores, on cable television, and even the pay-per-view channels at a local hotel.

Prosecutor Kay Bryson had been roundly criticized on local broadcast media as well as editorially in The Salt Lake Tribune for pursuing the case.

"I'm amazed that this guy is blaming the media for the fact that he is the main loser in this case," said radio talk show host Tom Barberi. "He should be a prosecutor in some foreign land where he can rule as a dictator, because he obviously can't live with democracy.

But the entire prosecution team defended its relentless pursuit of Peterman's conviction.

"Some of them would pull everyone into a toilet of a world with its pornography, illicit drugs and all its other misery-creating features," Bryson wrote in a letter published in the Tribune, while Deputy County Attorney Curtis Larson told Video Store Magazine that the titles in question were "nothing more and nothing less than vile concoctions of scum, sleaze and sludge."

Describing Barberi and other media figures as, "the professional complainers of our society," Bryson charged, "They produce nothing. They contribute nothing. They earn their living by the sweat of their tongues."

Bryson also took umbrage at charges that he was using Peterman's prosecutions as a basis to set a "community standard of decency" for the state.

"I've lived in Utah County more than 20 years," he told the Tribune. "I know essentially what people in Utah County are all about. Quite often people in Utah County are the butt of jokes because we seem straight-laced."

"I was raised in the San Francisco Bay area," Bryson later wrote in his letter to the Tribune. "I believe I have seen much of life. In my experience, there is nothing more worthless than pornography.... People who defend the unrestricted distribution of this material fall into two groups: those who have never seen it or fail to understand its effect on human behavior and defend it out of blind subscription to a liberal philosophy, or those who are addicted to and in need of the material themselves."

At press time, Peterman was still considering a suit against Bryson and others for wrongful prosecution.