Ten potential jurors were released yesterday in the obscenity trial of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. From an original jury pool of 65 people, 18 were excused Monday because of personal or work-related conflicts. Two more were excused yesterday because of problems at work that would prohibit them from sitting on a jury and 10 because of their opposition to pornography.
That leaves 35 for the next step in jury selection today.
The jurors released Tuesday said they either had such fixed opinions about pornography, that they couldn't be fair in the case, or couldn't watch the nearly 40 hours of pornography required to sit on the jury.
"I guess I'm a prude or something," one potential female juror said yesterday. "I can't even look at that kind of stuff." Another woman said that even if the judge ordered her to look at the critical evidence, she didn't think she could do it. "I would bow my head and close my eyes rather than be exposed to that," she said.
Flynt's attorneys warned potential jurors that the videos would show a variety of sex acts. Some members of the jury pool told Judge Patrick Dinkelacker, who promised that their names wouldn't be revealed, said that they weren't up to viewing such explicit acts.
"I wouldn't feel right watching something like that," said another.
The court explained to the prospective jurors exactly what they would be required to watch. A summary was given stating that they would see acts of intercourse and different kinds of sex. Jurors were asked who thought they would have a problem. Those that raised their hands when then brought back into the courtroom one by one where it was explored.
One man said he was new to Cincinnati and move to the city primarily because it was a conservative community and because he knew that Larry Flynt had been convicted of pandering for selling Hustler 22 years ago. He said that was one of the drawing forces that brought him and his family to the Cincinnati area. He was released.
Another woman said she walks by the Hustler store on her way to work but averts her eyes from the store lest she catch of glimpse of pornographic material out of the corner of her eye.
Many of the jurors questioned said they found the material "morally repulsive." One man said he bought a Hustler magazine several years ago but his religious beliefs convinced him that it was wrong to read the magazine.
Flynt and his brother, Jimmy were indicted in April 1998 on charges of pandering obscenity, disseminating material harmful to a juvenile, conspiracy and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. The charges stem from the alleged sale of a sexually explicit video to a 14-year-old boy at the Hustler Magazine & Gifts store that Jimmy Flynt manages. Both Flynt and his brother have pled not guilty to 14 counts. If convicted, each brother could get up to 24 years in prison and $65,000 in fines.
"Our argument is that it was a police set-up, a part of a sting operation," Flynt contends. "They paid the kid to come in there with a fake I.D. and make the purchase."
Larry Flynt said the honesty of the prospective jurors this week has worked in his favor. Flynt says he's encouraged by the proceedings so far.
"I'm encouraged by the candor in which the jurors have spoken," Flynt said. "What's really great about this is they're being honest. In the trial I had 20 years ago, people were lying through their teeth to get on the jury, saying this stuff didn't bother them.
"Now people are saying, "No, I don't want to watch this,' so this is great because the judge is removing them for cause."
One prospective female juror looked at Flynt and said she found him "disgusting."
"That's actually a good thing for the defense," Flynt said. "Those people are being released right now early in the process. The defense is not having to use any of its critical preemptory strikes to get those people off the jury."
Flynt was convicted in 1977 of pandering obscenity for selling Hustler magazine in Cincinnati. He served six days of a 7- to 25-year sentence and was released pending appeal, and the conviction was overturned on appeal in 1979.
Flynt has been tried in other venues throughout the country. It was in Georgia in 1978 when Flynt was facing trial on an obscenity charge that he was shot during a court break by a sniper. Flynt was also in a trial that has become famous in Constitutional law- this was when Hustler printed a parody. The Reverend Jerry Falwell sued for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress because the parody had said Falwell lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse. The case wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled, unanimously, that parody is protected under the First Amendment
This trial was originally set for Jan. 19, but has been rescheduled twice. Flynt, who has been confined to a wheelchair since he was shot, needed surgery for a urological problem related to his paralysis and also developed pneumonia.
Opening statements are expected as early as tomorrow.