The Naked Truth

When it comes to Dallas' practice of prosecuting low-level porn clerks, jurors know hypocrisy when they see it


Officer Reynerson, a white-haired veteran with 34 years in the department, 10 in vice, starts by matter-of-factly recounting his actions last August 24. Dressed in street clothes, he entered New Fine Arts Video West, which he described as about the size of a standard Blockbuster. He estimates there are about 5,000 movies for sale and rent in the store and that about 30 or 40 cars were in the parking lot. The store is located on a particularly ugly stretch of Northwest Highway, a commercial drag dominated by gas stations, strip malls and strip clubs. The porno shop is open 24 hours a day.

Reynerson told the jury he picked out Euro Angels #20, Anal Retentive because he was familiar with its director, who is known for super-hard-core productions. He also says he chose it because of the multiple photos on the cover previewing the sex acts performed in the film. Reynerson paid the clerk, who happened to be Woodson. She put the tape in a black plastic bag, walked it past the security gate and handed it to Reynerson as he left.

The officer went back to his office, viewed the tape, wrote an affidavit describing its contents in legal terms (in Texas law, the act performed by the former White House intern on the recent president is called "oral sodomy") and a magistrate issued a warrant for Woodson's arrest. Another officer went back to the store to obtain Woodson's name, so they'd know whom to charge. Dallas' dirty-tape cases are processed in such assembly-line fashion that police sent Woodson a form letter requesting that she turn herself in.

Former clerk Brenda Woodson rang up and bagged porno tapes and DVDs at New Fine Arts Video West. Then the vice squad bagged her for selling what they alleged was an obscene tape.
Mark Graham
Former clerk Brenda Woodson rang up and bagged porno tapes and DVDs at New Fine Arts Video West. Then the vice squad bagged her for selling what they alleged was an obscene tape.
Attorney Andrew Chatham has manuals in his office on how to defend people charged with DWIs, but his young practice has developed a new specialty: beating up on the Dallas police's and Dallas County district attorney's age-old policy of busting porn-store clerks.
Mark Graham
Attorney Andrew Chatham has manuals in his office on how to defend people charged with DWIs, but his young practice has developed a new specialty: beating up on the Dallas police's and Dallas County district attorney's age-old policy of busting porn-store clerks.

A month after she did and posted a $500 bond, prosecutors offered Woodson a plea bargain of a day in jail and a $1,000 fine.

After Reynerson's testimony, the prosecutors wheeled out a television, dimmed the lights and began rolling the two-hour, 20-minute tape.

What the jury got was straight-ahead, nonviolent porn, opening with a scene featuring two men and one woman coupling in all ways physically possible, with a big emphasis on the moving parts. By the time the lengthy scene ended, the jurors got a refresher course on the transfer of human DNA.

While Reynerson's job required him to view and outline the entire tape, which moved from sex scene to sex scene without even the pretext of a plot, the jury got the drift after about 30 minutes and asked that it be stopped.

"Kind of the same thing over and over," bailiff Lori Meyers muttered after the jurors left for another break. As they went out, Chatham marched in with a pile of exhibits: copies of several newspapers, including the Dallas Observer; recent issues of two girlie magazines, Penthouse and Hustler; two porno tapes in their box covers and the R-rated Hollywood hit Basic Instinct.

"Oh, boy," the court reporter chirped. "More movies!"

Chatham explains he wants to use his little collection to show the jury that Euro Angels #20 is no different from material for sale to adults at corner liquor and convenience stores, that the porno box covers are all pretty much alike and that mainstream Hollywood releases show some moderately explicit lovemaking, and throw in a dose of bloody violence to boot.

Basic Instinct, a 1992 film starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, opens with the scene of a beautiful woman, naked, grinding away on top of a man while lashing his arms to the bedposts with silk scarves. As things reach a climax, literally, she pulls out an ice pick and furiously stabs the poor guy in the chest. We don't see genitals, but we don't miss a single moment of the murderous pick-work.

As for Hustler and Penthouse, the current issues show what could be still shots from the County Criminal Court No. 4 matinee, a fact not lost on two friends of the prosecutors who stopped by and, oh-so-briefly, browsed through the slick-covered magazines.

As for the Observer and the other papers, they are intended to show that widely circulated publications, even some large dailies, run ads for shops such as New Fine Arts Video. When the big dailies carry the ads, they tend to be postage-stamp-sized and placed among the movie listings or sports pages. Still, they run.

"Nobody would carry any of this if it didn't sell," Chatham says. "If it's selling in Dallas and San Antonio and Houston and Austin and Amarillo, you have to say it's acceptable under contemporary community standards."

All of this might be illustrative, but the jury isn't going to see the Hollywood murder scene or the men's magazines. Pearson and Jarrett object to the introduction of these outside materials as irrelevant to the narrow question of whether Euro Angels #20 is obscene and whether Woodson sold it. Taite agrees and rules in their favor. Chatham says later that some Dallas judges have let him present this broader look at community standards. Some have not. There's been no need to test the legal issues, because so far he's never lost a case and needed to appeal.

More important to the outcome of the trial, he introduces a copy of the store's license and the section of the Dallas city ordinance it's issued under. The code requires porn shops to obtain licenses to sell adult material, and it spells out what sex acts and displays of nudity fall under the law.

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