The Naked Truth

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

Euro Angels #20 pretty much covers them all.


Important constitutional issues, matters of free expression and what the government can restrict, are as much a part of the trial as whether Woodson will be tagged for a crime. Chatham says he's seen other defense lawyers in these cases, very good ones, lecture jurors about how they must defend the right to freedom of expression, that this is a grave matter of constitutional rights. "I try to keep it a little lighter," he says.

First, however, Jarrett, a young man with gelled, brush-cut hair and a similarly cropped delivery, begins the final arguments with a brief outline of the state's case.

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.

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"This is no time to change the law," he tells the panel. "Obscenity. That's what it was...It was not two consenting adults having loving sex. That's not what we saw. What we saw was graphic, disgusting, vile, perverted. I think we'll all agree on that."

Reminding the jury that it should consider community standards not just in Dallas, but across the state, Jarrett says, "It's obscene in Dallas, in Houston, in Longview, in Waco, in Quanah.

"Next question. Did the defendant know the character and content of what she was selling? She knew what she was getting into. There were 5,000 pornographic, obscene videos on the shelf. She sold them every day. When this particular video came across, she knew what was in it. No question about it."

Yes, he says, the store was licensed to sell tapes depicting people in sexual acts, but not obscene ones. "If you have a store, and you're selling liquor when you're only allowed to sell beer or wine, you're violating the law," Jarrett says.

Chatham, speaking next, continues Jarrett's analogy. "This is like giving someone a license to sell beer and then arresting the clerks for selling beer. They are allowed to sell these videos in the city of Dallas. The city does not allow [films depicting] bestiality. They do not allow masochism, sadism, rape or torture. Why? Because those things are dangerous. Those things incite violence. This movie didn't have any of those things. You may not approve of it--I have no idea--but it fits in with contemporary community standards in other areas of the state.

"To say this movie was somehow different than the other 5,000 videos...How was Brenda to know if this was somewhat different? They didn't put on any evidence that this tape was any different than any other X-rated movie in there."

Although he says he doesn't lecture jurors on the First Amendment, Chatham does put the issue of personal freedom out there for consideration. "The government wants to legislate morality. These movies are in Dallas, in Garland, all over the state. We allow people to have different ideas. It's a founding principle of this nation. They have utterly failed to prove this is obscene and that it isn't a part of American diversity. A government lawyer wants to say it's vulgar--you sell that, and you're going to jail. That isn't what happens in America."

Last comes Pearson, who gives the state's rebuttal. "Ladies and gentlemen, don't let them confuse you..."

She says it's clear the tape and its explicit cover passed before Woodson's eyes, that she sold it and that it's obscene.

The jurors are tuned to every word, especially when Pearson moves in close, leans on the jury box and speaks quietly to the middle of the group, where three women jurors are seated. Pearson asks them what their Sunday school teacher would think about the movie, what their pastor would think. "What's the community? Tyler. Big Spring. Your preacher. Your Sunday school teacher," she says.

Religion. Morality. Free expression. American diversity. With only a reporter and a prosecutor trainee watching in the empty spectator benches, these are the issues on the table this day in misdemeanor court.

The jury repairs to deliberate, and Taite goes back to the court's other business, taking a guilty plea from an orange jumpsuit-clad inmate charged with disorderly conduct and vandalism of a car.


"I was scared," Woodson says, recalling how she felt as the minutes ticked away and the jurors' deliberations stretched to two hours. "Everybody seemed to be taking it, you know, kinda lightly. My lawyer told me there's no way I'd have to go to jail, but you never know."

She had good reason to be concerned. The jury turned out to have no tolerance for strong porn.

"In our minds, it was totally obscene," recalls juror Doug Enders, who, along with the jury foreman, Dennis Dillon, discussed the case later. "We were about to convict her."

Enders, a 35-year-old computer consultant from Irving, says that if Dillon had not meticulously run through all the legal issues in the judge's instructions, they would have found Woodson guilty.

But Dillon, an executive with a poultry company, wondered about the license and Woodson's role as a clerk. What exactly is New Fine Arts Video West supposed to be selling? The jury took a break and asked to see the copy of the license and the Dallas ordinance that covers it.

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