TAMPA — Twelve federal jurors drew the line Thursday for Tampa Bay area residents, saying the graphic and violent films of a Hollywood pornographer are unacceptable in their community.
They reached that decision after watching 81/2 hours of extreme pornography on a giant screen in court. At times, they winced as an adult film producer who calls himself Max Hardcore performed in scenes that included urinating, vomiting and violently dominating women.
After nearly two weeks of trial and roughly 12 hours of deliberation, jurors decided what they had seen went beyond the Tampa Bay region's community standards.
They convicted the actor and producer, whose real name is Paul F. Little, 51, of Altadena, Calif., and his company, MaxWorld Entertainment Inc., of 10 counts of selling obscene material on the Internet and 10 counts of shipping it to Tampa through the U.S. mail.
Jurors asked that their names not be used. But several spoke of how emotional it had been and how tensions among them escalated Thursday as they deliberated, temporarily unable to reach a decision on half of the charges.
"We made the right decision," a male juror said.
Among their ranks were an accounts receivable clerk with three young children at home, a licensed practical nurse, an insurance claims adjuster, a civil engineer. A pawnshop owner served as the jury foreman.
They said they plan to write a book about their jury service. And they criticized the law that was the basis for charges of aiding in the use of the U.S. mail to send the films to Tampa.
The president of Jaded Video, a California adult film distributor, testified that his business sold Little's films from Jaded's Web site and selected the U.S. mail to deliver them to customers. Little's attorneys argued that he had no knowledge or control over that process.
The judge, citing the law, told jurors that someone can be guilty of causing the mail to be used if, in the ordinary course of business, they perform an act where the use of the mail can reasonably be foreseen. In this case, Little sold his films to a business that would distribute them.
As they heard the word "guilty" read 20 times inside the courtroom, Little and his team of attorneys, including two former presidents of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, bowed their heads and remained motionless.
"We believe in freedom of speech, and this is a setback," MaxWorld attorney Louis Sirkin said afterward, vowing to appeal. "We expect to get our day of reckoning. It's not over."
At his attorneys' request, Little didn't comment on the verdicts. But earlier, he spoke at liberty to a St. Petersburg Times reporter about his views.
"People down here should be outraged that the government is saying you can't watch two people f---," Little said. "If this is bad, where is the outrage here? Where's the protesters?"
Prosecutors charged Little and MaxWorld each with five counts of using a computer server to sell and distribute obscene material and each with five counts of distributing obscene matter through the U.S. mail. He faces a maximum of five years in prison for each conviction when he is sentenced Sept. 5 by presiding U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew. Little and MaxWorld face separate fines of up to $250,000.
Jurors spared Little from having to forfeit his house to the government, but decided as part of their verdict that he turn over three adult-oriented Web sites that advertise or sell his MaxWorld films.
The otherwise stoic defendant wiped tears from his eyes when he learned they had decided not to take his home.
Just hours into their deliberations on Wednesday, jurors sought to clarify the meanings of several words and phrases in their jury instructions, including "morbid and degraded," "unhealthy interest in sex," and "candid interest in sex." The judge refused their request to use a dictionary, and said they should rely on their common sense.
The case drew the attention of an adult film industry critic, who flew from California to write about it. Interns studying law sat in the courtroom to hear the legal arguments. And local First Amendment attorney Luke Lirot, who occasionally defends strip club operators locally, sat in the courtroom on several occasions.
Attorneys with the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section prosecuted the case in Tampa because Little's Max Hardcore site was housed on computer servers downtown for at least three years.
Defense attorneys said Little never knew his site was housed in Tampa, and that prosecutors never produced any evidence that he did.
In closing arguments, the defense called on jurors to consider the nearly five-dozen adult oriented businesses in the bay area and infer what that suggested about the local community standards.
Justice Department attorney Edward McAndrew urged jurors to rely on how the films made them feel as they watched. He told them in closing arguments that had the law not required they stay, he wouldn't blame them for running for the exits.
"These videos aren't only offensive, they assault your senses," McAndrew said.
Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Ben Montgomery and Thomas Kaplan contributed to this story. Kevin Graham can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.