CLEARWATER, FLA., AUG. 3 -- After watching a sexually explicit movie in court, a jury agreed that the X-rated "Spermbusters" may be pornographic, but it's not obscene.
Walter M. Epler, a clerk at Pussy Cat Adult Bookstore in Largo, was acquitted yesterday on a misdemeanor charge of distributing obscene material. He was charged after renting a "Spermbusters" videotape to an undercover sheriff's detective.
"It's wasting tax dollars to be trying to persecute this type of movie," said Stephen Bennett, a computer consultant who served as foreman of the six-member Pinellas County Court jury.
Epler was one of 15 people arrested last month in Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice's crackdown on X-rated videos, during which deputies also seized 39 videotapes from several adult bookstores.
He was the first to be tried.
Epler did not dispute renting the film to the detective, so the case centered on whether "Spermbusters" was obscene.
Defense attorney Frank de la Grana called it an "average, all-American, X-rated film."
"You are a barometer for this community," de la Grana told the jury of three men and three women. The panel included a banker, an electrician, an assembly worker, a factory foreman and an analyst.
The jurors, who ranged in age from 29 to 50, all said they had seen X-rated films before.
The movie was billed as a parody of the hit "Ghostbusters," although the connection was obscure. Many scenes featured sexual intercourse and male and female genitalia.
"I realized why we had to view it, but it's not something that you expect when you come in to do jury duty," said Bennett.
Prosecutors argued that "Spermbusters" fit the U.S. Supreme Court's three-part test for obscene material by appealing to prurient interests, depicting sex in a patently offensive way and lacking any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
"Art? Come on, ladies and gentlemen," said Assistant State Attorney Joe Mueller. "Was there even a plot?"
But de la Grana said the availability and demand for such movies in the western Florida county was one way of measuring contemporary community standards. The Supreme Court has held that such standards should apply in judging offensiveness.
Bennett said jurors did not consider the film art and were divided over whether it appealed to prurient interests, defined as a "shameful or morbid interest in sex."
But they agreed the movie was not patently offensive. He said such a description fits depictions of child pornography, bestiality or sado-masochism.
"I do agree there is some limit," he said. "But I don't think this film went beyond that limit."