FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA., OCT. 17 -- The lyrics that made the rap band 2 Live Crew world famous were played today to a packed courtroom at the rappers' obscenity trial.
The words and phrases, which mostly depict sexual acts in crude slang terms, blared loudly from two speakers set up across from the jury box.
The words are at the heart of the obscenity case against the group, which, coming on the heels of the Robert Mapplethorpe obscenity trial in Cincinnati that just concluded with an acquittal, has drawn national attention for its implications for freedom of speech. Here the defense is arguing that rappers' lyrics are a part of black culture and are interpreted differently in the black community than in the Broward County community at large.
The rappers -- Luther Campbell, Mark Ross and Christopher Wongwon -- are charged with staging an obscene performance at Club Futura here June 10. If convicted, they face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
In court, the jury heard selected cuts from the group's album "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" and the noisy, largely unintelligible tape of the nightclub performance in question. The tape was played after the defense team dropped efforts today to exclude it from the trial.
But even with an enhanced tape -- the original was made on a microcassette recorder tucked inside an undercover detective's pocket -- it was still difficult to understand the words and required the detective's help to translate it.
Without the benefit of a transcript to follow along -- the defense team prevailed in its effort to keep it from the jury's hands -- the prosecutors were left with the cumbersome task of playing a few snippets of tape and then asking the detective, Eugene McCloud, to repeat the garbled words.
So for much of the day, the trial went like this:
Assistant State Attorney Pedro Dijols stationed himself near the stereo controls, watching for hand signals from McCloud on the witness stand.
Across the room, the other prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Leslie Robson stood behind a podium near the jury box, and led McCloud through the questioning.
In between, the three defendants, with their three lawyers, sat in a row at the long defense table.
A few seconds of tape was played.
McCloud raised his hand to cut off the tape.
The burly detective turned to face the jury. In a monotone so soft he could not be heard beyond the second row of the spectator seats, he filled in the gaps:
"That is Mr. Luther Campbell and he is saying, 'Lick my ass.' That was repeated by Chris Wongwon and Mr. Ross," McCloud said.
Then another small section of tape was played. And on and on. At 6 p.m., after an entire day, the jury was still listening to the 45-minute tape.
Midway through the day, when McCloud referred to the transcript of the tape, the defense unsuccessfully sought a mistrial on the grounds that Broward County Judge June L. Johnson had earlier barred the transcript from the trial.
Throughout, the three defendants shook their heads at McCloud's translation, indicating he had identified the wrong band member as shouting the offending word. Their lawyers took copious notes. Their turn comes Thursday. In the afternoon, the owner of Club Futura, Ken Geringer, dropped by to catch the action. Geringer faces his own obscenity trial later this month. He was arrested Aug. 10, along with the New York band Too Much Joy after the group played 2 Live Crew songs at the club in a protest concert. That performance was videotaped by Broward County detectives.
Geringer said the county is trying to upgrade the charge, now a misdemeanor, to a felony, and he said he is a little nervous about his upcoming trial. He also said his children are asked almost every day by their classmates when their daddy is going to jail.
"I'm just a little acorn," he said. "Who would hire Madonna if they faced a year in jail?"
Another unusual twist in a trial full of them occurred just as court got underway. The judge told the lawyers that Jack Thompson, the Coral Gables attorney who started the crusade against 2 Live Crew, telephoned the court early today to inform the judge that one of the jurors had perjured himself.
After a sidebar conference with all the lawyers, the trial proceeded.
"This guy has no credibility," said defense lawyer Allen Jacobi, referring to Thompson. "We all agreed to proceed. It's probably the only things the prosecutors and defense have agreed on in this entire trial."