The three owners and operators of the D.C. Playhouse theater were acquitted by a federal jury here yesterday on charges of showing obscene films at the moviehouse at 727 15th St. NW.
Acquitted were Michael Zaffarano, 45: Robert Gage, 40, and Saul Heller, 45, all of the New York City area. Attorneys on both sides said the verdict may have dealt a fatal blow to legal effots to control the types of explicit sex films that can be shown in Washington.
The films, which were viewed by jurrors during a six-day trial before U.S. District Judge John H. Pratt, are among the most explicit to have been shown in the Washington area, low enforcement officers said. The movies have the most meager of plots and are filled with clear and graphic closeups of innumerable sex acts of various combinations of individuals, and, in at least one instance, a man dressed in a gorrilla suit.
The government said in its indictment of the three men that the films - "Anyone But My Husband," "The Journey of O'. "Fantasy in Blue," and "Lovelace Meets Miss Jones" - were "obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy motion picture films."
The jury, which ranged in age from 24 to 66 and included seven woman and five men, disagreed and found that in six of 12 counts the films were not obscene and the defendants were not guilty of trafficking in obscene matter. The jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the other six counts, but told attorneys later they were leaning toward acquittal.
Thejurrors were asked to decide whether the films violated contemporary community standards and whether they appealed to the prurient interests of viewers.
One juror, a middle-aged woman who would not give her name, said after the verdict that the members of the panel were aware that they were "making a statement" about what films could be shown here in the future.
"You can't live by the standards you lived by 20 or 30 years ago," said the woman. "In 10 or 15 years they'll be doing it one the stage."
The attorneys for the three defendants had argued that the films were protected by the First Amendment and that they are only shown to consenting adults who pay to enter the D.C. Playhouse.
Attorney Jay Goldberg, who represented Zaffarano, told the jury mambers in closing arguments they were the only persons who had ever been "compelled to see these films" and had not attended of their own accord.
After the verdict, some of the jurors came up to Goldberg and two other defense attorneys. Arthur Schwartz of Denver and Joseph Rhone of San Francisco, and praised them for their work in the case.
Schwartz said the acquittals should "be he end" of movie prosecutions in Washington, but Goldberg said "the specter of censorship still looms" because the government technically could force the three defendants to go to trial again on the six counts on which the jurors were unable to agree.
Government officials said later that a retrial on those counts was unlikely in view of the jury verdict on the other counts and the reaction of the panel after the case end.
"These movies contained excretion and sadism, two areas we consider in unusually severe terms when deciding to prosecute, and the jury voted the defendants innocent," said one prosetcutor. "We could clearly continue to prosecute any kiddie porn," he added, referring to pornography involving the use of children, not involved in these films.
Zaffarano, who has six previous criminal convictions, and has been described by numerous law enforcement sources as being closely linked to major organized crime figures in the New York City areas, asked the judge immediately after the jury returned its verdicts if he could thank the jury personally.
"You should," replied Judge Pratt.
Zaffarano said after the verdict that he would continue to show sexually explicit films at his theater because, "If this is what they want, this is what I'll show." He said he had been through "quite a few" trials, and felt this jury and judge were "fair and tough."
Zaffarano, a large and outgoing man who wore the same gray plaid sportcoat throughout the trial, has adamantly denied any organized crime links in the past. After yesterday's verdict, he declined to answer a reporter's questions along these lines, saying, "hey, I just got acquitted. That's not fair. I have to come back here."