Halfway through a 2 1/2-hour screening of peep show films with titles like "Leather Lust" and "Hot Little Body" yesterday, Fairfax County General District Court Judge Eugene Morris called for popcorn.
The arrival of a bag of Okay Cheese Popcorn was one of the few light moments in a trial that ended with the conviction of Croatan Books Inc., 8653 Richmond Hwy., on 29 counts of renting obscene films.
Croatan, still in operation, was fined $29,000, the highest fine ever set in a Fairfax obscenity case, according to Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr.
After the trial, Croatan attorney Richard Stanley filed notice of intent to appeal to e County Circuit Court. If the appeal is filed, the case will automatically be retired in the circuit court.
Croatan's attorneys did not attend yesterday's trial and said later the firm had changed its registered agent and neither the new agent nor the lawyers had been informed of the charges.
The trial was held in Judge Morris's chambers rather than a courtroom, according to the judge, because the courtroom could not be darkened sufficiently. Although the trial was open to the public, only four policement and a reporter attended.
The films lacked plots and were highly repetitive. At one point, the judge remarked: "They're not as bad as some I've seen."
Morris sat through scenes of heterosexual intercourse. During scenes showing sodomy, homosexuality or sex involving more than two persons he ordered the showing of each film stopped and pronounced a guilty verdict.
The 29 films, each running seven minutes, were confiscated along with their projectors from Croatan Books March 8, according to testimony of investigators R. J. Tokarchic and R. Daniels of the Fairfax Narcotics and Vice Squad.
The officers, acting on a complaint by a Mount Vernon area civic group, spent two days at the book store watching the films in the store's 30 phone-booth-size private viewing stalls before confiscating them.
Customers at the store activate projectors with 25 cents in coins or tokens purchased from a manager and see about a minute of a film before it shuts off, according to testimony. Each minute's viewing begins where the last left off and not necessarily at the beginning.
To convict an individual or corporation under Virginia's obscenity statute, prosecutors must prove that material violates a particular community's standards, using guidelines set by the U.S. Supreme Court. Taking the material as a whole, it must appeal to prurient interests, be patently offensive to the community and lack literary, artistic, political or scientific value to be deemed obscene.
Croatan Books, one of two adult bookstores in Fairfax County, has been convicted previously on "around 20 counts" of obscenity since 1977, according to prosecutor Horan. All the convictions have been appealed, some as far as the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Croatan's convictions on 12 separate counts.
Horan said the county "tries to go after the corporation [selling obscene matter] to take the profit out of the enterprise if we can." He also estimated that Croatan owes the county "about $19,000" from previous judgments, not including yesterday's $29,000 fine or court costs.
Roger E. Zuckerman, an attorney for Croatan, said yesterday that the March 8 seizure of material from the store "arises out of a pattern of events that is the subject of a lawsuit that is now in Federal District Court." He said the lawsuit charges that seizures of material from the bookstore over the last three years have been "unlawful and have violated basic constitutional rights."