Fla. merchant convicted of selling obscene tape

October 04, 1990|By Dexter Filkins | Dexter Filkins,Knight-Ridder News Service

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- In the first conviction of its kind in the country, Fort Lauderdale record store owner Charles Freeman was found guilty by an all-white jury yesterday of obscenity in selling 2 Live Crew's rap album, "As Nasty As They Wanna Be."

Freeman, a 32-year-old father of four, buried his head in his arms and cried as the verdict was announced.

The panel of five women and one man, who ranged in age from 29 to 51, took less than 90 minutes to reach their verdict, which could send Freeman to jail. The jurors left the courthouse in a cluster, refusing to talk about the decision.

Freeman, arrested June 8 when he sold a copy of the cassette to an undercover police officer from his tiny E-C Records shop in northwest Fort Lauderdale, denounced the jury as racist.

"The verdict does not reflect my community standards as a black man in Broward County," Freeman said.

Broward County Judge Paul Backman ordered a pre-sentencing investigation and scheduled sentencing for Nov. 2. Freeman faces up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The verdict made Freeman the first person ever convicted on charges of selling an obscene recording, a first-degree misdemeanor under Florida law.

The trial was also the first jury test of U.S. District Judge Jose Gonzalez's ruling that 2 Live Crew's raunchy lyrics were obscene. It also set the stage for next week's prosecution of three of the members of the group, who are charged with giving an obscene performance in an appearance in Hollywood, Fla., in June.

Assistant State Attorney Pedro Dijols, one of the prosecutors in the case, said he thought the verdict was just.

"It was a very simple case," he said. "The jury made up its own mind. They did not decide the case based on the experts or the attorneys -- they listened to the record."

[Alternate juror Sheryl Salomon, who sat through the 2 1/2 -day trial but was not needed for deliberations, told the Associated Press she would have acquitted Freeman.

["I was very offended by it, especially the lyrics, but I have to question whether there is no artistic value," she said. "It's music; it's still music.]

Freeman's attorney, Bruce Rogow, promised to appeal the verdict on grounds that the jury pool did not represent the community and that evidence of adult videotapes and magazines available in the county was improperly excluded.

"I'm absolutely stunned," he said. "I think the decision will have a chilling effect on artistic freedom."

Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro, who has pushed the case, said in a statement, "This was never a case of censorship, but rather one man flaunting the law. The First Amendment is alive and well."

[Donald Wildmon, founder of the conservative American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Miss., told the Associated Press that the conviction is a sign of a national trend against obscenity and pornography: "There's definitely a shift in attitudes in America about this kind of trash."

[Robyn Blumner, executive director of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, reacted with dismay. "Is this America?" he asked when interviewed by the AP. "These things happen in totalitarian societies where certain ideas may not be expressed upon penalty of law."]

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