In September 1999, Jesus Castillo, manager of Keith's Comics in Dallas, Texas, sold a copy of a pornographic comic book to a Dallas police officer. A few months later, he was arrested and charged with two counts of obscenity.

Wait. Let's back up a bit more.

The Dallas Police Department's Vice Squad has a little thing they do to pump up their arrest record. They'll send an undercover cop into an adult bookstore, have him buy something, then arrest the clerk who rang up the sale. The clerk is charged with a misdemeanor, plea bargains to avoid the potential two-year sentence, and the Dallas PD gets to tell taxpayers that they're working hard busting smut peddlers.

In 1999, a local parent had a loud disagreement with employees at Keith's Comics because they wouldn't sell her child Pokemon cards at wholesale prices. She told Castillo, "I know important people. All I have to do is tell them what you're selling here." She began talking trash about the comic store at PTA meetings, contacted Dallas mayor pro tem Mary Poss, and wrote a letter denouncing the shop to the Dallas Morning News. The newspaper published the letter three different times, trying to drum up some outrage in the community.

In September of 1999, police officer C.A. Reynerson entered the store and bought the second issue of "Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen." Several points need to be made clear: "Demon Beast Invasion" is violent Japanese tentacle porn. There are very few people who could seriously claim that it was appropriate reading material for children. And in fact, the comic store was not selling it to children. It was only available in a separate adults-only room, and if kids even tried to go in there, they got kicked out of the store. In short, an adult bought an adult comic book from an adult. There were no children in the equation whatsoever. Of course, something that is deemed legally obscene is illegal to sell to anyone, adult or child.

After Castillo was arrested in early 2000, David Little, the vice president of the PTA at nearby Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, went into the store and bought a copy of "Legend of the Overfiend," a similarly violent tentacle rape comic. He forwarded the comic to Poss, who sent it to the police, who added the second charge to Castillo's indictment.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund helped pay for Castillo's defense in court. His attorneys were able to get the two charges heard separately. Comic book writer and theorist Scott McCloud and Susan Napier, an associate professor of Asian Studies at the University of Texas, testified that "Demon Beast Invasion," though extreme, included character development, political commentary, and symbolism and had literary merit on its own. Showing that something has literary merit is important in cases like this because under U.S. law, for a work to be obscene, it must lack any serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value when taken as a whole.

Prosecutors didn't even cross-examine the defense's expert witnesses. And the prosecutor's closing argument included this doozy:
"I don’t care what type of evidence or what type of testimony is out there, use your rationality, use your common sense. Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids. This is in a store directly across from an elementary school and it is put in a medium, in a forum, to directly appeal to kids. That is why we are here, ladies and gentlemen."
Despite the fact that comics are not traditionally or realistically a kids-only medium, despite the fact that the comics store was not actually directly across from the school, despite the unanswered defense testimony that the comic was not obscene, Castillo was convicted and sentenced to 180-day suspended sentence, a year's probation, and a $4,000 fine.

After the defense subpoenaed Poss and Dallas mayor Ron Kirk to determine how much involvement they'd had in the case, prosecutors dropped the second count against Castillo, allowing his attorneys to start working on his appeal. In 2002, an appeals court upheld his conviction on a 2-1 vote (the dissenting judge said the state hadn't offered evidence that Castillo knew the content of the comic book he sold). An appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was denied, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case in early August of 2003.

I have yet to meet anyone, on any end of the political spectrum, who can make any serious claim that justice was served in this case.


haze says: "Perhaps justice wasn't served, but as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said once in oral argument, "This isn't a court of justice, son, this is a court of law." Obscene literature isn't protected by the First Amendment. Doesn't matter where you sell it or to whom. A jury or judge (in a bench trial) gets to decide and can disregard even uncontroverted expert testimony."

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