Jury selection for Staunton porn trial gets dirty


Staunton's After Hours Video has been the subject of much public debate since the Hook first reported on it in December 2007.
HOOK COVER

It was a scene straight out of The Andy Griffith Show's fictitious town of Mayberry. Just before the judge gaveled Staunton Circuit Court into session Tuesday morning, smiling citizens reporting for jury duty waved hello to each other, some exchanged familiar back-slapping greetings with the sheriffs, and the city prosecutor inquired about another potential juror's recent fishing trip. It was just another day in the small Southern town of Staunton. That is, until jury selection in the town's first obscenity trial in recent memory got underway.

"Would you avoid a movie if you knew it contained sexually explicit material?"

"When was the last time you viewed an adult movie?"

"You will be asked to view depictions of sexual acts of all varieties: vaginal, anal, oral sex, sex with multiple partners, ejaculation on the faces of women. Do you think you could do that?"

Such was the tone of the rest of the day in the trial of Rick Krial and Tinsley Embrey, owner and employee, respectively, of Staunton pornographic video store After Hours Video. Throughout the day, defense attorneys Paul Cambria and Louis Sirkin, each having represented Hustler publisher Larry Flynt among others, asked several about the last time they viewed something like Sugar Britches or City Girls Extreme Gangbangs– the two DVDs at issue in the case.

"I viewed as many as four or five in the early '90s," said one middle-aged woman.

"I saw one about 60 years ago," said one 79-year old man. "That was back when you had to buy film and a projector."

"Yes, when I was in the Navy," said one 39-year old man.

"Where did you get them?" inquired Sirkin.

Without missing a beat, the man replied, "It's the Navy, sir."

For six hours, both sides vetted 18 potential jurors in the case for their impartiality in the misdemeanor trial. It didn't take long before it became clear that finding enough jurors who could leave their biases at the courthouse door would take a while.

"I would have a hard time dealing with it," said one middle-aged woman, "because it's so totally against any belief of mine that people can buy this stuff and watch it."

"I have a bias for After Hours Video," another man in his 20s explained to the judge, "I don't have anything against [pornography], and I can't say I would be able to follow your instructions."

And if that weren't enough to make jury selection a long process, each side's loaded questions made the screening process longer. At multiple points throughout the day, Judge Thomas Wood called out both sides for attempting to make its case before the trial had begun.

"Do you understand," asked Staunton Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Robertson to one woman, "that if we excused everyone that felt that this stuff made them uncomfortable we couldn't get an accurate cross-section of the community?"

Before the woman could answer, Wood interjected, "Is that a question?"

Hours later, Wood reprimanded Sirkin for implying that other stores in Staunton sold equally sexually explicit material. After Sirkin apologized for inserting evidence into his question, an agitated Wood replied, "It doesn't do any good to say you're sorry after you've already asked the question."

Finally, Wood was fed up.

"Okay," he said. "You have both tried to indoctrinate these jurors, and you need to stop doing that and start asking questions."

In all, Wood deemed eight people– five men and three women– acceptable to be retained for possible service on the jury. While only seven jurors will ultimately hear the case, one needs to be retained as an alternate, and each side is allowed to eliminate three once the field has been winnowed down to 16.

So, after day one of the scheduled four-day trial, jury selection continues into Wednesday.

"I'm not saying it's wrong," says prosecutor Robertson, "but I've never seen anything like this, and I've been practicing criminal law since 1968."

"This is totally typical for anyone who's ever had one of these cases," said defense attorney Cambria, "Usually it takes two or three days, and I've had one take as long as 38 days. I think both sides agree this is the way it should happen."

At the end of the day's proceedings, Robertson actually petitioned Wood that neither he nor the defense be able to ask any more questions of jurors in order to move the selection process along. After an audible gasp from Krial and Embrey, Wood made his ruling.

"I've never seen anything like this," the judge said to attorneys for both sides, "but I think the way we're doing it is probably the way we ought to do it, even though you're driving me crazy."

Jury selection resumes Wednesday morning at 9am.

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2 comments

What a waste of taxpayer's money. I couldn't care less if Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public are watching Daffy Duck or Debbie Does Dallas in the privacy of their own home.

Furthermore, I would love to see Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Robertson asked the same questions he is asking of jurors. Has he ever watched an adult video? How many? When? Where? Under what circumstances?

I agree with the above post. Seriously, since when does government have the right (or responsibility) to legislate what citizens can or cannot do (or watch) in the privacy of their own home? Ultimately that is the issue. It does not matter what the community standards are as this is not a case of something being purchased by a minor, or to be shown in public. This is in regard to a private, legal, business transaction between adults, and was intended for personal use. I believe the only offense here is forcing others (in this case jurors - the spectators at least have the choice to remain in the courtroom or not) to watch what they may find personally distasteful or uncomfortable. They did not go willingly into a store to purchase it from a licensed business person. That is inflammatory. The entire case is ridiculous and a huge waste of public funds.