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Mistrial declared for Movie Buffs

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A lone juror's reluctance to determine the community standard on pornography led to a hung jury and mistrial Wednesday for Movie Buffs general manager Larry Warren Peterman.

After enduring a two-week trial that included viewing 15 hours of sexually explicit videotapes, the four-man, two-woman jury deliberated for 13 hours Tuesday and Wednesday before concluding they couldn't reach a verdict.Five of the jurors wanted to convict Peterman on at least some of the 15 counts of distributing pornographic material, a class A misdemeanor, but one man didn't. Although it failed to reach a verdict, the jury issued a statement that bewildered both prosecutors and defense attorneys.

"Due to disagreement on the definition of community standards, we the jury were unable to reach a unanimous verdict," the statement read. "However, we found the materials presented in this case to be obscene/pornographic in nature."

The six jurors went on to say that Utah County residents who oppose pornography "should take an active role in preventing its distribution" and urged Movie Buffs and other video stores to "discontinue the distribution of pornographic materials."

The apparent contradiction between not reaching a verdict yet condemning the videos as pornographic left participants in the trial shaking their heads. Peterman was pleased he wasn't convicted and tried to put the best spin possible on the jury deadlock.

"I take my hat off to these people for their extremely careful deliberation," said the 50-year-old West Point resident. "They watched this material and they didn't like it, but they didn't just say, `let's get it out of here.' "

However, one of the American Fork residents who noticed the adult film section of the Movie Buffs store and brought it to the attention of law enforcement officials was disappointed in the hung jury. Doug Brockbank speculated that the inclusion of four men on the jury skewered the result.

"I hope the message that's getting out today isn't, `if you're a pornography distributor, come down to the local video store and set up shop,' " Brockbank said.

He suggested that pornography leads to sexual crimes and that if the court system doesn't deliver justice, residents should take matters into their own hands by boycotting stores they believe to be peddling pornography.

Prosecutors, who declined to comment Wednesday, must now decide if they intend to proceed with another trial. They will reappear along with Peterman in 4th District Judge Lynn W. Davis' courtroom July 13 to make their plans known.

Defense attorney Jerry Mooney said that although Davis wouldn't allow him to talk to jurors about tolerance, the message still got through.

"One of the instructions we would have liked in this case was that (a juror's acquittal) vote was not an endorsement of this material," Mooney said. "I think the jury said, `We don't like this material, but applying the law, we can't find it pornographic.' "

Although Mooney and Brockbank both claimed victory and engaged in an emotionally charged dialogue outside the courtroom, they did agree that the trial could have been avoided entirely had there been better communication between Movie Buffs and Utah County residents.

Brockbank contends that after residents complained about the adult films in the American Fork Movie Buffs store in the fall of 1996, Peterman was unresponsive and continued to rent the edited X-rated movies.

Mooney, however, asserts that Movie Buffs works closely with other communities concerning what videos it will rent, and that residents and prosecutors in Utah County jumped the gun by pushing for charges to be filed before they had met with Peterman to discuss the issue.

Movie Buffs might have been willing to remove the videos without the need of legal action, Mooney suggested.

After deliberating from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, jurors continued discussions behind closed doors Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. At that point, they sent a note to Davis for the third time advising that they were at an impasse, and the judge declared a mistrial.

On Tuesday, jurors requested a copy of the state law regarding pornography and definitions of terms that Davis refused to provide. Instead, he told them to refer to the jury instructions, which were crafted by defense attorneys and prosecutors and were supposed to guide the jury's deliberations.

But one juror felt the community standard should have been spelled out more clearly by attorneys or the judge, and when that wasn't done, he refused to go along with the others in their desire to convict Peterman. Prosecutors have long maintained that the very purpose of the trial was to have a jury establish Utah County's community standard for pornography.