Some Charges Dropped, But Lives Changed for Men in Sodomy Case
News Tribune, June 29, 2003
P.O. Box 420, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0420
ST. LOUIS—The loss of a job.
Harassment at a service station. A decision to move out of town.
A Supreme Court ruling that led to the dropping of sodomy
charges hasn’t cleared up a case for six men arrested during a raid at an
adult video store near St. Louis, attorneys for the men said Friday. All six
still face criminal charges.
“Some of them were outed on television,” said Denise
Lieberman, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern
Missouri. “The kind of stigma attached to this is just tremendous,
especially in itty-bitty towns like those in Jefferson County.”
But prosecutor Bob Wilkins said if the defendants are
having a difficult time with their lives, it’s their own fault.
“They were the ones that were inside a public place
engaging in oral sex with strangers,” he said.
In March 2002, undercover officers raided Award Video, an
adult video store just south of the St. Louis County line.
Wilkins said the business, which sells adult videos and
sex toys, also had individual viewing booths and two theaters—essentially
small rooms with benches and folding chairs.
For a $1 membership card and $6 fee per entry, people
could enter the theater. But authorities said they found people doing a lot
more than watching movies. During the raid, undercover police witnessed the
men and one woman engaging in sexual acts, some of which involved men with
men, some men with the woman.
Initially, the men were charged under the state’s
sexual misconduct law for their gay activity and the woman was not charged.
The Missouri law makes gay sex a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in
jail and a $1,000 fine.
Subsequently, all seven were charged with second-degree
sexual misconduct, charges that still stand even as the sodomy charges were
Wilkins said he pursued the sodomy charge because he felt
it was the easiest way to get a conviction.
“I wanted to stop the sexual activity altogether,”
Wilkins said. “The easiest way to get a plea or a finding of guilt was to
prosecute the homosexual offenses.”
Wilkins said he pursued the charges despite misgivings
about the state law—one that he said he had asked legislators to abandon.
“Was I being homophobic in going after gay men?” he
asked. “Absolutely not. What I wanted to do was stop the activity as quickly
as I could. The fact that they were gay didn’t matter to me at all. What
mattered was the ease of conviction.”
News of the arrests alone has made life difficult for the
defendants in the case, Lieberman said. She and Rick Sindel, a lawyer
representing four of the men on behalf of the ACLU, said one man was fired
from his job and one moved out of town. “Many of them have suffered problems
in their families, lost friends and lost acquaintances,” Sindel noted.
Lieberman said that’s why a Supreme Court ruling
Thursday that a Texas law banning sodomy among same-sex couples was
unconstitutional seemed like a step in the right direction for the men charged
in the Jefferson County case.
“These laws are used to extend other restrictions,”
she said. “It really creates a second-class citizenship for gays and
lesbians. It’s implying that they’re criminal because of the lives that
But Wilkins said the “anonymous” sexual activity was
a public health hazard. He will pursue previously filed charges that the seven
had sexual relations in the presence of a third party in a manner that could
cause “affront or alarm” to the third party.
“They weren’t charged with anything to do with public
health. They were charged with engaging in sexual activities with another
person of the same sex,” Lieberman said.
And she didn’t think the video store was a public
place, like, for instance, a park. Lieberman said the video store had age
restrictions and required the membership cards for entry. The store, renamed
Maximus Video, has changed ownership since the incident.
The adult video store is located off a highway. It has
red, white and blue signs identifying it, and a white fence in the parking lot
painted with flowers. A sign on the door warns visitors away if they’re
under 18 or offended by adult-oriented material.
Inside, visitors must ring a buzzer. A window opens and a
membership card must be shown to enter. A store employee declined to comment
on the charges Friday.
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