Last edited: December 31, 2004

Some Charges Dropped, But Lives Changed for Men in Sodomy Case

The 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 dropped.

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 they lead.”

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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