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Change of Venue Denied in Precedent-Setting Ray Guhn Porn Case

Florida- [Pensacola News Journal]- A potentially precedent-setting pornography case will remain in Santa Rosa County, Circuit Court Judge Ron Swanson decided Monday.

Swanson denied a defense motion to change venue in the case of an alleged Internet porn ring prosecutors say was run out of Clinton Raymond McCowen’s [aka Ray Guhn] Navarre home.

Defense attorneys had sought to move the proceedings to Escambia County.

“I keep going back to the statute that says this is a discretionary decision made by the state,” Swanson said during discussions with attorneys Monday.

“It seems to me it’s pretty simple. The state gets to make the choice (according to the statute) if the offenses happen in two or more counties.”

Swanson said the law only allows a judge to change the trial location if the state’s choice was influenced by an improper motive or if the venue the state selects somehow violates the defendant’s right to due process. Neither of those was true in this case, he said.

McCowen, Andrew Kevin Craft of Pace, Kevin Patrick Stevens of Pensacola, William Lee Beach of Milton, Jane Marie Dreka of Lillian, Ala., and Thomas W. Dwyer of Pensacola are accused of producing obscene videos, which Internet users could pay to view online.

They face two charges each of racketeering — conducting a criminal enterprise by engaging in prostitution, and by manufacturing and selling obscene material. McCowen also faces money laundering charges.

Attorneys have called the case a “case of first impression,” meaning there are no similar cases in history to look to for guidance.

The outcome could be precedent-setting.

The state maintains that the videos were shot at various locations in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties, including public places like Interstate 110. The state also says the money laundering occurred in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties.

Assistant State Attorney Russ Edgar said while charges originally were filed in Escambia in 2006, the case was moved to Santa Rosa to best address all charges with one proceeding. The original charges were filed before the evidence of money laundering was discovered, he said.

“We believe the most serious charge in this case is the money laundering charge. … That occurred in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties,” Edgar said. “The money laundering, in my opinion, had to be heard in either Okaloosa or Santa Rosa. The manufacturing of obscene materials had to either be in Escambia or Santa Rosa.”

Defense attorneys had sought to have the trial moved back to Pensacola.

“The substance of this case was originally filed over a year ago in Escambia County,” said McCowen’s attorney, Jerome Mooney. “We’re being hurt … because we’ve been working for a year in preparation for one community and suddenly we find ourselves being thrust into another community. These communities, these counties, may be next door to each other, but they are substantially different.”

The defendants are due back in court Oct. 16 for a hearing in which Swanson will decide if defense attorneys can claim a national community standard instead of a local one when determining if the material produced is obscene.

Defense attorneys say that would be appropriate because of the global nature of the Internet.

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