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Obscenity trial curbs the sale of videotapes

Ruston, Louisiana- The Lincoln Parish adult video and novelty store Fantasy Video, which was the focus of an obscenity trial last week in Ruston, will not sell videos until further notice, an assistant manager says.

“I got a call this morning from Guy (Birman), and he said to stop selling,” Frank Ramsey said late last week. Guy Birman is twin brother of Fantasy Video owner Dan Sasha Birman, whom a Lincoln District Court jury found guilty of obscenity last week.

The store on the Interstate 20 Service Road west of Exit 84 at Ruston will try to resume selling videos by Monday, Ramsey said he was told.

“It’s obviously going to hurt. That’s (video sales) the bulk of our business,” Ramsey said. “But they aren’t going to chase us out of town; the pink building is here to stay.”

Meantime, the tapes at the store will be sent to other stores Birman owns in Delhi and Minden, Ramsey said. “We’re going to order soft-core tapes and sell those. Then if the appeal is successful, we’ll go back to the other tapes.”

The verdict in the obscenity trial means “there are two VHS tapes he (Birman) is not allowed to sell. He’s got more than 8,000 others that he can sell,” defense attorney John Herbison said soon after the jury made its decision Wednesday afternoon.

But Lincoln District Attorney Bob Levy cautioned Herbison and the rest of Birman’s defense team that they might want to reconsider that advice. “There remain three additional charges against Mr. Birman from this summer,” he said Wednesday evening.

“And I’d remind them that based on testimony by their own witness, those 8,000 videos are similar in nature to the ones a Lincoln Parish jury found violated community obscenity standards. They might want to carefully look at whether they want to keep the doors of Fantasy Video open.”

Dan Sasha Birman, 23, remains free on $25,000 bond pending sentencing Nov. 12 and under order by Judge R. Wayne Smith to refrain from any criminal activity while on bond. Smith specifically cited the crime of obscenity.

Birman was found guilty of selling obscene material to undercover state troopers June 9. At issue was whether two videotapes purchased by undercover officers – Hustler’s Barely Legal Vol. 16 and Ladies’ Club – violate community standards.

At trial, Levy argued that the sexually graphic scenes in the movies violate community standards of the area. The defense countered that the materials do not violate community standards because they can be bought in Minden, Shreveport and Monroe and through local cable companies and at local hotels.

The four women and two men on the jury deliberated just less than four hours before rendering the guilty verdict.

“I see nothing wrong with what’s sold here,” Cori Crump said during a Thursday afternoon visit to the business just west of Rabb’s Steakhouse in search of a pair of fishnet pantyhose for Halloween. “I would rather my husband come in here and buy a video to watch instead of going to another woman.”

But Crump added that she didn’t know if she could watch the video with her husband.

The case looks like a conflict between “a religious community and guy just trying to make a living,” said Nick Todaro, a journalism student at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. “I think he has every right to sell what he’s selling.”

The 21-year-old said he has a friend who used to work at Fantasy Video. “He had a wife and kid, just an ordinary guy. He wasn’t a pervert or anything.”

Hillary Edman believes Birman probably would have been found innocent if the trial had been held outside Ruston.

“I think this trial was about keeping Ruston a small, church town. This store takes away from that,” the 21-year-old said. “I’ve purchased a couple of items for my sister’s bachelor party there, and I didn’t see anything wrong with it.”

The Supreme Court allows communities to set their own standards concerning pornography, said Gary Stokley, an associate professor of sociology and public relations coordinator at Louisiana Tech.

“This is a nice, small, rural setting, not Sin City like New Orleans. If the community is not comfortable, they have the right to shut it down and push (it) to another area that does accept it.

“It’s the community’s right to say they don’t want it (pornography) here,” Stokley said. “I’m not saying the community will win, but it’s their right.”

Ramsey believes the jury was not a good representation of the Lincoln community.

“We did surveys asking where people were from who visited the store, and more than half of them were from Lincoln Parish,” he said. “Granted, we do a lot of interstate business, but most of it is from people here.”

The store has sold about $130,000 worth of tapes and $66,000 worth of DVDs since June 1, Ramsey said. “That’s a lot of tapes and DVDs, and I’ll bet most of them were from people who live here.”

Birman’s conviction put a hold on a planned expansion at the store.

“We’ve got a couple of small theaters in the back where we were going to show movies,” Ramsey said. “And we were going to build some individual stalls back there also. Now it all depends on whether we can sell tapes.”




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