The first two times the Justice Department prosecuted Ira Isaacs for obscenity, the trials ended without a verdict. The third time proved the charm in April, when a Los Angeles jury convicted Isaacs on five counts that could send him to prison for 25 years.

Isaacs’ defense boiled down to this: My films are so disgusting that they must be art. The self-described “shock artist,” who was charged in connection with films featuring scatology and bestiality that he directed or distributed, said he aims to “challenge the viewer.” 

It was a risky argument, since patent offensiveness is one element of obscenity as defined by federal law. But it apparently persuaded two jurors at his second trial, which ended in March with a hung jury. Isaacs told Adult Video News correspondent Mark Kernes there were two holdouts, both women. “She basically said that her and another juror thought that this was art, serious art, and had artistic value, and should not be found obscene,” Isaacs said. At first, he said, 11 jurors were inclined to convict, but later one of them “changed her mind and said, ‘You know, I do think it has artistic value, and there’s reasonable doubt that they proved their case.’”

An incident on the first day of deliberations suggested at least one juror had deeper reservations about the case. Kernes wrote that “one juror reportedly sent a note to Judge [George] King charging that one of the other jurors had said that he/she did not believe in the obscenity laws.” That complaint prompted an admonition from King, who told the jurors they had to apply the law no matter how stupid or unjust they thought it was. The jury at his third trial, which convicted him after deliberating for less than two hours, needed no such reminder.