Pornography

Star Witness Makes a Liar out of Stagliano's Prosecution

Bombshell testimony from an FBI agent is just the latest travesty in an error-riddled prosecution that should be thrown out of court

|

(Editor's Note: Richard Abowitz is covering John Stagliano's obscenity trial in Washington, D.C. for Reason. Follow Abowitz on Twitter for breaking news, and keep up to date with Reason's Stagliano coverage at this link.)

This one fact is beyond reasonable doubt: In the John Stagliano obscenity trial yesterday, one (or more) of the following three people did not tell the truth—Judge Richard Leon, prosecutor Pamela Satterfield, or key government witness FBI Special Agent Daniel Bradley. This was only one of many deeply troubling developments in an eventful Thursday of U.S. v. Stagliano et al.

Before getting into details, let me remind people of the correct and ethical course for the prosecution right now: End this case. The prosecutor's sworn duty as an officer of the court is not to convict every defendant, but to place justice above all. This case is falling apart; there is not a single element of the government's evidence that has not been tainted in multiple ways. Here are some of the fundamental problems going forward.

The prosecution can no longer vouch for the integrity of its own star witness. FBI Special Agent Bradley is the only one to testify that he watched the entire content of the films in question and deemed them obscene, so if the prosecution has serious doubts about the honesty and accuracy of his testimony, the government has a responsibility to not present that testimony to the jury. And there are good reasons for doubting Bradley.

In Thursday's proceedings, Bradley claimed that prosecutor Pamela Satterfield told him to review the movies before the trial began at the behest of Judge Richard Leon, so that he could recall better on the witness stand basic elements of the movies, including action and dialogue. If Bradley's statement is true, it would be a shocking breach of ethics by Judge Leon—you can't have impartial arbiters helping the prosecution prepare witnesses.

An angry Judge Leon, after sending the jury out, denied the claim in the strongest possible terms. As did prosecutor Satterfield, who said she had never given such instructions to her witness. But now that Satterfield has impeached the honesty of Agent Bradley's sworn statements in front of the jury, how can she now present this witness—her one star witness—as credible?

Of course, this all could be a case of the agent's mistaken memory. But even that benign explanation causes a serious problem: The alleged conversations about reviewing the movies took place just weeks ago. The agent's key testimony in this trial hinges on his recall of actions he took way back in January 2008.

Agent Bradley's memory has already proven to be shaky at best. Among the events he appeared yesterday to have totally forgotten was his own investigation into the trademark of Stagliano's distribution company Evil Angel. Even after being offered his own notes to jog his memory, Agent Bradley could not recall details of his trademark research. Even worse was his recollection of the contents and dialogue of the films under indictment, despite recently re-viewing them. His memory has proven so poor that he has had to repeatedly have it "refreshed" by reading his own earlier written summaries in order to paraphrase them. Is that memory?

And still we are not done with Agent Bradley's problems. The prosecution's star witness also admitted yesterday that he neglected to include in his summary of the films whole sections of the DVDs, including behind-the-scenes interviews and bloopers.

The Miller test requires that works being judged as obscene be viewed as a whole, in order to assess possible artistic merit. And in fact, the very existence of a bloopers reel offers evidence of artistic intention, in that something went "wrong" in a given scene. If these products have never been considered in their entirety by either Special Agent Bradley or the prosecution, how can the government in good faith stand before the jury and claim to know the films are obscene by the standards of the Miller test? It would appear they can't.

It has become increasingly obvious that prosecutor Satterfield has been a model of neither competence nor integrity in this trial. Among her actions so far was an attempt to slide a piece of advertising from a DVD box into evidence that she had not previously disclosed to the defense. Even worse she appears to have possibly not told the truth to the judge at least once about the defective capture of the Fetish Fanatic 5 trailer that has now been removed from evidence in this trial, invalidating two of the seven counts against Stagliano and part of a third.

As I reported earlier, the government's CD-R capture of Agent Bradley downloading the trailer in a restaurant back in 2008 had glitches and missing sound and finally froze and crashed in front of the jury on Wednesday. After a recess, Satterfield insisted to the judge that the capture was now playing just fine. Yet she seems to have been the only one to observe this allegedly perfect playback. Several attempts to replay the CD-R revealed evidence too corrupted and defective to fix or use, which is why the judge yesterday threw it out. So what exactly did Satterfield mean when she told the court that the CD-R played for her without problems just after the jury left the room? 

Another problem with the prosecution is that the obscenity trial is taking place in Washington, D.C., when the DVDs in question had only a tangential connection to the city. See if you can follow the geographic chain of events from yesterday's testimony: Agent Bradley, working in Virginia, ordered his porn from a website in Baltimore, Maryland. Bradley then had the DVDs mailed to a P.O. Box in the District of Columbia, using a money order purchased in Virginia and then mailed by him to Maryland. Bradley further testified that he never went to the mailbox in Washington. He therefore can't know for sure that the DVDs were ever even in the District. Another agent, who has not yet testified, allegedly picked up and delivered a package to Bradley in Virginia. The box seems to have contained the porn Special Agent Bradley ordered. But Bradley never viewed the movies in the District of Columbia. And all that is a sequence rendered by Bradley's already faulty memory.

So an FBI agent ordered some porn in Virginia from Maryland, and then watched it in Virginia. And now there is a trial assessing whether the material violates the community standards of Washington, D.C. It does not make sense.

Putting it all together, the government's case has been revealed as lacking credible evidence on almost every crucial point, with a star witness who has either impeached the credibility of the judge, the prosecutor, or himself.

Yesterday, the defense moved for a mistrial and the judge declined. In retrospect, that was for the best, since the government could have then retried the case. It is time for either the judge or the prosecutors to do the right thing and end this prosecution altogether. A mistrial is no longer a fair outcome for John Stagliano.

What makes our system of justice noble on paper is that the prosecution and judge are officers of the court. They have an extra burden of responsibility to serve justice, and they should have the courage to apply it, however belatedly, in this case. John Stagliano is still sitting in a defendant's chair, racking up expensive legal bills, long after the case against him has almost totally unraveled. In a show trial that never should have been brought in the first place, the government has bungled what flimsy legal rationale it ever had. It is long past time for the United States to pull the plug on this sham and allow Stagliano and his pregnant wife to go home.

Sadly, what is instead likely to happen is that the prosecution will rest its case this morning. Then Stagliano's team will ask that the trial be thrown out, and, if the judge does not agree, mount a defense of their client. If the officers of the court won't stand up for truth, justice, and the American way, then it looks like a pornographer will have to do the job for them.

Richard Abowitz has chronicled the rise and continuing fall of Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Weekly, Vegas Seven, and the Los Angeles Times, most notably at the Movable Buffet blog. He now blogs chiefly at GoldPlatedDoor.com. He will be covering the Stagliano trial for Reason, and can be followed on Twitter at @RichardAbowitz.

Disclosure: John Stagliano has been a donor to Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.

NEXT: Financial Reform Will Definitely Work After Regulators Figure Out How to Make It Work

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. OK, I totally agree that Stagliano should walk, that the government case is an utter disgrace and utter bullshit, but bitching because the FBI didn’t review the blooper reel is a bit much. The blooper reel for “Milk Squirters” (isn’t that one of the titles?) I don’t see how it could be less “obscene” than the flick.

    1. In this moive, “blooper” is probably a common sound.

    2. Did you read the article? The question is not whether the bloopers are less obscene than the movie. If the video is considered “art” then it cannot be restricted by this law. If there is a bloopers real that shows mistakes in the story then there must be a standard of art against which it is being judged. If so, this is art, and case closed.

      1. Plus it has to be seen in its entirety and judged by community standards.

        The blooper’s and interviews could change the way it is interpreted according to “community standards”

        It may become less offensive and therefore no longer “obscene”
        since this is a totally subjective standard.

      2. Hey, you should give that poor FBI agent a break – all that talk in the movie about Melville, Proust, Mozart versus Chopin…whether Rodin is derivative, and Da Vinci overrated its all so confusing and tedius.
        I mean, its not like there is unforgettable stuff in the movie that nobody could EVER possibly forget like milk squirting out somebody’s ass.
        Very easy to see how people could forget details of this movie.

    3. Shouldn’t you be at home writing The Grapes of Wrath?

    4. As long as there was no political statement in the movie, it should be legal.

    5. Just the thought of a blooper reel from a porn film is funny.

  2. This person makes obscene, disgusting movies that are offensive to all womyn. I see no reason he should not spend life in prison, along with all the other degenerates who produce this filth, and all the male actors. They are responsible for enslaving all the womyn who are forced to perform in these ‘movies’ and are the cause of rape and offensive to all womyn.

    1. Okay troll, even Gloria Steinem could not stomach using “womyn” three times in a paragraph.

    2. *stands up, slowly starts clapping*

      1. Ha! Oh wait…she’s serious? Cue the violins.

    3. C-. A bit too strident for an initial post. A good troll starts off a bit slower, so people can get sucked into the argument. She hit all the radical feminist talking points at once, and really has nowhere to go but to reiterate the same idiotic (and disproven) arguments and talking points.

      1. She?? It’s probably no more likely to be a woman than I am.

    4. C-

      Please return your troll card. We’re not going to punch it here.

      1. Heh, BP. 🙂

        1. Awesome, sage.

          1. I thought it was satire, not trolling.

            1. Let her/him play

            2. Did you look at her website?

              1. Anyone can use that link.

    5. Actually Belledonna ‘makes’ alot of Evil Angel movies. She is an awesome whore.

      She did a tranny with Nacho!

      1. Belledonna is like 80, no?

        1. There is a new one, American, voluptuous and a cute gap between her front teeth.

          I forgot about that weird blond Italian, didn’t she go into politics?

          1. You’re thinking of Chicholina.

    6. Viewing porn must cause brain damage – it certainly appears to damaged Special Agent Bradley’s brain. With second hand brain damage to the prosecutor.

    7. Should the womyn in the movies be in jail too?

      1. Victims.

    8. Yes…the women are exploited. That explains why they make more money then any of the male actors 95% of the time. It also explains why many of them set up their own websites to reap the benefits of their work.

      Tell me, would these women be any less “exploited” by stocking shelves at Wal-Mart instead of making bank for something they enjoy doing (Like extreme sextuple fisting)?

    9. wow LOL

    10. Statistically, porn up, rape down. Not the other way around. Nobody is being “forced” to do anything. Dried up old cooze….

      1. Statistically, porn up, rape down. Not the other way around.

        What, porn down, rape up?

    11. If you’re not a troll:

      Please die.

      1. With a threat like that I’ll troll.

  3. The prosecutor’s sworn duty as an officer of the court is not to convict every defendant, but to place justice above all.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  4. OH wow, I never thought about it that way before it does make sense.

    Lou
    http://www.privacy-tools.se.tc

  5. OK that makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

    http://www.privacy-tools.es.tc

  6. And now there is a trial assessing whether the material violates the community standards of Washington, D.C.

    “the community standards of Washington, D.C.”

    Is this what’s referred to as a “legal fiction”?

    1. Lying, grandstanding, wasting precious time/treasure on ill-advised pursuits with no clear benefit…

      Man, if we can come up with a little graft and payola, this will be the “community standards of Washington, D.C.” writ large!

    2. DC’s raison d’etre is to sodomize every American. Buttman should be a how-to manual in the capital.

  7. Oh wow, I never thought about it that way before dude.

    http://www.real-anonymity.net.tc

    1. please don’t start now.

  8. This court reminds of the one from the famous Three Stooges’ short.

    1. “Drop the vernacular”
      “It’s a derby!”

      1. Take off your hat! Raise your right hand!

        1. I’m still watching the movie. Can I raise my left hand?

        2. can I put my hat on my middle appendage?

          1. Sorry, no. Inadequate hook length

  9. Even after being offered his own notes to jog his memory, Agent Bradley could not recall details of his trademark research.

    Give him a break. The pages were all stuck together.

  10. Anyway, if Stagliano gets off, can he go and save Cleveland next?
    It will save some space.

    1. Considering how the relationships I’ve had with women from Ohio have gone, I’d hope for a real torture porn filmmaker to go there.

      Not that I’m bitter or anything.

      1. No, of course not.

        Are they still not shaving their legs in the winter?

    2. Anyway, if Stagliano gets off, can he go and save Cleveland next?

      If Stagliano gets off the first thing that needs to be done is to clean up the mess. Although he never really was a distance/volume guy so it should not take too long.

  11. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that Special Agent Bradley really liked the movies and is purposely trying to sink the case to make sure he can get his hands on the sequels.

  12. When they’re not working on pornography cases, I’m sure these prosecutors are bungling other cases too…

    This is our government in action.

  13. Can the defense call the judge as a witness?

    1. What about all the sperms who were harmed?
      Won’t anyone think of the sperms?

      1. Every sperm is sacred…

    2. Did you watch the whole movie before cumming?

      1. Jesus Christ, man! There’s just some things you don’t talk about in public!

        1. It was hardly a loaded question!

          1. But will Stagliano take it on the chin?

  14. “there is now not a single element of the government’s evidence that has not been tainted in multiple ways.”

    So their case has been fucked from multiple angles. How fitting…

  15. It really is quite humorous how incompetent this prosecutor is. Considering how little they do is actually for justice maybe that is a good thing.

    1. If you don’t want to see someone squirt milk out of their ass, then don’t watch the GD movie!! Problem solved.

  16. “An angry Judge Leon, after sending the jury out, denied the claim in the strongest possible terms. As did prosecutor Satterfield, who said she had never given such instructions to her witness. But now that Satterfield has impeached the honesty of Agent Bradley’s sworn statements in front of the jury, how can she now present this witness?her one star witness?as credible?

    Of course, this all could be a case of the agent’s mistaken memory..”

    For once, I’ll be serious. Maybe the FBI agent remembers too well. Maybe he was instructed by the prosecutor. And maybe even the prosecutor got a suggestion from the judge.
    Its not that I believe FBI agents so much…its just that my cynicism extends to judges and prosecutors.

  17. “The prosecution’s star witness also admitted yesterday that he neglected to include in his summary of the films whole sections of the DVDs, including behind-the-scenes interviews and bloopers.”

    Really makes me wonder – in a movie that milk is squirting out your ass, what would be a blooper?
    Director ‘CUT – it was suppose to be 2%…must I suffer these incompetants?’

    1. choclate milk?

      1. Interracial is an entirely different subgenre.

        1. milk is squirting out your ass

        2. Ha, Ha, Ha!!!
          Sooooo……native americans would be strawberry milk???

      2. in a movie that milk is squirting out your ass, what would be a blooper?

        choclate milk?

        Fucking sick!

  18. FREE BUTTMAN!

    FREE BUTTMAN!

    FREE BUTTMAN!

    1. FREE HAT!

      FREE HAT!

      FREE HAT!

  19. So many avenues for appeal. So, so, many.

    I believe that we now have a sworn statement, by an FBI agent no less, that a judge committed a serious violation of the code of judicial ethics, and that a prosecutor committed a serious violation of the code of professional ethics.

    I think some other people need to go under oath, here. As part of investigations that should be getting opened within the next day or two into the judge and prosecutor.

    I know, it’ll never happen. But I can’t think of one good reason why not.

    1. Agree 100000%
      But talk about a tight gang – its them judicialo’s

  20. Richard – I hope you are right about the case unraveling, but I doubt the jury sees it the same way. Your “rooting interest” in the case is affecting your judgment of the import of various events to the case. With lots of room for appeal, he at least has some hope, but I think the odds of finding jurors that won’t just say “pooping milk is gross” and convict is slim. Even if there’s a couple of jurors who like to watch extreme porn, how likely are they to stick to their guns in the jury room when the other 10 or 11 jurors are expressing their utter disgust?

  21. There once was a woman from Brighton
    whose boyfriend said “my that’s a tight one!”
    She said “you poor soul,
    you’ve got the wrong hole,
    but there’s plenty of room in the right one!”

  22. In all the coverage so far, Reason does the right thing and discloses that Stagliano has been a donor.
    But the author should probably also disclose that he’s friends with the defendant: http://www.goldplateddoor.com/…..l-july-20/

    After I saw that it really raised doubts for me whether Abowitz should be my primary source of information about this trial.

    I totally agree the obscenity laws are ridiculous. I agree Stagliano should be found innocent–and that he should never have been put on trial in the first place. I’d just prefer to know whether my source is biased before I decide to trust it. In some cases a biased source may still be your best source, which seems to be the case here: The Atlantic has a blurb about the trial…in which they tell you to go read Abowitz’s coverage.

    1. jcalton, “I’d just prefer to know whether my source is biased before I decide to trust it.” You know you’re on Reason, right?

    2. But the author should probably also disclose that he’s friends with the defendant: http://www.goldplateddoor.com/…..l-july-20/

      I am pretty sure that’s been disclosed already in one of the previous dispatches.

      Yeah he could add that disclosure to every dispatch in the series, but that doesn’t seem like huge deal since he has disclosed it early on in the series of posts.

    3. In my first blog item for Reason I absolutely revealed my friendship with John Stagliano and all of its details. My view on the First Amendment and how this case unfolded is such that if he was my worst enemy nothing I wrote would be different. Anyway, I am sorry if you felt I should repeat in every blog item that I knew Stagliano in Vegas.

      As for if my analysis of the case was skewed against the prosecution, I will let today’s ruling, the one I said the judge should make above, speak to that. Thanks for reading. Yrs., Richard

  23. As a lawyer, these dispatches from the trial read more like an anti-prosecution screed than a serious analysis. Does Abowitz have any legal training? Personally, I think it’s outrageous that Stagliano is being prosecuted, but it would be nice to see an analysis by someone who understands criminal prosecution, like, say, a pro-first amendment prosecutor, or a defense attorney.

    1. What Steve is saying is that he wants someone who actually takes this Kafkaesque shit seriously. Kinda like Alice in Wonderland being written by the Mad Hatter. Sorry Steve, I like my reporters accurately describing insanity, not partaking in the shitty little game.

    2. I am just a writer with a few degrees. I sometimes think you lawyers find the First Amendment more complicated than it is written. No, I am not a lawyer. But I can read. And, again I point to the judge throwing out the case under as you lawyers say, Rule 29. Thanks for reading my posts. Yrs., Richard

    3. I am just a writer with a few degrees. I sometimes think you lawyers find the First Amendment more complicated than it is written. No, I am not a lawyer. But I can read. And, again I point to the judge throwing out the case under as you lawyers say, Rule 29. Thanks for reading my posts. Yrs., Richard

  24. Also, it appears from this story that overcoming the Miller test is pretty simple. Either:
    1) When you make something “obscene,” make it unwatchable
    or,
    2) Make every porno 20 hours long (1 hour of movie and 19 hours of extras will work)

  25. … there is not a single element of the government’s evidence that has not been tainted in multiple ways.

    Thank you, just thank you for that.

    1. Heh, heh heh, he said taint.

  26. I am not sure why the FBI agent needs to be questioned about whether the movies are obscene or not. Obscenity under Miller is for the jury to decide. Having an agent testify to that would come pretty close to “invading the province of the jury” to decide the ultimate issue in the case: whether the material violated community standards.

    It may be an utterly unworkable standard to apply, but at least the jury is the one that gets to apply it, not the agent.

    And believe it or not, yes, I have experience prosecuting obscenity cases.

  27. Did the FBI really hire the one guy in North America who is unable to download porn?

    1. I’m glad I’m not his handgun instructor.

  28. “”A mistrial is no longer a fair outcome for John Stagliano.””

    But a not guilty verdict would.

  29. My sources tell me that the charges against John were just dropped.

    (victory dance)

    1. Ooops. Checking the Reason site, it appears I’m late to the dance party.

      (retreat to punchbowl)

      1. So, how long will it be before Richard Abowitz apologizes to Judge Leon?

        My guess? Never.

        1. You are right. I have nothing to apologize to Judge Leon for. He kept a case alive that should have been kicked long ago. The fact that the prosecution left him with literally nothing to give the jury to consider, does not make him a hero. And, it does not pay John Stagliano’s legal fees, time lost, stress and heartache for a nonsense case. Thanks for reading. yrs., Richard

          1. gets to play you in the porn version of the trial?

  30. with a star witness who has either impeached the credibility of the judge, the prosecutor, or himself.

    I vote “all of the above.”

  31. Shortly after reading all of the yuks in yesterday’s thread concerning this topic, I hooked up a “network connected” Blu-Ray player that replaced an aged combo DVD/VCR at our house. We got this new one because it could allegedly pick up Netflix streaming video via WiFi, and sure enough, it can. The first thing that popped up in our “watch instantly” queue was “The Lenny Bruce Performance Film.” It was only about an hour, so I watched it. The parallels to the Stagliano case — especially its Keystone Cops/Kangaroo Kourt aspects — are rather creepy, when you remember that this is 2010 and not Bruce’s 1967. It’s worth seeing what LB has to say about art vs. non-art.

    Gillespie thinks Bruce was not funny. But yet people were laughing, even during this performance, which was mostly him reading court transcripts and explaining what he had ACTUALLY said and done in the performances at issue. I got a real sense that, at his peak (which is indicated in his comedy recordings that survive, Gillespie’s opinion notwithstanding), he would have seemed funny even to today’s audiences — especially to today’s audiences. On the other hand, his choice of “shocking” language and topics in the 1960s would strike us as par for the course, run-of-the-mill, today. Bruce’s original impact was part shock, part outrage (either at Bruce or at the situations he was mocking) and part amusement. In the modern day, he would need to focus on the amusement component to compensate for the numb-audience that can hardly be shocked or raised to outrage anymore. That seemed to be the way Richard Pryor developed, for example. Without Bruce, there would have probably been no Pryor, and after watching Bruce’s next-to-last public performance yesterday, I really miss them both.

    1. “That seemed to be the way Richard Pryor developed, for example.”

      I wanted to clarify that here I meant that going from shock and outrage to a more insightful, honest, and compassionate approach was how Pryor matured, and how I also would have expected Bruce to mature, in order to remain popular and relevant as audiences became more and more de-sensitized by the extreme comedy approaches. In the modern world, where profanity and coarseness are common in entertainment, Pryor shifted focus onto his insightful heart — in a way, perhaps, our rougher era’s answer to Bill Cosby. Had Bruce lived and matured in the same way, I wonder which old timer would have been considered his correspondent in the previous, “cleaner” age of comedy. I hope the physicists are right and that there is at least one parallel reality in which we might someday peek to answer that question.

  32. The FBI agent is obviously an idiot, but when he said that the judge and prosecutor had an (improper) ex parte meeting regarding the case, did he (1) lie, or (2) inadvertently blurt out the truth?

    I’ll go with (2). The dirty little not-so-secret of our “justice system” is that judges are part of the prosecution team. See the excellent blog of William L. Anderson, especially his coverage of the ridiculous Tonya Craft child abuse trial, where just such an improper meeting took place between prosecutors and the judge.

  33. Now, apparently, it’s a penalty when the government stops giving companies piles of cash simply for engaging in practices that are inherently beneficial to them.

  34. You may want to contact the blog admin via e-mail to notify him.ugg cardy

  35. As a lawyer, these dispatches from the trial read more like an anti-prosecution screed than a serious analysis. Does Abowitz have any legal training? Personally, I think it’s outrageous that Stagliano is being prosecuted, but it would be nice to see an analysis by someone who understands criminal prosecution, like, say, a pro-first amendment prosecutor, or a defense attorney.

    David Mayer

    geo news

  36. The dirty little not-so-secret of our “justice system” is that judges are part of the prosecution team. See the excellent blog of William L. Anderson, especially his coverage of the ridiculous Tonya Craft child abuse trial, where just such an improper meeting took place between prosecutors and the judge.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.