By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
To make a graphic case even more graphic, the prosecution deployed an expensive projection system to display the GIFs on a large screen near the jury box. The same images that appeared on the 14-inch computer monitors of AABBS members were projected several feet high, giving each sordid image a larger-than-life quality.
"It was clear that the prosecution had an almost unlimited budget," says Williams. "They had TV monitors everywhere and the same kind of telestrators they have in the O.J. trial. I saw all of this stuff and said to [prosecutor] Dan Newsom, 'Some new toys, huh?' He just had this big smile on his face."
After reviewing a few technical terms for the jury -- roughly the knowledge you'd need to get the computer out of the box -- the prosecution called its star witness, David Dirmeyer. SCOURGE took the stand and proceeded to walk the jury through his six-month investigation of the bulletin board, culminating in the kiddie-porn bust. Dirmeyer read the posted description of each GIF and video aloud to the court, a relentlessly vile cyberpornocopia of bestiality ("Big horse cock in her cunt. Horse cum on her leg"), sadomasochism ("The slut has shit all over her face, tits and her pussy and legs. She gags and vomits."), excrement ("Young girl squats over the toilet and wipes her ass"), torture ("He whips her sore, bloody pussy, and then he inserts over two dozen needles into her hairless pussy"), and even a shot-live-on-video enema insertion.
The jury sufficiently stunned, the prosecution dimmed the lights for an impromptu stag-film festival, featuring the six videotapes charged in the obscenity indictment. Each of the hourlong videos was shown in its entirety, with only short breaks in between, a spectacle that left everyone in the courtroom numb. Well, practically everyone.
"[Dirmeyer] sat there in rapt attention looking at the screen," says defense attorney Williams.
Now, there's a scene you won't be seeing on next week's Matlock.
By the time the last flickering image faded from the screen, the Thomases were already halfway up the river. Defense attorney Williams managed to score some points by chipping away at the government's weakest charge: the child-pornography count. On cross-examination, he got Dirmeyer to admit that nothing on the Thomas' bulletin board system -- all 17,000 GIFs -- qualified as child pornography.
"I'll say one thing about Dirmeyer -- when he was on the witness stand, he was exceptionally honest," says Williams. "I asked him if there was any child pornography on the system and he said no."
In fact, the three magazines Dirmeyer had mailed to Robert Thomas were the only certifiable child pornography that surfaced in the entire case. Dirmeyer's "proof" that Thomas had requested the child pornography of his own volition was a printout of an online conversation the two men had in the "chat" mode, in which Thomas supposedly wrote, "Please send them if you wish." But, as Williams pointed out to the jury, a transcript of any online conversation can easily be altered after the fact. Dirmeyer admitted that investigators had copied the Thomas' entire computer system, including 22,300 e-mail messages, a seeming violation of the Electronic Privacy Act. But Dirmeyer claimed that when investigators reviewed the system, they purposely did not look at any e-mail messages. Defense lawyers say federal smut busters will put the Thomas' data bank to their own uses, anyway.
"What they'll do is they'll take all the names on the database, and cross-reference them with names from other bulletin boards and then focus on people they think are pedophiles," says attorney Thomas Nolan. "What [Dirmeyer] did in this case was common practice. Sure, it's outrageous behavior, but that happens every day. That's what they do. These people are serious. These guys, they love to do this stuff. They try everything."
In a pretrial affidavit, Thomas charges that shortly before he was busted, several members of the Amateur Action Bulletin Board System had complained directly to him about a Lance White paging them online and taking them into the chat mode where he told them about his sexual interests.
Later in that affidavit, Thomas stretches his outrage to dubious lengths when he chastises Dirmeyer for sending the package containing child pornography to his Mail Box Etc. address.
He writes: "What would have happened if my two boys ages 13 and 16 would have opened it?" Continuing his outburst, Thomas writes, "This would have been devastating to my kids if they had seen this type of material!"
The likelihood that the teen-age Thomas children would have been seriously and permanently warped after a brief exposure to Dirmeyer's kiddie porn, but not after viewing the contents of mommy and daddy's pornographic computer system, doesn't seem to cross Thomas' mind.
But even with today's anti-government mood, most jurors will take a postal inspector's word over that of an accused child pornographer. Faced with almost certain con-viction on the obscenity counts, the Thomases reluctantly agreed to take the stand in their own behalf. As it turned out, neither defendant cut a very sympathetic figure. Their testimony was largely anticlimactic, especially compared to the government's boner-inducing film festival. Carleen Thomas suggested she wasn't nearly as involved with the day-to-day operation of the bulletin board as her husband, although she admitted that she often took care of the copying and shipping of videotapes and sometimes processed credit card information to sign up new members.