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Thoughts (on Paper) Policed

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The lawyer for a Donora woman indicted on obscenity charges at the end of September says the charges are an abuse of the legal system.

As City Paper reported last year, Karen Fletcher, now 54, ran an erotic tales Web site, www.red-rose-stories.com, that offered paid downloads (Oct. 27, 2005: "Porn on the Page of the Beholder"). Her home was raided in early October 2005 by the Pittsburgh office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation 

According to porn-industry news site xbiz.com, the stories allegedly covered "bestiality, water sports, scat, bondage and domination, S&M, slavery, threesomes, orgies and sex with children," but consisted of text only, not photos or videos. Fletcher soon closed the site.

At the time of the raid, said Fletcher's Florida-based lawyer, Lawrence Walters, child pornography investigators had found Red Rose stories on a suspect's computer, prompting the raid on Fletcher. But the legal definition of child porn, he contended, refers to images, not words of fiction.

Fletcher's charges are six counts of transmission of obscene material, beginning Aug. 8, 2005. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and fines in excess of $1 million.

"What the government contends is that thought with no human activity whatsoever can be criminal," Walters says today. "This reeks of the idea that we are forming a sort of thought police in this country. What that will mean is if you have a thought in this country and write [it] down in a book or in a journal, you can be charged. Assuming for a minute that the obscenity laws in this country are even constitutional, they don't appear to have any applicability in this case."

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan did not return calls seeking comment, but has been on the record elsewhere calling the stories vile and disgusting. She has also contended that, while simply writing the stories was not illegal, sending them out over a Web site is.

"Use of the Internet to distribute obscene stories like these not only violates federal law, but also emboldens sex offenders who would target children," Buchanan said in a press release announcing the indictment.

This is not Buchanan's first arrest of individuals she says are violating obscenity laws. Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court gave her office the green light to prosecute a California-based pornographic film company, Extreme Associates, for graphic videos Buchanan says violated obscenity law.

Walters says Buchanan's opinions of the material on Fletcher's Web site shouldn't matter in the least.

"Mary Beth Buchanan's interest in this material is utterly and completely irrelevant," Walters says. "That's not the way the obscenity law works. It doesn't matter if they're vile or dirty or explicit; they're still protected. To use a broad brush to decide what thoughts and literary works should be unprotected by the First Amendment is going to set a very dangerous precedent."

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