PITTSBURGH – A man who sold pit bull fight videos to investigators is the first person to be tried under a 1999 federal animal cruelty (search) statute.
As the trial opened Tuesday, the lawyer for Robert Stevens, 61, of Virginia, said the dog fight videos, including one of pit bulls attacking hogs, are protected under the law because the depictions of "old-time dog fights" have historical value.
Stevens' lawyer, Michael Novaro, does not dispute that Stevens sold the tapes. But he said the first case under the law banning the interstate transfer of videos showing animal cruelty ignores an exemption for videos with "religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value."
Novaro also said the tapes do not violate the statute's intent to prevent "wanton cruelty to animals designed to appeal to a prurient interest in sex."
President Clinton signed the law after complaints about videos in which small animals were pictured being crushed under the feet of women wearing spiked heels. Novaro said the sexual description doesn't apply to Stevens' fight montage videos and a video that shows pit bulls attacking hogs.
The prosecutor, Stephen Kaufman, said in court filings that all 50 states have banned dog fighting and society has "a strong interest in the humane treatment and protection of animals, including dogs trained to fight other dogs and hogs."
Stevens is being tried in Pittsburgh because he sold the tapes to Pennsylvania State Police and U.S. Department of Agriculture agents. He faces up to 15 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted.