Video Distribution Company Owners to Be Tried on Obscenity Charges Over Rape, Murder Simulation

The owners of a California company that distributes videos depicting simulated rape and murder have been scheduled for trial more than five years after federal prosecutors brought obscenity charges against them.

Robert Zicari and his wife, Janet Romano, were indicted in August 2003 on 10 counts, including conspiracy and distributing obscenity through the mail and online. A judge who originally dismissed the charges has scheduled their trial for March 16.

A grand jury and U.S. prosecutors in Pittsburgh found the images sold by the couple's company, Extreme Associates Inc., met the U.S. Supreme Court's test for obscenity, which says pornographers must adhere to the community standards of where products are made and anywhere they might be seen.

U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster dismissed the charges in January 2005, saying prosecutors improperly applied obscenity statutes. He concluded that prosecutors had overstepped their bounds in trying to block the material from children and from adults who didn't want to see it.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the charges in December 2005. It rejected the judge's finding, noting that the Supreme Court has determined federal obscenity statutes don't violate one's right to privacy, as Zicari and Romano claimed.

The company's attorney argued unsuccessfully that the Internet has changed notions of privacy and commerce, and that the people who ordered Extreme Associates' products used a private, members-only section of the company's Web site. Those features were sufficient to keep the images from minors and others, and trumped the need for obscenity statutes, he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take the case in May 2006 and the case languished in federal court until Lancaster ordered a status conference in August.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison and a $2.5 million fine for Zicari and Romano, and probation and a $5 million fine for the Northridge, Calif., company.