Originally created 04/02/02

Rare obscenity case on trial



ATHENS, Ga. - An adult novelty store owner is on trial this week in Clarke County State Court for allegedly violating a rarely applied Georgia obscenity statute.

Richard South was charged with distributing obscene materials, a misdemeanor, after undercover Athens-Clarke officers purchased sexually explicit videos, magazines and toys from his store last summer.

Mr. South says he's perplexed as to why his store was targeted by law enforcement.

"I don't think I've done anything in Athens that hasn't been done before," he said, pointing to numerous other Athens video stores, gift shops and magazine stores that sell sexually explicit material.

Mr. South, 28, comes across as an intelligent and articulate champion of sexually explicit material.

"I don't think sex is a dirty thing," he said. "I think it's perfectly natural. I think (explicit videos) can be medically therapeutic."

He says he opened the store 2 1/2 years ago after working as a manager for the adult-oriented store 9 1/2 Weeks in Atlanta. The Athens market, he says, was being underserved and stores tended to shunt its clientele into back rooms for sexually explicit materials.

"I don't like that back-room mentality that's in a lot of stores," Mr. South said. He points to his store's one-way mirrored windows that keep customers' patronage confidential.

"We have a nice, open atmosphere where couples can come in and don't have to be embarrassed and don't have to be ashamed," Mr. South said between ringing up purchases at the cash register.

Athens-Clarke police have said the arrest came in response to neighborhood complaints. Police Chief Jack Lumpkin termed it a "quality-of-life issue."

Mr. South responded to that explanation, saying: "We've never had anybody protesting in front of the store ... If somebody really had a concern about this store, I wish they would have come to me."

"I don't think I've done anything in Athens that hasn't been done before." - Richard South, adult store owner, who is charged with distributing obscene materials