Not-Guilty Verdict In Bellingham Pornography Trial -- Shopkeepers' Knowledge A Factor, Says Jury

Jurors in the Answer Me! pornography trial in Bellingham handed down a not-guilty verdict yesterday, reasoning that the shopkeepers who sold the magazine couldn't be guilty of promoting pornography because they didn't have knowledge of its content.

Lead juror Gene Wowk, a 53-year-old retired Navy veteran, said prosecutors didn't prove Ira Stohl and Kristina Hjelsand knowingly sold obscene material in Answer Me! - a magazine that graphically depicted torture, sex and mutilation. Wowk said that for the most part, jurors also agreed that the magazine wasn't obscene.

"We felt that the magazine itself was offensive," Wowk said. "But we had Hustler magazine in there with us and we felt that was offensive, too. It's offensive, but it's not pornographic."

Wowk said the jury felt they "did something important today for the state of Washington and the county of Whatcom . . . in defending people's rights."

Jurors listened to testimony from nine defense witnesses during the trial, which started last week in Whatcom County Superior Court in Bellingham.

Four of the nine witnesses said they were rape victims and testified that reading Answer Me! was therapeutic. Another key witness was a Washington psychologist who said the magazine wouldn't be sexually arousing and that the themes explored in it are basic to literature and movies.

"I can honestly say justice was done," said Breean Beggs, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which sponsored the defense. Beggs described his mood as "ecstatic."

Jim and Debbie Goad, a Portland couple, publish the 13,000-circulation Answer Me! once a year with a personal computer. Issues have focused on topics such as serial killings and suicide.

Jim Goad said his goal in publishing this issue of Answer Me! was to explore the psychic landscape of rapists and satirize radical feminists' demonization of men.

Stohl, 45, and Hjelsand, 25, were charged with one felony count of promoting pornography. They faced a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.