POLITICS

Jury sees fake murder scenes in corrupting-morals trial of gore artist

12/12/2012 01:41 EST | Updated 02/11/2013 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - The jury hearing the trial of a Quebec special-effects artist charged with corrupting morals has had a chance to see his handiwork on Wednesday.

Remy Couture, a horror filmmaker and makeup artist, is charged with corrupting morals through the distribution, possession and production of obscene materials in a case that explores the boundaries of artistic expression.

The seven-woman, five-man jury silently watched hundreds of photos and a pair of videos that depict gruesome murders, torture, assaults and necrophilia — all with young female victims.

The jury is tasked with deciding whether the material in question is obscene and dangerous enough to actually incite people to act out what they see, as the Crown contends.

Couture argues his work has artistic value and the state's interference amounts to an infringement of his right to free expression.

The jury asked for the court to speed up the process of viewing the photos Wednesday. The judge approved the request. The photos were originally being shown for about 10 seconds each, but were eventually switched roughly every five.

The images appeared on a website Couture hosted, dubbed "Inner Depravity." The violent, sexually explicit, horror-inspired works were based on a serial-killer character Couture created and portrayed.

There was some debate Wednesday over whether the site offered a viewer warning.

The Crown and Montreal police said they didn't find any sort of warning while examining the contents on the website.

But the defence introduced its own evidence showing there was a warning — one that clearly stated there was graphic content on the site, that no one was harmed in the creation of the work and that the site was dedicated to horror and special effects.

"No one was hurt in the creation of these images," a screen capture of the warning said.

Couture's lawyer, Robert Dore, produced copies of the warning from 2007, 2008 and 2009. The videos in question also have credits at the end identifying the various people taking part in the production of the short films, including the actresses portrayed as victims.

But Juan Munizaga, a Montreal police detective who probed the site, was adamant that he didn't find any warning: "I know that when I was on the site (innerdepravity.com), there was no warning," he testified.

Also on Wednesday, a Crown expert witness testified that research on the topic shows that images like Couture's could potentially, "add fuel to the fire," in those who already have a strong tendency towards sexual violence.

The prosecution had said in its opening remarks that it would focus on the risks associated with publishing such material.

Dr. Neil Malamuth, a psychology and communications professor at UCLA with three decades' experience, was asked by the Crown to review Couture's body of work.

"It is my opinion that a large portion of the content of the materials I have reviewed clearly constitutes media content where a dominant characteristic is the portrayal of sex in the context of violence, horror, cruelty and crime," Malamuth concluded in a 12-page written report.

The fact that the images appeared to be readily accessible on the Internet was also cause for concern, Malamuth concluded.

Malamuth has conducted many studies on the impact of exposure to sexually explicit or sexually violent pornography.

The trial has heard that Interpol was first alerted to the images and videos in 2006 by an Internet user in Austria; the scenes were deemed so realistic that a pathologist in Europe couldn't rule out the possibility that a real homicide had been committed.

The file landed on the desk of various Quebec police forces. Eventually, Montreal police got the file in early 2009 but proceeded slowly because it had no experience dealing with a charge like this.

Couture was arrested in October 2009 and pleaded not guilty to the three charges in 2010. He has argued that the state has no business defining what art is, or infringing on his right to free expression.

His trial got underway Monday with jury selection. Two weeks have been set aside to hear evidence. The trial continues Thursday.