Webmaster for site with Iraqi corpse pics accused of obscenity

Associated Press Writer

10/08/05 "Tuscaloosa News" -- -- A man who runs a pornographic Web site that includes pictures of Iraqi war dead has been arrested on sexual obscenity charges.

Chris Wilson, a 27-year-old former policeman from Lakeland, was taken into custody Friday night on one felony and 300 misdemeanor indecency counts unrelated to the grisly pictures from Iraq. The charges come a week after his site made national news and launched a Pentagon investigation into how war zone photos of charred and dismembered bodies described as victims of U.S. attacks could have surfaced.

Polk County sheriff's officials said he was charged because the Web site also features sexually explicit pictures and videos that users send of women who are supposedly their wives and girlfriends - including those who appear to be active-duty soldiers.

Sheriff's officials insist the charges are unrelated to the Iraq pictures, but Wilson's lawyer, Lawrence Walters, disagreed.

"Of all the hundreds of thousands of webmasters in the country, and even in central Florida, why would Chris Wilson be arrested a week after he hits national spotlight news on the Iraqi war photos?" said Walters, a First Amendment specialist. "I think any reasonable person would be suspicious of that.

Wilson remained in jail Saturday afternoon after the judge in his initial appearance denied his request to lower the $151,000 bail.

He previously told reporters he started giving soldiers free access after some reported problems paying the $10 membership fee. To make sure he wasn't scammed, Wilson said, he asked each to send a photograph proving they were serving. He allowed those pictures posted on the site just like the others, calling it "a real look at what's going on over there."

The Web site remained live Saturday because its servers are in Amsterdam, and Walters said Wilson won't be forced to take it down.

"That would be a First Amendment violation and a violation of his civil rights - and frankly the rights of everyone across the world who's looking at those pictures," he said.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Saturday the images were among the most vile he'd ever seen but declined to be more specific.

"No normal person could even imagine what's depicted in those videos and in those photographs," he said.

Walters said the site may be considered obscene in Polk County, but not globally.

"I have no idea what they're talking about, unless they're referring to the Iraqi war photos, which is in my opinion is political news," he said. "The rest of it is merely sexually oriented entertainment, which has become virtually mainstream in current society. There's nothing different or more extreme about this particular Web site."

The felony wholesale promotion of obscene materials charge carries up to five years in prison, while each misdemeanor count carries up to one in jail.

Military officials have said no criminal investigation would be pursued based on current evidence, but disciplinary action could be taken against soldiers proven to have used government computers to transmit pictures of Iraqis.

The Pentagon declined comment Saturday.

Copyright 2002 The Tuscaloosa News 

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