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1-Week Update on Handley Case over 'Obscene' Manga

posted on by Egan Loo
Manga in case described; Matt Thorn, CBLDF, Neil Gaiman react to plea bargain

Christopher Handley pleaded guilty last week to "possession of obscene visual representation of the sexual abuse of children" in violation of the PROTECT Act of 2003, and to "mailing obscene matter." The Iowa man was accused of receiving and possessing obscene manga, as opposed to child pornography, via the United States Postal Service in May of 2006.

Wired magazine posted an article about the case and the full text of Handley's plea agreement. Wired reports that Handley's package contained seven books with "cartoon drawings of minors engaged in sexually explicit acts," including one with depictions of bestiality. Minneapolis College of Art and Design professor Frenchy Lunning characterized the manga as "lolicon," and emphasized that Handley "had no photographs of child pornography.” While Mike Bladel, a spokesperson for U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Iowa, said that the manga contained hundreds of obscene panels, Handley's lead counsel Eric Chase said that Handley "was a prolific collector. He did not focus on this type of manga. He collected everything that was out there that he could get his hands on. I think this makes a huge difference.”

Kyoto Seika University professor and manga translator Matt Thorn posted a series of email correspondences between himself and Christopher Handley's legal team and mother on Tuesday. However, he was asked to remove the correspondences from his blog "in the best interest [of] Christopher Handley's defense" by the following day. Icarus Publishing founder Simon Jones noted that Handley's legal team had asked Thorn in those emails on how to contact the erotic manga creator Henmaru Machino — thus giving one of the first public indications of which titles led to the case. Jones also points out that the United States Customs and Border Protection organization is allowed to search packages between countries without probable cause, but not packages sent within the United States.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund expressed its disappointment over the plea bargain and detailed its limited involvement in the case in a press release. The fund served as a special consultant to Mr. Handley's defense — specifically, it "facilitated access to First Amendment experts; recommended expert witnesses on manga; and funded expert research pursuant to an eventual jury trial." The research cost US$2,400, and the fund had allocated up to US$15,000 more for the expert witness expenses in the trial that never went to court. The fund is holding a charity Book Expo America Welcome Party tonight in New York City.

Newbery Medal-winning novelist and comic book writer Neil Gaiman is one of many commentators who previously spoke about the case, and he offered his reaction to the "disappointing" plea bargain last Thursday.

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