Judge Larry Salmon declared a mistrial in the case of Rome, Georgia comic book retailer Gordon Lee shortly after the trial began on Monday.  Before opening arguments, lead defense counsel Alan Begner (part of the defense team funded by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) argued a motion asking the judge to instruct prosecutors that they could not admit statements from witnesses alluding to Lee's character or previous legal actions he'd been a party to.  Despite the assurances of the prosecutors that they would not admit any such statements, Floyd County Assistant District Attorney John Tully, in his opening argument, said witnesses would testify that Lee was defensive and that he had told police, 'I've been through this before,' a clear reference to an earlier case involving the sale of an adult comic to an adult. 


Defense attorney Alan Begner immediately objected and asked for a mistrial.  Judge Salmon put his head in his hands and called a 15 minute recess, after which he declared the mistrial.


'This is a victory, but we wish it was over,' said CBLDF lead counsel Alan Begner.  'We believe that prosecutors induced this mistrial on purpose, because we had a jury that looked more defense oriented.  We're prepared to quickly file a motion to argue that no new trial should be scheduled because this mistrial was intentional and constitutes prosecutorial misconduct.'


The case stems from Lee's distribution of a free comic (Alternative Comics #2) to minors during a Halloween promotion in 2004.  The comic contained an excerpt from Nick Bertozzi's acclaimed graphic novel, The Salon, in which artist Pablo Picasso is depicted in the nude.  The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has spent over $80,000 on the case and has managed to reduce the charges from two felonies and five misdemeanors to just two misdemeanor counts (see 'Another Count Dismissed').


A full three years after the original incident, the possibility of a new trial still exists and CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein detects a sinister motive behind the apparent prosecutorial blunder: 'We're dumbfounded by prosecutors assuring the court that they weren't going to do something, and then doing exactly that thing five minutes later.  Every step of the way they have been adding further expense to Lee's defense, first by changing their facts, then by entering new indictment after new indictment, and today by contaminating the jury.  Nobody, especially a small retailer, can bear this kind of expense on their own.  Today's action is clear evidence of why the Fund needs to be around to protect comics.'