Karen Fletcher to Plead Guilty to Obscenity Charges

PITTSBURGH — Putting an end to her nearly three year long fight against federal charges stemming from fictional stories on her "Red Rose" website, Karen Fletcher will plead guilty to six counts of distributing obscenity online.

Fletcher's plea is scheduled to be entered in Pittsburgh on August 8, before U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti, who will reportedly sentence Fletcher to an unspecified period of house arrest.

Pittsburgh is the same venue where the Extreme Associates obscenity case is being pursued, although no action has been taken in the case since August of last year.

XBIZ has reported on the Red Rose case since the website's closure in October of 2005 over stories that among other topics allegedly depicted the rape and torture of children and infants.

"I never thought I'd be in trouble for the written word," Fletcher told XBIZ at the time of her site's closure. "I had no pictures of a sexual nature on my site, adult or otherwise. [It seems] the only legal sex stories are those that involve a man and a woman consenting to missionary position sex in a dark room."

Although many observers doubted that an obscenity conviction based solely on text-only content could be made in today's society, Fletcher's emotional state, including suffering from agoraphobia — a fear of public places — reportedly prevented her from carrying on the fight for her free speech rights.

"This plea was mandated by the client's mental and emotional state. She cannot endure a week long trial in a public place, and would not likely survive any period of incarceration," Lawrence Walters, an attorney representing Fletcher, told XBIZ.

"While we always hope our clients are mentally and physically able to carry the freedom banner to the highest court in the land, that is not reality — and for some, it is in their best interests to resolve their case by agreement," Walters explained. "Any federal case that results in a no jail sentence is a victory, by anyone's definition. A no jail sentence is quite uncommon in the federal system. We believe the plea agreement reflects the inherent weaknesses in the prosecutor's case, and the constitutional issues that remained for appeal."

Fletcher helped prevent minors from accessing the Red Rose site by charging a $10 monthly membership fee, and while allowing the posting of stories by members, prevented any images from being posted.

Fletcher's voluntary plea bargain will have not have any impact on current or future text-based obscenity prosecutions, Walters said, but a similar case is now pending that could set precedent if it proceeded to trial.

"There is one such case pending in Athens, Georgia (U.S. v. McCoy), so all eyes will now turn to that case to see if any precedent is made; one way or the other," Walters told XBIZ. "Notably, the government initiated that prosecution long before the plea agreement was stuck in the Fletcher case, so the DOJ seems intent on pursuing these cases even where no images are involved."

Walters predicts that the government could cherry pick additional targets for prosecution based upon the principal's perceived vulnerabilities.

"The government has always been able to prey on the weak in society, in an effort to scare the rest of us. This is nothing new. The prosecutors knew who they were dealing with in the Fletcher case," Walters told XBIZ. "I am proud that she fought as long as she did, and we were honored to represent her for the last year and a half. We were all committed to taking this case to the Supreme Court if that's what was necessary to keep her out of prison."

However, a prison stretch may be required for some unlucky operator before the issue is resolved.

"In the end, I am confident that Free Speech rights will prevail, but it will probably take somebody willing to sit in a federal prison while their case is being hashed out in the appellate courts," Walters added.

U.S. v. McCoy