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Frankenchrist Trial Ends In Hung Jury
(Jeffrey Ressner, Rolling Stone - October 1987)
The two-week trial of former Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra ended on August 27th in a victory for the singer when a Los Angeles jury was unable to reach a verdict. Biafra and Michael Bonanno, the former manager of Biafra's record label, Alternative Tentacles, were charged with distributing harmful matter to a minor. It was apparently the first court case to scrutinize the contents of a rock album. The jurors deliberated a little more than a day before declaring themselves stalemated, causing the judge to declare a mistrial and throw out the case. The charges followed a consumer complaint about a poster of disembodied sex organs included in the Dead Kennedys' 1985 album Frankenchrist.
The insert was reproduced from a painting by artist H.R. Giger called "Penis Landscape". The singer's defense was that the poster was both a liters and a figurative illustration of "people screwing each other over" and therefore an integral element of the entire LP's concept, which featured songs about political corruption, unemployment, racism and poverty.
The prosecutor, deputy city attorney Micheal Guarino, termed the inclusion of the poster "absolutely irresponsible." During the trial, Guarino even compared Giger to Richard Ramirez, the suspected "night stalker" serial killer.
Despite the charges - which could have netted the singer a year in jail and a $2000 fine if he had been convicted - the mood at the trial was anything but somber. During several key moments of testimony, howling screams from child custody battles in the next room reverberated through the court. Young Dead Kennedys fans piled into the viewing area daily, sporting black leather jackets, biker boots and buzz-cut hair styles. And on the final day in court, a defense lawyer took a picture of Guarino with a phony camera that had a pop-out penis.
Following the dismissal of the charges, a jubilant Biafra let out a scream of joy, then autographed copies of the poster and album for the jurors. Continued on next page.