CBLDF Case Files – Texas v. Castillo

In 2000, Jesus Castillo, a clerk at Keith’s Comics on East Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, Texas, was arrested and charged with two counts of obscenity. The comic book for which Castillo was prosecuted was the second volume of CPM Manga’s Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen, which was purchased by an undercover police officer Craig A. Reynerson from a section of the store clearly designated for adults. Even though the cover of the comic book did not depict nudity or sexual content and the book carried a warning that it was “Absolutely Not for Children,” Reynerson concluded that an obscenity offense had been committed.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund provided legal counsel and expert witnesses for Castillo’s courtroom battle. Scott McCloud, an award-winning author and artist and noted comic book authority, testified about the diversification of comic books over the years and described the four volumes of Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen as Japanese horror/science fiction about an alien infiltration on Earth that included themes of love and evil. McCloud acknowledged that the book was “sexually potent in some places,” but he stated that the series and volume two specifically have serious literary and artistic merit because of the effort involved in the production of the books. When questioned whether he thought the scene in volume two that was considered obscene by the State was “perverted,” McCloud replied, “I think it’s disturbing…and it’s meant to be.”

The Fund also provided the testimony of Susan Napier, at the time an associate professor in Asian Studies at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. A specialist in Japanese literature and culture who has studied and written extensively about Japanese manga and anime, Napier related that Japanese culture is fascinated with metamorphosis, bizarre creatures, and the apocalypse, all of which were depicted in Demon Beast Invasion. Napier further testified that the narrative, suspense, love story, and “beautifully drawn” scenes proved the literary and artistic value of the series, including volume two. Because the story also depicted the desire for power, Napier also believed that the series had political value.

The prosecution provided no testimony to refute the expert witnesses provided by the Fund. Despite testimony from McCloud that 68 percent of comic book readers are over the age of 18, the closing statement provided by Mr. Rex Anderson, one of the two prosecuting attorneys, effectively sealed a guilty verdict for one count of obscenity: “I don’t care what type of evidence or what type of testimony is out there; use your rationality; use your common sense. Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids. This is in a store directly across from an elementary school and it is put in a medium, in a forum, to directly appeal to kids. That is why we are here, ladies and gentlemen. We’re here to get this off the shelf.” Castillo was sentenced to 180 days in jail, a $4,000 fine, and one year probation.

Immediately following this miscarriage of justice, the Fund and their lawyers persuaded the court to try the two obscenity counts as separate charges. Shortly, the State dropped the second count of obscenity, and the Fund prepared its appeal. In 2002 the Appeals court rendered a 2–1 split decision upholding Castillo’s conviction. Justice Tom James, writing in dissent, would have reversed the conviction on the ground that the State did not provide sufficient evidence that Castillo had knowledge of the content and character of the offending comic book. On the strength of James dissent, the Fund filed a petition for discretionary review to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The petition was subsequently denied. At ends with Texas justice, the Fund took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In turn, the Supreme Court denied Castillos petition for writ of certiorari, bringing his three-year quest for justice to a close. In the end, Castillo served a period of unsupervised probation.