Handley pleads guilty in manga obscenity case

Christopher Handley, a 39-year-old manga collector from Iowa, pleaded guilty yesterday to possessing "obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children and mailing obscene material."

He faces up to 15 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised released.

The Handley case began in May 2006, when customs agents reportedly intercepted a mail package from Japan addressed to Handley containing what they deemed obscene material, "including books containing visual representations of the sexual abuse of children, specifically Japanese manga drawings of minor females being sexually abused by adult males and animals." Agents from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service obtained a warrant to search Handley's Glenwood, Iowa, home, where they seized "additional obscene drawings of the sexual abuse of children."

Handley was indicted in May 2007 under a federal law that prohibits the possession any visual depiction -- including cartoons -- of "a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct that is obscene."

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which in October 2008 became a special consultant for the defense, expressed disappointment over Handley's plea.

"Because the set of facts specific to this case were so unique, we hope that its importance as precedent will be minimal," Executive Director Charles Brownstein said in a press release. "However, we must also continue to be prepared for the possibility that other cases could arise in the future as a result.

"Mr. Handley now faces the loss of his freedom and his property, all for owning a handful of comic books. It's chilling. The Fund remains unwavering in our commitment to be prepared to manage future threats of this nature wherever they arise. This is the unfortunate conclusion of Mr. Handley's case, but it is not the end of this sort of prosecution. For that reason, the Fund stands steadfast in our commitment to defending the First Amendment rights of the comics art form."

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