Pa. woman charged with obscenity for online child-torture stories

By The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — A woman accused of running a Web site that published graphic fictional stories about the torture and sexual abuse of children was indicted by a federal grand jury on obscenity charges.

Karen Fletcher, 54, of Donora, was indicted Sept. 26, and the charges were announced yesterday by U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan.

"Use of the Internet to distribute obscene stories like these not only violates federal law, but also emboldens sex offenders who would target children," Buchanan said.

Buchanan is an outspoken proponent of prosecuting Internet obscenity. In 2003, she brought charges against two people who run a company that distributes videos simulating rape and murder.

Fletcher's site contained excerpts of stories about child sex, torture and murder that were available to all visitors, prosecutors said. Users could pay a fee to read whole stories, such as one that described the torture and sexual molestation of a 2-year-old, prosecutors said.

Fletcher was charged with one count for each of six stories that involved the kidnapping, torture, sexual molestation and murder of children 9 years and younger.

Fletcher, reached at home yesterday, said federal authorities "didn't like my site." She said she was not aware of the indictment and otherwise declined to comment.

"I am not going to say a word. You have a wonderful day," Fletcher said.

Fletcher described her site as a "fantasy site" and told authorities that she posts explicit stories about adults having sex with children, the FBI said in a search warrant affidavit unsealed yesterday. She told the FBI that about 29 people paid a $10 monthly membership fee to access the stories, the affidavit said.

Fletcher told agents when they seized her computer in August 2005 that she wrote the majority of the stories using the pen name "Red Rose," according to the affidavit. About 40 others contribute stories to the site, the FBI said.

The charges carry a statutory maximum of 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine, but the actual sentence she would face if convicted would be driven by federal sentencing guidelines.

Although Fletcher's site offers written works instead of videos, the case is similar to the one Buchanan filed against Extreme Associates, a California company that distributes videos simulating rape and murder.

In that case, Buchanan argued that pornographers must adhere to the community standards of where products are made and anywhere they might be seen.

A U.S. District judge threw out the charges against Extreme Associates, ruling that prosecutors overstepped their bounds in trying to block the material from children and from adults who didn't want to see such material inadvertently. Customers ordering from the site used a private, members-only section. Buchanan appealed the ruling to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court has agreed to hear the appeal but a trial date has not been set.