Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Adventures of Larry Flynt

Althea and Ruth

In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Miller v. California that a national consensus on what is obscene was no longer necessary to get a conviction in any local jurisdiction. Individual communities could set the standards for what was obscene and objectionable, and prosecutors did not have to offer proof of any kind as to what made a book, magazine, or film obscene. The ultra-conservative Citizens for Decency Through Law, led by Charles H. Keating, Jr. (who would later go to prison for fraud and racketeering in the much-publicized Lincoln Savings and Loan scandal), put Larry Flynt in their crosshairs, and in 1976 got local prosecutors to charge Flynt with obscenity, pandering, and organized crime for the distribution of Hustler in Hamilton County, Ohio. Flynt had no doubts that the judge and prosecutors were determined to throw the book at him.

Charles H. Keating, Jr.
Charles H. Keating, Jr.

In his dramatic summation at the trial, lead prosecutor Simon Leis took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and traced a line across the courtroom floor. "It's time to draw the line against obscenity," he declared.

Not surprisingly, Flynt was found guilty on all counts, handcuffed on the spot, and brought before the judge for immediate sentencing. Flynt asked if he could address the court, and the judge complied. Flynt was so angry he couldn't contain himself. "You haven't made an intelligent decision during the course of this trial," he fumed at the judge, "and I don't expect one now."

The judge responded by giving him the maximum sentence — seven to 25 years in prison without bond and $11,000 in fines.

Flynt was thrown in jail, but his attorneys filed for appeal and managed to get him out on bond after serving just six days. The conviction was eventually overturned on a technicality.

Evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton
Evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton

While fighting for his freedom in court, Flynt married his fourth wife, 24-year-old Althea Leasure, who had appeared in Hustler as the July 1975 centerfold and worked her way up to editorial director of the magazine. After a series of unsuccessful relationships, Flynt finally found the love of his life in the bisexual Leasure.

That same year, Flynt formed an unlikely alliance with evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton. Initially drawn together by their mutual objection to child abuse, Stapleton soon became Flynt's close personal adviser, bringing him into her fold of born-again Christians. For his part, Flynt gave Stapleton a first-hand look at the world of pornography and underground sex so that she would know first-hand what she was preaching against. For a brief period, Flynt seemed ready to repent and turn over a new leaf, declaring that he was "bored with pornography." According to author John Heidenry, "Flynt vowed to turn his magazine toward a healthier vision of sex and religion." But Flynt's flirtation with Christianity was brief: it ended as he lay suffering excruciating pain from his gunshot wound.

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