Jim Mitchell Trial: 1992
Jim Mitchell Trial: 1992
Defendant: Jim Mitchell
Crimes Charged: Murder, burglary, weapons charges
Chief Defense Lawyers: Michael Kennedy, Nanci Clarence
Chief Prosecutor: John Posey
Judge: Richard Briener
Place: San Rafael, California
Date of Trial: January 13-February 19, 1992
Verdict: Guilty of voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges
Sentence: Six years, three on voluntary manslaughter and three on weapons charges; paroled in 1997
SIGNIFICANCE: Jim and Artie Mitchell were "pioneers" in the pornographic film industry, bringing the once underground industry into the mainstream. But the success led to drug abuse, money problems and eventually murder.
Brothers Jim and Artie Mitchell had achieved a degree of local and even national fame as the owners of the O'Farrell Theater in San Francisco and as the producers of pornography films. Among the more well-known of their productions were Behind the Green Door, The Autobiography of a Flea, and The Graf enberg Spot. In a number of legal cases, they had fought for the right to make, distribute, and show explicit hard-core pornographic films. They had successfully fought to preserve copyright to their films, and by the 1980s, their reputation as counterculture folk heroes spread beyond California. However, their personal lives became troubled with abusive relationships with numerous women, alcoholism, and drug abuse.
The Falling Out and the Killing
During the late 1980s, the two brothers drifted apart, as Jim, the older brother, rehabilitated himself from drug addiction, and Artie became more abusive of girlfriends and family and sank deeper into alcoholism. Artie's threats to others became increasingly violent, claimed Jim.
Although there were no witnesses to the shooting on the night of February 27, 1991, several gunshots were recorded during a 911 emergency call from Artie Mitchell's home in Corte Madera, California. The call was made by Artie's girlfriend, a beautiful exotic dancer named Julie Bajo, who later testified that she made the call while hiding in a closet, fearful of her life during the burst of gunfire from an unseen intruder. Responding to the call, police found Jim Mitchell outside Artie's home, holding a. 22 rifle and with a loaded pistol strapped in a holster. His car was parked on a nearby street. Physical evidence at the scene was confusing. Altogether seven shots had been fired from the rifle, one of which was in Artie's body. A 9mm bullet, fired from Artie's gun, had penetrated a glass table. Artie had three wounds, including the fatal wound to the head. Furniture, venetian blinds, doorframes, and wall plasterboard, were all marked with bullet holes.
In a pretrial hearing, the prosecution called as expert witness Dr. Harry Hollein, an expert in acoustics, who testified that the recorded shot on the 911 tape was fired from the. 22 calibre Winchester rifle owned by Jim Mitchell. Despite efforts by defense attorney Michael Kennedy to discredit the testimony, the judge decided to permit it. Another prosecution witness, Lucien Haag, a ballistics expert, was also allowed to testify.
The prosecution built a case on ballistic and acoustic evidence, supplementing it with a video animation reconstructing the complex routes of the various shots. The video itself was controversial, and only admitted after strenuous debate.
The defense built its case around the warm relationship between the two brothers and character testimony regarding the many acts of charity and public works by both of the Mitchells. The defense brought out the fact that Jim had once saved Artie from drowning. Prosecution witnesses included the 911 operator who had heard the gunshots, police who responded to the call, and the experts who identified the shots and the bullets, as well as the county coroner, and other forensics experts. In addition, Prosecutor Posey introduced friends of Artie Mitchell who testified about the deteriorating relationship between the brothers and about Artie's drug and alcohol problems. However, when Posey questioned Julie Bajo, her testimony was self-contradictory. The jury had other reasons to doubt her veracity, including her admission that she had been rolling a joint when the first shots were fired, and that she later posed topless for a magazine interview regarding the killing. The defense found her testimony so helpful to their side that they chose not to cross-examine.
Video at the Trial
On January 24, 1992, in the second week of the trial, Prosecutor Posey gave to the defense team a copy of a computer-generated video animation of the shooting. In the tape, Artie Mitchell was represented as a robot-like figure that moved through the house during the shooting. The figure opened the bedroom door as the gunfire began, walked down the hall and was shot twice. The figure then entered the bathroom, put its head into the hallway, and was shot the final time in the head before falling to the floor. The presumed tracks of the bullets were shown as red laser beams against a blue background. Defense Attorney Kennedy strongly objected to the film, as it purported to show the order in which the shots were fired, building on opinions of forensic experts. He denounced the video as a fabricated computerized eyewitness to events for which there were no human eyewitnesses. Posey defended the video as simply an animated diagram.
The judge ruled that the high-tech nature of the presentation was legitimate. His only objection was that it showed Artie Mitchell with his hands at his side, not carrying anything. That presentation would leave the jury with the impression that Artie was completely defenseless during the shooting, which was an assumption that could not be confirmed or disputed on the basis of other evidence. He therefore ruled that the figure in the animation had to be presented without showing the positions of the arms. Nevertheless, the fact that the animation would be accepted in modified form impressed journalists and other observers. The animation was the first such video introduced in a murder trial, although similar simulations had already been used in several other trials. When shown at the trial, the video was slightly modified, with an armless figure walking down a hall as the bullet tracks slashed at it.
Admission and Verdict
The defense introduced expert forensic witnesses as well as several friends and relatives of Jim Mitchell, who testified as to his character and to the violent and threatening temper of Artie. When Jim Mitchell testified, he admitted that he had taken the rifle to Artie's house with the intention of bluffing him out of his threatening mood. He also admitted to puncturing the tires on Artie's car to prevent him from driving anywhere. He testified that his brother approached him, threatening with a pistol, and that he fired the rifle. He did not remember anything between the exchange of gunfire and being arrested on the street outside the house. He admitted that he had killed his brother, but insisted he had not intended to do so.
The prosecution asked for a first-degree murder conviction, claiming that Jim Mitchell had visited his brother with the express intention of killing him. However, the jury voted to convict Mitchell on a charge of voluntary manslaughter plus two lesser felonies for unlawfully discharging a firearm and brandishing a firearm to a police officer.
On April 24, 1992, Judge Briener handed down the sentence, after receiving over 100 letters asking for leniency. Political and police figures in San Francisco, including Mayor Frank Jordan, as well as recipients of Mitchell charity, all argued for a light sentence. The judge sentenced Mitchell to three years on the manslaughter charge and three for using a firearm in the killing. Mitchell was sentenced to 16 months to be served concurrently, for exhibiting the firearm to a police officer. Briener also issued a 4 and one-half year sentence for discharging a firearm in a negligent manner, but he stayed that sentence. Thus the total sentence was six years, of which Mitchell served over four before being paroled. He was not incarcerated while his case went through appeals.
The case was the subject of a book written by Davis McCumber, and of a Showtime movie entitled RatedX, starring real-life brothers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Kantor, Andrew. "Computing in the Courtroom." PC Magazine (February 23, 1993): 23.
McCumber, David. X-Rated —The Mitchell Brothers: A True Story of Sex, Money and Death. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.
Schroeder, Eric. "3D Studio Gives Crime-solving a New Twist." PC Week (March 9, 1992): 51.
(James Mitchell, James D. Mitchell)
Full name, James D. Mitchell.
Golden Satellite Award nomination (with others), International Press Academy, outstanding visual effects, 1997, for Mars Attacks!; Academy Award nomination, best visual effects, and Saturn Award nomination, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, best special effects, both with others, 1999, for Mighty Joe Young; Film Award nomination, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, best achievement in special visual effects, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best visual effects, and Saturn Award nomination, best special effects, all with others, 2000, for Sleepy Hollow; Golden Satellite Award nomination, best visual effects, and Saturn Award nomination (with others), best special effects, both 2002, for Jurassic Park III; Film Award nomination, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, best achievement in special visual effects, and Saturn Award nomination, best special effects, both with others, 2003, for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Film Work; Visual Effects Supervisor:
(As James Mitchell) Mars Attacks!, Warner Bros., 1996.
(As James D. Mitchell) Contact, Warner Bros., 1997.
(With others) Mighty Joe Young (also known as Mighty Joe), Buena Vista, 1998.
October Sky, MCA/Universal, 1999.
Sleepy Hollow, Paramount, 1999.
Jurassic Park III (also known as JP3), MCA/Universal, 2001.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Warner Bros., 2002.
The Day after Tomorrow, Twentieth Century–Fox, 2004.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Warner Bros., 2005.
Film Computer Graphics Work:
Computer graphics animator, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Paramount, 1991.
(As James D. Mitchell) Computer graphics technical assistant, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (also known as T2, T2: Extreme Edition, T2—Terminator 2: Judgment Day, T2: Ultimate Edition, El exterminator 2, and Terminator 2—Le jugement dernier), TriStar, 1991.
(As James D. Mitchell) Computer graphics artist, Jurassic Park (also known as JP), Universal, 1993.
Computer graphics sequences supervisor, The Mask, New Line Cinema, 1994.
(As James D. Mitchell) Computer graphics sequences, Jumanji, TriStar, 1995.
Film Work; Other:
Assistant animator, The Black Cauldron (animated; also known as Taran and the Magic Cauldron), Buena Vista, 1985.
Character designer, Dorothy Meets Ozma of Oz (animated short film), Atlantic–Kushner–Locke, 1987.
(As James D. Mitchell) Visual effects worker, Death Becomes Her, Universal, 1992.
Special effects assistant, Ed and His Dead Mother (also known as Bon appetit, Mama and Motherhood), IRS Media/Pathfinder Pictures, 1993.
Sleepy Hollow: Behind the Legend (documentary short), Mandalay Pictures/Paramount, 2000.
Beyond Jurassic Park, Universal Studios Home Video, 2001.
The Making of "Jurassic Park III" (documentary short), Universal Studios Home Video, 2001.
The Special Effects of "Jurassic Park III" (documentary short), Universal Studios Home Video, 2001.