S.F. Porn King Jim Mitchell Guilty in Slaying of Brother
Pornography king Jim Mitchell, who with his brother Artie became one of the nation’s most successful purveyors of X-rated films and sex shows, was found guilty Wednesday of killing his younger brother last year.
Bringing the long-running saga of the Mitchell Brothers to a dramatic close, a Marin County jury convicted Jim Mitchell of voluntary manslaughter for shooting Artie three times at the younger brother’s Corte Madera home last February.
Jim Mitchell, 48, who claimed that the shooting was accidental, tearfully testified that he had gone to Artie’s home--armed with two guns--in a desperate attempt to persuade his brother to give up the alcohol that was ruining his life.
The prosecution sought a conviction of first-degree murder, arguing that Jim Mitchell intended to kill the 45-year-old Artie and gunned him down in cold blood.
After two days of deliberations, the jury picked a middle course of voluntary manslaughter, rejecting both the prosecution contention that the killing was premeditated and the defense argument that the shooting was accidental.
The jury also found Mitchell guilty of two lesser counts of brandishing a firearm and discharging a firearm in a house. He faces up to 11 years in prison on the charges.
Even so, defense attorney Michael Kennedy called the verdict “a great victory,” saying, “To be found not guilty of murder is what this is all about.”
Jim Mitchell and his brother, sometimes known as “Party Artie” to his friends, became semi-celebrities in San Francisco over more than two decades as they built an empire of X-rated movie theaters and live sex shows.
In the early 1970s, they produced such hard-core films as “Behind the Green Door” starring Marilyn Chambers, which grossed more than $25 million and helped make pornography more acceptable to middle-class audiences.
The Mitchells were often in trouble with the law on obscenity and prostitution complaints for the live sex shows they staged, but were able to beat the charges, including winning a reversal by the state Supreme Court of a six-month sentence for contempt of court.
Their O’Farrell Theater office here, equipped with pool table and card games, was a popular hangout for many of their friends, such as writer Hunter S. Thompson, the late Black Panther leader Huey Newton and political consultant Jack Davis, who recently managed Mayor Frank Jordan’s successful election campaign.
At one point, they operated as many as 11 theaters, including several in Southern California, and their holdings were estimated at $50 million.
But in the months before the fatal shooting, friends said, Artie Mitchell’s life degenerated in a haze of alcohol and drug abuse. He became paranoid and, to their alarm, he began packing a pistol in public.
On the night of the shooting last Feb. 27, Jim Mitchell said he went to Artie’s house in the hope of taking away his brother’s arsenal of guns and convincing him to enter an alcohol rehabilitation center.
Armed with a .22-caliber rifle and a .38-caliber pistol, the elder brother kicked open the locked door of the house. He said he saw Artie rushing toward him with a gun in his hand. Mitchell testified that he recalled firing one shot into the ceiling, but could not remember anything more of the shooting.
All told, the prosecution showed, Mitchell fired eight shots, including three that hit Artie in the abdomen, shoulder and right eye. Instead of a gun by Artie Mitchell’s body, police found a beer bottle.
Jim Mitchell was arrested moments later walking down the street with the rifle stuffed down his pants.
During his testimony, Jim Mitchell said he loved his brother and was trying to save him from himself. “I wish it had been me instead of him,” he said as he sobbed on the witness stand.
Lawyer Kennedy, who had represented the Mitchell brothers in many legal scrapes over the years, defended Jim Mitchell saying, “It’s not a crime to be stupid. . . . It’s not a crime to try to save your brother’s life.”
But prosecutor John Posey said in his closing arguments that Mitchell just wanted to be rid of his younger brother and business partner. “He was tired of Artie Mitchell, his antics over the years,” Posey said. “He didn’t want to deal with him anymore.”