After hearing contradictory testimony by the alleged victims in the controversial "Bumfights" video, a judge Wednesday ruled that the four underground filmmakers will not face felony charges that could have brought them prison sentences of up to six years.
But Superior Court Judge Larrie Brainard also ruled that the four should stand trial for misdemeanor charges of promoting an illegal fight and soliciting battery.
"I can't ignore [that the defendants] were soliciting people for fights," Brainard said at the conclusion of the four-day preliminary hearing.
Attorneys for the filmmakers had argued that their clients should be protected by the same 1st Amendment protections as big-name filmmakers who hire stuntmen.
The defendants, Ryan McPherson, 19; Zachary Bubeck, 25; Daniel J. Tanner, 21; and Michael Slyman, 21, were ordered to return to court Feb. 5. A misdemeanor charge carries a maximum of one year in jail.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Curtis Ross said he was disappointed at the ruling but pleased that the judge found evidence that the behavior of the men was inappropriate.
Ross had called the four "a new kind of predator" for paying homeless alcoholics and others to commit dangerous stunts, including fighting with each other.
But the alleged victims had trouble remembering what was said at crucial times by the four or whether they acted voluntarily or for money.
Rufus Hannah, the lead "stunt-bum" of the video, said he considered himself a partner in the venture. Hannah, featured on the video box, was in numerous scenes, shot in San Diego and Las Vegas.
The video, "Bumfights: Cause for Concern," was sold on the Internet for $20 and at various stores catering to the young.
It gained notoriety after being praised by radio shock jock Howard Stern.
The video production apparently started as a high school film class assignment and spiraled into a moneymaking venture.