SAN FRANCISCO — Pornography king Jim Mitchell, who with his brother Artie became one of the nation's most successful purveyors of X-rated films, sex shows and theaters, including one in Santa Ana, 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.
The Santa Ana theater, located in Honer Plaza, a neighborhood shopping center across from what is now Rancho Santiago College, was the subject of a 14-year legal battle with the city. Neighbors claimed that it was a nuisance and that minors were admitted.
A "lewd film" ordinance passed by the City Council expressly to force the Mitchell Brothers' theater out of Santa Ana worked its way in and out of the state court system for years. Citing a lack of customers, the brothers closed the theater in June, 1990. Calling the statute "obsolete," the city repealed the law later that year.
In the early 1970s, the brothers 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.
At one point, they operated as many as 10 other theaters, including several in Southern California in addition to Santa Ana, 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.
During his testimony, Jim Mitchell said he loved his brother and was trying to save him from himself.
Times staff writer Mark I. Pinsky contributed to this story.