Witch Season in Cincinnati

The witch-hunt led by Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen hit its targets on Oct. 16. On a blustery fall afternoon, jurors in the trial of assistant coroner Dr. Jonathan Tobias, 31, and photograph

Oct 18, 2001 at 2:06 pm

The witch-hunt led by Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen hit its targets on Oct. 16. On a blustery fall afternoon, jurors in the trial of assistant coroner Dr. Jonathan Tobias, 31, and photographer Thomas Condon, 29, announced their verdict.

Tobias was found guilty on two of 12 counts of gross abuse of a corpse, and Condon was found guilty on eight of 12 counts of gross abuse of a corpse. Sentences will be announced Dec. 13.

It's been a long road for Condon and Tobias since Allen first charged them with 12 counts of abuse of a corpse and one count of breaking and entering on Feb 13. Their indictments revolved around Condon's photos of morgue corpses with photographs, books and syringes posed on them. Condon took the photos while he was being considered for an autopsy video project, and Tobias was accused of giving Condon access to the morgue.

Allen was nowhere to be found when the verdict was read, but you could see his handiwork just the same. The prosecutor is Hamilton County's supreme witch-hunter when it comes to capturing "vile" artists, and you can bet he was all smiles when news of the verdict hit his office.

The verdict also strengthens Allen's resolve to continue his ways.

The news from Judge Norbet Nadel's fifth-floor courtroom confirms that there are people who will buy the prosecutor's scare tactics and mudslinging.

After spending the good part of last week watching Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Longano lead the case against Condon and Tobias, I have news for people who believe Cincinnati is shedding its ultraconservative ways and embracing the 21st Century. The chill against artists is back, and it's colder than ever.

Closing arguments were heard Oct. 12, and the county witch-hunt was reaching a feverish pitch. Listening to Longano's tirades about Condon's artwork, I felt embarrassed to call Cincinnati home.

"To refer to this bullshit project as art is an offense to you and the families of the victims," Longano yelled to the jurors.

There were no serious discussions about Condon's artistic technique or meaning in the courtroom. Longano's closing argument was that Condon's photography was so disgusting it forfeited its right to be considered art.

The Condon and Tobias trial became a "Degradation Art Show." Condon's photographs no longer existed as works of art — they were simply pieces of "vile" evidence used to fuel an anti-art political agenda.

Continuing his closing arguments, Longano clenched the podium with both of his hands. He leaned his shoulders toward the jury, poking his wide bottom from beneath his suit coat. He ranted with the intensity of a Sunday preacher, and from the back of the courtroom he looked like an angry pear.

Longano spoke about sexual overtones and images. When discussing one of Condon's photo subjects at the morgue, Langano referred to it as "get into the cooler and have his way with Christina Fulci!"

During the closing arguments, the prosecutor's brand of pulp justice kept getting thicker. Longano saw artistic freedom of speech like this: "Since when does the First Amendment protect putting a key in someone's mouth?"

Sitting in the courtroom were family members of the deceased who were photographed by Condon. They felt violated, and they wanted someone to blame. Longano's job was to make sure they blamed the county's two scapegoats. Anything else could end up costing Hamilton County a lot of money in civil suits from the families.

Earlier this year, Allen stressed that the county's case against Condon and Tobias was strictly about criminal behavior and had nothing to do with the photos' artistic value. You wouldn't know that from Longano's closing arguments.

Longano wanted jurors to believe that Condon's artwork was offensive to the extent that it no longer qualified as art. He believed he was representing the will of the people, but most people I know would be offended by what he said in his closing arguments.

The Season of the Witch is underway in Cincinnati, and the chill running down my spine is more than just the nasty October weather.