MELISSA BLOCK, host:
To Texas now, where a prosecutor has filed charges in a case that raises tough questions about the state's laws on pornography, sex education and parental freedom.
As NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, it involves a divorced father and two of his daughters.
WADE GOODWYN: Crystal Buckner says she was waiting in the therapist's office last summer for her eight-year-old daughter to finish her session. The child had been having behavior problems, anger management issues, acting out. And the end of the session, the therapist came in looking grim.
Ms. CRYSTAL BUCKNER: The counselor put the kids in one room and called me into her office and said, Crystal, you need to sit down.
GOODWYN: Buckner says, her daughter told a counselor that late one night, while at their Father's house, he had shown his daughters pornography on the computer.
Ms. BUCKNER: When he called them over, it was a live Web cam of a woman by herself, and daddy was typing to her what to do.
GOODWYN: The live Web cam action was followed by exhibitions of other online video pornography. The pornography was all adult. The girls reported that their father said he was showing them the pornography because sex was something they needed to know about.
The girls kept it secret for months, but the eight-year-old eventually told her therapist, and, after informing Crystal Buckner, that therapist called child protective services.
The case landed on Randall County District Attorney James Farren's desk. And there it sat for months, a legal conundrum.
Mr. JAMES FARREN (District Attorney, Randall County, Texas): It is not illegal to possess adult pornography. It's not illegal to look at adult pornography, regardless of how we may feel about it morally or philosophically.
GOODWYN: Farren wanted to prosecute the father, Jack Buckner II. The Texas penal code allows him to prosecute anyone who sells or shows harmful material to a minor. And the law stipulates that pornography is considered harmful. The law was written in 1973, and it came with one important defense.
Mr. FARREN: It is a defense to prosecution that the child to whom this harmful material was shown was accompanied by a consenting parent or guardian.
GOODWYN: In this case, not only was the minor accompanied by a parent during the exhibition, the parent was the exhibitor. Nevertheless, Farren would have been willing to take his chances with a West Texas jury anyway, but...
Mr. FARREN: If the judge is made aware of that, I won't even get to a jury. He'll pour me out before I ever get there. He'll give an instructed verdict.
GOODWYN: Farren is unhappy with the language in the Texas penal code. He's trying to find a way around this dilemma by charging Jack Buckner with child endangerment, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. The DA will have to prove the father put his daughters in, quote, "imminent danger of mental impairment" by showing them pornography. If it's more of a long shot, the district attorney is still going to prosecute.
But George Dix, law professor at the University of Texas, is less enthusiastic about the state putting itself in the middle of this kind of situation.
Professor GEORGE DIX (Law, University of Texas): It may be impossible to define with precision what a parent should be permitted, at the cost of criminal prosecution, should be permitted to provide to a child in the course of the talk.
GOODWYN: Dix says these cases speak to the issue of parental intent: Was the father really trying to educate the girls, or was it more sinister? Educational intent is also a defense under Texas law. This can be a tricky area for a prosecutor to wander around in. And then there's the fact that parents who are divorced are often hostile to one another, and motivations can be twisted.
Prof. DIX: These situations often involve disputes as to parental rights. They pose a difficult problem for prosecutors in deciding whether or not there really is a public reason for prosecution.
GOODWYN: And indeed that is the case here. In the aftermath of the alleged porn revelations, Crystal Buckner is seeking to alter the child custody agreement, which previously had the three girls living with their father.
Jack Buckner II declined to comment about the case. His current wife, Jennifer Buckner, told NPR the exhibition was a one-time occurrence. She said her husband knew the next day he'd made a mistake attempting to educate his young daughters using computer pornography.
As for the Randall County district attorney, James Farren knows that in conservative West Texas, people are wary of aggressive government intrusion into matters that could be seen as private. But he says his constituents are disgusted by the case, and so is he, and he's going to prosecute.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.