updated 1/13/2005 8:29:17 PM ET 2005-01-14T01:29:17

A man who sold videotapes of pit bull fights to investigators was convicted Thursday, the first person to be found guilty at trial under a 1999 federal animal cruelty law.

A jury deliberated just 45 minutes before convicting the man, Robert Stevens, 64, of Pittsville, Va., of selling depictions of animal cruelty. He faces up to 15 years and $750,000 in fines at sentencing April 21.

“This dangerous and inhumane crime promotes violence and degrades our community,” U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said after the verdict.

Stevens — who was tried here because the tapes he sold from his home were bought by the Pennsylvania state police and agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture — sold two videos featuring dogfighting montages and a third showing pit bulls attacking hogs.

Stevens’ lawyer, Michael Novara, argued that the tapes did not violate the statute’s intent to prevent “wanton cruelty to animals designed to appeal to a prurient interest in sex.”

President Bill Clinton signed the law after complaints about videos in which small animals were pictured being crushed under the feet of women wearing spiked heels. Novara said the sexual description did not apply to Stevens’ tapes.

Ann Chynoweth of the Humane Society of the United States, which pushed for the law, said it was intended to target all who profited from animal cruelty.

“Dogfighting’s big business. It’s in every state. It’s on street corners. It’s nationwide,” she said. “That’s why this law is so important — it gets to those who profit from the barbaric animal cruelty of dogfighting.”

After the verdict, Judge Alan N. Bloch ordered Stevens to surrender any pit bulls he owned by Jan. 24 and prohibited him from being involved in any way with the animals or those who raised or trained them.

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