LYNN, Mass - Adrian Exley was wrapped tightly in heavy plastic, then bound with duct tape. A leather hood was put over his head with a thin plastic straw inserted so that he could breathe, and he was shut up in a closet.
That, apparently, was the way Exley liked it. But the way it ended - with Exley suffocating - was not what he had in mind when he traveled from Britain for a bondage session with a man he had met through a sadomasochism Web site.
Exley's body was discovered in the woods last year, two months after he was bound up in the "playroom" Gary LeBlanc had built in the basement of his suburban Boston home. LeBlanc, 48, a Gulf Oil sales executive, detailed his responsibility in the fatal bondage session in a five-page suicide note, just before he put a gun to his head and killed himself.
Now the question is: Since Exley consented to the sex play, can Le-Blanc be held responsible for his death?
Exley's family is suing LeBlanc's estate for unspecified damages, claiming wrongful death. Many bondage enthusiasts are watching the case closely, seeing it as lesson in where to draw the line of responsibility on consensual but dangerous sex.
"There's definitely the whole spectrum of thought on what really happened - whether it was a consent issue, or negligence or misunderstanding," said Vivienne Kramer, a board member of the New England Leather Alliance. "Everybody has their own ideas on what should have happened."
Exley and LeBlanc met through an online forum for gay men who are into rubber, leather and bondage. Exley, a 32-year-old stripper, used the screen name "Studpup," while LeBlanc called himself "Rubrman" and built a chamber with rubber mats on the floors and walls, chains, leather restraints, rubber suits and a hospital gurney.
Exley arrived at LeBlanc's house in Lynn in April 2006, after the pair exchanged e-mails in which they discussed plans for LeBlanc to play the "master" and Exley his "slave," according to the lawsuit.
John Andrews, a lawyer for Le-Blanc's estate, said Exley had known the risks going in. "What occurred was an act or actions between two consenting adults, both of whom knew what they were doing, and it had a tragic end," he said.
The lawsuit describes a three-day bondage and discipline session that ended when a third man, Scott Vincent, discovered Exley was not breathing.
LeBlanc said he panicked, and he and Vincent drove to Rhode Island, where they buried the body and threw away Exley's clothing and identification.
In his note, LeBlanc said he was "responsible for a horrible tragedy," adding: "Had I dealt with the first crisis responsibly, he would likely have returned home safely."
Lawyers for Exley's estate acknowledge that Exley wanted to participate in a bondage session, but say he did not know about Le-Blanc's reputation as an "extreme-edge player" in the world of bondage and sadomasochism.
"Just because you are agreeing that you will allow someone to tie you up temporarily as part of role-playing doesn't mean that you are consenting to be killed or to be left alone or to be abused," attorney Randy Chapman said.
It was Exley's mother, Maggie Horner, who decided to sue.