An Ohio couple were found guilty of enslaving a mentally disabled woman for two years, forcing her and less than five year old child captive in a snake pit.
During testimony, the court heard how Jordie Callahan, 27 and his girlfriend Jessica Hunt, 32 of Youngstown, Ohio kept the woman and her five year old daughter in a dark and dank basement, threatening them with a python and pit bulls.
Told US attorney Chelsea Rice: ‘The basement where the victims were kept had a lock on the door and no bathroom.’
The woman, who has not been named, was forced to shop, cook, clean up after the couple’s dogs and do household chores.
Prosecutors added that the woman was also forced to engage in sexual acts.
The couple were convicted on charges that included forced labor conspiracy with a kidnapping specification, and now face a possible sentence of life in prison.
The couple were found not guilty of stealing the woman’s government benefits and tampering with a witness.
During the trial, Ed Bryan, Hunt’s attorney’s offered: ‘There were a lot of horrific allegations made by the government in this case that we do not believe were supported by the evidence.’
Callahan’s attorney, Donald Butler, said he hopes to appeal.
Prosecutors told the woman’s ordeal lasted from early 2011 to late 2012. Police first got involved when the un named woman was arrested on a candy bar shoplifting case and asked to be jailed because people had been mean to her.
The woman and her daughter were freed after police investigated an abuse allegation one of the suspects made against her.
Authorities said that allegation was a ruse, complete with a video staged by the suspects. They said the suspects had forced the woman to act as if she were mistreating her child.
The woman later pleaded guilty to child endangering and was sentenced to about five months in jail. She served only part of that sentence.
Hunt’s attorney accused investigators of sensationalizing what happened and using unreliable witnesses, including two who pleaded guilty in connection with the case.
He told how his client was only trying to help a homeless acquaintance by giving her a place to live and didn’t force her to stay.
Callahan’s attorney said during closing arguments on Thursday that Hunt and Callahan used drugs and lived a different lifestyle, but that did not mean they mistreated the woman who lived with them.
‘Even at the bottom of society, they relied on each other. That’s all this was,’ Butler said.
Yet prosecutors insisted that the woman was indeed captive to the couple, telling how they would only allow the woman to go shopping on the condition she did not spend too much money or didn’t return quickly enough or else they would threaten her loss of custody of the child.
Reflected U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach: ‘The sad thing about these modern day slavery cases is that the exploitation of the women is only limited to the imagination of the predators,’
‘The victim in this case had a young child, and the defendants preyed on her paternal instincts. They took advantage of her in the most inhuman and un-American ways you can imagine.’
The two defendants who pleaded guilty earlier in the forced-labor case were remanded by U.S. District Court Judge Benita Pearson for sentencing in July. Because the jury determined that kidnapping was an element of the labor-trafficking charges, the defendants could receive up to life in prison.
Daniel Brown, who was accused of helping to enslave and beat the woman, pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge. His plea required him to cooperate with investigators and testify.
Dezerah Silsby, who was accused of using ice cream to lure the woman and her child back into the home, entered her plea under the terms of a sealed agreement.
Silsby testified that Hunt threatened her and forced her to clean the couple’s apartment and that she drove the woman and Hunt to an ATM to get money using the woman’s government funds debit card.
The U.S. attorney’s office said Silsby pleaded guilty to four counts of an indictment charging her with threatening the woman, beating her and making her do housework.
An FBI affidavit said Silsby smashed the woman’s hand with a rock so she could go to a hospital and bring back pain medication for the suspects.