How to recognize sex trafficking
A shocking sex-trafficking case that riveted Columbus when it made the news in 2015 is ending without a trial because authorities can’t find the victims.
“I could not get the victims to court,” Assistant District Attorney Mark Anthony said Monday after telling Judge William Rumer the case that had been set for trial will have to be dead-docketed.
“We’ve exhausted every effort we could think of,” Anthony said of attempts by prosecutors and police to find two women allegedly compelled into sexual servitude.
Without their testimony, the case against De’Angelo Maurice Walker, Bryshae Shanturia McBride and Kimari Miy “Sky” Hill just isn’t strong enough to take to trial, the prosecutor said, so any suspect still jailed will be released.
Walker has been free on bond since June 13, 2017, according to jail records. McBride’s attorney, Jennifer Curry, said her client was to be released Monday after spending 2½ years in jail awaiting trial. Hill, the third suspect, still was jailed Monday afternoon.
Columbus attorney Michael Eddings represented Walker.
“I am pleased that the state dead-docketed the case because the evidence in my opinion was overwhelming that he did not commit those horrendous crimes,” Eddings wrote in an email.
But putting a case on what attorneys call the “dead docket” does not dismiss it entirely: Should circumstances change, and authorities persuade the victims to come to court, it can be revived. Otherwise it will be set aside, and no active prosecution will ensue.
Eddings said prosecutors should have moved to “nolle pros” or drop the case entirely, so that Walker “doesn't have to worry about the state trying to revive these charges again at some point in time in the future.”
He will file motions to nolle pros the charges, he said: “Mr. Walker served 2.5 years in jail on these charges and he doesn't deserve to have this case lingering around collecting dust as an semi-closed file.”
The allegations came to light about 2 a.m. Dec. 16, 2015, when a police officer working security at Columbus’ 2801Airport Thruway Walmart found a 21-year-old hiding in the women’s restroom.
The woman told Detective Brittney Hayes that she had been kidnapped the day before in Hampton, Ga., and brought to Columbus, where she had been held in a house on Gleason Avenue and forced to have sex with men drawn there by an ad on the website Backpage.com.
The woman told Hayes that Walker had brought her to the Walmart, where he ordered her to steal condoms and sex lubricants while he waited outside.
After arresting Walker outside the store police surrounded a house in the 2900 block of Gleason Avenue before serving a search warrant there at 9 a.m. that day. Inside they found a 16-year-old girl who told them she had been abducted Dec. 9 from Columbus Technical College, 928 Manchester Expressway.
She told investigators she was compelled to have sex with eight men, who paid McBride for the prostitution. McBride, known also as “Baby Mama,” gave the money to Walker, the girl told police.
Police said they arrested Hill on accusations of holding the girl at gunpoint.
According their 13-count indictment, Walker, now 27, was accused of kidnapping, raping and forcing oral sodomy on the 21-year-old on Dec. 15; falsely imprisoning her that same day; kidnapping the 16-year-old between Dec. 1 and Dec. 13; forcing anal sodomy on her; forcing oral sodomy on her; raping her; twice falsely imprisoning her; and assaulting her with a pistol on Dec. 16.
He also faced two counts of trafficking a person for sexual servitude, one for each victim.
Charged as Walker’s accomplice, McBride, now 22, was accused of rape, kidnapping, two counts of false imprisonment and two counts of trafficking someone for sexual servitude.
Also charged as Walker’s accomplice, Hill, now 26, was accused of rape, sex trafficking, aggravated assault and two counts of false imprisonment.
A futile search
On Monday, Anthony said he was told the woman who first reported the allegations has been jailed in Florida, but he has been unable to confirm that. Investigators have no idea what happened to the girl who was 16 when police found her in the Gleason Avenue home, he said. She is 19 now.
When authorities last talked to her, she mentioned she might move to Colorado, he said, but they don’t know whether she did or not: “I don’t know where she is,” he said.
He would have taken the case to trial, if he at least had testimony from the woman who was a juvenile at the time, he said. “I can’t do it without her here to say what happened,” he added.
Without either witness, authorities little left to go on, he said: “We really didn’t have that much in the way of evidence beyond their testimony.”
Witnesses sometimes back out when cases come to trial, either because they’re afraid to testify, or they don’t want to relive what they went through.
“When they initially called police, they wanted that intervention,” Anthony said, but that desire can fade over time: “Sometimes they don’t want anything to do with it because they’ve moved on with their life, and this is just too disruptive.”