Tuesday, July 11, 2017
The Word ‘Sex’ Isn’t Ambiguous, C.A. Declares
Testimony by Underage Prostitutes to ‘Sex’ Acts Was Not Too Vague To Support Conviction of Pimp for Human Trafficking
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The word “sex”—in the context of underage prostitutes testifying to having engaged in sex for money—is not too ambiguous to support a conviction of a man for human trafficking, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Its decision came in an unpublished opinion Friday by Justice Lamar Baker of Div. Five. It upholds the conviction of one of three pimps who, according to District Attorney Jackie Lacey, at a Jan. 20, 2015 press conference, ran a multi-million dollar prostitution ring known as the “Compton Division.”
The defendant, who went by the nickname of “Bash Millions,” was sentenced Aug. 15, 2015 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James D. Otto to 42 years and eight months in prison. He was convicted on four counts of causing a minor to engage in a “commercial sex act,” one count of dissuading a witness, and one count of performing a lewd act on a child.
The victims were as young as 12.
The opinion affirms the judgment in all respects, except for instructing the clerk of the Los Angeles Superior Court to prepare an amended abstract of judgment giving the defendant 608 days of presentence credit. He was held in lieu of $4.2 million bail.
“In this appeal from defendant Robert Walker’s (defendant’s) conviction on multiple counts of human trafficking and other charged offenses,” Baker wrote, “the issues we consider require us to discuss the meaning of the word “sex”….”
He went on to say:
“[Walker] claims there was no substantial evidence to support the human trafficking charges involving three of the victims because they only testified to engaging in ‘sex’ for money, which is too vague a term to establish the girls were prostitutes. We, however, see no ambiguity in the record, especially under the applicable standard of review—the girls’ testimony was more than sufficient for a rational jury to conclude they engaged in prostitution just as defendant intended.”
The standard of review, the jurist said, entails viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. Under that standard—“and really, even in our independent judgment”—the testimony of three of the witnesses, for whom Walker acted as pimp, established that they performed sex acts with customers.
“While we agree the ordinary understanding of the word ‘sex’ is susceptible to varying nuances (intercourse, oral sex, anal sex), all of those nuances fit comfortably within the definition of prostitution the jury was given,” Baker wrote, adding:
“Defendant’s argument to the contrary—that the references to ‘sex’ do not suffice because it is possible some people or a fictional alien from the television show Star Trek might have in mind an idiosyncratic understanding of the word—is inconsistent with both the applicable standard of review and persuasive authority.”
Baker said that in looking at the witness’s testimony in “full context”—including references to zippers and condoms—“leaves no question that the girls were referring to genital contact (whether intercourse or oral sex) when describing the “sex” or “sex acts” they engaged in at defendant’s behest.”
Among other contentions, Walker complained that he was subjected to double punishment, in violation of Penal Code §654, by being sentenced both for human trafficking of a girl and performing a lewd act on her. Baker responded that the “elements of both crimes (which were proven by substantial evidence at trial) make clear the separate objectives that support multiple punishment.”
Human trafficking, he pointed out, requires an “intent to effect or maintain a violation of the pimping or pandering statutes” and neither of those crimes—unlike commission of a lewd act on a child—“requires proof of an act done by a defendant to satisfy his own lust or sexual desires.”
The case is People v. Walker, B266706.
Attorneys on the appeal were David H. Goodwin, representing Walker, and Deputy Attorney General Jessica C. Owen, acting for the People.
The other members of the Compton Division were Daniel Gunther and David Sheffey. Gunther pled no contest to witness intimidation in 2014 and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Sheffey pled no contest to pimping and was given a seven-year sentence.
Their operation centered on Long Beach Boulevard in Compton but, according to reports, extended to other western states.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company