Sickening Forced-Labor Convictions Upheld

     CINCINNATI (CN) – The Sixth Circuit upheld lengthy sentences for roommates who subjected a developmentally disabled woman and her child to astounding cruelty.
     The Sept. 8 ruling says the “roommates” met in 2010 through mutual acquaintances.
     S.E., as she is described in the opinion had been living on the streets since she turned 18 and her mother kicked her out.
     Soon after Jordie Callahan and Jessica Hunt took in the young woman, in May 2010, S.E. regained custody of her daughter, B.E., then 3 years old.
     What started as a traditional roommate setup soon in Ashland, Ohio, soon turned into nearly two years of forced labor.
     S.E. and B.E. lived in the apartment’s unfinished basement for a time, and later in a sparsely furnished room upstairs.
     Both rooms were kept locked from the outside, with no bathroom access, forcing S.E. to soil herself or relieve herself on the floor.
     In one such instance, Hunt forced the woman to smear the feces on her face, according the ruling.
     The decision and a statement from the FBI on Callahan and Hunt’s sentencing last year describe various forms of torture S.E. had to endure in addition to forced servitude.
     A third co-conspirator, Daniel Brown, shaved the woman’s head, wrote degrading obscenities on her face and slammed her head into a kitchen sink.
     The captors forced S.E. to eat dog food, crawl on the floor and wear a dog collar. They taunted her and her child with pit bulls and snakes. Callahan threatened S.E. at gunpoint, and he forced sex on her.
     S.E., who is disabled because she suffered a traumatic brain injury, had a prescription for narcotic pain medication. Her captors availed themselves of her medication. On several occasions, they sent S.E. to the emergency room after injuring her, so that they could take the additional pain pills doctors gave her.
     Callahan and Hunt often held onto B.E. as insurance to make sure S.E. did as they ordered. They once forced S.E. to beat her daughter, recorded the incident, and warned that the tape could get S.E. locked up if she ever snitched on them.
     The child faced abuse both from Callahan and Hunt, and Hunt’s four sons.
     One of Hunt’s sons tied B.E. up with rope and kept her bound all night because she tried to drink a soda that was not intended for her.
     The toddler was abused when she soiled herself, and Callahan once threw a snake on her.
     S.E. and B.E.’s capture finally came to an end in 2012 when police caught the 29-year-old mother stealing a candy bar. When officers offered to take her home, she told them she would rather go to jail.
     S.E. eventually took police to the apartment. When the officers took the frail 5-year-old out the home, Callahan and Hunt showed the videos of S.E. beating B.E. to make her look bad.
     They were eventually charged with and convicted of conspiracy, forced labor, acquiring a controlled substance by deception and kidnapping.
     Callahan and Hunt argued in their appeal that forced-labor charges are typically reserved for undocumented immigrants and those in the sex trade, but Sixth Circuit upheld their convictions and lengthy sentences Tuesday.
     “The statute’s express terms do not limit its application to immigrant victims or sex workers,” Judge Eric Clay wrote for the court. “Rather, [the statute’s] proscription against the exploitation of the labor or services of ‘a person’ by prohibited means encompasses any person, no matter her nationality or place of birth.” (Emphasis in original.)
     The defendants failed to sway the panel that the case belonged in state court.
     Because S.E. faced “a distinct harm that is a matter of federal concern pursuant to the Thirteenth Amendment, it matters little that defendants’ conduct may have also violated various state laws,” Clay wrote.
     “Indeed, the circumstances of this case are analogous to the circumstances in many forced labor cases – squalid living conditions, extreme isolation, threat of legal process, and violence,” he added.
     Callahan and Hunt’s “last-ditch attempt” at reversal hinged on a supposed lack of evidence that they forced S.E. into performing services.
     “Unfortunately for Defendants, this contention is belied by testimony from S.E. herself and a number of other witnesses,” Clay wrote. “S.E. testified that she obeyed Hunt’s orders to clean out of fear that Hunt might hurt her because Hunt had done so in the past. S.E. also testified that Hunt assaulted her when she would not clean quickly enough. Another witness testified to observing Hunt shoving S.E.’s face in dog excrement and yelling at her to clean it up. And there were numerous occasions when Defendants threatened or assaulted S.E. when she exceeded the time limit they imposed for running errands or when she bought things for herself.”
     Another portion of the 26-page ruling finds no error in the prosecution asking S.E. “leading questions.”
     “This court has recognized that it can be appropriate to permit leading questions on the direct examination of a cognitively impaired witness,” Clay wrote. “And most importantly, the District Court gave the jury cautionary instructions about leading questions, assessing a witness’ credibility, and the weight to give to testimony.”
     Callahan and Hunt were sentenced to 360 and 384 months, respectively, for the forced-labor convictions.
     U.S. District Judge Michael Watson, sitting by designation from the Southern District of Ohio, concurred, as did Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton.

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