Evidence not enough

Bonds were significantly reduced and some of the charges dismissed Monday in Marietta Municipal Court for a man and woman charged with operating a prostitution ring from a local hotel.

Giving more than two hours of testimony, two detectives testified that evidence pointed to 37-year-old James Lloyd Walker, of Bluefield, W.Va., and 23-year-old Shaasia Jones, of Bronx, N.Y., as the ringleaders of a traveling prostitution ring found operating in Marietta Aug. 7.

But attorneys for Walker and Jones said the evidence given by the detectives was not enough to prove the two had forced the girls into prostitution, and Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar Welch agreed, dismissing the more serious prostitution-related charges against the two.

Welch also modified bond, giving Walker a $75,000 bond where he had previously been ineligible for bond and reducing Jones’ bond from $120,000 to $10,000.

“What part shows the womens’ will was overcome by force, fear, duress or intimidation?” asked Welch following the testimony.

Walker and Jones were arrested leaving the Red Roof Inn with six other women on Aug. 7 after a confidential informant had contacted law enforcement and suggested the individuals were involved in a prostitution ring.

A notebook which Walker had been seen carrying contained a debt ledger for two of the girls. He was arrested with more than $7,000 in cash and 181 hydromorphone pills on his person. Jones, believed to be the only of the seven women not providing sex for money, had $1,200 and some marijuana in her purse, testified Marietta Police Detective Ryan Huffman.

“Four of the girls had syringes or claimed syringes in the vehicle,” said Huffman.

One of the women had $300 and the rest had what Huffman described as pocket change.

Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Rings argued that the fact that Walker apparently controlled the money and drugs proved that the girls felt compelled to stay with him in servitude.

“None of them are from this area, and none of them have any money. The source of their (drug addiction) fix is the defendant. They have no money, and they have an addiction. They’re in debt to him,” said Rings of the women.

Huffman said he was able to find online advertisements under Parkersburg area escort services, picturing the six girls traveling with Walker and Jones.

Detective Sgt. Scott Parks, of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, added that he was able to match some of the photos from the online advertisements with those on an iPhone confiscated from Jones and an iPad and Samsung phone confiscated from Walker.

“We found a lot of information on all three devices that had to do with backpage.com,” said Parks.

The information included emails sent between the devices to the website confirming the purchase and placement of ads, said Parks.

The exchanges date back several months and include ads placed in other cities, he added.

None of the females allegedly committing acts of prostitution testified.

After hearing the testimony, Welch upheld a second-degree felony charge of drug possession and fourth-degree felony charge of promoting prostitution against Walker. A fourth-degree complicity charge in promoting prostitution against Jones was also upheld.

Welch dismissed first-degree felony human trafficking charges and third-degree felony compelling prostitution charges against Walker and mirroring complicity charges against Jones.

However, she added that it is possible that the same or more serious charges could be revisited by a grand jury.