Police have discovered the identity of a man accused of setting up shop at a local hotel and forcing multiple girls to commit acts of prostitution.
Though he was referred to as John Doe throughout a Thursday court hearing, investigators are now confident that the man who gave a fake name at the time of his arrest a week ago is 37-year-old James Lloyd Walker.
The suspect was identified with the help of Pennsylvania authorities, said Detective Ryan Huffman, a member of the Major Crimes Task Force and Marietta Police Department.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
James Walker attends a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday in Marietta Municipal Court. The hearing, on charges that Walker and Shaasia Jones were forcing women to commit acts of prostitution from a local hotel, was postponed until Monday.
"We identified him with the state of Pennsylvania through their facial recognition software program," said Huffman.
The program, like the one used in Ohio, uses a photo of an unknown suspect and instantly compares it against thousands of already identified photographs, such as ones on licenses or mug shots.
Walker's identity has been in question since his arrest Aug. 7 when he and several women were stopped after leaving a hotel in the 700 block of Pike Street.
About the case
A man accused of human trafficking out of an area hotel has been identified as James L. Walker, 37.
Investigators matched Walker through Pennsylvania's facial recognition program.
Walker has a lengthy criminal history, involving drugs, weapons and parole violation charges, but no known active warrants.
A Thursday preliminary hearing scheduled for Walker and co-defendant Shaasia Jones, 23, of 2487 Davidson Ave., Bronx, N.Y., was pushed to Monday while Walker attempts to hire an attorney.
Source: Times research.
The group had been under surveillance following a tip that they were at the center of suspicious activity occurring at the hotel. When stopped, Walker had 181 Hydromorphone pills and nearly $7,000 in cash in his pants.
At the time, he presented a non-governmental identification card from the state of New York naming himself as Xavier Freeman. The identification card immediately sent up red flags because it is not typical of the identification issued in New York, said Huffman.
The reason for Walker secreting his identity is still unclear.
"It doesn't appear that he is wanted for anything, but he does have a lengthy criminal history and we're still waiting on fingerprints from the FBI," said Huffman.
Many of the criminal charges stem from Pennsylvania, though Walker also has ties to West Virginia and New York. Charges involve drugs, weapons and parole violations, said Huffman.
Walker and his alleged co-conspirator, 23-year-old Shaasia Jones, of 2487 Davidson Ave., Bronx, N.Y., appeared Thursday in Marietta Municipal Court for a preliminary hearing on the charges. Referred to as John Doe throughout the brief hearing, Walker only spoke once to reply "yes, ma'am" when Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar Welch asked if he planned to seek paid counsel.
Jones hid her face from cameras during the proceedings and briefly spoke to pronounce her name for the judge.
The preliminary hearing was postponed until Monday so Walker can attempt to secure Parkersburg attorney George Cosenza as counsel.
Walker is charged with a first-degree felony count of human trafficking, a second-degree felony count of drug possession, a third-degree felony count of compelling prostitution and a fourth-degree felony count of promoting prostitution.
Jones is charged with identical complicity charges on all the same counts except the drug possession charge.
She was one of seven women with Walker at the time of his arrest and the only one of the seven not believed to be acting as a prostitute. Walker allegedly forced the other women into having sex for money, took at least half the profits, and kept a log of how much the women owed him for things like their hotel rooms and groceries.
Some of the woman indicated Walker beat them, threatened them with guns and kept them addicted to drugs in order to force them to have sex with various clients.
Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Rings said it is not currently the prosecution's intent to have those women testify at the preliminary hearing.
Jones' attorney, Ray Smith, asserted that he did not feel the case would ultimately be seen as a human trafficking case.
"At best it is compelling prostitution, a third-degree felony," he said.
Smith argued that Jones' bond should therefore be set at $50,000, a typical amount for a third-degree felony.
But Rings argued she was still charged with a first-degree felony and asked that any change to bond be withheld until the preliminary hearing went forward.
Welch said she would wait until Monday to hear bond arguments. Walker remains incarcerated without bond while Jones is being held on a $120,000 bond in the Washington County Jail.
Three other women believed to be victims of Walker's human trafficking ring also remain incarcerated in the Washington County Jail.
Tamisha Lowe, 38, of 2940 W. 31st St., Brooklyn, N.Y., is being held on a $2,500 bond for obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor, but will continue to be held on a warrant from Pennsylvania.
Tiffany Pendergrass, 25, of 303 White Oak Valley, Princeton, W.Va., is being held on a $2,500 bond for obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor.
Reba Grahovac, 23, of 448 Jenkinjones Mountain Road, Anawalt, W.Va., is being held on a $1,000 bond for possession of drug abuse instruments, a second-degree misdemeanor.