Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published April 25 2013
Judge gives two years probation to woman in Grand Forks pimping case
Stewart, 22, tearfully thanked state District Judge Sonja Clapp for the deal that saw an unusual agreement between the defense attorney and prosecutor.
Jason McCarthy, assistant state’s attorney for Grand Forks County, said he’s never had a case in which such a serious felony was adjusted down to what will end up being a misdemeanor if Stewart follows through on her probation on the deferred sentence.
Stewart, with two men, was charged in August with human trafficking of an underage girl, a Class AA felony that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole, the state’s stiffest sentence.
Prosecutors said Stewart and Joshua Harry, 27, pimped the girl to several men in Grand Forks in March and April 2011, after Travis Johnson, 30, had first convinced the girl to work as a prostitute.
McCarthy told Clapp Wednesday after learning more about Stewart’s past, he recommended a “downward departure” in her sentence even though he already had reached an agreement with Stewart and her attorney, Darla Schuman, in January to ask for a year-long sentence.
As part of that deal, Stewart pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminal facilitation.
“She is very happy,” Schuman said.
Stewart, in fact, hugged McCarthy after the hearing, thanking him.
Schuman told Clapp that Stewart had led a sheltered life in a conservative, religious home, in Emerado, N.D., and Devils Lake. Her father is a former police officer and a fundamentalist Baptist pastor, and Stewart was home-schooled, didn’t develop friendships growing up and was ill-equipped to handle life on her own when she left home, Schuman said.
Stewart “was very naïve,” when she got to know Harry and Johnson in 2010, experienced criminals who knew how to manipulate women, Schuman said.
Stewart was brought up to obey the men in her life, so when her boyfriend, Harry, told her to help pimp the girl, she did it, Schuman said. It was a two-month period in Stewart’s life she quickly regretted and quit, Schuman said.
Stewart has been estranged from her parents, who now live in Minnesota, Schuman said.
In a written statement she read tearfully in court Wednesday, Stewart accepted responsibility for her crime but said that wasn’t “the person I was or the person I want to be.”
Stewart admitted she accompanied the 17-year-old to men’s homes and motel rooms, introduced her and collected money up front and then waited in a vehicle outside with Harry, who advertised the girl on websites.
Clapp told Stewart that while she might put this episode behind her, the victim’s life likely has been changed more permanently by what she did.
Clapp asked McCarthy if the victim, now 19, is OK with Stewart not serving any more time.
McCarthy said the victim “is embarrassed” by the case and didn’t want it to go to trial.
The judge sentenced Stewart to 30 days in jail, giving her credit for 23 days she already served and allowed her to do 70 hours of community service in lieu of the remaining seven days.
Last week, on the day their trial on human trafficking charges was to begin, Harry and Johnson pleaded guilty to lesser felony charges. They will be sentenced later this year and remain in the Grand Forks County jail. Both have criminal records.