Two men seek trial in Grand Forks trafficking caseGrand Forks, ND (Forum News Service) - Two men charged last year with the first human trafficking cases in Grand Forks say they want to go to trial on the charges that could put them in prison for life, one of them going back on an earlier plea deal.
By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald, Forum News Service, WDAY
Grand Forks, ND (Forum News Service) - Two men charged last year with the first human trafficking cases in Grand Forks say they want to go to trial on the charges that could put them in prison for life, one of them going back on an earlier plea deal.
Travis Levar Johnson, 30, appeared Monday for a final pretrial conference in state district court in Grand Forks. He had been scheduled to go to trial March 12, but sought a continuance or postponement.
Meredith Larson, the assistant state’s attorney prosecuting him, said she is not opposing the delay, which might result in an April trial.
Meanwhile, one of Johnson’s two co-defendants, Joshua Harry, has reneged on his earlier plea agreement and now also will go to trial, again facing an AA felony charge of human trafficking.
In January, Harry, 27, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of promoting prostitution in a deal with Larson, who agreed to recommend a sentence of five years in prison with two years suspended, plus five years of probation.
His plea deal also requires him to cooperate with the prosecution of Johnson and he’s not complying with that, Larson said Monday.
Harry had been scheduled to be sentenced on the lesser charge in April, but now also is in line to go to trial on the much more serious charge of human trafficking that carries a maximum sentence of life if he’s convicted.
Both men, and Amanda Stewart, 22, were charged last year with human trafficking. Larson said they pimped a 17-year-old girl to several men in Grand Forks motels and residences in early 2011.
Larson said Harry advertised the girl, using photos of her unclothed, on the well-known website, www.backpage.com. Stewart and Harry then would drive the girl to meetings with the men, Stewart would collect money and leave her alone while she, Stewart, waited in the vehicle outside.
Stewart pleaded guilty in January to a lesser charge of criminal facilitation in return for Larson recommending a sentence of five years in prison with four years suspended and three years of probation.
Stewart is scheduled to be sentenced April 15. She has no serious criminal history, Larson said. Johnson and Harry have several felony convictions on their record and have been in the Grand Forks County jail since last year.
Johnson also faces a felony charge of corruption of a minor that alleges he had sex with the 17-year-old victim.
Prosecutors have said this is the first human trafficking case brought in the county.
The maximum penalty for the AA felony charge, on conviction, is life in prison.
Larson said in January she offered the plea deals partly to shelter the young victim from having to testify in court.