The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

June 25, 2013

3 jailed pending trial in Ohio slave labor case

CLEVELAND — There’s enough evidence against people accused of enslaving a mentally disabled woman and her daughter to send the case before a grand jury, a federal magistrate judge ruled Monday.

Judge Nancy Vecchiarelli made the ruling against two of four defendants in the case and ordered them locked up pending trial. A third defendant skipped a chance to ask for pretrial release, and a fourth was freed last week to await trial.

No grand jury timetable was detailed in court.

The government won’t comment on why the fourth defendant, who’s pregnant, was treated differently, said Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office handling the investigation out of Ashland, about 60 miles southwest of Cleveland.

The government, relying heavily on an FBI agent’s affidavit released last week when the defendants were arrested, said Jordie Callahan and Jessica Hunt are charged with a crime of violence and a crime involving a child and should be held without bond pending trial.

The judge agreed and said Congress had set pretrial release standards different from the state standard under which the two had been released on bond. State kidnap charges against them were dismissed last week, clearing the way for the federal charges.

Federal prosecutor Chelsea Rice detailed past parole violations by the two and said they had tried to intimidate a witness in the case.

Callahan and Hunt, wearing jail outfits and with their wrists cuffed, sat across each other at a defense table, with Callahan frequently shaking his head “no” to the allegations. Hunt sat with her back to the public gallery, occasionally leaning to talk to her attorneys.

Another defendant, Daniel J. “DJ” Brown, made a brief appearance before the judge and said he wouldn’t challenge the pretrial evidence against him or seek pretrial release on bond.

Last week, defendant Dezerah Silsby was released and was ordered to stay in contact with the probation office while awaiting trial. She has denied helping enslave the woman with her child and making her do housework.

Callahan’s mother, Becky Callahan, has said the allegations against the defendants are “all lies.” She says the mentally disabled woman was friends with her son and Hunt, her son’s girlfriend, and they tried to help her by offering her a place to live.

The account by federal prosecutors is far different: Beginning in early 2011, they say, the suspects forced the woman to cooperate with them by threats and physical abuse. The woman told authorities the suspects forced her to do housework, raided her bank account and menaced her with snakes and pit bulls.  

The woman and her daughter, who’s 5, were freed in October after police investigated an abuse allegation one of the suspects made against her.  

Police first got involved when the woman was arrested on a candy bar shoplifting case and asked to be jailed because people had been mean to her.

Authorities said the abuse allegation was a ruse complete with a video staged by the suspects. They said the suspects had forced the woman to act as if she were mistreating her child.

On the video, the woman harshly spanks her daughter on the backside, hits her in the face and says, “Shut up.”

The woman later pleaded guilty to child endangering and was sentenced in February to about five months in jail. She served only part of that sentence.

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