Local News

Monday, Aug 26 2013 06:30 PM

Guilty verdict in Kern's first human trafficking case under Prop. 35

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Jerome Henderson during his arraignment Tuesday in Kern County Superior Court in April.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

A jury convicted a 23-year-old man Monday of human trafficking crimes for trying to convince a 13-year-old girl to become a prostitute earlier this year.

The verdict came in Kern's first human trafficking case since voters approved Proposition 35 last fall beefing up penalties for human trafficking crimes.

Kern County Superior Court jurors convicted Jerome Henderson of attempting to violate someone's personal liberty for the purpose of prostitution, and of trying to persuade someone younger than 18 to become a prostitute, Deputy District Attorney Dianna Carter said.

However, jurors did not find Henderson guilty of an enhancement for using force or fear, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

Henderson faces up to 32 years and eight months in state prison, according to the Kern County District Attorney's Office.

"Our office is satisfied with the result," Carter said. "It was gratifying that the jury saw things the way we saw them for the most part."

Carter, who prosecuted the case, said the victim was hanging out with friends after school when she met Henderson. They had only known each other for a few hours or less when he solicited her to become a prostitute, Carter said.

The prosecutor said she called the girl's family about the verdict. The victim is doing as well "as can be expected under the circumstances," Carter said.

Bakersfield police have said in court documents that the girl contacted them in February reporting that Henderson forced her to engage in sex acts with him at a hotel and tried to pick her up after school to take her to Sacramento.

Bakersfield attorney Clayton Campbell, who represented Henderson, pointed out that Henderson was not charged with a crime for the alleged forced sex acts, such as rape or forcible oral copulation on a minor.

Campbell complimented Carter's handling of the case and the jurors' attentiveness.

"I thought my client got a fair trial and the results are the results," Campbell said.

Phil Gazley, coordinator for the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking, called the verdict "good news."

"This bodes well for the future in terms of having (a comprehensive approach to human trafficking) at a countywide level," Gazley said.

Henderson's sentencing is set for Sept. 24 before Kern County Superior Court Judge John W. Lua.

This update reflects a correction to Judge John W. Lua's name.

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