Intent is early focus in slave labor trial

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) – Two people accused of enslaving a mentally disabled woman for two years were trying to help a homeless acquaintance, not weasel money away from her, defense attorneys said Wednesday.

The defendants’ intent was the focus of opening arguments at the trial of Jordie Callahan, 27, and Jessica Hunt, 32, in federal court in Youngstown. They have pleaded not guilty.

Authorities said the victim was forced to do housework in Ashland, about 80 miles northeast of Columbus, while she and her child were threatened with a python or pit bulls. The defendants are accused of spending her public assistance money.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Rice said Wednesday that the woman and her daughter were forced to live in a “cold, damp and isolated basement with a lock on the door,” with no access to a bathroom.

The woman was physically and sexually abused, Rice said. She was let out to clean and go to the store, but the defendants threatened to beat the child if the woman spent too much money or didn’t return quickly enough.

Hunt’s attorney, Carolyn Kucharski, said the woman wasn’t forced to stay with the defendants and they all shared the rent. The families would go to the park and celebrate birthdays among other activities.

But, Kucharski acknowledged, “things at home were not Norman Rockwell-esque. They operated extremely dysfunctional at times.”

For instance, the woman had volunteered to injure herself to help the defendants obtain drugs, Kucharski said.

The defendants’ landlord testified that the woman and child were not on any rental agreement.

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

Heidi Parsons, an assistant manager at the store, testified Wednesday that the woman did not deny she had taken the candy bar, as other shoplifters often do. She said the woman came into the store often, sometimes without shoes.

Rice said the defendants were so fearful the woman would flee that they went after the thing she loved the most: her daughter.

When the girl cried, Rice said, they would force her to stand in the corner for long periods or they would throw her across the room.

“They told (the woman) that if she ever told anyone, they would kill her and her daughter and no one would ever find the bodies,” Rice said.

Callahan’s attorney, Donald Butler, acknowledged Callahan owned reptiles, pit bulls and weapons but said he kept them secured at home.

Butler said the defendants had friends who drank alcohol and used drugs at the home and the accuser took part in those parties.

The trial could last three weeks and is expected to include testimony from two other defendants who pleaded guilty earlier.

One was accused of using ice cream to lure the woman and her child to captivity and smashing the woman’s hand so she could seek medical treatment and bring back pain medication for the suspects. The other defendant was accused of helping to enslave and beat the woman.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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