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Ohio Supreme Court Decides Lower Court Failed By Trying Trafficking Survivor As An Adult, But Still Upholds Conviction

The Summit County Juvenile Court in Ohio didn’t follow the law when it allowed a 15-year-old girl who was a human trafficking victim to be tried as an adult in the robbery and murder of the man who trafficked her, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The high court, however, upheld the girl’s conviction and sentence to prison for the rest of her life.

The court ruled Alexis Martin couldn’t prove that the judge’s decision to bind her over to adult court would have changed if the juvenile court had further explored her human trafficking history.

Attorneys across Ohio working on Martin’s behalf were disappointed in the decision, which they called “illogical.”

“I believe in the court. I believe in the system,” said Megan Mattimoe, a Toledo attorney whose agency, Advocating Opportunity, assists human trafficking victims. “Here, the system failed her [Martin)] at every turn.”

Martin, who is originally from Canton, pleaded guilty to murder and felonious assault in the 2013 robbery and slaying of Angelo Kerney, 36, of Akron. She was sentenced in March 2015 to life in prison with possible parole after 21 years.

Prosecutors say Martin, Travaski Jackson and Dashaun Spear organized a robbery in November 2013 that left Kerney dead and another man with a bullet wound in his head.

Janae Jones and Martin went into the home of Kerney, and they distracted him and his brother, Alecio Samuel, by having sex with them so Jackson and Spear could rob them. Spear shot and killed Kerney. Samuel, 20, was shot in the head but survived. The four people involved were sentenced to life in prison.

Jennifer Kinsley, Martin’s Cincinnati attorney, argued before the Ohio Supreme Court that the juvenile court judge should have determined that Martin was covered by safe harbor, a 2012 law that protects children whose crimes are tied to them being human trafficking victims. This would have triggered a requirement for the juvenile court to appoint a guardian ad litem to explore Martin’s history and make a recommendation to the court on what was best for her.

Martin, who is now 20, had a troubled childhood, with both of her parents and her stepfather involved with drugs. Her mother went to prison for drug trafficking and her father abused her. She was shuffled between family members and the foster care system. At 14, she was kidnapped and forced into exotic dancing, according to court records.

Martin told authorities Kerney forced her to dance, sell drugs, prepare other girls for prostitution and collect money from them.

Summit County Juvenile Court Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio considered Martin to be a human-trafficking victim but neither she, Martin’s attorney nor the prosecutors invoked the safe harbor law.

Martin didn’t challenge this decision in juvenile court, but raised it when her case was transferred to Summit County Common Pleas Court. The adult court ruled it lacked jurisdiction.

Martin raised the issue again on appeal, with the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the case.

The justices, in a 6-1 decision, agreed the safe harbor law should have been triggered, but they also said — even with this step — that Teodosio may still have bound Martin over as an adult.

“The specific facts and evidence in this case do not show that her [Martin’s] offenses were ‘related to’ her victimization,” Justice Judith L. French wrote.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell, however, disagreed.

He said failing to appoint a guardian was a “manifest miscarriage of justice” that should be corrected by vacating Martin’s sentence, returning the case to juvenile court and appointing a guardian.

Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh, though, was pleased with the majority’s decision.

“Alexis Martin conspired with others to rob Angelo Kerney and Alecio Samuel,” she said in an email. “Her actions led to Kerney’s death after both he and Samuel were shot in the head.

“We must hold people accountable.”

Summit County Juvenile Court officials declined to comment Tuesday. In 2016, the court was the first juvenile court in Ohio to start a special program, called Restore Court, that is aimed at helping human trafficking victims.

Mattimoe said the court’s decision points to a need to clarify the safe harbor language and her organization plans to push for that through a pending bill. She and others also will continue doing all they can to free Martin.

“We can’t allow her to sit in prison,” she said. “It’s not right.”