A federal jury began deliberations on Tuesday in a sex trafficking case in which a Missoula man faces multiple crimes for allegedly forcing women into prostitution.
Defendant Terrance Tyrell Edwards, 35, has denied the charges and testified he was running a legal escort service by providing women to date lonely men.
Co-defendant Francine Joann Granados, 32, of Moorhead, Minnesota, faces one count of witness tampering. Granados did not testify, and her attorney called no witnesses.
The jury deliberated about an hour before recessing for the night. Deliberations will resume Wednesday.
The trial began Jan. 29 in U.S. District Court in Billings with District Judge Susan Watters presiding.
Edwards faces 10 counts in an indictment, including three counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion; three counts of transporting minors with intent to engage in prostitution; obstruction; witness tampering; transportation of a person with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; and distribution of marijuana to a minor.
Prosecutors accused Edwards of recruiting women and minors into sex trafficking and taking them across state lines by creating and posting ads soliciting sex on a website. Edwards set the rates for the sex and took some or all of the money from the women after they met with clients. The activity ran from about March 2016 to September 2016.
Police arrested Edwards outside a Billings hotel in September 2016 shortly after he had returned to Billings with three teenage girls he had recruited from North Dakota and Minnesota, prosecutors said. While on the trip, he gave the minors marijuana, the prosecutors said.
One of the women Edwards had left behind in Billings while he went to North Dakota contacted family or friends using a cellphone Edwards had given her, prosecutors said. The family or friends then contacted police.
One of the women who testified against Edwards said while her online ad didn’t explicitly advertise for sex, most people using the site are looking to pay for sex and rates. “They want you there for a reason,” she said.
Edwards’ pattern, prosecutors said, was to meet women through social media, develop romantic or dating relationships and then force them into prostitution through threats and violence.
Some of the rules included telling the women to call him “Daddy,” forcing them to swallow his spit as a loyalty test and hitting them if they looked at his guy friends, an act he called “reckless eyeballing,” the prosecution said.
In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zeno Baucus said the case was about “greed, power, control and manipulation.” He asked the jurors to use their common sense when considering commercial sex and escort services.
“This was commercial sex,” Baucus said.
The three women who are victims in the sex trafficking counts all testified that Edwards supplied them with condoms.
Testifying in his own defense, Edwards denied sex trafficking and forcing women to be prostitutes. Rather, he said he was running an escort service to provide women to lonely men and to help the women make money. Sex was not required, he said.
Granados’ defense attorney, Brian Fay of Bozeman, said Edwards, a longtime friend, called her after he got arrested, told her he had done nothing wrong and was being falsely accused.
Granados contacted one of the women on Edwards’ behalf but did not try to get her to change her story, Fay said.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cyndee Peterson and Baucus called 24 witnesses, including women who said they prostituted for Edwards and minors who testified against Edwards. Other evidence included numerous recordings of telephone calls Edwards made after his arrest to Granados and others along with text and Facebook messages and communications between Edwards and witnesses.
Edwards, who has a prior state felony record for promoting prostitution, faces a minimum mandatory 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the sex trafficking counts.