A man will spend 30 years in federal prison for sex trafficking.
Terrance Tyrell Edwards, 35, was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Billings by Judge Susan Watters after he was found guilty in February of multiple instances of sex trafficking, transportation of multiple people, including three minors, with intent to engage in prostitution, and related counts of obstructing the investigation and tampering with witnesses.
Speaking before his sentence was pronounced, Edwards continued to maintain his innocence on nine of his 10 convictions. His attorney, Palmer Hoovestal, said after the sentencing that his client intends to appeal.
Despite Hoovestal’s request that Watters take his client’s difficult childhood into consideration, the judge said that there are “so many aggravating factors that outweigh the mitigating factor,” and noted that Edwards had neither accepted responsibility for his actions nor shown remorse after his conviction.
“Even individuals who have horrendous childhoods have to take responsibility for their own minds, for their own conduct,” Watters said.
Prosecutors alleged that even before he was released from prison for a previous conviction of promoting prostitution, Edwards had begun planning to return to sex trafficking. He was released 2016, then arrested later that year after transporting three underage girls from North Dakota to Billings.
“You hardly missed a beat once you got out of prison,” Watters told him. “Clearly you have no respect for the law … In my view, Mr. Edwards is very likely to continue to break the law.”
Edwards offered a lengthy refutation of his convictions prior to his sentencing, speaking for more than half an hour and criticizing the actions of the prosecution, the FBI and his defense attorney during his trial. He accused prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office of offering perjured testimony and said he felt “sabotaged” during the criminal proceedings.
Arguing on his behalf, Hoovestal told the judge Edwards had been raised in an abusive household that was “stricken with poverty,” and in which his mother taught him how to manufacture crack cocaine and his father shot him when he was “young enough to be held in his mother’s arms.”
“We have this poor kid who didn’t have a chance from the get-go,” Hoovestal said.
He also suggested that the verdict for his client, who is African American, may have been different had it been held in Chicago and had the jury been more ethnically diverse. At one point, Hoovestal offered to play a recording of the Elvis Presley song “In the Ghetto” for the court, which Watters declined to hear.
The mother of one of Edwards’ victims also addressed the court, choking up repeatedly as she explained that since her daughter returned home to Polson, she herself had fallen into drug addiction, was now homeless and was no longer able to care for her daughter.
“Ultimately, (she) has hit rock bottom,” the victim’s mother said. “I don’t see how anyone can recover from the neglect, the physical abuse, the mental abuse and being stripped of her self-worth.”
She told the judge that Edwards had met her daughter online and convinced her he had connections to help her make extra money to care for her 15-month-old child.
During the 11 days her daughter was gone, she had been forced by Edwards to engage in prostitution, she said, and later told her mother, “What Terrance did was awful, but the people he sold me to were even worse.”
Edwards was also sentenced to a lifetime of supervised release after his prison term, and he will be required to undergo sex offender treatment and pay $3,370 in restitution to one of the victims.
His co-defendant, Francine Joann Granados, of Moorhead, Minnesota, was also sentenced Thursday, for one count of witness tampering.
She was sentenced to two years in federal prison and three years of supervised probation.