225 – What Jurors Want to Know

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak interview Mary Chiappetta, a member of Soroptimist International Huntington Beach. Soroptimist International is a global volunteer organization providing women and girls with access to the education and training they need to achieve economic empowerment. Mary became passionate about raising sex trafficking awareness after serving as a juror on a criminal case in Orange County, California.

Mary Chiappetta

Mary Chiappetta is a member of Soroptimist International Huntington Beach. Soroptimist International is a global volunteer organization providing women and girls with access to the education and training they need to achieve economic empowerment. Mary chairs the Stop Human Trafficking committee for SIHB. She became passionate about raising sex trafficking awareness after serving as a juror on a criminal case in Orange County, California.

Key Points

  • Is a victim of human trafficking credible if he/she has previous crimes committed?
  • Within a prosecution, it is very important for the jury to understand the background and vocabulary within the specific sub-culture.
  • While social media must be used carefully, it often provides evidence to incriminate pimps.
  • Jury duty is often seen as a dreaded responsibility, however, Mary turned it into an opportunity to learn more about the issues and has become an advocate for victims as a result of her experience as a juror.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 225 – What Jurors Want to Know.

Production Credits [00:00:07] Produced by Innovate Learning, Maximizing Human Potential.

Dave [00:00:28] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:34] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:36] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Today, we have a special episode with the perspective from a juror. So, glad to welcome to the show today Mary Chiappetta. She is a member of Soroptimist International, Huntington Beach. Soroptimist International is a global volunteer organization providing women and girls with access to the education and training they need to achieve economic empowerment. Mary chairs the Stop Human Trafficking Committee for SIHB. She became passionate about raising sex trafficking awareness after serving as a juror on a criminal case here in Orange County, California. Mary, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.

Mary [00:01:22] I’m delighted to be here. Thanks for having me.

Sandie [00:01:25] We’re glad to have, that’s for sure. I’ve often wondered how jurors feel when they’re sitting in a court at a human trafficking trial. And to get to talk to somebody and ask them those questions is really excited about this. We’ve never done a podcast like this before. Mary and I haven’t met until today and in recent emails, so I’m especially happy for this opportunity. So, welcome.

Mary [00:01:54] Thank you.

Sandie [00:01:55] So, we’re going to jump right in with what did you know about human trafficking before you went for jury duty?

Mary [00:02:05] Well, I’m embarrassed to say I knew almost nothing. I mean, when they said that it was going to be a human trafficking case, my mind went to a van with people being smuggled across the border. It went to a sweatshop where people were working for no money. I didn’t think of it as the sex trafficking part at all. I just had absolutely no idea. I was a little bit, you know, nervous because I knew whatever it was, it was not going to be something that I’ve ever been familiar with. So, that was my feeling on it. I just didn’t know anything, which the judge said was a good thing because we’re supposed to come in with a slate full of nothing and just learn as we go. So, I was in good shape.

Sandie [00:02:55] So, you start it out with a blank sheet of paper. That’s good. So, in the process of going through the jury selection, was there any part of that that was particularly interesting for you once you knew what kind of trial it was going to be?

Mary [00:03:13] Right. So, early on, the judge told us it was going to be a sex trafficking trial and the defendant was in the room, and the defendant was a 20-year-old woman. And I just, you know, as confused as I was going in, I was even more confused looking at this young 20-year-old slight tiny woman and thinking she’s the defendant in this case. The judge was a real lighthearted guy, he seemed to me. He knew this was going to be kind of a tough trial to sit through. He said it was probably going to be 10 days long, and that we’re going to hear things that we’ve never heard before. So, in order to make us make us comfortable, he said, “I want you to know that jury box is yours. And, you know, if you need to stand and stretch or you need to wear gym shoes one day. I bring my Halloween candy in, so you know, you’re all alert and awake because I need you fueled for the long term on this effort.” So, the jury probably took them about two days to seat us. We had 12 jurors and three alternates, mostly a funny nine women and three men, which were the jury selection. And you could tell he asked a lot of questions. A lot of people were not that interested in sitting in the human trafficking case. Of course, he didn’t let people off the hook very easily just because you didn’t want to do it, or you were afraid of something that’s no reason. So, took a couple of days and we finally got the jury seated with three alternates.

Sandie [00:04:53] Okay, so what was the mood among the other jurors, because a couple of days gives you time to kind of let it sink in what you’re about to do.

Mary [00:05:02] You know, he was so strict telling us we can’t talk about anything about human trafficking. We can’t Google anything. We can’t look at cases. We can’t talk to each other about human trafficking or anything about the case. We were very obedient jurors. We talked nervously with each other. We spent a lot of time together actually after we were seated, and to this day, we’re still in contact, just sharing human trafficking new. Because you sit together with that kind of situation, a bunch of strangers, you just sort of get camaraderie. But the mood was a little bit, we were all kind of hesitant. What is this going to be about? But we really couldn’t talk about it. It was kind of odd, but that’s how it goes.

Sandie [00:05:49] So, when the trial began, from your perspective, why don’t you start by just summarizing the trial from your perspective?

Mary [00:05:59] OK, so the victim in this case was a 20-year-old woman, girl I would call her, a woman though in the Bay Area. Real bad situation with her mother- didn’t seem to get along. She had a job, but she was fired for stealing merchandise from her store. Kind of got the impression from the victim this was kind of the last straw with the mom and the mom kicked her out of the house. So, she had a car and she had a little money and her I.D. and that was about it. And she moved into a little motel near the freeway. And just because she had nowhere else to go. It was that or sleep in her car. So, she befriended a woman at the motel who said she needed someone to help her with her business. Well, her business was she had stolen credit card and she wanted this person to go and steal gift cards or take gift cards from a store, buy them with the fraudulent credit cards and then bring everything back. And she was then paid with gift cards, which she then turned around and went to the grocery store and redeemed for 30 percent of the value or whatever those kiosks do in front of grocery stores. So, basically, she had no friends. She befriended someone who was busy doing, you know, bad stuff. And she noticed there were some girls in the hotel, one in particular that she was very attracted to about her age. There were four girls, I think they all lived in one room, and she became friends with them. And she was delighted because she had no friends. She had no backup; she had no support. Her mother wouldn’t even see her. So, these girls became her friends. They started, you know, going out to bars together, they would go to the liquor store. She was tapped to be the person who stole the liquor. They started driving her around. They didn’t want her to drive a car for some reason, so she started driving with these people. And it was about two or three days later, they talked about how they needed more money for the motel. So, they had to go out, go to work. And she’s like, well, what kind of work? You know, I don’t know if I know how to do your work. “Don’t worry, you know, we’ll teach you all about it.” Of course, she was thrilled that she got this new tribe to hang with. They were in the Bay Area, they drove into Oakland, and they went to what’s called a track, what is known for prostitution. And they told her, “this is our work, and this is what you’re going to do.” And she like, “I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t know how to do it.” And they’re like, “well, it’s all right. One of these girls here is going to take you along and show you what to do.” So, sure enough, I mean, they went out and they started looking for car dates, which is what they call it. And got permission for the victim to get in the back seat to watch what was going on in the front seat and taught her how to do whatever it was the sex purchaser asked. They taught her what to charge for what activities. And so, they spent the night doing that. The defendant was not with them, she simply dropped them off and gave them instructions of when to come back and bring all their money. So, it was these other girls in her tribe that were kind of teaching her what to do. So, she said she was shocked, but she had no money and she had no livelihood. And she liked these people and she really liked the defendant. So, she did what they said, and they went back to the motel. And about three days later, they said, we got to get some more money for hotel and food and stuff, so now we’re going to San Francisco. Same thing happened, except this time they told her, the defendant told her, “you’re on your own now. You spent, you know, eight hours watching someone else. You know what to do and you know what to charge. So, get out there and do it.” And she did, but the whole-time things were getting weirder and weirder. She said they took her I.D. from her, they never let her drive. This defendant never let her drive the car.

Sandie [00:10:16] Wait. But it was her car, right?

Mary [00:10:18] It was her car, exactly. And so, you know, it was kind of like, well, why did you let that happen? Well, now we know it’s all part of a control, of controlling every aspect of somebody’s life. So, they took her I.D., they took her car, she had to turn over every dime she made, and she was now, you know, just a victim. And this was her new life. She couldn’t really get away, again she had nowhere to go and now she didn’t even have a car and she had no money. So, she was just caught in this situation. And she mentioned how her birthday was coming up the next week. And they said to her, the defendant, how about we go down to Disneyland, we go to the park, we’ll treat you for your birthday? Oh, that was so great. You know, she had nothing else going on. So, they all piled in the car. They ended up picking up two other guys that were cousins or friends. Everyone seemed to be a cousin or a sister or something- that’s what they called each other. And down they went, but they had a stop in L.A. at a track to get money for this expensive Anaheim hotel and then a motel. Then they stopped again in Long Beach on the way down, more work. And then when they finally got to Anaheim, guess what? No Disneyland. Just more work. So, she was so upset. They were all booked into this same motel room, there were six or seven of them now, and she went in to text her sister. I think they gave her a burner phone because they think they took a real phone away and she got caught texting. And apparently, as the days go on, there were all these rules and, you know, texting someone outside the little group was not allowed. So, the defendant beat her up, I mean, bloodily had her down on the ground, kicked her, made her trip down, humiliated her, crawl around on the motel room floor. Everyone was laughing at her. I mean, it was really kind of heartbreaking to envision that situation. And one of the guys that they were with, a cousin, came into the bathroom at one point and showed his gun. And she said he had showed it again, He kind of pulled it out every so often to just let everyone know he had one. And she was afraid he was going to shoot her, and she was afraid that they were going to go get her mother because during their little time in the Bay Area, they had gone to the mother’s house to pick up some items so they knew where her family lived. And she was petrified. So, the worst thing that happened. So, I mean, then they put her in the shower. The defendant made her get dressed, put makeup on her, fixed her hair, and told her to go out work. So, she was in no shape to work, went into a McDonald’s, asked a stranger to call the police and help her. And the police came and brought her to the hospital. And we saw the recorded testimony of her at the hospital. Her face was all torn up, she had bruises all over her body. I mean, it was horrible. And so that’s the story. And she decided to go ahead after working with Anaheim P.D. to actually go ahead with a trial because she said, I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.

Sandie [00:13:36] In the trial, I know that there was some issues around what you said at the very beginning about her credibility.

Mary [00:13:46] Right. Yeah, that’s tough. That is really tough and the prosecutor, Juliet Caliber, she did a magnificent job in her opening statements to warn us. You’re going to hear that this victim had been involved in some illegal activity herself. But that doesn’t mean that she should be trafficked. So, they slowly it was like peeling back an onion to get the information out about this person’s background. But then to just keep questioning and explaining. I mean, she did a great job. You know, in this kind of case, you’re starting to explain the jury every single word because there are words that you and I don’t use every day. And so, it was so uncomfortable so often. And in the courtroom, there were members of the family of the defendant as well as the victim. And the whole thing was just so sad to be talking about all this stuff. I’m thinking, oh, my gosh, what if this was your sister? What if this was your child? You know, on either side it was exhausting and sad. And I can remember, you know, when you when you’re on the jury, they give you a little steno pad. You know, you leave in the jury room so you can take notes. I remember taking furious notes just because I didn’t want to look at anybody. I just felt sorry for everyone in that room. That was something.

Sandie [00:15:14] So, how did you decide to believe the victim-witness?

Mary [00:15:19] Well, you know, the trial ended in a plea bargain. We heard from the witness. That the entire case was we heard from the witness, which was also the victim. We heard from the investigator from the Anaheim PD who was on the case, and he did a really good job explaining to us what the whole subculture was all about, what all the definitions of all these words were, and kind of the business model, if you will, of human trafficking, sex trafficking. And then we had some police officers who were at the hospital and testified there. And when that was over, the defendant was called by the defense to come up and testify on her behalf, which I think is kind of unusual. But maybe she had no one else to testify for her. So, she got up and basically explained that she was not a human trafficker. She was just a prostitute. And she was what you would call a renegade prostitute, which is somebody who doesn’t have a pimp and is just out earning their own money. And when the public defender was asking her more about, well, what about when you were in Oakland and this happened and that happened, she said I was out working with the rest of the girls. I dropped him off, parked the car, and I went out working, too. I’m not a trafficker, I’m just a prostitute myself. So, it became like a ‘she said she said’ situation, which was kind of scary. The bottom line, you can’t wait to get in deliberation room so you can talk about the case. You just can’t talk to anyone about it. So, something happened in the course of the defendants testifying, some legal thing. And the prosecutor stopped the process, went to talk to the judge. They put us in the deliberation room just to put us somewhere. You don’t want any of us to leave, basically, you know, to go to the bathroom or down to the cafeteria. And then about, I don’t know, an hour and a half later, he came back. He said this trial was over. You know, thank you for your service. And we were like, no, you can’t just say that we’ve just now put ten days into this. It’s like watching a mini-series and we don’t get to see the last episode. And he said, well, there’s a lot of legal mumbo jumbo here that you probably won’t understand unless you’re an attorney. So, you know, you did a great job. And justice has been served. And, you know, you’re welcome to go outside into the hallway and the prosecutor and the public defender will come out and talk to you. So, we thought, OK, so we left. There wasn’t one, all 15 of us stood there just waiting and waiting. It took them about an hour to come out. And when they came out, we just gave them a round of applause because they really both knew their stuff, they did a fabulous job. And they did tell us that she was guilty, she pleaded guilty of all five counts, which was human trafficking, pimping, pandering, false imprisonment, and assault meant to do great bodily harm. And so, we said, well, what was the sentence? And they said, well, you know, there’s family members here in the hall, so be sensitive to them. You guys can go online and look it up tonight, it’ll all be out for information. So, I went online. We all traded cell phone numbers, which was kind of a blessing in disguise because we do all still communicate. And I found my information at night, she was sentenced to nine years and was guilty of all five counts.

Sandie [00:18:52] In the course of the trial then you had a victim and a defendant that it was hard to tell them apart, really. They’re both 20 years old, both with challenging stories. And how did that impact your ability as a juror? Because this wasn’t a male pimp.

Mary [00:19:16] Right. And, you know, as a mother and as you know, you’re looking at these two young women and thinking, you know, and the defendant was a very tiny woman and the victim was a very large woman. And so, at some point in the testimony, the public defender was asking, you know, the victim, you really expect us to believe she did all this harm to you? You know, she’s five foot two weighs one hundred and ten pounds. How couldn’t she just leave? Well, we now know there was a got a guy in the group with a gun, there was threats to her family. You know, she had no money, she had no I.D, she didn’t have her own car. What was she supposed to do? But it was something. Obviously, after we were dismissed, we were told we could talk about it, and the jury we were all over the place. That’s why you needed a deliberation. You know, some people believe that the defendant some people believe the victim. So, you kind of had to go back over the testimony to look at it. There was a lot of information on Facebook from the defendant, which, you know, parents keep your kids off this Facebook, but it’s unbelievable the way pimps will put, you know, pictures out there and information that anyone can find. And in fact, after the trial, I went back and there was a codefendant in this trial that had a separate case. This person with a gun, and they were also sentenced and in prison. But I looked both at their Facebook pages up and there they both were, so just surreal.

Sandie [00:20:59] So, the role of social media and especially Facebook in this particular case is a huge warning to families. Parents, aunts, uncles or part of a community to make sure you keep your kids safe online. You mentioned as well that you had to learn like a subculture, the vocabulary.

Mary [00:21:23] Yes.

Sandie [00:21:24] How was that as a juror and how did that change your perspective on the defendant and the victim in this case?

Mary [00:21:34] Yes. And again, the prosecute did a great job, the investigator, because as soon as they would hit a word, talk about a Romeo pimp, a gorilla pimp, a blade, a track, or a bottom girl- the prosecution had to just stop. I’m sure she was like, oh, they’re not going to know any of what these words are. And it was truly the case. And all these people all had multiple names. They were they had the regular names, and then they all had these kind of slang names that didn’t make any sense. And so, it was kind of hard to follow between the new vocabulary of the subculture, the vocabulary of the legal world, and then trying to keep six or seven people straight and where they were and what they were doing. And, you know, the other thing that I would like to say is these girls, victims, and this one in particular, same thing. They’re on drugs, they’re given alcohol, they’re moved in the middle of the night. I mean, if I was 20 and somebody took me to, you know, San Francisco one night and Oakland, another night and downtown L.A. and down the Long Beach, there’s a lot of testimony where they don’t seem sure of anything. “I don’t know. I can’t quite remember.” At one point, the prosecutor asked. Now, what time of day did this specific incident happen? And she answered, “Well, it was either when the sun was coming up or the sun was going down. I just remember it was that kind of color out there.” Because they work all night and they sleep all day and then they’re moved every two to three days. So, they don’t sound credible on the witness stand. But if the prosecutor does their job, and in this case she did, it’s like, how good would we be if we had to talk about that and we were 20 years old?

Sandie [00:23:28] I have to tell you that one of the things that touched me so much when I read your email, Mary, was your quote from the victim who said, “I am trying to forget these details, not remember them.”

Mary [00:23:44] I still get chills about that because part of the prosecutor’s job and, you know, everybody’s job is to get the information out and they would try to get into detail on one of the car dates, what happened? And then what did you do? And literally, she just started crying and saying, “I’m trying to forget this stuff, I’m not trying to remember.” And you can understand that. But again, when you’re testifying, it doesn’t sound quiet. We’re used to watching TV shows, where were you on the night at 8:00. It was 8:02 and I saw this happen. You know, it’s just not what you get in these kinds of trials and the drugs, you know.

Sandie [00:24:24] Well, and you mentioned TV. And usually the whole story is done in a one-hour show and your account for commercials and now it’s down to 40 minutes. You spent how many days in your seat?

Mary [00:24:36] I think it was ten days. It might have been different. So, maybe that the trial itself was eight days.

Sandie [00:24:45] Considerably longer than a TV show.

Mary [00:24:48] Yes.

Sandie [00:24:49] Amazing. So, it’s all done. You went home, all 15 of you stayed in touch. What is the one thing you want to communicate to other people who might get called for jury duty?

Mary [00:25:04] Right. Because we all kind of do that “oh I got jury duty now, oh my goodness”. Just look at it like it could open your eyes to some new world that you don’t know about. And if it’s one day or 10 days, you’re providing a great service and not to be afraid of it just to go for it. I was, quite frankly honored. And, you know, it’s changed my life. I got involved with Soroptimist and I started going to this human trafficking task force, a human trafficking committee, go to the human trafficking task force meetings, work with Salvation Army, work with Waymaker. It’s changed what I do and what I think about. And I am always on the lookout for victims. Always be on the lookout. I put this number 888-3737-888 in my telephone. Everyone put it in right now. And if you even suspect something is going wrong, call that number. They speak 200 languages, it’s anonymous, and you might save somebody.

Sandie [00:26:11] Mary, you are an incredible advocate. Delight to interview you today. I’m going to turn it back to Dave. But thank you so much.

Mary [00:26:22] Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Dave [00:26:25] Thank you so much to you both. And I’m really struck, Sandie, by how many aspects there are to this challenging situation of trafficking. And Mary, thank you so much for your story. What a great storyteller you are. And telling about what happened on your journey through this. And I loved the invitation for us all to learn more about this, because as much as we have all studied this issue, there’s so many aspects that we do not understand that we do not yet see in our own lives and own experiences. Thank you so much, Mary, for sharing your story. And we are inviting you also to take the first step to discover more or maybe discover something for the first time. If you will, hop online and download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know, A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. That’s a wonderful starting point as well. It will teach you the five critical things that Sandie has identified in her work here with the Global Center for Women and Justice that you should know before you join the fight against human trafficking. You can access the guide by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s also where all of the episode notes will be for this episode and all of our past episodes as well. If you have a question that’s come out of our conversation today, I hope you’ll take a moment to reach out to us while you’re online. Our email address is feedback@Endinghumantrafficking.org. And we will be back in two weeks for our next conversation. Thank you so much, Sandie.

Sandie [00:27:58] Thanks, Dave.

Dave [00:27:59] Thanks, everyone. And we’ll see you in two weeks. Take care.

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