Ohio woman on trial denies slave labor allegations
- Article by: JOHN P. COYNE
- Associated Press
- March 5, 2014 - 5:25 PM
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — One of two people charged with enslaving a mentally disabled woman for two years with her child denied on Wednesday that she hurt the woman or locked her inside a filthy basement room.
Jessica Hunt told jurors that she tried to help the woman care for her daughter and blamed two others who already pleaded guilty and testified against her and her boyfriend.
"I was not doing bad things to her," Hunt said in federal court.
Hunt and Jordie Callahan have pleaded not guilty to charges accusing them of raiding the woman's bank account and public assistance and forcing her to cooperate through sexual and physical abuse.
Prosecutors said the woman and her daughter were threatened with a python and pit bulls while being forced to live in a damp, dark basement with a lock on the door and no bathroom in the northern Ohio town of Ashland. They said the ordeal lasted from early 2011 to late 2012.
The two people who pleaded guilty earlier in the forced-labor case are scheduled for sentencing this month.
Dezerah Silsby, who was accused of using ice cream to lure the woman and her child to captivity, entered a plea under the terms of a sealed agreement. She earlier testified that she drove the woman and Hunt to an ATM to get money using the woman's government funds debit card.
Hunt said that the woman gave her the debit card because she didn't have a purse to keep it and that she never ordered her to give it up.
The woman volunteered to injure herself, Hunt said, to help the defendants obtain pain pills. Hunt said Silsby slammed the woman's hand in a door and then smashed her hand with a rock before she went to a hospital to get the medicine.
"I didn't tell her to do that, and she offered me the pills," Hunt said.
Hunt also said she told the woman that she could leave any time.
Police in Ashland first got involved when the woman was arrested on a candy bar shoplifting case and asked to be jailed because people had been mean to her.
The woman and her daughter were freed after police investigated an abuse allegation one of the defendants made against her.
Authorities said the abuse allegation was a ruse, complete with a video staged by the defendants. They said the defendants had forced the woman to act as if she were mistreating her child.
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