Antonio D. Washington-Davis was born into a family of troubled criminal minds that swept him up in their wake, his attorney argued Wednesday during opening statements in his sex-trafficking trial.
Washington-Davis, 27, is the second member of his St. Paul family to go on trial for allegedly running a large sex-trafficking ring that for years took advantage of vulnerable young women and girls.
"You can't choose your family," said his attorney, Nicole Kubista. "It's just something you're born into, and this is a case about Antonio Washington-Davis' family."
A six-month investigation revealed that the Washington family allegedly coerced and threatened more than 10 women and girls into prostitution using the backpage.com website, eight e-mail addresses, 30 phone numbers and more than 100 credit card accounts.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney David Pinto said in his opening statement that Washington-Davis preyed on homeless and mentally challenged young women and girls.
The case has become a hallmark of Ramsey County Attorney John Choi's commitment to cracking down on sex-trafficking, and is the second one to go to trial in the county this week. Arteco M. Rhodes is also on trial in an unrelated case in which the prosecution contends he drove a 15-year-old girl from Chicago to St. Paul in April, had sex with her and prostituted her.
In July, a jury deadlocked in the trial of Washington-Davis' brother, Otis D. Washington, 29, who is scheduled for retrial in November.
The men's uncles, Robert J. Washington and Calvin R. Washington, pleaded guilty to their roles in the ring and were sentenced in September. Washington-Davis' ex-girlfriend and the mother of his children, Elizabeth Alexander, is also charged in the case and is scheduled to go to trial.
Kubista argued that the other family members were behind the trafficking. Kubista called Robert the "puppet master" and Calvin "a gorilla pimp" — a trafficker who used fear and violence to control victims, she said. But authorities allege in charges that Washington-Davis used an e-mail address to post ads on the backpage website.
One victim said he forced her into prostitution, strangled her, sexually assaulted her and drove her to Ely, Minn., where she was trafficked, according to charges.
Washington-Davis' trial is scheduled to continue into next week.