Despite their pleas for leniency, an Eden Prairie couple was sentenced Friday to prison for prostituting an underage runaway.
Johnathan B. Edwards and Kauser M. Yusuf both asked Ramsey County District Judge Joy Bartscher to consider the fate of their four children, all under 4 years old. The youngest child is less than a month old.
"The state is robbing them by robbing us of our freedom," Edwards said.
"You put yourself in this position," Bartscher told Edwards.
The judge sentenced Edwards to 20 years in prison. She later sentenced Yusuf, who sobbed as she pleaded for probation instead of prison time, to 7½ years in prison.
"She's going to suffer a whole lot more than you're going to suffer," Bartscher said of the girl the couple prostituted.
A jury convicted Edwards and Yusuf in late December of one count each of sex trafficking. When the verdicts were read, Edwards lunged at Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Karen Kugler, swearing and spitting at her. Yusuf wailed and collapsed on the floor.
Deputies tackled Edwards during the incident, for which he faces a charge of fourth-degree assault.
According to court documents, Edwards and Yusuf began prostituting the girl in 2013 when she was 15. She was prostituted out of a home in St. Paul and had sex with seven to 20 men a day.
The two were exposed after the girl sent an e-mail to Backpage.com telling the website that she was being prostituted on its site.
Due to the December outburst, Edwards, 26, and Yusuf, 22, were sentenced at the Ramsey County law enforcement center instead of the main courthouse. Five deputies stood watch as they appeared separately behind a wooden and glass vestibule.
Edwards' attorney, Christopher Zipko, argued for a lighter sentence, noting that Yusuf played the key role in grooming the young girl.
"He was a minor role in this matter," Zipko said.
Kugler contested Zipko's characterization.
"He himself has no remorse, has taken no responsibility," Kugler said.
When given a chance to address the court, Edwards apologized for his "ignorant behavior" at his conviction. He also told Bartscher that he wasn't a pimp, and that he did not use or abuse women.
Bartscher told Edwards that his court record showed otherwise. He's been convicted of domestic assault by strangulation.
Kugler argued that Yusuf should get 15 years in prison, twice the recommended sentence, because she was an "integral" part of the crime and "terrorized" the victim once the victim stepped forward.
"This is a defendant who lives in the deluded world of denial and blame," Kugler said.
Yusuf's sister, mother and two brothers pleaded for leniency from the judge.
"She's been a good girl all her life," said her sister, Zahra Yusuf. "I'm asking you, can you please give my sister a second chance?"
Kauser Yusuf sobbed throughout her family's pleas, at times collapsing on a ledge in the vestibule and resting her head on her arm. When it was her time to speak, she apologized for her behavior at her conviction, and then asked for probation so she could care for her children.
"The only thing I'm good at is being a mom," Yusuf said. "I don't belong here."
Bartscher told Yusuf that her crime needed to be punished.
"Jail and prison isn't supposed to be easy," the judge told her. "It's punishment."