Archived Story

Niles ‘sextortion’ trial under way

Published 6:26pm Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Martise Washington, one of the five Niles teenagers charged with sex crimes in an alleged video sex extortion scandal, faced the first day of his jury trial today at Berrien County Trial Court in Niles.

Washington, 18, faces seven charges, including three counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of third degree criminal sexual conduct, possession of child abusive material, extortion and surveillance of an unclad individual.

In his opening statement, Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli explained to the jury the allegations against Washington.

Pierangeli said on March 14, Washington had sex with a teenage girl at the home of co-defendant Trey Nichols, who recorded the encounter on Washington’s cell phone without the girl knowing.

Pierangeli displayed images from the video to the jury, showing Nichols pat Washington on the back as he left the room. The prosecutor said Washington admitted to producing the video to police.

The prosecutor said then on March 18, Leon Murphy, Washington’s friend and co-defendant, contacted the alleged victim via text messages, informing her he had seen the video. Murphy then told her he would post the video to Facebook if she didn’t have oral sex with him that night, Pierangeli said.

“The victim was scared, didn’t know what to do. She felt like she had no choice,” he said.

Pierangeli would admit into evidence printed reports of the text messages from the girl’s cell phone provider.

The girl eventually consented, Pierangeli said, and Murphy, Washington and co-defendant Parnell Martin drove to pick her up and take her to Murphy’s house.
After she had sex with Murphy, she asked for them to take her home, according to Pierangeli.

“But that wasn’t good enough for the defendant,” Pierangeli said. “He said, ‘It’s my turn now.’”

According to the prosecution, the alleged victim was then threatened with the video into having sex with Murphy and Martin.

“The victim was feeling cornered,” Pierangeli said.

It wasn’t until Murphy’s father entered the room that the defendants agreed to take her home, according to the prosecution. But they drove her around Niles for a while, allegedly sexually assaulting her in the car, laughing at her.

“She was begging to go home and they laughed,” Pierangeli said.

When the girl finally got home, she sent suicidal texts to a friend informing her about the incident, the prosecutor said.

Pierangeli claimed she wasn’t the first victim, telling the jury that in February, Washington had also used naked pictures of another Niles teenage girl to extort sex from her.

“Hold the defendant accountable for what he did,” Pierangeli said. “Find him guilty.”
City of Niles police officer Chad Mitchell was the prosecution’s first witness and said he executed the search warrant to obtain the text messages from the alleged victim’s cell phone.

Jim Jesse, Washington’s attorney, asked Mitchell how he knew that it was Washington and Murphy who had sent the texts. Mitchell said he only knows that the messages were sent from their phone numbers.

Niles police officer Kevin Kosten, who interviewed Washington after the alleged incident, also took the stand.

Kosten said Washington admitted to producing the video and knowing she was underage. Washington also admitted to having consensual sex with her March 18, the officer said.

Kosten said he explained the allegations to Washington during the interview. When the officer asked Washington why the girl would lie, Kosten claimed Washington said: “I really don’t know.”

Pierangeli later during the trial asked Kosten to read aloud a letter, allegedly written by Washington, that Kosten had subpoenaed from a friend of the defendant who had been questioned by police about the situation.

“Those words you made may be exactly what sends me away for a long ass time … You basically killed me already,” the letter reads.

The trial continues Wednesday in Niles.

Co-defendants Miller and Martin will be tried Nov. 29. Murphy, who pleaded guilty to third degree criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography, will be sentenced Monday.

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