FORT WORTH — Three teenagers who were accused of forcing runaway girls into prostitution reached a plea agreement Thursday and were sentenced to the Texas Youth Commission, court officials said.
The teens — two 17 and one 16 — will be released no later than their 19th birthdays.
The teens admitted at a hearing Thursday to one count each of compelling prostitution. In exchange, prosecutors dropped other charges, including human trafficking, attorneys involved in the case said.
“What is important is that after they turn 19, they cannot be transferred to an adult prison,” defense attorney Rose Anna Salinas said.
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TYC officials can release the teens before their 19th birthdays for good behavior, she said.
Prosecutor Tim Bednarz declined to comment because charges against other defendants are pending in adult court.
The teens were accused of befriending runaway girls and forcing them into prostitution. Police said the teens found customers by trolling low-income apartment complexes. Customers were charged between $30 and $50.
The girls, who were 13 to 15 years old, said the boys forced them to comply through beatings, sexual assaults and threats against their families. Police arrested the boys in January after a report that one girl was assaulted at a convenience store owned by a frequent customer.
However, during a hearing in which prosecutors tried to have four teens certified as adults, defense attorneys argued that girls willingly hung out with the suspects, ran away from home and used drugs.
Judge Jean Boyd certified only one of the teens, Martin Reyes, as an adult. He is awaiting trial.
Salinas, who represented a 17-year-old accused of being the ringleader, said testimony made the prostitution seem more like a joint enterprise rather than girls being held against their will.
“It was obviously not good behavior for anyone, and it shouldn’t have happened,” Salinas said. “But it was not a forced situation.”
The mother of one girl said Thursday that she was disappointed that the teens were not tried as adults and won’t spend more time in state custody. She said her daughter is in counseling and is afraid of the defendants.
“These girls have to live with what happened for the rest of their lives,” she said. “These boys aren’t going to serve much time. I don’t think that after a year and half, they’ll be ready to get back into society.”