Traffickers online look for vulnerable youth
A 19-year-old woman convicted of capital murder in a deadly home invasion involving rapper Tay-K has won her appeal for a new trial.
She was 16 at the time of the crime in 2016, and her conviction was seen by advocates as an injustice because she was a victim of sex trafficking.
Six others have been convicted in the Mansfield home invasion, which led to the death of 21-year-old Ethan Walker. Taymor McIntyre, the rapper known as Tay-K, was convicted of murder and aggravated robbery in the case in July.
The woman was accused of planning the robbery of her boyfriend and his roommate.
One of the women arrested in the murder, Megan Holt, testified that the girl came up with the plan to rob Zach Beloate and Walker because they were drug dealers who often had drugs and cash at the house. But when the group got to the home, they didn’t find anything, and both men ended up shot.
After her conviction in 2018, the girl was placed in the custody of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department with a 20-year sentence, with the possibility of parole on her 19th birthday.
But a judge in July transferred the woman to adult prison to finish out the remainder of her sentence despite several experts from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department testifying that she should have been paroled.
Advocates protested the decision because the girl’s family reported to police that she was a victim of sex trafficking weeks before the July 26, 2016, home invasion. One of her traffickers was involved in the home invasion, multiple sources have told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
At her trial last year, prosecutors argued that being a victim of sex trafficking didn’t excuse her involvement.
The decision, handed up on Thursday morning by the Texas 2nd District Court of Appeals, said she was convicted under an improper theory of capital murder and that the trial court erred by saying the girl had a legal duty to prevent the robbery.
The woman’s new defense attorney, Scott Brown of Fort Worth, argued in the appeal that the girl didn’t have the legal duty to prevent what happened because she didn’t have a special relationship with the victims — meaning she was not Walker’s or Beloate’s guardian.
The errors denied the girl a fair and impartial trial and made it impossible for the state or defense to know whether the jury decided she was guilty of not preventing the murder or if she was guilty of being involved, according to court documents.
“This case was reversed because of judicial error, not because of insufficient evidence,” Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said in a statement.
“We will continue to pursue this case, just as we pursued her co-defendant Taymor “Tay-K” McIntyre and the others involved in these crimes.”
The Star-Telegram is not naming the woman because she was the victim of a sex crime.
The appeals court mentioned the sex trafficking claims in its decision, but didn’t cite them as a reason for granting the appeal.
Evidence was presented at the girl’s trial to establish that she was a sex trafficking victim and that her participation in the invasion had been the result of duress by her recruiter, Ariana Bharrat, and her pimp.
Bharrat was sentenced to 25 years. She befriended the girl when she was 12 and introduced her to a pimp when she was 14, according to testimony. Eventually the two of them would take the girl to strip clubs in Fort Worth and Las Vegas. In addition to stripping, the trafficker forced the girl into prostitution when she was 15, according to the appeal document.
The girl testified that she was unable to escape because they assaulted her and threatened to harm her family.
An expert testified at the girl’s trial that she was a victim. During her transfer hearing, a handful of experts from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department also testified that they believed the girl’s story and all testified that she should have been paroled.
Though the judgment was reversed, the Court of Appeals decision isn’t final.
State prosecutors could petition a decision to the Supreme Court of Texas or they can try to resolve the case or go back to a trial.
Officials say that she could be released pending the resolution of the case.
The girl’s family is “ecstatic that the Court of Appeals has agreed with us and reversed her case and remanded it for a new trial,” Brown said on Thursday afternoon.