NASHVILLE — Federal prosecutors have finished their case against a group of nine defendants charged in a conspiracy to commit sexual trafficking operated by Somali gangs.
The federal jury will return Thursday morning to hear closing arguments after more than two weeks of testimony in the case that spans from Minnesota to Tennessee. Seven of the nine defendants on trial and several key witnesses have been from the Somali refugee communities in Minneapolis and Nashville.
The trial is the first one from the indictment that included 30 people and included four unidentified female victims, who ranged in ages from under 14 to 18, who were used for sexual acts in Minnesota, Ohio and Tennessee between 2000 and 2010. Several delays pushed back the start of the trial until April 9, as the court sorted through issues relating to the exact ages of some of the defendants and some of the witnesses.
The U.S. attorney's office is trying to prove a wide-ranging child sexual trafficking conspiracy by the gangs and their associates. But defense attorneys have argued the exact age of the prosecution's main witness, a Somali female identified only as Jane Doe No. 2, is not known because her birth certificate is fake.
The jury will have to determine what age they think Jane Doe No. 2 was when the sexual acts occurred when they deliberate on the charges.
Defense attorneys said in opening arguments that Jane Doe No. 2 was a runaway and a "party girl" who willingly had sex with multiple defendants and lied about it so her conservative Somali family could save face.
U.S. District Judge William Haynes told the attorneys that consent to sex is not a valid legal defense if the victim was under 18.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys argued for a long time on Wednesday over proposed instructions to the jury about the federal law regarding sexual trafficking.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Van Vincent also argued in court Wednesday that the federal statute cited in the indictment also includes protections for persons 18 or older who are victims of sexual trafficking, but the government has to prove that the defendants used force, fraud or coercion.