Jury Deadlocked in Case Against Man Charged in Killing of Transgender Woman

Jurors deadlocked Wednesday on charges against an Inglewood man charged with killing a transgender woman in South Los Angeles, but convicted him of human trafficking and sexual assault charges involving an 11-year-old girl.

The downtown Los Angeles jury deliberated for just under two days before Superior Court Judge Craig Richman declared a mistrial on murder and robbery counts against Robert James Spells, 33, stemming from the Dec. 3, 2014, shooting death of Deshawnda Sanchez, 21.

The nine-man, three-woman panel, however, found Spells guilty of one felony count each of human trafficking of a minor, forcible lewd act upon a child, lewd act upon a child, aggravated sexual assault of a child and forcible rape -- with jurors finding true an allegation on the latter two counts that the offenses were committed during the kidnapping of a child under 14. Those crimes occurred in February 2015.

Spells is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole on the counts involving the 11-year-old girl, Deputy District Attorney Theodore Swanson said.

Spells is due back in court Feb. 15 for a hearing when prosecutors are expected to announce whether they want to retry him on the murder and robbery charges, which could also carry a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole if the special circumstance allegation of murder during the course of a robbery is found true.

In closing arguments Monday, the prosecutor told jurors, "What the defendant did was ruin two lives."

Citing "overwhelming circumstantial and direct evidence," the prosecutor said Spells was a pimp and cited DNA evidence allegedly proving that the defendant had sex with Sanchez before she was shot to death.

"He's her pimp or he's trying to become her pimp," Swanson said.

He noted that jurors had heard a recording of a 911 call made by Sanchez in which she said she was being robbed and chased by someone with a gun.

The crimes involving the 11-year-old girl occurred after Spells picked her up off the street after she ran away from a foster home, according to the prosecution.

The deputy district attorney showed jurors a photo of the girl -- whom he said had autism and "the mind of an 8-year-old" -- outside the Mustang Motel between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

"Why would an 11-year-old child ever be out there, ever, but for the fact that she's working as prostitute?" Swanson said, noting that the area is known for prostitution and that Spells paid for a room at the motel for two hours.

A dress, bra and earrings worn by the girl in ads on a website and in surveillance video of the motel lot were found in a car driven by Spells and owned by his girlfriend, according to Swanson.

Defense attorney Frank Duncan argued that much of the evidence against his client was circumstantial and accused a detective who testified about the behavior of pimps of being overzealous in trying to pin the crimes on Spells.

"She already had a preconceived idea" that his client was guilty and tried to force the facts to fit a story that would convict him, Spells' attorney told jurors.

Duncan alleged that another prostitute acted as a pimp for the young girl, saying that Spells didn't treat the girl the way a pimp would treat a prostitute.

He questioned why no "johns" could be seen coming and going from the motel if the young girl was selling sex.

Spells was arrested in February 2015 by Los Angeles police and has remained in jail since then.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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