A Miami federal judge did not believe Damion St. Patrick Baston told the truth when he took the witness stand in his sex-trafficking trial this summer. She also did not detect any sense of guilt or remorse after the jury convicted him.
At his sentencing hearing on Monday, U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga said Baston has a “deviant” and “delusional” personality with a “warped sense of reality.”
Despite her low opinion of the 37-year-old Jamaican, the judge refused to give him a maximum life sentence, instead sending Baston to prison for 27 years. The judge said that, although the trial evidence proved Baston repeatedly victimized young women in the sex trade from Australia to Dubai to Miami, he didn’t kill anyone and, therefore, a “sentence of life would not provide just punishment.”
At his June trial, the 12-person jury heard a half-dozen women testify about how Baston beat and raped them as he forced them into his prostitution racket. Baston denied everything.
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“I am not a pimp,” Baston declared at his trial.
He was found guilty of 21 counts of sex trafficking, money-laundering and aggravated identity theft.
At his sentencing, Baston was equally defiant, saying: “I don’t even know what sex trafficking is.” He said the prosecution’s case and demand for a life sentence was “overkill, an abuse of power.”
“I love America,” said Baston, who was brought as a child to the United States from Jamaica by his mother. “I love this country.”
He further asserted there was no evidence of his beating or raping the women who testified against him — only happiness. “None of those girls had any bruises or marks,” he said. “Everybody in those videos [shown at trial] is happy, well and alive.”
But at Monday’s hearing, a prosecutor read letters written by two Australian women — including Baston’s ex-wife — who described him as a money-hungry monster who scarred their lives.
“He forced me to work in prostitution,” wrote his ex-wife. “I say forced because he threatened to kill me and my family.”
“I was his personal slave,” wrote another Australian woman. “He is a predator, a manipulator and a sadistic con man.”
An American woman testified Monday that Baston forced her into working for him in Miami and other U.S. cities after meeting her on the Internet. She recently gave birth to their baby girl, whom she held outside the courtroom.
On the witness stand, the young woman said to Baston: “I have a rhetorical question for you: Would you do what you did to me with your own daughter?”
The woman then told him to go to hell. “I want to get my life back,” she said. “I want to get my sanity back.”
But Baston’s mother, Madge, and his defense attorney, David Rowe, strived to paint a softer image of the defendant, in the hope of his avoiding a life sentence.
“I raised him as a decent young man,” Madge Baston testified. “I brought him here for a better life. ... He treats women with respect. I didn’t raise him to abuse anyone. ... He never held them hostage. Everyone was free to go. ... For them to say what he has done to them, I don’t believe it.”
His defense attorney argued it would set a “dangerous” precedent if the judge sent Baston to prison for life, claiming he did not harm or kill any of the women who worked for him and, in some instances, loved him.
“This is a case where he should get some mercy,” said Rowe, whose request for a 10-to-12-year sentence was rejected by the judge.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said the case, a collaboration of American, Australian and United Arab Emirates law enforcement agencies, led to the first U.S. prosecution under a 2008 law intended to combat international sex trafficking.
“It is the first time we have used the extraterritorial jurisdiction provision of our anti-trafficking laws to charge someone for sex trafficking that occurred in another country,” Ferrer said after Baston’s conviction in July.
Raised for part of his childhood in New York City, Baston was deported from the United States in the late 1990s for having a prior criminal conviction. Two years ago, he arrived in Miami with an Australian woman and an American woman, and used “psychological coercion and physical abuse” against them to pick up men at South Florida strip clubs and turn tricks, according to Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. attorney’s office.
At trial, prosecutors Olivia Choe and Roy Altman unveiled documents showing that Baston stole the identity of an American man that allowed him to travel to Australia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States to orchestrate his prostitution ring and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“His methods of cruelty were all-encompassing,” Choe told the judge Monday, as she provided graphic examples. “He was extremely cruel and sadistic.”