Each young woman told a similar story, detailing horrible sexual acts done to them as children while living at a Haitian orphanage in the seaside city of Jacmel.
One young witness was so uncomfortable that she could not say the word vagina, and kept referring to her “front” through a Creole translator to describe how the man who ran the home “was always touching the children.” Another, who testified that her abuse started at age 6, described how he would hold her head and she would struggle as he forced her to perform oral sex on him.
Three others recounted additional episodes of abuse.
On Tuesday, a Miami federal jury found Daniel John Pye, 35, guilty of traveling to Haiti from Miami on three separate dates for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minor girls in his care. He was found not guilty on a fourth count.
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Pye faces up to 30 years in prison on each of the three counts. Sentencing is set for Jan. 10.
Prosecutors painted him as a missionary with a dark side who went to Haiti for one reason: to sexually abuse underage girls.
“The kids did not exaggerate their testimony,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Widlanski told the jury on Monday during closing arguments. “He was going there and he knew exactly what he was going to do, to have illicit sexual conduct....Focus on the words of the victims.”
Defense lawyer Joel DeFabio, however, argued that the witnesses’ memories “were all over the place,” and even after Pye and his wife Leann, who testified on his behalf, had left Haiti, some of the children still kept in touch via Facebook.
“Did he get too close to the children? Obviously so, but not in a sexual manner,” DeFabio told jurors. “Undisputed, he ran an orphanage, he traveled to the U.S. for supplies and fund-raising. He did not have sexual acts with children.”
The jurors disagreed. After a day and a half of deliberations, they convicted Pye on three of the charges.
“We are disappointed with the decision and I find the charges problematic in that this is something that allegedly happened in Haiti and yet he’s being tried in the United States,” DeFabio said afterward. “He’s not charged with sexual misconduct but that’s the inflammatory testimony they brought in to convict him.”
Pye, who is originally from Bradenton, was arrested in March in his hometown of Ashtown, Arkansas, after a lengthy probe by Homeland Security Investigations. The U.S. government has become increasingly interested in prosecuting sex crimes involving offenders who travel from the United States to a foreign country to abuse underage children.
Among the government’s witnesses: Steve Daugherty, a pastor who testified that Pye had confessed to him that he had “been in an inappropriate relationship with one of the kids.”
“She was 12 years old,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ilham Hosseini reminded jurors.
“They all said they liked the defendant,” Hosseini said referring to the young women, who were flown from Haiti to Miami to testify in the case. “He did good things for them...but they did not like what he did to them.
“He secretly fondled their breasts, fondled their vaginas, performed oral sex on them and had them perform oral sex on him,” she said.
But DeFabio said the testimony was inconsistent and that the witnesses didn’t remember exact days when they said the abuse occurred.
One of the victims testified that the abuse went on during Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and lasted 15 to 30 days — but DeFabio said Pye wasn’t in Jacmel then.
He cited as proof a blog written by Leann Pye about her husband being away when the storm hit. “Travel records show that he traveled to Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 1 and back to Haiti on Sept. 6, and back to Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 11 and back to Haiti. The record, which is undisputed, showed she’s wrong about her allegations.”
LeAnn Pye, who denied several witnesses’ accounts that she argued with her husband after finding one of the orphans performing oral sex on her husband underneath a sheet, “was flustered and agitated,” Hosseini said.
“They told you what happened to them, what they saw,” she said. “We need to prove he had the intent and we have proven that.”