CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – The allegations were almost too heinous and far-fetched to be believed. A New Hampshire lawyer who graduated at the top of her class and credited her success to Christianity was accused of using her 14-year-old daughter as a sexual pawn, at one point even engaging in a sexual act with the girl on camera.
But believe them a jury did, convicting the woman Thursday of eight counts of exploiting the teenager, who is now in foster care. Her attorney called no witnesses during barely a day of testimony, only imploring jurors in his closing arguments to put aside their emotions as they deliberated.
In a recorded phone conversation with her daughter from jail in December, the woman told her, “I should have been the mom, not the friend.”
She was neither, according to a U.S. attorney and testimony at the brief trial in U.S. District Court in Concord, which included two men recounting sexual encounters with the mother and daughter.
A Canadian named Kevin Watson testified that he met the girl online in 2012, that they had sexually explicit Skype sessions, and that he spent Memorial Day weekend last year with mother and daughter in a motel room in Niagara Falls, Ontario, about three weeks after the girl’s 14th birthday.
The woman told him it was her daughter’s first time having intercourse, and she videotaped that and other sexual encounters during the weekend, Watson said. It isn’t clear whether Watson knew the girl’s age at the time.
Brandon Ore, of Lebanon, N.H., testified he met the two after responding to a personals ad placed by “two girls, 18 and 33, looking to party.” He moved in with them in July 2012 and said it was weeks later that he learned they were mother and daughter, and that the girl was 14.
He moved out two months later and turned himself in to police, triggering the lawyer’s arrest.
“The partying was out of control, the sex was out of control and she was charging high rent,” Ore said.
The men testified they often had sex with the mother with her daughter present.
The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify victims of sexual assault without their consent; it is not naming the mother to avoid identifying the girl.
A friend testified Wednesday for the prosecution that the lawyer is a devout Christian, someone she befriended a dozen years ago when the two met regularly in a home Bible studies group.
The defendant put herself through college after nearly a decade of convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while her license was suspended, according to records published in the New Hampshire Union Leader in the 1990s and early 2000s.
She was valedictorian of her college’s graduate and professional studies program in 2005. In her address, she credited Christianity with saving her from a life of drugs, alcohol and abusive marriages, the Union Leader reported then.
“When I became pregnant with my daughter, I now had the responsibility for a second life,” she said in her speech.
The lawyer was a member of, and had advocated for, a Christian legal group that fights against same-sex marriage and for other conservative causes.
Testimony at the trial was graphic and wrenching.
As jurors watched recordings of various sexual encounters, the defendant averted her eyes from the laptop screen in front of her and dropped her head into one hand.
The final video, prosecutors said, depicted the woman having oral sex with her daughter.
Before introducing it into evidence, prosecutors had the girl’s father _ the defendant’s ex-husband _ identify the voices captured on tape. He wept uncontrollably after identifying the voices as his daughter’s and his ex-wife’s, and he left the courtroom before the tape was played for the jury.
As the tape played, its audio track filling the courtroom, the defendant clapped her hands over her ears and wept. The judge ordered the video stopped partway through.
“This goes on for quite a while,” the judge said. He had prosecutors skip to the end.
In other recorded, expletive-laden phone calls to her parents in December, the defendant called her daughter a liar and blamed her for her predicament.
“This is not her daughter’s fault. Tell her by your verdicts she should have been a mother,” U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said in closing.
“The defendant was her pot pusher, her pornography producer and her predator,” he said.
Defense Attorney James Moir had an uphill battle defending his client against the layers of graphic videos the defendant was alleged to have planned and produced. He said she didn’t force or prompt her daughter to engage in the sex acts but called no witnesses.
“You can hate her. You can be morally outraged by what she did,” Moir told jurors in his closing argument. “You can have these emotions, but you have to put them aside when you deliberate.”
The jury signaled in less than an hour that it had reached a decision.
The daughter sat in the courtroom, apparently unnoticed by her mother, as the verdicts were read Thursday. Neither mother nor daughter showed a visible reaction.
“The evidence was pretty overwhelming,” said juror Peter Evans, of Manchester. “She’s going to deserve whatever she gets.”
The mother has been behind bars since her arrest in November and faces at least 25 years in prison when sentenced in April.
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