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State v. Maxie

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 22, 2018

State
v.
Curtis Maxie.

          Superior Court Providence County P1/14-1880A Netti C. Vogel Associate Judge

          For State: Owen Murphy Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: William T. Murphy, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          Francis X. Flaherty, Associate Justice

         The defendant, Curtis Maxie, appeals from a judgment of conviction after a jury found him guilty of three counts of first-degree sexual assault, one count of sex trafficking of a minor, and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor. On appeal, the defendant challenges his convictions on count 4, sex trafficking of a minor in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-67-6, and count 6, conspiring to do so. He argues that § 11-67-6, which has since been repealed, was fatally defective because it failed to state a crime. The defendant further contends that count 4 was duplicitous, depriving him of fair notice of the charge against him. Finally, the defendant maintains that certain evidence of uncharged misconduct should have been excluded from his trial. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the judgment of conviction with respect to counts 4 and 6 and affirm the judgment in all other respects.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         Emily, the victim in this story, endured a tumultuous childhood marked by abusive, if not absent, biological parents.[1] She was adopted by her aunt and uncle, but that did not put an end to her troubles. In that home as well, Emily was also abused and neglected. It should come as no surprise, then, that Emily was prone to running away from home. That tendency, coupled with her penchant for fighting, led to her placement in a behavioral school and contacts with the Family Court. In April 2014, at the age of sixteen, Emily ran away from home once again. This time, however, the story took an even darker turn.

         With nowhere to go, Emily ended up at the home of her friend's mother in Providence. Emily and that woman had smoked marijuana together previously, and Emily enjoyed her company. When Emily arrived, her friend was not at home, but his twenty-year-old brother, Marquis Melia, was present. After Emily spent the night there, Melia convinced her to go with him to Pawtucket to smoke with his friend. As it turned out, that friend was defendant.

         Melia referred to the nearly sixty-year-old defendant as "Pimp." Late at night on April 16, 2014-the night Emily arrived at Melia's mother's house-Melia sent the following text message to defendant: "Hey pimp I got a fresh catch all american white g[i]rl 18." Sitting on the couch, Emily could actually see Melia typing the message and could make out the words "fresh catch" in the text, but she was in the dark as to what that meant. Sadly, she would soon find out.

         As Melia would later testify, defendant's interest was immediately piqued by the prospect of a "fresh catch." Melia knew "[100] percent" that that would be the case. He also knew that, with defendant's help and expertise, they would be able to "put [Emily] to work" "[h]aving sex with men for money." Just moments after receiving Melia's text message, defendant began pressuring Melia to bring Emily to his home that very night, despite the late hour. When Melia resisted, saying that it was too late to take a bus but that they would be there the next day, defendant offered to pay for a cab. But when Melia would not heed that suggestion because Emily wanted to sleep, defendant offered his outlook: "F**k what she want. Get the b***h in the cab before you won't have a b***h [in] the morning to do any fool." Melia reassured defendant that he would get Emily there the next day and "have her ready to go." By that, Melia meant that they would "take pics and post" them to Backpage.[2]

         The defendant was eager. Early the next morning, April 17, defendant sent a text message to Melia that he was ready to take pictures of Emily. As Melia knew, defendant had "some nylons and high heels for all of them, for all the women he had over there and he would snap pictures in his bedroom while they were on his bed posing." Melia responded that he and Emily would be over by noon and that "she ready." In fact, she was not ready for what was in store; in Emily's mind, she was going to the home of Melia's friend to smoke marijuana and to play video games.

         Melia and Emily traveled by bus from Providence to Pawtucket. When they arrived at defendant's house, Emily thought defendant was nice and respectful, but that would soon change. The defendant sent Melia on an errand to buy a "Vanilla card," which is, in essence, a prepaid credit card-it is purchased with cash, and then it can be used without being traced. There was a charge to post an advertisement on Backpage, so when the ad concerned illicit activity, anonymity was crucial, and defendant was no novice. Unfortunately, however, Melia was. It took two trips to the store before Melia purchased the correct card.

         Meanwhile, Emily was left alone with defendant. The two were on the couch when defendant pulled Emily by her arm toward him and removed her clothing. The defendant lay down on top of Emily and removed her underwear. All the while, she was telling him to stop. He did not. Instead, defendant proceeded to remove his own clothing. He told Emily that he needed to see if she was "[g]irlfriend experience." The defendant then penetrated Emily vaginally, ignoring her pleas to stop and overpowering her pushes on his chest.[3] But that was not enough for defendant. The defendant said he needed to "try [Emily] out" in all ways. So he grabbed her head and penetrated her orally as well.[4]

         Soon, Melia returned from his first foray at the store. After Emily answered the door, she pulled Melia into the hallway, slapped him in the face, and told him, "I feel violated." He responded: "We have to finish what we came here for."

         When Melia returned from his second trip to the store, he noticed that Emily looked sad and was wearing high heels. The defendant was sitting at his computer, and Melia could see that he had already taken pictures of Emily posing in high heels, a bra, and underwear. The defendant had his phone plugged in to his laptop, uploading the pictures and "cropping them, making them perfect for the ad" on Backpage. In no time, the ad was posted by defendant. It contained pictures of Emily with a caption listing a fake name and her height and weight and claiming that she was "new to the area and looking for a few good men to spend some quality time with[, ]" and "guaranteed to please." The ad then listed two phone numbers: defendant's and Melia's. The two had made an agreement that they would evenly split any money they made from selling Emily's services each day.

         Mere minutes after the ad went up on Backpage, "men looking for sex" started calling on each of their phones. The defendant would hand the phone to Emily to answer their calls. He also provided her with a script, listing directions to his house and the sexual acts that she would offer to perform, with corresponding prices. The defendant instructed Emily to relieve the men of their money as soon as they walked through the door. "At least five or six" men showed up the first day.

         That first night, defendant fell asleep in the living room, so Melia and Emily took defendant's bedroom. At almost two o'clock in the morning on April 18, Melia received a text message from defendant: "Hey Mark how you know that I didn't want to sleep in my bed. Damn you could have asked. Anyway, tell baby I need to f**k real fast. Then you[] guys can have the bed. Mark, I need to f**k." Melia then got up and told Emily he was going to take a shower. All of a sudden, defendant entered the bedroom and got on top of Emily, who was lying in bed in a t-shirt and underwear. Emily resisted again, telling defendant to stop and pushing on his chest. But again, she could not stop him. The defendant pulled Emily's underwear to the side and penetrated her.[5]

         The next day, defendant put Emily back to work. Whenever a man showed up, Emily would answer the door. The defendant and Melia would then hide in the back hallway. The defendant taught Emily to take the man's money, bring him into the bedroom, put the money in a bedside drawer, and then perform whatever sexual act the man had purchased. Meanwhile, defendant and Melia were listening, and they could hear when the man left. In between customers, defendant would enter the bedroom, take the money, and change the sheets. Then it would happen all over again, upwards of fifteen times per day in Emily's estimation.

         However, things did not go according to plan for Melia. Almost immediately, Melia and defendant started to argue over the money. According to Melia, the pair was supposed to share the earnings on a daily basis, but Melia never saw a cent. When Melia confronted him, defendant became possessive: "This b***h is going to get me my money[.]" At that point, Melia had had enough, and he decided to leave. But defendant would not let Emily leave with him.

         As a result, the horrors continued for Emily. At some point, a first-time customer, closer in age to Emily, a nineteen-year-old named Jeremy, appeared to be Emily's savior. He told her he had a place for her to stay and that he would buy her food and clothes. He returned to defendant's house to see Emily a second time, and then a third time. That last visit, Emily left with Jeremy. She escaped out the front door with him once defendant went to wait in the back hallway, thinking it was just another customer. Realizing what was happening, defendant ran outside, screaming, "What are you doing with my girl?" Nevertheless, Emily was able to get away. She and Jeremy traveled to Massachusetts.

         But Jeremy turned out to be no savior. Emily said that he started off treating her "[r]espectfully." He even brought her to a movie, the first one she had seen in a theater. Soon enough, though, Jeremy told Emily that "he wanted [her] to make him some money"-in other words, to do what she had been doing for defendant. When Emily would not oblige, Jeremy sent a text message to defendant, saying that Emily wanted to come back. He then drove her to defendant's house and simply dropped her off at the front door.

         Immediately, things picked up where they had left off. The exact same protocol was followed for every customer, and defendant continued to provide condoms, lubricant, clothing, and food for Emily. In the meantime, defendant had also broadened his enterprise and found himself another girl, Brooklyn. The fact that defendant had two girls operating out of the same one-bedroom apartment quickly became problematic. On April 24, around 3:45 in the afternoon, defendant texted Brooklyn that Emily was "still with the date[.]" Brooklyn responded, "Yes, and my hundred dollar date is here. WTF." However, the scheduling problem did not continue.

         That is so because, on that very same night, there was a knock at defendant's door. Thinking it was a customer, Emily opened it. To her surprise, standing in the doorway were two uniformed police officers. Emily's parents had reported to the Pawtucket police that she had run away weeks earlier and that someone had informed them that he had seen Emily's ad on Backpage. When Emily answered the door, she was frightened and gave the officers a false name. But the officers persisted because she matched the description of the runaway child; eventually she was forthright as to her identity. Emily was placed into custody as a result of an outstanding Family Court bench warrant. Brooklyn, too, was arrested for drug possession and placed in a police car. At that point, alone in defendant's apartment with one of the responding officers, Emily stated that defendant had been prostituting her.

         At the Pawtucket police station, Emily was interviewed by a detective. She identified a photograph of defendant, and told the detective that defendant was the man who had been prostituting her and who had sexually assaulted her. After the interview, Emily was brought to the hospital for examination. Meanwhile, around two o'clock in the morning, several officers again converged on defendant's apartment. There was no response to their knocks, but they could hear a female crying inside. Fearing that the woman was being held against her will, the officers forced the door open. Inside, they found defendant and a woman; defendant was arrested.

         On June 18, 2014, a grand jury indicted defendant on three counts of first-degree sexual assault (counts 1, 2, and 3), one count of sex trafficking of a minor (count 4), and one count of conspiring with Melia to commit the crime of sex trafficking of a minor (count 6).[6] He was then served with a habitual offender notice. The defendant moved to dismiss counts 4 and 6, the charges of sex trafficking of a minor and conspiracy, on the ground that the statute that he was charged with violating, § 11-67-6, was fatally flawed in that it failed to properly state a crime. After the motion was denied, the case proceeded to trial.

         At trial, the state offered evidence that demonstrated that defendant had not allowed incarceration to bring a halt to his money-making endeavors. Approximately five months after his arrest, while he was being held at the Adult Correctional Institutions awaiting trial, defendant made several recorded telephone calls. On those calls, he could be heard bragging that he would "get outta" prison given the weakness of the state's case: "[A]ll they doin is gettin[g] these girlfriends that I had over my house criminating themselves they ain't never busted no date over my house with them girls"; "there ain't no case if * * * you ain't got the clientele"; and "[w]hy would they want to come to [c]ourt and * * * say they been over my house and spent money." So, defendant said, he was planning to "be home a lot sooner than people think[.]" But, as the recordings reveal, being in prison had really hampered defendant's ability to earn money. First, he asked how the newest "fresh catch" was "standing up[.]" He then carried on about his craving to "move" a girl from in prison: "I gotta have somebody, I gotta have somebody trying to stack some kind of money for me * * * no bulls**t. You know? Pimping in the joint man!" The recording reveals that defendant found that remark to be humorous, repeating his brilliant idea and laughing. The defendant boasted that, if he was not incarcerated, he would "be moving b****es like crazy right now."

         The defendant was convicted on all counts.He was sentenced to forty-five years at the ACI on each of the three counts of first-degree sexual assault, all to run concurrently; the maximum forty years' imprisonment on count 4, sex trafficking of a minor, to run consecutive to the sentences for the sexual-assault counts; ten years in prison for the conspiracy count (count 6), concurrent to the sentence for count 4; and an additional fifteen-year sentence as a habitual offender, consecutive to the sentences imposed on all counts.

         II

         Discussion

         Before this Court, defendant claims the following errors. First, he argues that the trial justice erred in denying his motion to dismiss counts 4 and 6 of the indictment. The defendant argues that his motion should have been granted because (1) the statute under which he was charged, § 11-67-6, failed to state a crime and (2) count 4, which he asserts merely parroted the plethora of verbs set forth in § 11-67-6, was duplicitous and denied him adequate notice of the criminal act he committed.[7] Second, defendant contends that the trial justice erred in denying his motion to pass after Melia remarked while testifying that defendant "ran a prostitution sting right out of his apartment" and that defendant had a "long history" with prostitution. Finally, defendant avers that the trial justice erred in admitting the recordings of certain telephone conversations he had had while he was being confined awaiting trial. He argues that those recordings were (1) irrelevant to the crimes with which he was charged, (2) improperly admitted as character evidence under Rule 404(b) of the Rhode Island Rules of Evidence, and (3) should have been excluded under Rule 403 of the Rhode Island Rules of Evidence because they were unduly prejudicial.

         A

         The Motion to Dismiss

         Count 4 of the indictment charged:

"That [defendant] * * * on or about day or date between the 2nd day of April, 2014 and the 24th day of April, 2014, exact day and date unknown to the Grand Jurors, in the City of Pawtucket, in the County of Providence, did recruit, employ, entice, solicit, isolate, harbor, transport, provide, persuade, obtain, or maintain [Emily], a minor, for the purposes of commercial sex acts, in violation of § 11-67-6 of the General Laws of Rhode Island, 1956, as amended (Reenactment of 2002)."

         Count 6 of the indictment further charged defendant with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor. Section 11-67-6, which has since been repealed, provided, in pertinent part, that:

"(b) Any person who:
"(1) Recruits, employs, entices, solicits, isolates, harbors, transports, provides, persuades, obtains, or maintains, or so attempts, any minor for the purposes of commercial sex acts; or
"(2) Sells or purchases a minor for the purposes of commercial sex acts; or
"(3) Benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture which has engaged in an act described in subdivision (1) or (2); or
"(c) Every person who shall commit sex trafficking of a minor, shall be guilty of a felony and subject to not more than forty (40) years imprisonment or a fine of up to forty ...

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