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Ashland woman accused of abuse, labor-trafficking testifies



Published: Thu, March 6, 2014 @ 12:02 a.m.

By CHRIS COTELESSE

TheNewsOutlet.org

YOUNGSTOWN

Jessica L. Hunt, one of two people accused of imprisoning and abusing a mentally challenged woman, denied those claims, saying she tried to help the woman and her daughter.

Defense attorneys representing Hunt, 31, and Jordie L. Callahan, 26, both of Ashland, rested their case shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, marking the 12th day of the trial in the Thomas D. Lambros Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.

Hunt and Callahan are on trial on federal charges of labor-trafficking conspiracy, abuse of the 30-year-old woman and her daughter, and spending her government-assistance checks. If convicted of those charges, they could face 39 years in prison.

If the jury considers the sentencing enhancement for kidnapping, the defendants could receive life in prison.

Judge Benita Pearson began Wednesday’s session with a two-hour delay while she heard, then rejected, defense motions to dismiss charges against Hunt and Callahan.

Judge Pearson will allow federal prosecutors to decide today whether to call any rebuttal witnesses. Otherwise, defense lawyers and prosecutors will present closing arguments, and the judge will instruct jurors in the law they will apply in the case to reach their verdict.

When Hunt took the stand, she testified that she never struck or threatened the woman, referred to as S.E. in court documents, and that S.E. willingly remained at Hunt’s and Callahan’s home at 509 W. Main St. as a guest.

“My intentions were to help [S.E.],” Hunt said.

S.E. agreed to pay one-half of the household bills and offered to help with chores, but she was never imprisoned or abused, Hunt said.

She also said she never denied food to S.E. or her daughter, rebutting several witnesses for the U.S. attorneys who testified S.E. and her daughter ate only canned food and noodles that were stored in the basement.

“If I prepared dinner, [S.E.] and her daughter ate with us,” Hunt said.

S.E. slept on a couch in the living room, and her daughter slept on a mattress on the floor when the pair first began staying with Hunt and Callahan, Hunt said.

But a caseworker with Ashland County Jobs and Family Services, who was inspecting the home, said S.E. and her daughter could not be there if Hunt hoped to be reunited with her four sons.

“Eventually, I had her place her belongings down in the basement,” Hunt said.

Hunt added that S.E. and her daughter still slept comfortably above ground and would just hide from caseworkers during home visits.

“I couldn’t even imagine locking someone in a basement,” Hunt said.

After Hunt’s oldest son began visiting her on certain weekends, S.E. and her daughter would leave for those few days, Hunt said, adding she didn’t know where the two went.

Hunt also denied witnesses’ allegations that she coerced S.E. to strike her daughter in order to record the beating and use it as blackmail against S.E., and that Callahan put S.E. in a dog cage and made her eat dog food.

Hunt testified that co-defendant Daniel J. Brown was the one who beat and abused the woman.

Brown pleaded guilty in June to a conspiracy charge for his role in the purported crimes and could receive up to five years in prison.

He testified last week that Hunt and Callahan abused S.E.

Federal prosecutors have said S.E. and her daughter were forced to live in the home’s basement with a lock on the door and no bathroom to use from early 2011 to late 2012.

TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, The University of Akron, Cuyahoga Community College and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator, and The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio, both of Akron.


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