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Ogden trafficking and prostitution case upheld despite controversial expert testimony

By Mark Shenefelt standard-Examiner - | Jul 12, 2021

A man convicted of human trafficking and running a prostitution operation in Ogden claimed an expert witness improperly inflamed the jury against him, but a state court has rejected his appeal.

Joseph Moore, 49, argued that his public defender provided ineffective counsel because he did not challenge the scope of testimony by a prosecution witness about the evils of human trafficking. But the Utah Court of Appeals on Friday upheld his convictions.

Moore, from Evanston, Wyoming, was arrested in Ogden in March 2018 on charges of human trafficking and aggravated exploitation of prostitution, both first-degree felonies, and a lesser third-degree felony count of exploitation.

The chief witness against him was a 16-year-old girl who said she was recruited into the ring by an older girl, reportedly age 22, who authorities later said was only 18. The operation involved the girls performing “two-on-one” sex acts with customers, with Moore driving them to and from appointments and being there as “muscle” if needed, according to her testimony.

The girls each could make $200 to $300 per appointment, more than if they acted in single sessions, she testified. Moore took an estimated 40% of the proceeds, she said.

The girls were interested in the income but they also were threatened by Moore that they would be kicked out of their homes if they did not bring in money, according to testimony.

Much of the expert witness’s testimony in Moore’s January 2019 trial had nothing to do with the specifics of his case, but rather covered traffickers’ recruitment methods; the fear, anger, depression and other trauma of victims; and the lucrative nature of trafficking.

Moore’s appeal attorney said the “irrelevant and inflammatory testimony” about child trafficking in general “had nothing to do with” the particulars of Moore’s case. This “inflamed the jury and prevented him from having a fair trial,” the attorney contended.

The appeals court, sitting in Salt Lake City, noted that Moore’s trial attorney did not object to the testimony and that 2nd District Judge Jennifer Valencia twice raised concerns outside the hearing of the jury expressing concern that “various parts of her testimony didn’t seem to have applicability to the facts of this case.” Valencia observed that the expert “essentially provided a lecture to the jury on human trafficking,” and that some of her testimony, including “comments about children (victims) being virgins,” was disconnected from the facts.

Valencia proposed to the attorneys that a jury instruction be added suggesting that the jury disregard any of the expert testimony it found irrelevant. The public defender agreed.

Moore’s appellate attorney argued the public defender should have asked for a mistrial because of the expert testimony issue. But the Court of Appeals ruled that even if the defense was deficient, Moore “has not persuaded us that there is a reasonable probability that the jury would have reached a different verdict” if the expert testimony had been prevented. The court said the case against Moore was strong regardless.

Valencia sentenced Moore to five years to life in prison for human trafficking, the same for aggravated exploitation of prostitution, and zero to five years for the lesser exploitation charge.

The case was investigated by Ogden police and the Utah Attorney General’s Office’s child exploitation task force.

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