By Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — The young woman with a sweet face walked to the lectern, past the man who had forced her to become a prostitute at age 12.
She paused, took a breath and explained to the federal judge how it felt to have Datqunn Sawyer take brutal and complete control of her, brand her with a tattoo and force her to “walk a track” as a child prostitute.
“I looked at myself in the mirror,” the woman, now 19, recalled of the time she decided to leave Sawyer four years ago. “I didn’t see myself. It wasn’t me.”
The dramatic three-hour sentencing culminated with a stunning punishment — 50 years in federal prison, believed to be the toughest ever handed down to a convicted sex trafficker in Chicago’s federal court.
“No culture … worth emulation would tolerate this,” U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras said. “We don’t let you do this to our children.”
Sawyer’s friends and family let out several loud gasps as the sentence was announced. With the hearing over, they streamed into the hallway and hurled angry words at several of Sawyer’s victims who had testified against him.
Sawyer, 32, is among only a handful of pimps who have been convicted in federal court here of sex trafficking. Such cases are difficult to prosecute because the victims are often terrorized by their pimps and reluctant to cooperate with authorities. In this case, six women testified against Sawyer at trial.
On Thursday Sawyer quickly offered excuses to Kocoras that he repeated throughout the hearing — that he didn’t know how old the underage girls were because they had lied to him. He denied any misconduct — sometimes through loud sobs.
“They would come to me, doing what they were doing,” said Sawyer, challenging the victims’ testimony that he lured them into prostitution.
“You mean that little girl — she was 12 — she lied?” shot back the judge, his voice rising.
Saying he found Sawyer’s assertions “plainly ridiculous,” Kocoras told Sawyer that the evidence was no longer at issue — a jury had decided in November that he was guilty.
“I also watched the girls testify,” the judge said. “Do you think it was easy for them to come in and shame themselves? Why do you think they did this?”
At one point, Kocoras glanced away from Sawyer but was jolted back when Sawyer blurted out that he had children.
“I know you do,” Kocoras said with a sharp look.
Three of the women Sawyer is convicted of forcing into prostitution had children by him, according to prosecutors.
The victims talked Thursday about their lost childhoods and daily struggles even with the most common of events. Going to school. Having a boyfriend or just a close friend. Feeling safe in their neighborhood.
One said she still feels marked as a “P-Child girl” when she walks down the street. Sawyer, who took on the name of “P-Child” as a rapper, tattooed many of his victims with a version of that to claim them, prosecutors said.
Another young woman said she struggles most with anticipating the day her young son, fathered by Sawyer, is old enough to ask questions about his family.
“I feel sorry for my son,” she said as Sawyer sat just feet from her. “He’s gonna have to live with (knowing) ‘my mother was my father’s ho.’ ”
Eight relatives and supporters testified on Sawyer’s behalf, calling him a “humanitarian” who helped neighbors and family members in any way he could. Many cried, turning away from the judge and talking to Sawyer instead, longingly telling him they loved him.
Nearly all denied that Sawyer was a pimp, and many made ugly remarks about the victims. One referred to them as “so-called victims,” and several said what had happened to them was their choice. Sawyer’s sister labeled them “ho’s,” a shocking moment inside the august federal courtroom.
Sawyer’s attorney, David Peilet, in arguing for leniency, told Kocoras that Sawyer had been abused by his father, who was also a pimp.
Peilet also talked about how the “pimp lifestyle” has been glorified in popular culture. Sawyer, who supporters claimed had earned some success as a rapper, “fell prey” to that, his attorney said.
Kocoras swatted that theory down, saying that can’t ever account for the psychological abuse suffered by Sawyer’s victims.
“And then we have the law, which condemns this kind of conduct,” the judge said. “And that law crosses cultural differences. The law says you should not do this. There is no divide there.”
In the end, Kocoras said the 50-year sentence was necessary.
“You became a full-time pimp,” he told Sawyer. “And there’s nothing glamorous about that. The problem is other people think it is.”