After nearly three hours of deliberation that ended late Friday, a federal jury convicted a Little Rock man of sex trafficking a minor after a weeklong trial that included testimony from the victim, the victim’s family, the defendant, expert witnesses and law enforcement officers.
Anthony Atkins, 25, could serve a minimum a 10 years to life in prison for arranging sexual encounters for a 17-year-old girl who was living with him during the summer of 2018.
In exchange for room and board, Atkins told the woman, identified in court as “L.D.” to protect her identity, that she would have to work for him, prosecutors said.
“She understood that to mean she had to prostitute for him,” Benecia Moore, the assistant U.S. attorney said during closing arguments Friday afternoon. “She had to sell herself.”
Sentencing for Atkins will take place at a later date.
Little Rock police arrested Atkins in July 2018 after an arrest the previous month of the then 17-year-old L.D. on a prostitution charge.
Investigators tied Atkins to the victim by reviewing social media accounts, online ads on an escort service site that authorities said is commonly used for sex trafficking, as well as statements from the girl.
The final day of the trial opened with testimony from Atkins who took the stand for about 30 minutes during which much of what he said was jumbled.
Throughout the trial, Atkins, who calls himself an entrepreneur, has punctuated testimony with outbursts resulting in sharp rebukes from U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky.
During closing statements Friday afternoon, Atkins was asked to leave the courtroom for continued interruptions.
He later was allowed to return.
Such interruptions followed a pattern throughout the trial where Atkins asserted that the court did not have jurisdiction over him, made references to his Muslim faith and arguments about injustices against him.
“I am going to hold you in contempt if you talk about things we are not to talk about, true or false, that have zero to do with this case,” Rudofsky said after Atkins began on the stand discussing the victim’s history of prostitution.
Atkins said he “probably got a little too close” to the victim as a friend. He said the victim was a tenant in his Little Rock home, and that he agreed to meet with investigators after her arrest because he was concerned about her whereabouts.
“What image are you prosecution trying to make about Anthony Atkins?” said Atkins, who frequently referred to himself in the third person. “Image is not evidence of factual things.”
Closing arguments focused on swaying the jurors about which image of the defendant and the victim they chose to believe.
Prosecutors revisited a trove of digital evidence that they say proved that Atkins was actively advertising L.D. for commercial sex, defined as an exchange of money or goods for a sexual act.
They showed text records, online ads where L.D. was pictured partially nude and available for “outcalls,” a term prosecutors said meant she was available to visit customers where they requested.
Those ads were tied to Atkins’ phone numbers as well as other evidence prosecutors argued proved that Atkins was trolling the internet for vulnerable girls and had a history of calling himself a pimp.
The day before, L.D. testified that Atkins told her not to wear a shirt from her high school because it might cause problems. She said she had provided him a photo of her birth certificate proving she was a minor.
Among the thousands of pieces of digital evidence, such as text messages and photographs, prosecutors were not able to provide the birth certificate photo.
“There is ample evidence that Atkins advertised L.D. repeatedly on the internet,” Moore said while showing advertisements that included suggestive photos and language related to prostitution.
Defense attorneys argued in closing statements that Atkins lived in a make-believe online world that starkly contrasted to his reality.
Lead defense attorney Latrece Gray revisited a photograph of a disheveled room where she said Atkins lived and slept on an air mattress. She said the thousands of pieces of digital evidence collected by investigators reflected a man who had nothing else to do with his time but live in a fantasy world.
“The person who lives here,” Gray said, referring to the photo of Atkins’ home, “has that kind of time, has nothing to do all day but troll the internet, create these elaborate lies.”
“Anthony Atkins used the internet as a way of passing time,” Gray said. “Most of us have what we call busy, productive lives. Unfortunately, Mr. Atkins’ time was spent playing pimp on the internet.”
Both sides also brought into question the character of the victim, with prosecutors arguing that L.D. had no motive behind testifying in court about her tragic childhood of sexual abuse, neglect and foster homes.
The defense argued that L.D. had a history of prostitution, had taken nude photos to post online in her own family’s house and that L.D.’s adoptive mother said during testimony Thursday that the girl was known to be manipulative. The defense argued that L.D. had advertised herself online as being 22 and that police involved in her arrest said they thought she was between 18 and 22.
“This was the life she chose,” Gray said. “She [L.D.] chose to live with pimps, prostitutes.”
In response, Kristin Bryant, lead attorney for the prosecution, said L.D. had no motive to lie: “She had to come into this courtroom in front of [the jury], in front of the person who trafficked her, to talk about all the terrible things she had to face.”
The jury was made up of 10 women and two men.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .