U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and his crime-fighting team have been rolling through the District with the boldness of Sherman’s Civil War march to the sea. Resistance has been negligible as corrupt officials have copped pleas rather than take their chances against Machen in a courtroom before a judge and jury. All of this is well and good. But there is one nagging concern: Are any of these negotiated plea agreements allowing criminals to get off lightly?
That critical question may also have been on the mind of U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer when Linwood Barnhill Jr., a recently retired 24-year D.C. police veteran, appeared before her last week to plead guilty to two counts of pandering of a minor for prostitution and one count of possession of child pornography. That plea deal, negotiated between Machen’s office and Barnhill’s lawyer, called for Barnhill to serve a seven-year sentence. Federal sentencing guidelines recommend nine to 12 years for those offenses.
Collyer was not bound by the plea agreement or the sentencing guidelines. She had the authority to reject the agreement. The judge stopped short of doing that, but she said she wanted to know more about Barnhill’s background and the condition of his victims before she would approve the negotiated sentence at a hearing scheduled for Sept. 4.
As well she should.
The government’s deal with Barnhill allows him to plead guilty to offenses committed only in 2013, and only against three juvenile females, ages 15, 16 and 17. The negotiated plea agreement, and the statement of offense signed by Barnhill and a federal prosecutor, may well leave the impression that Barnhill got started in the prostitution racket just last year.
But is that the case?
During a bond hearing following Barnhill’s arrest in December, a police official testified that the department received a tip in 2011 that Barnhill was smoking marijuana and using his apartment for prostitution. The police said the tip was investigated but could not be confirmed.
There are also indications that his involvement in prostitution went beyond the three girls.
One of the teenage victims told police she had met six other young women or girls in Barnhill’s apartment and that several of the girls had been advertised on an Internet bulletin board commonly used to post advertisements for prostitution, according to court documents. When the police searched Barnhill’s apartment, they seized a mirror on which the names of women were written. One of the teenagers said those women worked as prostitutes, according to police.
In Barnhill’s apartment, the police also found eight cellphones — the primary means of a pimp’s communication with prostitutes — and “more than 100” condoms, a volume of brothel dimensions.
Collyer may well want to know exactly how long Barnhill has been trafficking in minors, as well as the extent of his exploitation of adult women. And let’s not leave out the johns — the men who kept Barnhill in business by buying women and girls that they could treat as sexualized body parts. What can the government tell the judge, and the rest of us, about them?
Another important issue: damage done to the women and girls. “This is not a victimless crime, and I have concerns about that,” Collyer said during the hearing. “I need to find out if the victims will have anything to say.”
Her concern is warranted. Read the statement of offense and see what 48-year-old Barnhill admitted to doing with a 17-year-old girl that he enticed into his apartment: “He took multiple photos of her both clothed and unclothed” and while she “performed oral sex [Barnhill] held his cellular phone and videotaped the session.”
For those crimes, Machen’s office cut a deal with Barnhill that amounts to two full years below the recommended minimum sentence.
I call that going easy on Linwood Barnhill. What say you? What say Judge Collyer?
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