Voices rise as jury hears closing statements in Roseville teen pimping case
The strongest statements yet sounded through a Placer County courtroom Monday afternoon as jurors heard the final arguments for why they should or shouldn’t convict a Roseville couple of pimping teen runaways from south Sacramento.
Stephen Putnam and Syla Thongsy are facing nine separate felony charges related to the alleged pimping and pandering of a 15-year-old named Angelica and a 16-year-old named Terri during the summer of 2010. Prosecutors allege the couple controlled the prostitution partly from Putnam’s Roseville home. After three weeks of testimony, Placer County Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Macumber began her closing arguments.
“The evidence shows that defendant Thongsy was the direct perpetrator,” Macumber said. “She was the one directing the girls. Defendant Putnam was aiding and abetting, and under California law that makes him just as responsible.”
Standing in front of the jury box, Macumber moved carefully through the different counts. She focused in on the vulnerability would-be pimps would have recognized in Angelica — the main accuser in the case — being that she was 15 and in dire circumstances.
“She was a runaway with no job, no money and nowhere to go,” Macumber observed. “Defendant Thongsy took them to the Motel 6 on Stockton Boulevard and Elsie Avenue … Here they are in the prostitution capital of Sacramento and suddenly (Thongsy) says to Angelica, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to do, but you can’t keep living off of me.’”
Macumber turned to Putnam’s alleged role in the criminal conspiracy to pimp the teens: Alluding to a 2008 case in which Putnam pleaded guilty to a charge of keeping a house of prostitution on Wood Leaf Circle in Roseville, Macumber brought up Angelica’s testimony that Putnam advised her she would make more money in prostitution using the Internet than walking the streets.
“MyRedBook.com is a website solely for prostitution,” Macumber said. “We know defendant Putnam was very familiar with that website from the 2008 case. He told Angelica, ‘you should be on the web.’ … You also saw texts from him to defendant Thongsy where he told her to change her RedBook status from ‘in-call’ Roseville to ‘in-call’ Rocklin because the Roseville police monitor RedBook.”
Macumber also talked to the jury about the specific charge that Putnam engaged in lewd act with a minor, and that there was more than a 10-year age difference.
“You heard what Mr. Putnam’s birthday was,” Macumber recalled. “In fact, he was considerably older than a 10-year age difference.”
Macumber ended by advising jurors the alleged victims’ juvenile status, as well as the criteria of the law, were the only things that needed to be considered.
“You’ve heard a lot from the defense that Angelica and Terri wanted to do this,” Macumber emphasized. “It doesn’t matter one bit … I’m asking you to find the defendants accountable for what they did. Vote guilty as charged.”
Thongsy’s attorney, Dionne Choyce, was the first defense lawyer to make a closing statement. Relying on possible inconsistencies in Terri and Angelica’s testimonies, as well as the revelation that Terri was reportedly a prostitute long before she met Putnam and Thongsy, and after she stopping spending time with them, Choyce took direct aim the credibility of the two alleged victims.
“These girls lied to you repeatedly under oath,” Choyce stressed. “Their decision to lie started long before they lied to the police, before they lied to Syla Thongsy about their age and why they left home, before they lied to everyone involved in the case … They manipulate people and lied to get over on others — and get what they wanted.”
Turning to a lengthy amount of testimony about text messages sent between Thongsy and the teens, Choyce told the jury the transcripts ultimately exonerated his client.
“Did you hear anything in those text messages where Syla Thongsy and Stephen Putnam ever talked about pimping Angelica and Terri?” Choyce asked. “Where’s the direct evidence? Where’s the circumstantial evidence?”
Throughout the trial, Choyce has maintained that Thongsy was a “successful” independent escort, but not a pimp or someone who associated with pimps.
“We have a vague mention of pimping in a text message,” he said. “But there’s nothing about Angelica and Terri or any other woman other than herself. And look at that whole conversation: Don’t take one line out of context. It’s from 2009. It’s a conversation about a picture that has nothing to do with anything we’re talking about in this case.”
“Where is the credible evidence?” Choyce concluded. “The prosecution’s case comes down to the testimony of Angelica and Terri, and we know they lied over and over again … you heard testimony from a Sacramento police sergeant, and he told you everything Terri testified to in this court about her last prostitution arrest was a lie — it was all lies.”
Putnam’s attorney, Daniel Nicholson, continued on the same note when he made his closing arguments. Nicholson asked the jury to think back to the day Angelica testified that Putnam and her had engaged in a specific sex act.
“Did you see all of our faces in the court when she said that?” Nicholson inquired of the jury, sweeping his hand in a direction that included Macumber and District Attorney investigator Angela Ford. “That’s because it was the first time she said that, ever … She wasn’t afraid to tell the police officers about engaging in oral sex and random sex acts with strangers, but she was afraid to tell all of the different investigators in this case about that?”
Nicholson voice suddenly grew louder, his finger pointing to the witness stand: “She didn’t tell anyone until she decided lie up here, and perjury is an irreducible felony!”
“What else did Angelica lie about?” Nicholson wondered. “Well, she testified that she didn’t know where she was going when she decided to run away with Terri. But then later we found out that Angelica, and everyone in her school for that matter, had known since the eight grade that Terri was working the streets, that she was a prostitute.”
Nicholson ended with his own version of what he thought Angelica’s testimony was worth.
“She had a reason to lie,” he said forcefully. “She ran away from her adoptive mother, who was busting her butt to take care of her … she was lying because during those two weeks that she went to be with Terri, she did things she didn’t want to admit and she needed someone to deflect the blame onto.”
The prosecutor will be allowed time for a brief rebuttal Tuesday morning before the jury begins to deliberate.
Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at ScottA_RsvPT