TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- Pointing to a "grotesque combination of physical abuse and emotional manipulation," a federal appeals court has upheld the conviction and five life sentences of a South Florida man who forced women, including minors, to work as prostitutes.
A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday also backed requiring Alston Williams to pay nearly $774,000 in restitution to three women, an estimate of how much they earned for him as prostitutes.
The 22-page ruling, citing "horrific crimes," said Williams physically abused and threatened the women and forced two of them to have abortions after they became pregnant.
It described how Williams took the identification, birth certificate and Social Security card of one of the women, referred to in the ruling as Deborah, who had started working as a prostitute for Williams when she was a minor and moved in with him on her 18th birthday.
"Violence soon became the norm if Deborah or the other girls failed to communicate, didn't bring home enough money, or were seen as disloyal," said the ruling, written by Judge Britt Grant and joined by Judges Beverly Martin and Andrew Brasher. "At times, Williams would lash out without warning --- lunging at a girl and choking her until she passed out or dragging her down the stairs and around the house by her hair. Other times, his violence was more deliberate. He would warn the girls about what was coming, go to the stereo and turn up the music so no one could hear their screams, and then brutally beat the offending girl --- sometimes alone, sometimes in front of the others. The punishments varied. He tased, punched, slapped, and kicked the girls --- sometimes with their arms handcuffed behind their backs so that they couldn't defend themselves. He kept a pair of pliers to clamp down on their fingers and hands, occasionally dragging them with the pliers around the house. He groped their private areas until they bled and stabbed sewing needles into their knees and buttocks, or under their fingernails."
A West Palm Beach federal jury convicted Williams in 2018 on two counts of sex trafficking a minor, three counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion and one count of obstructing a human-trafficking investigation. He received five life sentences and 240 months in prison --- all to run concurrently --- and was ordered to pay restitution.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida said in a news release at the time of the conviction that Williams was from Lake Worth and that he trafficked women from 2008 through 2017 throughout Florida. Williams, now 45, is an inmate at the Coleman federal penitentiary in Central Florida, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.
In the appeal, Williams argued, in part, that the jury during the trial should not have seen nude images and videos of the women who were trafficked. But the Atlanta-based appeals court said the images and videos were not "unduly prejudicial."
"These images and videos helped to show how Williams exerted complete dominance over his victims," the ruling said. "Several videos show Williams directing the girls to engage in sexual conduct while he watched and recorded --- one even showed a weapon in view of the camera."
Williams was ordered to pay $522,600 in restitution to the woman identified as Deborah; $221,000 to a woman referred to in the ruling as Deja; and $30,000 to a woman referred to as Gini. Deja was 17 when she started working as a prostitute for Williams, the ruling said.
(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)
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