BEVERLY — If true, said a Salem District Court judge on Wednesday, the allegations against four people charged with drugging and forcing a mentally ill woman into prostitution “are absolutely horrific.”
But lawyers for the four raised new questions about the reliability and credibility of the woman’s account to police, during a hearing into whether they pose a danger if released.
“This case is falling apart in less than a week,” said lawyer Thomas Gately, who represents Kenel Cadet.
The four, Cadet, 22, Alicia Morasse, 24, Crystal Culbreth, 43, and John Connelly, 22, who according to police were all living in an apartment at 327 Rantoul St. in Beverly, were ordered held without bail for up to 120 days by Judge Randy Chapman at the conclusion of the hearing.
The four are charged with kidnapping, assault with intent to intimidate and trafficking a person for sexual servitude. They have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutor Michael Varone said on Monday that the woman was a guest at a birthday party at the apartment on March 1 and was invited to join Morasse and Culbreth in engaging in prostitution through an online site.
The woman told police she declined the offer. Then, she said, she was offered a drink and began to feel strange, then next recalls waking up naked on the floor.
She also told police that her boyfriend had been escorted out of the apartment by Cadet and Connelly.
The woman told police that for the next three days she was held captive and forced to engage in sexual relations with a number of men.
Beverly police Detective Joshua Pickett subsequently found ads on a website called “Escort Babylon” for two women, whom police believe to be Morasse and Culbreth. A prosecutor argued that the ads corroborate the woman’s account.
Defense: conflicting accounts
But Culbreth’s lawyer questioned the thoroughness of the investigation, arguing to the judge that the images downloaded from the site do not look like his client and her co-defendant in the case.
“Who’s that?” lawyer John Morris asked, waving printed copies of the pages.
Morris also told the judge that an investigator he hired to prepare for Wednesday’s hearing spoke to the alleged victim’s boyfriend. “He tells an entirely different version,” said Morris.
Morris said he was told that the boyfriend left the party voluntarily after the woman told him, “I’m all set, you can go home.” He also said the investigator learned that the boyfriend had spoken with the woman a few hours later and she said nothing about being held against her will.
Morris suggested that the woman, who suffers from mental health issues, was “making up a story.”
Morasse’s lawyer, Patrick Regan, said he’s been told that the woman “came and went from the apartment,” going out several times to get food or other items.
Connelly’s attorney, Joseph Collins, said his client had even called a cab for the woman.
Many details about the case remained unavailable on Wednesday, despite Chapman lifting an impoundment order Judge Allen Swan had issued on Monday. Swan had sealed the report at the request of the Essex County District Attorney’s office.
Chapman ordered that a copy of the police report without the name of the alleged victim and a witness be made public, but the Salem District Court clerk’s office had not completed the process of redacting that report by Wednesday afternoon.
Varone argued on Wednesday that all four pose a danger if released, citing the “horrendous” allegations in the police report.
“These defendants essentially engaged in a scheme to kidnap the victim and force her to engage in sex for profit,” argued Varone.
Varone also pointed to Culbreth’s background, which includes charges that she stabbed a man while engaging in prostitution, that she had also taken part in other violent assaults and that multiple people have obtained restraining orders against her, showing a “demonstrated history” of violence.
Morris, however, argued that most of the charges on his client’s record are at least 10 years old, and that many of them were dropped or dismissed. He argued that it is unfair for the prosecution to ask a judge to consider cases that were not prosecuted.
Chapman also revoked the bails of Morasse and Cadet, who were arrested in December after a pair of incidents that started when Cadet was charged with domestic abuse, then continued when Morasse showed up at the police station and allegedly went on a rampage with a bat after being told she could not bail him out.
Varone, the prosecutor, had pointed to the fact that a judge had ordered Cadet to stay away from Morasse after that incident, but that they were together when arrested last Friday.
“That tells you all you need to know as to whether he would obey conditions set by this court,” Varone told the judge.
And Morasse’s alleged rampage at the police station in December, Varone said, shows “she’s got no respect for law enforcement ... and no fear of incarceration.”
Regan said Morasse “was not coherent” at the time of that incident and spent 20 days at Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center in Boston undergoing an evaluation. She too suffers from mental health issues, said Regan, but had been stable since her hospitalization and had just started working at a new Salem restaurant.
Collins said Connelly had worked steadily since graduating from Salem High School in 2015 and had only one prior case on his record, which was dismissed after a period of probation when he was 14.
Gately, a lawyer for Cadet, also took issue publicly with a tweet posted by Beverly police Chief John LeLacheur on Jan. 2, which referred to the incident involving Morasse and Cadet.
“When you come into the station and find out your friend can’t be bailed please don’t take out our windows with a baseball bat and expect not to join him,” LeLacheur posted on the social media site. Gately entered a copy of the tweet as an exhibit in the hearing Wednesday.
Gately argued that the tweet appeared to “try to make light of the situation, and if they’re going to make light of the situation, there’s no danger.”
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.