On Friday April 17, 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that he will grant clemency for Alexis Martin, a 22-year-old child sex trafficking survivor. At 15 years old, Martin was arrested for the murder of Angelo Kierney, her pimp who forced her into a life of prostitution. According to court documents, Martin and a friend enlisted two men to rob Kerney at his home. One of the enlisted men shot Kerney, while Martin was being raped in another room. Although not the one to pull the trigger, Martin was accused of “distracting” another victim during the robbery with sex. Ohio’s Supreme Court chief justice acknowledged that Martin was kept as “a forced sex slave,” however, she was tried as an adult. Prosecutors in the case argued that Martin helped plot the robbery and was culpable in the murder despite being in a different room and never pulling the trigger. Martin was sentenced to 21 years to life in prison.
Unfortunately, Martin’s first attorney did not seek protection under Ohio’s Safe Harbor law (OH ST § 2152.021). The Safe Harbor law grants protections for juvenile trafficking victims charged with a crime. The law stipulates that if the victim completes a diversion program to the court’s satisfaction, the case must be dismissed and records expunged. The threshold question for the law is low: Does the court have reason to believe the juvenile is a trafficking victim? Application of the law is not reliant on the juvenile’s participation or cooperation in the case against the trafficker, or the trafficker’s identification, prosecution, or conviction. If the law was applied in Martin’s case, she would have been tried as a juvenile and could have been released by the age of 21.
Sasha Naiman, a lawyer for the nonprofit Ohio Justice & Policy Center has worked alongside Jennifer Kinsley, a private lawyer working pro bono, to free Martin since 2018. Naiman said of Martin, “This is a brilliant young person who gets to live her life.” Martin’s story was also recently featured on Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project, the criminal justice reform TV show produced by West. In the documentary, West visits Martin in prison where Martin describes her troubling childhood, which included sexual violence from the time she was a child. She later met Kerney, who she said raped her a year into their relationship and that he began sex trafficking her at 14 years old. After Governor DeWine’s press conference, West tweeted: “Alexis Martin is a sex traffic survivor and I was honored to be able to share her story on the Justice Project. Thank you Governor DeWine for commuting her sentence.” Governor DeWine announced that Martin will be sent to a group home and under supervision for a period of time.
The CSE Institute applauds the actions of all those who worked towards the early release of Alexis Martin from prison. It is unfortunate, however, that Martin was sentenced to 21 years to life in the first place. Although relatively new at the time, the Ohio Safe Harbor law could have prevented Martin from ever being tried and sentenced as an adult. Instead, Martin could have received the resources she needed to help her after suffering a life of trauma . Further details of Martin’s clemency are still unknown but this story serves as a step in the right direction. Victims of child sex trafficking should not be facing prison sentence, instead the system should be set up to help these victims