A dramatic sentencing unfolded in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Friday, ending the first human-trafficking case ever to be brought to trial in the county.
The court heard a heartrending witness statement from a young woman who had been forced into prostitution since her early teens.
The man convicted of forcing the teen into prostitution, which took place in Santa Barbara County as well as other locations, was sentenced Friday to decades behind bars, but not before a violent outburst caused him to be physically removed from the courtroom.
Brannon Lawrence Pitcher was found guilty last month by a jury of two counts of human trafficking of a minor, along with the special allegation that he used force, fear, fraud, deceit and violence while trafficking a girl, who was 16 at the time.
Pitcher also was found guilty of one misdemeanor count of possession of methamphetamine, and 73 counts of disobeying a court order.
Judge Brian Hill sentenced Pitcher to 38 years to life in prison. Pitcher must also pay more than $15,000 in fines, including $3,091 in fines to the victim directly.
The case came to light in July 2013, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Santa Barbara Police Department tracked down the victim to a hotel in Santa Barbara.
On Aug. 22, 2013, officers entered the hotel room and Pitcher was apprehended jumping out of the hotel room’s second-story window, according to prosecutor Von Nguyen.
Officers located $700 in his clothing, and the victim possessed no money.
The crimes occurred between May and August 2013, and again from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, 2013, when Pitcher continued to prostitute the girl from behind bars after his arrest.
After the sentencing, Nguyen told reporters she hopes the case will be a wake-up call to residents of Santa Barbara County about the realities of human trafficking.
“I hope this case makes people realize it’s happening in their own backyard,” she said.
Nguyen outlined details of the case, which began when the pair met online in May 2013, while the victim was living in Florida and Pitcher was living in New York.
Nguyen said Pitcher was prostituting another young girl at the time, whom he assaulted in front of the victim, which sent a clear message of intimidation.
The victim and Pitcher eventually met in Maryland and traveled to Virginia and Washington, D.C., before going to California.
Pitcher is from the Bay Area, and the pair returned there, working their way down the Central Coast, and the girl was reportedly prostituted in multiple counties, including Santa Barbara County.
Pitcher also attempted to recruit a girl from San Diego during that time, Nguyen said.
Nguyen said Pitcher beat the victim for not doing what he wanted, but Pitcher also told the victim that he loved her and gave her drugs.
It was not their first trip to Santa Barbara, Nguyen and others working on the case said. During trial, someone testified that “the money was good here.”
Hill denied a motion for retrial during Friday’s sentencing that had been put forward by Pitcher’s attorney, deputy public defender Christine Voss. She said trial testimony had been prejudicial, and that the victim had stated she had been “sold” while working for Pitcher, which the defense took issue with.
The jury was admonished not to consider that statement, and Hill said the trial had revealed that the girl had experienced prostitution before meeting Pitcher.
“There may be a tendency to disregard the impact” of the crimes because of her previous involvement with prostitution, Hill said, but added that he found her statement to the court a “powerful” one.
Hill also ruled that Pitcher’s sentences should be served concurrently, against the wishes of Nguyen, who asked that they be served consecutively. The judge said that concurrent sentences would still keep Pitcher “in custody for an extremely long time.”
Hill said that prior to this case, Pitcher had almost 12 years of criminal records and offenses, and displayed a pattern of disregarding court orders.
“The court takes that very seriously,” he told Pitcher, who was sitting at the defense table in an orange jumpsuit.
The sentencing took on an explosive edge when the victim’s attorney, J’Aimee Oxton, approached the court to read a statement from the victim.
Pitcher began cursing loudly at the court and Hill directly, and in an outburst laced with expletives stated, “I don’t want to listen to this.”
Hill replied that he would have to listen to the statement, but ultimately Pitcher would not quiet down and had to be escorted from the court by bailiffs.
In her statement, the victim described a broken home life, in which her father had been in and out of prison and forced her mother into prostitution. Her mother ultimately ended up in prison, and the victim recalled visiting the mother with her brother while their mother was in custody.
Their mother made them feel that prostitution was acceptable, but “thanks to this trial, I am starting to realize it’s not OK,” the victim wrote.
The victim said her first sexual experience was being raped as a 12-year-old by a close family friend, and when she tried to tell an adult, no one believed her. By the time she was 13, she was sold to a pimp for $500 and some marijuana, and said she was “terrified.”
“I couldn’t think of a single adult to reach out to,” she said, adding that if no one had believed her account of her rape, she didn’t think they would believe she was being trafficked.
For two years, she fought back as she was violated daily, many times by men decades older than she was. After a while, however, it just seemed easier to accept than to fight it, she wrote.
“I came to the realization that this is as good as life is going to get,” she said, and resolved to find a pimp who wouldn’t hurt her.
After meeting Pitcher, the victim claimed he said he wanted to marry her.
The victim is now 18 and is working two part-time retail jobs to save money to take her GED test for her diploma because she never finished high school. Working for $9 an hour has been a rough awakening, and the victim said she was used to earning $200 an hour for Pitcher.
“Human trafficking is not a victimless crime,” she wrote, encouraging adults to advocate for children. “Believe children when they reach out to you,” she added, writing that her life may have turned out differently if an adult had believed her.
After the statement was read, Hill issued his support for the victim as she works to restart her life.
“We wish her the best,” he said.