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United States v. Betts

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 18, 2018

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
Clark Wesley Betts, Jr. Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: September 28, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Des Moines

          Before LOKEN, BENTON, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.


         In June 2017, a jury found Clark Wesley Betts, Jr., guilty of one count of sex trafficking of a minor under the age of 18, one count of sex trafficking of a minor under the age of 14, and three counts of distribution of crack cocaine to a person under the age of 21 in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 1591 and 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 859. Betts appeals his conviction, alleging multiple evidentiary errors. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and for the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.[1]


         In early 2016, Betts, a crack cocaine addict, taught his 15-year-old daughter, T.B., how to use the drug. He began smoking crack cocaine with T.B. multiple times a week until she became addicted. On one occasion, while both Betts and T.B. were high, Betts had sexual intercourse with T.B. and told her he would continue to provide her with crack cocaine only if she continued to have sexual intercourse with him. Betts later asked T.B. if her 12-year-old cousin, A.K., would be interested in smoking crack cocaine with them. T.B. discussed the matter with A.K., and on a later date, Betts and T.B. taught A.K. how to smoke the substance. A.K. also became addicted to crack cocaine. During an overnight trip with the two girls, Betts broached the topic of having sexual intercourse with A.K., pressuring her to agree. Betts then had sexual intercourse with T.B. in front of A.K. before having sexual intercourse with A.K. in front of T.B. After the trip, Betts continued to ply the girls with crack cocaine and have sexual intercourse with them in front of each other, at times using force or restraint to do so.

         In the spring of 2016, Betts first brought A.K. and T.B. to the house where he bought crack cocaine from drug dealer Vance Cooper. Betts often lingered in the house after his purchases to smoke with Cooper and Cooper's housemate, Robert Terry. Betts began bringing the girls to the house to purchase drugs and smoke with Cooper and Terry multiple times a week. On one occasion, T.B. and A.K. performed a sexual "dance" for Betts, Cooper, and Terry, for which Cooper gave them crack cocaine. On another occasion, Betts dropped A.K. off at the house so that she could exchange sexual acts for crack cocaine for herself and Betts. Betts agreed to allow T.B. to do the same.

         Betts thought one of T.B.'s friends, M.M., was attractive and wanted to introduce her to Cooper. Betts brought T.B. and M.M. to Cooper's residence and purchased crack cocaine for them. M.M. did not exchange any sexual acts for the drugs because she quickly had to leave, having received a phone call from her mother.

         In late March 2016, Betts was arrested for a probation violation. A few months later, Cooper and Terry were arrested on federal drug charges. Cooper identified Betts as his most frequent customer, admitting that Betts had trafficked his female relatives in exchange for crack cocaine. Law enforcement conducted welfare checks on the girls. In her first forensic interview in August 2016, A.K. denied that Betts allowed Cooper to engage in sex with her or T.B. However, in her second interview in February 2017, she admitted that she lied and that the allegations were true. In April 2017, a grand jury indicted Betts for sex trafficking and distribution of crack cocaine.

         At Betts's trial, the government tied Betts's trafficking of T.B. and A.K. to a larger pattern of grooming. It sought to introduce evidence of an incident occurring in March 2015, at M.M.'s birthday party, at which Betts plied T.B., M.M., and other minor girls with alcohol and attempted to elude a police chase. The government also wanted to introduce evidence of Betts's prior sexual abuse of T.B. and A.K. as well as physical violence he exhibited and that T.B. and A.K. observed. Betts moved in limine to exclude the evidence. The district court admitted the evidence of the March 2015 incident and conditionally admitted evidence of Betts's past violent behavior provided that the government's expert linked the girls' observation of Betts's violence to their later acquiescent behavior. When an expert on sexual abuse victims testified that viewing an abuser's violence makes a victim less likely to resist or disclose abuse, the district court admitted the evidence.

         The government sought to exclude Betts's evidence that T.B. and A.K. had returned to Cooper's house to exchange sexual acts for crack cocaine after Betts's arrest and while he was incarcerated. Pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 412, the district court excluded the sexual component of the testimony, allowing the jury to hear only that T.B. and A.K. had returned to the house for drugs.

         Both T.B. and A.K. testified at Betts's trial. During cross-examination of A.K., defense counsel asked whether her initial forensic interview "exonerated" Betts. The government objected, noting the question called for a legal conclusion. The district court sustained the objection. It then prevented Betts's counsel, who was holding a transcript of A.K.'s forensic interview, from going through the transcript to point out inconsistencies between it and her later testimony, stating, "Once she admitted she made the inconsistent statements [in the first interview], the extrinsic [evidence] of [them] is not admissible[.]" The jury found Betts guilty on all ...

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