MERCED - A man and woman pleaded guilty on Tuesday in Merced County Superior
Court to coercing a teenage runaway into prostitution in Merced.
Samuel L. Packard, 32, pleaded guilty to a single felony count of human
trafficking of a minor for a sexual act. His co-defendant, Ashley M. Gonzalez,
21, pleaded guilty to a single count of pandering a minor over the age
of 16, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office confirmed.
Both defendants, who are from Fresno, entered their pleas Tuesday before
Judge Mark V. Bacciarini in Merced County Superior Court, just minutes
before their trial was scheduled to begin.
Packard’s plea agreement with prosecutors requires him to serve 11
years in state prison and register as a sex offender for life, according
to Allen Grove, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case.
Gonzalez faces up to four years in prison and may also have to register
as sex offender, Grove said.
Both defendants will be formally sentenced Feb. 27 in Merced.
“I’m relieved we were able to reach a resolution in the case
without having to subject the victim to reliving the details in open court
in front of strangers,” Grove said Wednesday. “I think the
sentence sends the message that traffickers and pimps who are complicit
in coercing minors into prostitution will be held accountable for their
Jeffrey Tenenbaum, said his client, whom he noted is also “very young,” regrets
the incident. “She feels very bad for her role in this matter,”
Tenenbaum said Wednesday.
Packard’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Stephanie Jamieson, was
not available for comment Wednesday.
Both defendants were
arrested Aug. 4 by the Merced Police Department.
Authorities said the pair drove the 17-year-old girl from Fresno to the
Gateway Motel in the 1400 block of West 16th Street in Merced, where they
encouraged her into prostitution. Prosecutors said the girl went with
Packard and Gonzalez because she feared she would be harmed if she tried
to walk away.
Grove praised the work of the Merced Police Department, particularly the
efforts of Officer Kalvin Haygood, the lead investigator in the case.
“His work was very important and exposed something we’re not
used to seeing here, but is definitely on everybody’s radar,”
Capt. Tom Trindad said police over the last several months have focused
on reducing crime around the string of motels on West 16th Street. Officers
and the district attorney’s office have worked with business owners
in the area to add security camera and lighting and other measures in
an effort to curb the crime and violence associated with the area.
Trindad said he was pleased with work officers did on the human trafficking case.
“These cases take time and great investigative skill to bring together
all the evidence needed to get a conviction. It speaks to (Haygood’s)
diligence and the diligence of the (Disruptive Area Response Team) bringing
this case together,” Trindad said.
Packard and Gonzalez remain in custody at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility.