Federal jury convicts Houston man of trafficking girls for sex
HOUSTON – A Houston jury has just returned guilty verdicts against a 44-year-old Houston man on five separate counts of sex trafficking involving adults and minors, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. The jury deliberated for less than three hours before convicting David Mearis following three days of trial.
The jury heard evidence that spanned from approximately 2007 – 2016. Four victims testified about how they each met Mearis while still teenagers and how he won them over with gifts and kindness before using threats, sexual abuse and physical force to compel them into prostitution.
The jury heard Mearis knew what he was doing and that he lived off the backs of these young women and girls. The government described how Mearis exerted constant control over the female victims.
One girl began a relationship with Mearis, then 32, when she was 17 after
she had run away from her Oakland, California, home. Another victim was only 15 when she met Mearis, then 34. Both of these girls considered Mearis their boyfriend in the earlier stages of their relationships but were eventually forced to engage in commercial sex in north Houston. One testified that they had to engage in these acts daily and at all times of the day.
Another victim, 14, encountered Mearis, 41, and eventually ran away to live with him after they met on MocoSpace. She testified he had sexually assaulted her twice while she was with him in 2016.
Testimony revealed Mearis had put at least two of the girls on a peanut butter diet in order to fatten them up for the purpose of working as his prostitute. Evidence also showed text messages between Mearis and several victims demonstrating his constant control over their activities, including during the sex dates themselves. He controlled where they went, what they wore, what they ate and with whom they engaged in commercial sex. The jury saw commercial sex advertisements Mearis created for two of the victims and heard evidence about numerous times Mearis had accessed Backpage, a site formerly used for the purpose of advertising people for sexual activity. He also had bonded one of the victims out of jail at least twice after she was arrested for engaging commercial sex.
Some victims testified Mearis perpetrated acts of violence upon them, from slapping them across the face to being bound and gagged. They reported multiple instances in which they feared physical retaliation if they did not comply with demands, did not do as instructed or perform sexual acts as required. One victim described violence she experienced at the hands of Mearis following her release from jail.
At one point, when the girls were not making enough money, Mearis made one of them participate in a bank robbery. When it did not go exactly as he had planned, he berated her, calling her stupid, among other things.
That victim also described how she had virtually no relationships with anyone outside Mearis’ circle. He had taken her ID, would not let her drive or even use the phone. She was brought to tears multiple times on the stand. In one instance, she described that when her grandfather passed away, Mearis would not let her go unless he went with her. In trying to find the right word to describe the experience, she testified she felt “kidnapped” at the time and called him in court a “threat to young women.” “I felt like I had met the devil,” she said.
When she had eventually made it back to family in California after seeking help from Houston authorities, Mearis contacted her and threatened to call the police about her actions and the bank robbery if she did not return.
Another victim described how Mearis had hog-tied her and that he made her find other women for him. The jury heard Mearis had put a sock in her mouth, a gun to her head and threatened to kill her.
Evidence and testimony further established Mearis caused Supplemental Security Income benefits, intended for one of the victims, be directed to him. That victim had been diagnosed with mental retardation at an early age. Mearis himself described her as having the “mental capacity of a child” and could not do the simplest of tasks without constant supervision and instruction.
The defense implied the victims only implicated Mearis to avoid prosecution for their actions. The defense attempted to portray Mearis as simply a loving boyfriend who provided protection while the girls voluntarily engaged in commercial sex. However, testimony revealed the victims had to turn over the monies they earned for sexual acts directly to Mearis.
The jury did not believe the defense claims and found him guilty as charged.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt presided over the trial and set sentencing for Jan. 13, 2020. At that time, Mearis faces a minimum of 15 years and up to life in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.
He has been and will remain in custody pending that hearing.
The Houston Police Department, Texas Attorney General’s Office and FBI conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA).
Established in 2004, the United States Attorney’s office in Houston formed the HTRA to combine resources with federal, state and local enforcement agencies and prosecutors, as well as non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers while providing necessary services to those that the traffickers victimized. Since its inception, HTRA has been recognized as a national model in identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking and prosecuting those engaged in trafficking offenses.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sherri Zack and Sebastian Edwards are prosecuting the case.