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Alamance County jury returns guilty verdict in county’s first-ever human trafficking trial

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“I’ve got many thoughts about this case, and many things bothering me. But really what bothers me is all these women you victimized.

“It’s just immoral. What happened here is so inexcusable . . . so beyond acceptable behavior. I don’t like sending people to prison, but it’s what society demands when things get beyond the pale.”

– Senior resident superior court judge tom lambeth

An Alamance County man has been convicted of human trafficking sexual servitude, in a jury trial that sets a precedent for crimes involving human trafficking in Alamance County.
This was the first jury trial in Alamance County on human trafficking charges, district attorney Sean Boone confirmed Wednesday for The Alamance News.

An Alamance County jury found Jason Deon Norman, 46, black male, of 1021 Townbranch Road, Apartment B-1, Graham, guilty Tuesday afternoon of three counts of human trafficking and three counts of sexual servitude, both felonies. He faces up to a minimum of 21½ to 36 years in prison.

Norman had been the target of an investigation that the Burlington police department began in December 2017 following reports of drug sales and prostitution at Red Roof Inn and Red Carpet Inn in Burlington, based on evidence that was introduced during his weeklong trial in Alamance County superior court and resulted in his conviction Tuesday afternoon.

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Norman was arrested in September 2018 and subsequently indicted by a grand jury for human trafficking, sexual servitude, and promoting prostitution.

Two of the three female victims, whose ages at the time ranged from 20 to 36, testified during Norman’s trial, which began in the Alamance County Historic Court House last week and concluded with his sentencing Wednesday morning.

Alamance County senior resident superior court judge Tom Lambeth, Jr. presided over the trial, which was prosecuted by assistant district attorney Elizabeth Olivier. Norman was represented for his trial by attorney Michael L. Yopp of Dunn.

Lambeth subsequently ordered Norman to serve two consecutive prison terms, ranging from a minimum of 130 months and a maximum of 216 months for the first two counts. The sentence for the third count of human trafficking – also ranging from a minimum of 130 months to a maximum of 216 months – will run concurrently with the second sentence, Lambeth said.
The county’s resident senior superior court judge ultimately declined to sentence the defendant – which he termed as “arresting judgment” – for his convictions of sexual servitude in order to avoid the possibility of an error due to the limited amount of established case law for those crimes in North Carolina.

Lambeth asked Norman Wednesday morning if he wanted to say anything on own behalf prior to sentencing.

“I would ask that you take into consideration what my lawyer presented to you from day one,” the defendant responded. “My being around certain people put me in this predicament.” He also asked Lambeth to take into account that his mother, who he said is in her 60s, might not live to see him get out of prison.

“It wasn’t a good case – it was ugly,” defense attorney Yopp acknowledged during the sentencing hearing. “One of the victims didn’t bother to show up.”

“During the time he was not incarcerated, he provided support for his entire family,” Yopp told Lambeth Wednesday morning. “He has a long and consistent work history where he worked two jobs [at the same time].”

Yopp also asked Lambeth to take into account the fact that the victims “were more than 16 years old and voluntarily participated in some of the activities.”

For her part, Olivier characterized those “activities” as being “typical of the cycle of human trafficking,” with the victims selling their bodies in exchange for the heroin and crack cocaine that Norman had supplied.

“This is unacceptable to be happening in the community,” the assistant D.A. said Wednesday morning. “They had no other option but to sell themselves and pay him back.” The D.A.’s office declined to prosecute Norman on several related charges of promoting prostitution, Olivier said at the outset of the sentencing hearing.

Lambeth said Wednesday morning that the case had weighed heavily on his heart, though he empathizes with Norman’s mother.

“I’ve got many thoughts about this case, and many things bothering me,” Lambeth said. “But really what bothers me is all these women you victimized.

[One of the women who testified] almost wanted to say she wasn’t a victim. It almost reminds me of the cycle of domestic violence…the fact that these women were so strung out on drugs, and you were feeding them.”

“It’s just immoral,” Lambeth continued. “What happened here is so inexcusable… so beyond acceptable behavior. I don’t like sending people to prison, but it’s what society demands when things get beyond the pale.”

“This conviction is important because it shows that the type of crimes that we see publicized nationwide, and that are declared to be so nefarious, happen here in Alamance County. This trial is proof that not only does it happen here in Alamance County, but it gets investigated – we take these cases seriously, and we send them to prison.”

– Alamance County district attorney Sean Boone

Lambeth calculated Norman’s sentence based on aggravating factors, such as the fact that multiple victims had been involved, as well as mitigating factors that were established during the weeklong trial in superior court.

“I agree he does have a positive employment history and does clearly have a support system,” Lambeth said Wednesday, noting that the defendant’s mother and other family members had been in court every day throughout the trial. “I don’t know how in the world he got involved with all of this.”

The county’s senior resident superior court judge also recommended that Norman undergo a mental health assessment and receive vocational training to aid in his rehabilitation. He was also ordered to pay attorney’s fees and court costs, as well as to register as a sex offender (but not enroll in satellite-based monitoring) following his release from prison.

“This conviction is important because it shows that the type of crimes that we see publicized nationwide, and that are declared to be so nefarious, happen here in Alamance County,” Boone told the newspaper. “This trial is proof that not only does it happen here in Alamance County, but it gets investigated – we take these cases seriously, and we send them to prison.”

Norman’s attorney, Yopp, gave notice in open court this week of his intent to file an appeal.

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