A Little Rock woman was arraigned in federal court Wednesday on charges of kidnapping, sex trafficking, extortion and transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity in an incident in September in which a teen-age Pope County girl told authorities that she was taken to Memphis by three women on a pretext of a girls’ road trip but was beaten and threatened, and numerous attempts were made to force her to engage in prostitution.
Alexus Harris, 21, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe Volpe, who advised her of her rights and told her the possible sentence she could face, the most serious of which could land her in prison for life.
According to a 35-page criminal complaint filed in federal court by the FBI, the victim, referred to as “MV1,” told police that she had ridden with Harris and two other women to Memphis on Sept. 2 on what she thought was to be a girls’ trip. After arriving at a Memphis hotel, however, MV1 told police that Harris told her and the two women that they were there to prostitute for her and forced them to walk the streets for two consecutive days.
After she refused to prostitute, the complaint said, Harris and the others attempted to extort money from her family and friends, which prompted a family member to call the police.
During the time she was being held, the complaint said, MV1’s friends and family members were subjected to phone calls and video calls from her abductors demanding money while they smothered her with pillows, pistol-whipped her or pointed guns at her head.
The complaint said she was finally freed when her captors left her alone long enough that she could make her way down to the hotel parking lot where she asked a man to take her to a hotel in West Memphis. There, the complaint said, police were called, and MV1 was taken to a Memphis hospital where family members picked her up on Sept. 4.
At Harris’ initial appearance Oct. 14 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth Deere, Harris — who objected — was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and was remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
On Nov. 23, Deere signed an order for Harris to be taken to the Carswell Federal Medical Facility in Fort Worth to determine her competency to stand trial. The report was forwarded to U.S. District Judge Lee P. Rudofsky, who ordered on March 15 that the report be adopted.
At her Wednesday arraignment before Volpe, Harris appeared via video conference link from the West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason, Tenn., where she is being held pending a bond hearing.
“Is there any issue of competency whereby we should not proceed today?” Volpe asked Annie Depper, Harris’ court-appointed defense counsel. Depper indicated that there were no issues, waived reading of the indictment, entered a plea of innocent and requested a jury trial date, which Volpe set for May 3 before Rudofsky.