CLEVELAND – A mentally disabled mother authorities said was enslaved for two years along with her daughter spent time in jail this year after pleading guilty to beating the girl, but her attorney told a judge that her captors forced her to do it.
Court records show that a child endangering complaint was filed against the woman in October 2012 just a day after she was charged with shoplifting and asked to be jailed because three people had been mean to her.
A forced labor charge was unsealed Thursday against a fourth suspect, Dezerah Silsby, after Silbsy surrendered to authorities. It wasn't clear whether she had an attorney, and her case was not yet listed in online records late Wednesday.
Beginning in early 2011, the suspects forced the mother to cooperate with them by threats and physical abuse, federal prosecutors said. The woman told authorities she was forced to do housework by the suspects, who she said raided her bank account and menaced her with snakes and pit bulls.
The woman and her daughter were freed in October after police investigated an abuse allegation one of the suspects made against her.
Police checking into her "mean" claim went to an apartment after one of the suspects said it was the woman who was abusive. Authorities said the allegation was a ruse complete with a video staged by the suspects. They said the suspects had forced the woman to act as if she were mistreating her child.
The woman later pleaded guilty to child endangering and was sentenced to 150 days in jail in February. She served only part of that sentence.
Her attorney told a judge during sentencing that two of the suspects encouraged the woman to abuse the child and threatened to go to police if she didn't comply, the Ashland Times-Gazette reported last winter.
"It's unlikely that, on her own, she would have done these horrible things to that child," attorney Michael Sullivan said.
He said that the woman was responsible for harming the child, but that it could have been worse if she had not complied, the newspaper reported.
Messages seeking comment were left Wednesday with Sullivan.
Authorities announced federal charges Tuesday against the three people the woman lived with in Ashland, about 65 miles southwest of Cleveland.
Jordie Callahan, 26, Jessica Hunt, 31, and Daniel J. "DJ" Brown, 33, were charged with forced labor. Callahan also was charged with tampering with a witness in the investigation.
A federal court lawyer for Callahan declined to comment. A second defense attorney, Ed Bryan, said Hunt will plead not guilty and said there are credibility issues with the mother. There was no immediate response to phone and email messages left for the attorney representing Brown.
The first suspect to have an initial court appearance will be Silsby, on Thursday. An FBI affidavit says Silsby admitted she helped retrieve the alleged victims from their relative's house and once smashed the woman's hand with a rock so the woman could go to a hospital and bring back pain medication for the suspects.
Public records show Callahan was convicted of raping an 11-year-old when he was 15. Callahan claimed that the encounter was consensual and that the girl was the aggressor. An appeals court overruled that argument.
An attorney for one of the suspects and the alleged captor's mother said the mentally disabled woman was given a place to stay because she and her young daughter had no home.
Andrew Hyde, who represented Callahan on related state kidnapping charges that were dismissed Tuesday as the federal case was announced, said the woman moved in and out as she pleased.
"She was never forced to do anything. She used this story to get out of trouble she was in" with regard to a child-abuse allegation, Hyde said.
Callahan's mother, Becky Callahan, of Ashland, said that the allegations were "all lies." She said that the alleged victim was friends with her son and Hunt, her son's girlfriend, and that they tried to help the woman out by offering her a place to live.
Hyde said county social service workers placed the child with her mother when the woman was living with the three suspects.
Cassandra Holtzmann, director of Ashland County Job and Family Services, declined to comment Wednesday, saying she has been advised she is not permitted to discuss a pending criminal matter.
She called it "a very serious and tragic situation." In a statement, she said: "Please understand that while we are extremely concerned, this is not our investigation and we do not want to jeopardize law enforcement's investigation."