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Appeals court upholds Howard County human trafficking conviction

A Laurel man serving up to 50 years in prison after being convicted last year of trafficking a 13-year-old girl for prostitution in Elkridge has lost an appeal in Maryland’s second highest court.

Arthur Coleman argued in his appeal for a new trial that there was insufficient evidence that he lured a minor from her home for prostitution, one of eight charges he faced in a Howard County Circuit Court trial stemming from his 2016 arrest.

The 48-year-old, who billed himself on social media as “the dude that throw parties,” also unsuccessfully claimed that his sentence was improperly imposed.

Coleman’s appeal centered on the wording of Maryland’s law that makes it a crime to persuade a minor from their home for prostitution, arguing the statue’s language is ambiguous as it applied to the facts in his case.

During arguments presented last fall to the Court of Special Appeals, Coleman said the 13-year-old was a runaway from her home and had been working as a prostitute by the time he met her through social media and texting.

Howard County police arrested Coleman in July 2016 as he arrived with the 13-year-old and a 16-year-old girl at a “Saturday Night Adult Freak Party” in Elkridge that authorities said he arranged for paying guests and advertised on a website known for its listings of adult escort services.

According to police and judicial accounts, the 13-year-old was being sought by social workers throughout the region when Coleman met her.

In an opinion that highlighted the evolution of the state’s prostitution and sentencing statutes dating to the 1870s, the three-judge appeals panel rejected Coleman’s legal interpretation.

The judges found Coleman’s claim “unsupported by [the laws’] legislative history and antithetical to the statute’s purpose of punishing traffickers who exploit children by persuading or enticing them to leave home to engage in prostitution, including those children who have been victims of sexual exploitation in the past.”

The court also rejected Coleman’s claim that he unfairly received separate sentences for his convictions on several other related charges, including benefiting financially from human trafficking.

A county prosecutor called the ruling, published late last month, “very significant” in the fight against human trafficking.

“In these types of cases, the victims are often living in unstable conditions,” Deputy State’s Attorney Kim Oldham said. “It might have been one of the few cases where the prosecution was able to put together a case without the testimony of a victim.”

When Coleman was arrested, police found the 13-year-old’s name and photograph on a contact list on his cellphone, where she was categorized as a “Worker.” The phone’s directory also had a list of “clients,” according to court records.

Police also uncovered text messages to the 13-year-old asking her to the Elkridge party and telling her she would be his “little partner” in a prostitution venture, according to court records.

The defense attorney for Coleman, listed as Howard County’s lead public defender, did not respond to a request for comment.

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