Upon hearing further arguments from prosecution and defense on Monday, a federal judge decided 15 years in custody was necessary for a woman who helped prostitute a 16-year-old in Tulsa.
At the news, defendant Rontaysha Leann Cox dropped her head into her hands and began shaking with sobs.
The 28-year-old mother of three is the last after her two co-defendants to be sentenced. Her hearing had been pushed back a week because Chief U.S. District Judge John Heil had not been convinced that the punishment set forth in a plea agreement was sufficient but not harsher than necessary.
Heil made his decision after weighing further reasoning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Snow and defense attorney Scott Troy.
Snow argued that prosecutors made “every possible attempt” to keep Cox from being punished more harshly than necessary, and he pointed out that the government decided not to pursue charges of child pornography against her, which would have carried a minimum sentence of 15 years.
He largely reinforced arguments he included in the sentencing memorandum he filed after the first continuance, which stated in part that “the horrific opportunist actions by (Cox) cries out for a sentence that will serve as a deterrent not only to (Cox), but others who view the consequences in prostituting juveniles.
“While the defendant has no criminal history, the evidence clearly established that she was well versed in prostitution prior to meeting (the victim). … The defendant who knew the perils of sexual abuse did not choose to help someone else who was at risk but instead chose to subject someone else to sexual abuse.”
Troy reminded the court that sexual victimization is a “complex syndrome” that carries severe psychological damage, and he argued against Snow’s claim that Cox played a vital part in the crime.
“I don’t think she set any of this in motion,” Troy said. “She said she was afraid of (her co-defendant).”
Tulsa police arrested Cox and two men, Dominique Morgan and Treveon Cato, in a sting at the Quality Inn, 10829 E. 41st St., in April 2020 after receiving a tip that a 16-year-old female runaway had been advertised for prostitution on an internet escort site.
The investigation revealed that Cox taught the victim how to be a prostitute, even instructing her in poses for photos of the victim that constituted child pornography. Additionally, phone conversations were found in which Cox, Morgan and Cato discussed prostitution, including some between Morgan and the victim in which she told him she was 16 years old, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
“Targeting and exploiting minors for the commercial sex trade is shameful, inexcusable, and criminal,” Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson said in a news release. “Every child deserves the full protection of the law.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners will hold accountable anyone who engages in the sex trafficking of children, whether as a trafficker or a customer.”
Morgan was sentenced in July to 25 years in federal custody followed by 25 years of supervised release for the coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity and for possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.
Cato received five years in federal custody for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking felony, followed by five years of supervised release.
Cox’s sentence will be followed by a lifetime of supervised release in which she will register as a sex offender.
In making a statement to the court, Cox apologized for the pain she caused the victim and the victim’s family and said she regrets her involvement and failure to dissuade the victim from getting involved.
She said she is thankful for the time she has already spent incarcerated to show her the error of her ways, but she pleaded with the judge for leniency, saying she thought the sentence was “extremely intense” for her first charged offense and asking for more time with her young children.
Heil responded that he agrees it’s good that Cox was arrested when she was, for she was on a path of destruction of herself and contributing to that of others.
However, “your life isn’t over,” he told her after recommending that she be evaluated for an intensive drug treatment program, mental health treatment and placement into a career-starter or workforce program.
“I do believe you’re a strong enough person to overcome (this),” he said, adding that if Cox recovers from her drug addiction she will be uniquely positioned to help others in similar situations.
“You weren’t put on this earth to do what you’ve been doing,” he said.