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Andrew Kayachith

Other Tennessee Exonerations
In November 2010, a total of 30 individuals, nearly all of them immigrants from Somalia and Ethiopia living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee on charges relating to a wide-ranging sex-trafficking ring spanning nine cities in four states over 10 years—from January 2000 until July 2010.

Ultimately, nine of the defendants went to trial in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in April 2012. Prior to trial, the prosecution turned over more than 40,000 pages of documents and after jury selection began, turned over 6,000 more pages—six weeks past the deadline imposed by the trial judge William J. Haynes, Jr. The trial was delayed to allow the defense time to examine the documents, which included the raw notes of Heather Weyker, a Minneapolis police officer and member of an FBI task force on sex trafficking.

Weyker did not testify at the trial, but Judge Haynes later found, in a post-conviction ruling, that she had lied to a grand jury about identifications by “Jane Doe Two,” a pseudonym used for a girl identified as a 13-year-old victim of sex trafficking. At that same time, Judge Haynes found that Weyker had also testified falsely at a detention hearing. In both contexts, Weyker falsely stated that Jane Dow Two had identified some of the defendants with 100 percent certainty when in fact the girl had said her confidence in those identifications was closer to 80 percent.

The investigation of the case began in November 2008 when Weyker went to speak to Jane Doe Two, who had been confined in juvenile detention earlier that year and subsequently released. When the parents of the girl, then a high-school freshman, refused to allow Weyker to speak to her, the officer began meeting the girl at school. Over several months, Weyker recorded 30 interviews and generated thousands of pages of notes and transcripts. Ultimately, Weyker concluded that Jane Doe Two was not a troubled runaway or juvenile delinquent, but was instead “an innocent child taken in by a Somali gang who used her for sex, either as a prostitute or for free sex with the gang members.”

When the results of the investigation were brought to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis, the prosecution declined to take the case for lack of evidence. And so, after Jane Doe Two and some of the defendants took a trip to Nashville, the case was brought to federal authorities there.

At trial, Jane Doe Two testified that she was 17 and was born September 10, 1996. Her age was critical to the prosecution because the federal sex trafficking statute has two provisions—one for victims under the age of 14 and another for victims under the age of 18. If victims are older than 18, the law does not apply.

She testified that she had been sold to men by some of the defendants in Minneapolis and that she was sold to as many as 10 different men during a two-day span in April 2009 in Nashville before she was taken into juvenile custody because she had been reported missing by her family in Minneapolis.

During cross-examination, defense lawyers noted that prior to the trial, Jane Doe Two had never told anyone about the sex trafficking—not her family nor the police nor anyone else.

On May 4, 2012, the jury acquitted six of the defendants and convicted three of them— Idris Fahra , Andrew Kayachith and Yassin Yusuf —of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking as well as actually trafficking Jane Doe Two when she was younger than 18 years of age, in Nashville in April 2009.

After interviewing Jane Doe Two’s family members and friends in Kenya, defense attorneys filed post-conviction motions to vacate the convictions and to acquit the defendants because she was born in 1990 or early 1991—more than 18 years before the alleged sex trafficking in April 2009. The defense noted that the investigation of the girl’s age was spurred by the documents turned over by the prosecution during jury selection. Had those documents been provided in a timely fashion, evidence of the girl’s age could have been discovered prior to trial.

In December 2012, Judge Haynes granted the motions and ordered Fahra, Kayachith and Yusuf acquitted. The judge found that the officer likely exaggerated or fabricated important aspects of the account. The judge noted that Jane Doe Two herself had admitted on cross-examination that Weyker had misstated facts, added information and omitted other statements in the reports.

The defense noted that that Weyker lied on an application to get Jane Doe Two’s family about $3,000 from the Tennessee victim’s compensation fund: She falsely claimed that Jane Doe Two had been abducted, even though Jane Doe Two herself denied she was abducted; and she endorsed the validity of Jane Doe Two’s birth certificate—even though (as the judge noted) the prosecution knew the birth certificate was false at least a year prior to trial.

“The Court shares the Defendants’ concerns that Jane Doe Two’s trial testimony is not simply a contradiction with prior statements, but [has] material omissions about critical facts that if true, one would expect to have been presented to the grand jury,” the judge ruled. “Yet, these facts about Jane Doe Two seeing money exchanged for sex with her were not presented to the grand jury.”

The judge added, “The Government’s proof of the purpose of the Nashville trip as for sexual exploitation of Jane Doe Two is contradicted by Jane Doe Two’s initial statements to…officers and Weyker about the purpose of the trip. Jane Doe’s testimony also conflicts with the testimony…of (another) government witness, who testified under a grant of immunity that the Defendants were not engaged in prostitution or he would have known about it.”

The prosecution appealed and on March 2, 2016, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Judge Haynes ruling, expressing “acute concern, based on our painstaking review of the record, that this story of sex trafficking and prostitution may be fictitious.”

The prosecution witnesses “repeatedly contradicted, disavowed, and refuted their own testimony, while other portions of their testimony defied belief or were rendered implausible by indisputable contradictory evidence. Given that all nine defendants were acquitted of all charges (six by the jury and three by the court), we merely recognize that we start our analysis from what is likely a fictitious story,” the appeals court noted.

On March 4, 2016, the defendants were released and on March 10, 2016, the prosecution dismissed the charges against not only Fahra, Kayachith and Yusuf, but against all remaining defendants.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/18/2016
State:Fed-TN
County:(Middle)
Most Serious Crime:Other Violent Felony
Additional Convictions:Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2009
Convicted:2012
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:Not sentenced
Race:Asian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No