HURLEY - A Milwaukee woman faces a possible prison sentence of 46 years after being convicted Wednesday by an Iron County jury of being a party to trafficking a child for commercial sex acts and physical abuse of a child.
The 10-man, two-woman jury found Nikia Burchette, 28, not guilty of a third count of being a party to the crime of human trafficking, however.
The jury deliberated only an hour and 15 minutes before reaching its verdict on the second day of the trial.
Iron County Judge Patrick Madden said he'll schedule sentencing as soon as a pre-sentence investigation is completed.
The jury deliberated through the noon lunch break and arrived at the verdict before Burchette's family members could return to the courtroom from lunch.
After the trial, Iron County District Attorney Marty Lipske praised the testimony of the victim in the case, who is now 15. She testified extensively on Tuesday, pinning Burchette as the leader of the sex trafficking operation that included numerous "tricks" in southern Wisconsin.
Also charged with the same three counts are Tanya Brown, 18, and Tamyra Thomas, 23, both of Milwaukee. They are alleged to have participated in a Mercer man arranging to have sex with the girl at his home on Sept. 26-27.
No sex resulted, but Dennis Braun paid $1,500 for the girl to stay overnight, hugged and kissed her, and took a bath with her, according to testimony.
The juvenile girl, then 14, ran bare-footed from a Mercer motel around 6:27 a.m. on Sept. 27, saying she had been beaten by Burchette and forced into prostitution.
Defense attorney Sam Filippo, of Saxon, on Tuesday morning played excerpts of a tape of an interview between the girl and Iron County Sheriff's Department Lt. Paul Samardich.
In the tape, the girl denied saying she was being held against her will, or that she was forced into prostitution.
Filippo said the girl is a prostitute and consented to riding to Mercer for the session with Braun.
Filippo also said the girl lied on many instances. "Prostitutes make a living by lying," he said. He said she had "lost her moral compass" and sense of what is right and wrong.
Lipske said Braun expected sex when he told the girl, "I will love you all night long," and the girl responded, "Yes, as many times as you want."
Lipske called Burchette a "predator" who was only interested in making money off a petite, attractive 14-year-old.
Lipske said the girl, a runaway, was vulnerable, with no ties. Alcohol, drugs, clothes and a place to stay attracted her, he said.
"She's not a prostitute and a liar," Lipske charged, saying it took courage for the victim to take the stand and describe intimate encounters with undesirable characters to the jury. He said it was Burchette who had lied, advertising on Backpage that the victim was 19 or 21.
"Cherry (Burchette) had no job, but a plan," Lipske said, noting it was a business deal to her, sending out a 5-foot, 100-pounder with a condom to bring in money.
Lipske referred to photos taken of the victim and posted online when he said Burchette "... polished her up so some weirdo could buy her on Backpage."
Lipske urged the jury to think about the effects that Burchette and the sex trafficking has had on the girl, or might have in the future.
He said prostitution was once regarded as a victim-less crime, but child prostitution destroys lives and affects victims for years to come, referring to it as "human destruction. It destroys people. It destroys futures."
Burchette did not take the stand Wednesday.
The victim attended the Tuesday proceedings, accompanied by child support advocates.
The jurors left the courthouse immediately after the trial.
Asked after the trial about the not guilty verdict on the human trafficking count, Lipske said the jury might have weighed the issue of voluntary participation versus being forced to make the trip to Mercer.
There could be related charges issued following the Mercer investigation, which included assistance from Department of Criminal Investigation agents. Two DCI agents attended the Iron County trial, but later said they couldn't comment on whether charges would be issued in other counties.