As he was led from court earlier this year after pleading guilty to child sex trafficking charges that could have seen him jailed for life, Malik McKee let out a plaintive cry.
“What about me? I’m a victim, too!”
The words haunted U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ever since. So on Friday she showed mercy on McKee, 21, sentencing him to just 8 and a half years, blaming McKee’s mother for raising him in a Chicago brothel where he was given drugs and brutally sexually abused from the age of 6.
“His mother sure was his role model,” the judge boomed, fixing a stare on McKee’s mother in the back of the courtroom after explaining how she’d been moved by McKee’s outburst.
“I’m sorry to be harsh, but if I could put somebody else in jail, it would be you,” she told the mother.
It was just one of many emotionally raw moments in a devastating, two-and-a-half hour long sentencing hearing, during which one of McKee’s young victims and her family also testified.
The girl — one of four victims McKee trafficked after he fell in with an older codefendant, Iowa resident, Willie Woods — said she had suffered nightmares after McKee forced her to prostitute herself when she was just 17 years old.
“I was manipulated into thinking I would get anything I wanted,” she told the judge. “I was really hurt from what happened to me — I have had multiple suicide attempts.”
The girl’s 11-year-old brother reduced many in the court room to tears when he then testified how the abuse of the girl had damaged his family.
“She’s trying her best to come back to the way she used to be,” he said.
Prosecutor Bethany Biesenthal had argued that McKee deserved 15 years behind bars. Though the abuse he suffered was “heartbreaking” Biesenthal said, he ”went from being the prey to being the predator,” posing with wads of cash he’d made from pimping, she said.
But defense attorney Patrick Boyle said “if you were to create a system, almost a school for a young boy to end up in this situation, then you’d do what happened to this boy.”
Boyle said McKee, who turned to pimping when he was homeless and 18 years old, had had “not a day” of a normal childhood, describing depraved images of a young McKee being sexually humiliated.
“My client was raised in a whorehouse,” he said. “He’s suffering from PTSD.”
McKee himself gave a tearful apology, saying he’d turned to crime when he was ”tired of starving and freezing.”
“I need help,” he said. “My whole life, I’ve been suffering.”
Coleman offered words of support for McKee’s victims and their families, but agreed with Boyle that McKee “never had a chance.”
She said he’d had “more stability in the last couple of years” since he’d been locked up than at any point in his life. And she heavily criticized McKee’s mother, and said that because McKee never went to school, his problems weren’t picked up on by teachers or doctors — adding that DCFS involvement in McKee’s life was conspicuously missing.
“He came into this world thinking sexual abuse is part of life,” the judge said. “This is so frustrating a case because everywhere you turn it’s bad and it gets worse.”
In addition to the eight-and-a-half year prison term, she imposed five years of supervised release and a $6,000 restitution order on McKee. The $6,000 reflected how much the girls earned, though all the money was taken by Woods, McKee said.