32 years for pimp who snoozed in his car as Desiree Robinson was murdered
U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman called sex trafficking a “despicable crime” before handing down the sentence.
In 2016, the slaying of 16-year-old Desiree Robinson at the hands of a sex client became a symbol of the national fight against Backpage.com, the now-shuttered online prostitution advertising forum where the two connected.
On Tuesday, a year after federal law enforcement agencies shuttered the site, a prison sentence of 32 years was imposed on Joseph Hazley, the pimp who uploaded her photos to the website, arranged her final date and slept in a nearby car while acting as security as she was brutally murdered in a south suburban garage on Christmas Eve.
Hazley, 35, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, sat silently as U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman called sex trafficking a “despicable crime” before handing down the sentence at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in the Loop.
A jury took less than a day to find Hazley guilty on six counts of sex trafficking after a weeklong trial in March.
Robinson’s mother, Yvonne Ambrose, testified at the sentencing hearing that Hazley took advantage of an insecure teenager who was bullied and desperate to fit in.
“She was loved by her family, but looked for other sources of love and acceptance, as many teenagers do . . . Joseph Hazley preyed on that vulnerability,” she said.
“He sold my baby. My baby! As if she was a piece of clothing,” said Ambrose, who along with other family members wore pink to the hearing — her daughter’s favorite color.
After the hearing, she called the sentence “very, very satisfying.”
Robinson connected on Facebook with another man, Charles McFee, who — seeking a finder’s fee — introduced her to Hazley just weeks before she was murdered. McFee pleaded guilty last year to sex trafficking charges.
To emphasize his brazen lack of remorse, prosecutors showed a picture of Hazley that he posted to social media four months after Robinson was killed. It showed him sitting in a luxury car, flashing the middle finger along with a note that read: “The feds are watching I’m not worried.”
Prosecutor Chris Parente said Tuesday that even though Hazley didn’t murder Robinson, he was “absolutely” responsible for her death.
Judge Johnson Coleman said that Robinson’s death was a factor in sentencing, it was not an “overwhelming factor.”
Parente said Hazley showed only concern for himself — as exhibited by his removal of Robinson’s cellphone, which contained incriminating information, from her lifeless body shortly after her death.
To further hammer home the point, Parente said that just three days after the murder, Hazley reached out to another woman, imploring her to return to work for him because Robinson’s death was denting his income.
“He said: ‘Now that she’s gone I need you to come work for me. . . . I’ve got no money coming in,’” Parente recalled.
During the hearing, Hazley — who has four children — maintained his innocence, claimed that testimony presented against him at trial was false and asked for leniency.
“Judge, I never had any type of control over what happened to Desiree,” he said.
His attorney, Raymond Wigell, said that Hazley couldn’t be all bad, pointing to his lack of a felony record, previous employment as an armed security guard and loving family members who filled a bench in the courtroom.
“He’s not a monster, he’s not a model citizen, but he’s somewhere in between,” he said.
Antonio Rosales, who allegedly strangled Robinson, slit her throat and left her body in the garage behind a Markham home, is awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse in state court. The next hearing in his case is June 17.
Not long before her death, Robinson told a friend on Facebook, “He won’t let me leave.”
Prosecutors said Hazley took full control of the women’s lives. He monitored their activity, told them how to deal with customers, set their rates, posted their ads online and even gave them new personas. Robinson became “Nicki.”
Hazley would dress the women up, take their pictures, drive them to “dates” and wait for the transaction to end from the comfort of his own car, prosecutors said.
The loss of her daughter prompted Ambrose to become a crusader against Backpage and sex trafficking.
She stood next to President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in April 2018 as he signed a law aimed at online sex trafficking.
The chief executive of Backpage pleaded guilty to federal charges last year. The site’s co-founders pleaded not guilty to federal charges and are expected to go on trial in 2020.