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Man convicted of sex trafficking in case of slain teen marketed on Backpage

Joseph Hazley (left) was convicted for trafficking Desiree Robinson on Backpage.com. | File photos

Joseph Hazley (left) was convicted for trafficking Desiree Robinson on Backpage.com. | File photos

The accused pimp of slain teenager Desiree Robinson could spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of trafficking the girl and two other victims.

A federal jury returned the guilty verdict Wednesday against 35-year-old Joseph Hazley after less than a day of deliberations. Hazley was found guilty of six of the seven counts in his indictment.

“This verdict closes the first chapter in our family’s on-going fight and mission to serve justice for Desiree,” her mom, Yvonne Ambrose, said in a statement. “Our family continues to struggle daily with the loss of Desiree, a loving daughter and friend who became victimized by people, a business and a system with no regard for young lives.”

Hazley is the second person convicted in connection with Robinson’s case.

A co-defendant, Charles McFee, took the stand during the trial to explain how he sold Robinson to Hazley for a finder’s fee of $250 he never collected.

Soon after the sale, the 16-year-old girl was brutally murdered on Christmas Eve 2016, allegedly at the hands of a customer. She had been on a “date” arranged by Hazley, who was sleeping nearby in his car while acting as security.

Robinson’s death became so symbolic of the national fight against the classified ad website Backpage.com that her mother wound up in the Oval Office last year as President Donald Trump signed a law aimed at online sex trafficking.

Yvonne Ambrose of Chicago talks to President Donald Trump before he signed a bill intended to curb sex trafficking. Ambrose’s daughter, Desiree Robinson, was killed after a pimp offered her up on Backpage.com., a website that has been criticized for including ads for prostitution. | Chris Kleponis/Pool photo/Getty Images

Hazley’s trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse lasted roughly a week, and prosecutors said it gave jurors a glimpse into “a world in which he, a 33-year-old man, used the bodies of 16 and 18-year-old girls,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Greening said during closing arguments. “He asked others to find him girls who he could convince to have sex for money.”

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.

“When the girls were done, they gave him the money,” Greening said.

On Wednesday, Hazley’s family members broke down as the first guilty verdicts were read. Hazley and his mother exchanged an “I love you” before he was walked out of the courtroom.

Raymond Wigell, Hazley’s lawyer, argued that prosecutors didn’t come close to proving their case. He even tried arguing that Hazley doesn’t look like a pimp seen on TV or in the movies.

“He doesn’t have a gold tooth,” Wigell said. “He’s not pimping it out.”

But 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,” while the other two women became “Winter” and “Elena.”

Though “Winter” and “Elena” managed to get away from Hazley, Robinson apparently saw no way out. She told a friend on Facebook, “He won’t let me leave.”

McFee pleaded guilty last year to a sex-trafficking conspiracy. Her accused killer, Antonio Rosales, is still awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse in state court. That’s where Robinson’s mother is also fighting a civil battle against Backpage and others she holds responsible for her daughter’s death.

Ambrose’s lawsuit says Hazley took Robinson to a party in a garage at the home of Rosales’ parents on Dec. 23, 2016. There, Hazley allegedly sold Robinson to Rosales, who took her into a truck parked nearby. Later, on Christmas Eve morning, Rosales reached out to ask Hazley for another encounter with Robinson, texting, “Can u cum over I got cash plus ma uncle too…lol.”

Hazley and his girlfriend wound up back at the Rosales house with Robinson and Rosales, according to the lawsuit. Rosales and Robinson went into the garage while Hazley and his girlfriend fell asleep in the car.

That’s when Robinson apparently refused Rosales, who allegedly then beat her, strangled her and slit her throat while she called for help. Rosales then stripped the girl’s body and left her dead in the garage, according to Ambrose’s lawsuit.

Hazley tried to get away from the scene with Robinson’s cell phone, prosecutors alleged, though it still ended up in the hands of police. They also said he went home and threw out Robinson’s belongings, also deleting her photographs from his computer.

Greening said that’s because Hazley knew what would happen after Robinson’s dead body appeared in the garage.

“There was going to be a big, old spotlight on what got her there,” Greening said.