CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Three Ohio residents are accused of holding an intellectually disabled woman and her daughter against their will and forcing the woman to perform physical labor for them, threatening her with snakes if she didn’t comply, authorities said on Tuesday.
The trio, Jordie Callahan, Jessica Hunt and Daniel Brown, conspired to beat the woman and her child and forced them to sleep in a padlocked room with a large iguana, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The three, wearing cut-off jeans, T-shirts and flip-flop sandals, made at an initial appearance on Tuesday afternoon in Cleveland federal court. They will be in custody at least until a detention hearing scheduled for June 24.
Edward Bryan, Hunt’s public defender, said prosecution witnesses were unreliable. “This case will go to trial,” he said.
The arrests on Tuesday came a little over a month after the discovery in Cleveland of three young woman who had been held prisoner for about a decade in a home owned by Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver who has since been charged with rape, kidnapping and murder.
“We are yet again reminded that modern-day slavery exists all around us,” Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said in a statement about the Ashland case. “The victims in this case endured violence, threats, sub-human living conditions and other horrific acts.”
Authorities said that Callahan, 26, and Hunt, 31, recruited the woman, identified only as “S.E.,” and her child to live with them in their two-bedroom apartment in Ashland, about 70 miles southwest of Cleveland, along with Hunt’s four young sons, numerous pit bull dogs, a poisonous coral snake and pythons.
During the time of the woman’s captivity between May 2011 and October 2012, Hunt used S.E.’s government benefits cards and rarely gave any money to S.E., according to the government statement. Callahan and Hunt forced S.E. to clean the house, do laundry and care for the numerous animals, authorities said.
S.E. and her child initially slept on a basement concrete floor with no mattress, and later on the floor of a padlocked room upstairs. They were given only canned food or leftovers to eat, the government said.
The statement also said that the conspirators injured S.E. at various times in order to obtain pain medication prescriptions for their own use.
Callahan and Hunt also forced S.E. to hit her child, threatening to inflict worse harm on both of them if she didn‘t, and took a video of it, the government said. The child’s identity was not revealed and her exact age was not given, but she was said to have been born in 2007.
Callahan told S.E. that if she “messed up” or told police about her living conditions, he would show the videos to police and have her daughter taken away, according to the government.
S.E.’s circumstances were discovered by authorities after she was arrested in late 2012 for shoplifting a candy bar. She asked that she be taken to jail, saying Callahan and Hunt were “mean to her.”
According to Callahan’s Facebook page, Callahan and Hunt are engaged. The page includes many pictures of pit bulls, snakes and small children.
According to the criminal complaint, Brown’s involvement included punishing S.E. when she tried to escape by shaving her head into a “Mohawk” and writing “slut” and “whore” on her face with permanent marker.
Reporting by Kim Palmer and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Steve Orlofsky