ST. GEORGE — The case against a Las Vegas man accused of exploiting a 17-year-old girl hung in the balance of a hearing held Monday, after a defense attorney filed two motions just days before trial asking for the case to be dismissed.
Darrell Eugene Hopper, 31, appeared in 5th District Court facing one first-degree felony count of aggravated exploitation of a child prostitute and 12 third-degree felony counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16-or 17-year-old.
The defendant appeared before District Judge G. Michael Westfall for a hearing on two motions in limine, which were filed by defense attorney Edward Flint Oct. 23, just days before the 3-day jury trial was scheduled to begin Oct. 28.
A motion in limine is filed “on the threshold” of trial to request that certain evidence or testimony be excluded from trial and is discussed outside the presence of the jury.
Hopper was arrested by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department on May 10 after a warrant was issued for his arrest regarding his alleged involvement in a prostitution case involving a 17-year-old girl in St. George in November 2018.
Once Hopper was in police custody, he was shown a photo of the girl and admitted that he had traveled with her from Las Vegas to St. George where they stayed in a hotel together from Nov. 18 to Dec. 8. Police say he admitted to having a sexual relationship with the girl who was positively identified as being a runaway juvenile from the Las Vegas area.
During Monday’s hearing, Hopper’s attorney, Ed Flint, brought two primary issues before the court. Flint’s first argument was that while his client is being charged with exploitation of a child prostitute, the state does not have sufficient evidence to support the charges, nor any evidence that Hopper knew the teen’s age.
The second issue he argued is that the state is basing their case on an interview conducted with the defendant in Las Vegas, though the defendant wasn’t given all of the information on why he was being interviewed at the time. Flint also contends that the state has not tried hard enough to contact the teen or subpoena her for trial.
Based on those issues, Flint requested the case be dismissed.
The state contends that Hopper had rented the room at a motel in St. George where the teen allegedly engaged in prostitution, and the defendant benefited financially from the activity, which two undercover detectives testified to during the hearing.
Flint argued that any testimony or evidence supporting the state’s allegations that the 17-year-old was “exploited into prostitution by the defendant,” or that Hopper was in any way responsible for any criminal activity committed by the girl, be excluded from the trial — “unless the state’s designated victim is present at trial and available to testify, since the bulk of the state’s case relies on having a victim,” Flint said.
Flint also argued that the state “isn’t trying to get the girl here to testify — they don’t want her to testify,” adding that the teen has already informed the courts that she would not cooperate with any criminal proceedings against Hopper.
Prosecutor Zach Weiland argued that the state has made many attempts to locate the teen through a family member, but that she is now supposedly living on the streets in Las Vegas.
Flint argued that without the victim, the only witnesses for the state are police officers who will repeatedly testify about their investigation that “shows that the defendant committed the crimes he is charged with.”
In other words, without the testimony of the individual the crime was committed against, then any evidence supporting the felony charge of aggravated exploitation of a child prostitute should be excluded from the trial under the premise that Hopper is entitled to confront his accuser, which will not be possible if she is not there.
In the second motion filed with the court, Flint asked that any testimony or evidence of the defendant confessing or admitting to any sexual conduct with 17-year-old be excluded from the trial.
Flint asserted that any confession by the defendant is not reliable enough on its own to support the 12 counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 16- or 17-year-old without the testimony of the teen who was allegedly involved, according to the motion filed with the court.
Additionally, Flint argued that during police questioning, Hopper was not told of the teen’s age until after he confessed to having sexual relations with her. Further, he said that another defendant arrested in connection with the sting told police the girl was 23 years old, and that she appeared to be older than she is, which would lend support to his client possibly not knowing the girl was underage.
Further, a number of attempts were made to interview the teen, who never gave any incriminating statements to police and has not testified about the facts of the case.
Weiland countered by saying the state presented evidence at the hearing that both identification cards, the girl’s and Hopper’s, were found in the motel room, as well as financial and bank records, hotel registration documentation and surveillance footage to support the charges, and that sufficient evidence will be presented at trial, with or without Hopper’s confession or the teen’s testimony.
Judge Westfall dismissed both motions on the basis that the state presented sufficient evidence to support the defendant’s confession being admissible at trial, and that the trial can proceed, even if the victim cannot be located, and that the issues will be decided by a jury.
Westfall also said Monday’s decision on the motions “was a close one,” meaning it could have gone either way. He also said the state would need a number of witnesses to testify as to the teen’s age, and other issues, which would require a longer trial.
The trial will require at least seven days and will be scheduled at a later time.
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