HOUSTON – A 44-year-old Houston pimp was convicted on five counts of sex trafficking for crimes committed over a span of nine years, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
After three days of trial, a federal jury took three hours to convict David Mearis after hearing testimony from his victims and closing arguments from prosecutors and the defense in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
Four of Mearis' victims testified that they were underage when they met him, the youngest having been just 14 years old. They said Mearis "won them over with gifts and kindness before using threats, sexual abuse and physical force to compel them into prostitution."
One of the girls told the jury she began a relationship with Mearis when he was 32, and she was 17. She had run away from her home in Oakland, California. Another girl was 15 when she met Mearis.
"Both of these girls considered Mearis their boyfriend in the earlier stages of their relationships but were eventually forced to engage in commercial sex in north Houston," officials wrote in the press release.
The 14-year-old victim testified that she met the then-41-year-old Mearis on a website called MocoSpace and eventually ran away to live with him. She said he sexually assaulted her twice when she was with him in 2016.
Prosecutors say at least two of the girls were put on a "peanut butter diet in order to fatten them up for the purpose of working as his prostitute." They argued that Mearis exerted control over every aspect of the victims' lives.
"He controlled where they went, what they wore, what they ate and with whom they engaged in commercial sex," officials wrote. He also created ads for the girls on Backpage, a website formerly used to advertise commercial sex work.
Some of the victims described physical abuse by Mearis against them, ranging from slapping to binding and gagging. One of the women said Mearis put a sock in her mouth and a gun to her head and threatened to kill her.
"Evidence and testimony further established Mearis caused Supplemental Security Income benefits, intended for one of the victims, be directed to him," prosecutors wrote. "That victim had been diagnosed with mental retardation at an early age. Mearis himself described her as having the 'mental capacity of a child' and could not do the simplest of tasks without constant supervision and instruction."
When money was tight, prosecutors say Mearis forced a girl to participate in a bank robbery and when she later went back to California, he forced her to return to Houston with threats that he would tell police about her involvement in the robbery.
Mearis' defense attorneys argued that he was a "loving boyfriend who provided protection while the girls voluntarily engaged in commercial sex," according to the press release.
The jury convicted Mearis on all five charges of sex trafficking and he will be sentenced on Jan. 13, 2020. He faces 15 years to life in prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.