The whispers are hard to ignore inside the federal courtroom in Kansas City, Kansas. It's Monday, April 21, and in minutes, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil will determine the fate of Jesse Franklin Herd III. Herd sexually abused and prostituted his 14-year-old stepdaughter at Erotic City, an adult entertainment compound in Blue Summit ("The People vs. Erotic City," March 20 and March 27, 2008). As many as 20 men often took turns with the girl inside an "orgy room." When the strangers finished, Herd took his turn.
The whispers are not condemnations of Herd. They're coming from two rows of his supporters, including his daughters, father, in-laws and wife, Kindra Herd. Their indignation is directed at a dozen Bikers Against Child Abuse members who offer their support by surrounding the abused girl they know as Shorty.
"Jesse has to answer to the federal government, but those bikers have to answer to God," one of Herd's backers says. They talk about the bikers burning in hell and say there is another version of what happened. "So they don't want to hear the truth?" asks one of the girls.
"The truth is not going to come out in this case whatsoever," Kindra Herd snaps.
Jesse Herd enters the courtroom through a side door. Herd smiles as his supporters wave. A young girl theatrically blows him a kiss.
Vratil enters the courtroom and wastes no time saying she'll accept Herd's plea deal. He'll begin a prison sentence of 21 years and eight months, spend the rest of his life on supervised release and register as a sex offender. There will be no appeal. Vratil asks Herd if he has anything to say.
"I'm very sorry on so many levels," Herd says. "I'd like to see this close for everybody's behalf, not just my own."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Martin glances back at Shorty and says the sentence allows 18-year-old Shorty to put her life back together. She says what Shorty wanted most was for Herd to admit what he did to her.
Vratil warns Herd that she has a "long memory," and if he doesn't meet the terms of his supervised release, she'll hammer him.
Twenty minutes later, U.S. marshals lead Herd out of the courtroom. He mouths goodbye to his waving supporters. And one last time, Shorty leaves the courtroom surrounded by the bikers.
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