She was only 14 when her stepfather took her to Erotic City and allegedly prostituted her in the club's "orgy room." Sometimes, 20 men took turns having sex with the girl inside the anything-goes space, an oversized porn video booth where clientele, most of them gay men or swingers, met frequently for anonymous sex. The booth was big enough for 15 people. After the strangers finished with the girl, her stepfather took his turn. The girl would later estimate that over the course of two years, she had sex with her stepfather 80 to 90 times in hotel rooms, parks, houses and cars, and at Erotic City.
It's Tuesday afternoon, February 12, and it's bitterly cold outside the federal courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas. The girl, now 18, waits alone in the back of a sterile courtroom for the sentencing of her stepfather and alleged abuser, Jesse Franklin Herd III. Federal prosecutors accuse Herd of taking the girl across state lines with the intent of prostituting her and engaging in other sex acts. Herd could have faced a maximum life sentence, but he has admitted the allegations and signed a plea agreement guaranteeing him 18 years in federal prison.
The young woman's left leg jackhammers the floor as she fidgets with the nervous energy that comes with dread. Her curly hair is pulled back. She clutches a couple of sheets of notebook paper, on which she has written her first public statement to her stepfather. A woman at the prosecutor's table pulls tissues from a box and hands them to her.
When the courtroom's heavy wooden doors open, a dozen bikers covered with tattoos, leather and denim fill up the benches behind the victim. They're from a local chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse. To protect her identity, court records refer to her only by her initials. But her biker friends know her as "Shorty" — what she calls her "road name."
Herd enters the courtroom through a side door. U.S. marshals lead the prisoner, who is shackled from his wrists to his waist to his ankles. The 6-foot-3, 390-pound Herd dwarfs his attorney, Paul Dent. He wears an orange, prison-issued jumpsuit with "inmate" stenciled in block letters on the back. His once shaggy hair is flat, white with black patches in the back. His goatee frames the corners of his mouth.
Family members — wife, children, father, mother- and father-in-law — fill the benches behind him. A girl with shoulder-length dark hair, maybe in her mid-teens, blows Herd a kiss from the front row of benches behind the defense table. Herd smiles.
Shorty's knee shakes more with Herd sitting about 20 feet away from her. Tears slide down her cheeks as she darts out of the courtroom. The bikers empty the benches and follow her. Her loud crying is audible through the double doors.
Herd has a smirk on his face as he looks over his left shoulder at his family. For a man who has agreed to serve 18 years in federal prison, and whose victim can be heard sobbing uncontrollably, Herd looks like he's in a good mood.
Jesse Herd lies. The worst lie he told was to Shorty in July 2004. According to court records, Herd told the then-14-year-old that he was taking her to The Shady Lady, a Kansas City, Missouri, strip club, to count money and take inventory.
The girl's mother, Kindra Herd, would later tell investigators that Herd said he had invested in The Shady Lady and Erotic City. Kindra Herd, who didn't return phone calls from The Pitch, told investigators that the girl didn't want to go with her stepfather in the final three months of the alleged abuse. But according to court records, Kindra Herd told her to "quit fussing" and go to work.