In April 2016, an 18-year-old woman — at the court’s request she’s called Jane Doe — was working as an exotic dancer at a bar in Miami, Florida. There she met David Johnson, who convinced her to come with him to Los Angeles, where he promised she would make more money. She went, and for the next two years, according to the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office, the man she thought loved her convinced her to work for him as a prostitute, beating and threatening her. The District Attorney filed human trafficking charges against Johnson in 2017, but during his trial last week, he pleaded guilty to three counts of human trafficking, pimping, and pandering, including great bodily injury in connection with all charges.
The relationship between Johnson and Doe, which Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian described at the opening of the trial on Wednesday, was a twisted and exploitative one. Santa Barbara authorities became involved when in June 2017 an undercover officer with the city police department solicited Doe’s services on Backpage.com, a website notorious for escort advertisements. The case that unfolded from there could put Johnson in state prison for as many as 57 years.
In July 2016, Johnson and Doe moved from Los Angeles to Provo, Utah, where he taught her how to use Backpage and convinced her to engage in prostitution. Doe allegedly had engagements with 40 clients in Utah before she was convicted for stealing and for trying to obtain a fake prescription for a drug containing codeine. Though she committed these crimes under Johnson’s orders, Doe was so terrified by his threats to kill her that she never mentioned his name to Utah authorities.
Shortly after being released from jail in September 2016, Doe was seen by doctors in Ventura, California; she had a black eye and required multiple stitches in her brow. She denied knowing who assaulted her. When she was interviewed by authorities, Jane Doe consistently refused to testify in court or talk with authorities against Johnson, Karapetian said.
According to a woman who was mother to Johnson’s children, Doe asked for help about a week later. Johnson had mutilated her genitals, an injury that reportedly registered an 8 on the pain scale of 10. The woman called police in Los Angeles and put Doe on an airplane to Washington State, which is where her close family members lived, according to the court record. During the trial, Karapetian related that Johnson called her father, saying that he was a “pimp” and threatening to rape his youngest daughter in front of him.
Doe returned to Utah, where she was again trafficked by Johnson, working there, Nevada, and multiple cities in California over the course of the next few months. She wired money to Johnson, and he continued to inflict violence on her. In one year, Doe’s services earned $100,000, and Johnson kept $90,000, Karapetian told the jurors.
On June 20, 2017, Doe and Johnson traveled to Santa Barbara, where they stayed in a downtown motel. She professed her love for him and how she was making more money than ever. Johnson recorded videos of her nude body, which he captioned “DBoy Property.”
The next week, Doe accepted a date offer on Backpage, not realizing that the man she was scheduled to meet was an undercover police officer, attached to a human trafficking sting operation. Accompanying her on that date was a woman Karapetian called Jane Doe 2. The second Doe, described as Johnson’s girlfriend, testified in a deposition, describing his abuse of the first Jane Doe, who remained too afraid to testify at trial.
After Karapetian gave jurors the detailed history of the case on Wednesday morning, that afternoon Johnson chose to enter guilty pleas to the three charges. He also pleaded to special allegations of inflicting serious bodily harm on Jane Doe 1 in the course of human trafficking. Further, Johnson admitted a prior strike for robbery and two previous, separate terms in prison. The judge thanked and dismissed the 12 jurors and four alternates, all of whom had been questioned extensively the previous week during jury selection.
In arranging a sentencing date, Judge Von Deroian noted that by turning down an offer of 19 years in prison that was made the previous Friday evening, Johnson was leaving himself open to a maximum sentence of 57 years in state prison. Johnson, who is 34 years old, registered his understanding. The case now enters the sentencing phase, slated to occur on March 19.