For years, Spokane prostitutes had been terrorized by a man who locked them in his house and forced them to appease him in strange ways.
Authorities said the attacker probably thought it was unlikely the victims would report him. But five finally came forward to describe the customer who, starting in 2005, held them inside his Spokane Valley home and forced them to perform – sometimes on videotape – sexual acts.
After a lengthy Spokane County Sheriff’s Office investigation, detectives in August 2007 arrested a registered sex offender who acknowledged hiring prostitutes and enjoying rough sex.
Now, 48-year-old Pierre D. West is standing trial before Superior Court Judge Michael Price on 15 felony charges, including five counts of rape and four counts of kidnapping, in connection with the attacks. West acknowledges having had sex with as many as 20 prostitutes but says it was all consensual.
Among the first prosecution witnesses Wednesday was a middle-aged woman who said she has worked along East Sprague Avenue as a prostitute. She told jurors that West persuaded her to return with him to his home and that she knew she was in trouble “the minute he turned and he had that smile on his face.”
She spoke with a tiny, raspy voice and allowed her hair to fall, partially obscuring her face from the jury.
Letting out a tense sigh, the woman explained how prostitutes pick up their “dates” on East Sprague Avenue, then described her encounter with West on July 16, 2007.
She said she agreed to go to West’s house in Spokane Valley, where she said he locked the door and refused to pay her. He then started to threaten her and became violent, she said, at one point asking about the melanoma on her nose.
“He asked me if I was going to die. I said, ‘Eventually.’ He said it didn’t matter if I die now or later,” she said. “I gathered that he was going to kill me.”
She persuaded West to give him a tour of his home, “because if I got out, I wanted to remember,” she said.
Another woman told Spokane County sheriff’s Detective David Bentley that West showed her a video of West performing acts on another woman, whom police have not identified.
“There is always the possibility of more victims. We don’t know how many,” Bentley said in an interview. “A lot of these women don’t come forward for a lot of reasons.”
Assistant Public Defender John Stine told the jury of 10 women and two men that “all of these women consented to have sex with Mr. West. They all consented to go to Mr. West’s house.”
Stine said his client has picked up between 15 and 20 prostitutes over the years.
“These women did not report the incidents immediately to police,” Stine said. “I think when you get to the end of this case … it should be undisputed that they were not forced to have sex against their will.”
Detectives were unable to obtain any physical evidence, including videotapes, in a search of West’s homes to corroborate their stories, Stine said. “It really will come down to the word of these women compared to what Mr. West will tell you,” he said. “If you do that, you will find Mr. West is not guilty of these crimes.”
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor John Love asked the jury to look past the fact that the five alleged victims are prostitutes.
“We have 15 counts of alleged crimes against a person who chose to take advantage of those women,” Love said. “They got themselves into a situation … where they feared for their lives. Mr. West had complete control of what was going to happen to them.”
Based on a motion prior to trial, the jury will not learn that West is a level 3 registered sex offender, meaning he is at a high risk to re-offend. He was convicted in 1988 of third-degree rape of a child, according to sheriff’s records.
Before the trial started, one juror disclosed that she saw a news report about West on Tuesday despite three warnings by Judge Price to avoid media. Price replaced her with an alternate.
“I’m more than a little irritated by this,” Price said. “We don’t have an alternate anymore. But that’s the card we’ve been dealt.”