A Benton County judge agreed Monday to delay the trial for the last defendant in a case about commercial sex abuse of a minor so that his new lawyer has more time to interview the alleged victims and subpoena evidence from police.
Chad Andrew Crithfield had been scheduled for a Benton County Superior Court trial starting Nov. 28.
But attorney Shelley Ajax, who Crithfield hired one month ago, rattled off a long to-do list for the court and said if forced to go to trial in a week, it "would create a substantial ineffective assistance claim."
Judge Vic VanderSchoor said he is mindful of the victims' desire to have it resolved, but said he also knows what happens if the young women have to testify twice because the case is tossed back by the state Court of Appeals.
VanderSchoor granted the defense motion, saying the case and Ajax could encounter some problems without the delay.
The trial was postponed a month after Ajax came on the case.
Crithfield, 41, of Richland is charged with two felony counts of commercial sex abuse of a minor and one count of prostitution, a gross misdemeanor.
He will return to court Wednesday before Judge Craig Matheson to set a new trial date. Ajax was hoping to push it out 30 days.
Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long alleges that Crithfield responded to escort service ads on backpage.com and Craigslist and made arrangements to meet young women at a Kennewick hotel.
He twice paid to have sex with underage girls and a 19-year-old woman, and later admitted it to detectives during the investigation, Long told the court.
Ajax claims the girls told her client they were over 18, and said she wants to get her hands on hard copies of those ads -- which she says have since been removed from the websites and destroyed -- because the accompanying pictures labeled the girls as being 18 or even 21. There is an issue as to the credibility of the girls, she said.
However, Long argued that state law says Crithfield cannot rely on an oral assertion of age alone. He should have asked first for a driver's license, birth certificate, some other document that showed the girls' true age.
Prosecutors also say that the organizer, Melissa Marie Salsbury, recruited high school girls to earn money by dancing for men. She then threatened the girls and forced them to have sex with the men who answered the ads, court documents said.
Ajax counters that there is no evidence the girls were under duress, forced or threatened. "We say they were involved in a prostitution ring where they were selling themselves for sex," she said.
Kennewick police learned of it last spring after one of the 17-year-old girls went to her school resource officer.
Salsbury pleaded guilty last month to promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor, a felony. Sentencing is set Wednesday.
Her husband, Stanley Lynn Salsbury Jr., admitted in September to prostitution, a gross misdemeanor, for depositing some of the proceeds into the Kennewick couple's bank account. He got a 10-day sentence with 80 days suspended, and was allowed to do the time on jail work release or work crew.
Since it was a deferred sentence, Stanley Salsbury can return to court next September and ask to have his conviction vacated and dismissed if he has had no violations in that time and has completed all conditions of his sentence.
Francisco Meza III of Sunnyside was sentenced in October to 60 days in jail, with another 30 days suspended, on four counts of prostitution. He was told he could do the time on jail work release.
Mason Cameron Harris of Pasco admitted he paid to have sex with underage girls and then stole back the money. He got 60 days in jail on work release, with 305 days suspended, for prostitution, a misdemeanor, and third-degree theft, a gross misdemeanor.
Armand Robert Vasquez of Arizona pleaded guilty in August to going to the hotel on numerous times to have sex with four underage girls. He received a two-month jail term, with an additional 30 days suspended, for four counts of prostitution.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; email@example.com