Woman who forced girls into sex sentenced to 1 year in jail

A Kennewick woman who forced underage girls to have sex with men was sentenced Wednesday to one year in jail.

Melissa Marie Salsbury, 20, was told she can do 300 days of the sentence on a jail work crew or work release. She must report to the Benton County jail by Jan. 4.

Salsbury pleaded guilty Oct. 26 in Benton County Superior Court to promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor, a felony.

The ordered jail term was significantly lower than the standard range of seven years and nine months to 10 years and three months in prison.

Judge Craig Matheson granted the exceptional sentence after finding "substantial and compelling reasons exist" to justify it. The recommendation came out of a plea agreement between Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long and defense attorney Gary Metro.

In a court document filed Wednesday supporting the lower sentence, the lawyers wrote that Salsbury fully cooperated with law enforcement, turned over evidence and gave a full statement regarding her involvement in the incident. Her cooperation also led to the successful arrest and prosecution of four defendants -- including her husband -- and a fifth suspect is awaiting trial.

Salsbury had no felony criminal history before this case, and only had one gross misdemeanor conviction for theft in 2010. She reportedly had been granted a deferred disposition in that case.

According to Kennewick police and prosecutors, Salsbury recruited high school girls -- ages 17 and 18 -- to work for her between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 2010, "by telling them they would be dancing for money."

She placed advertisements on an online classified website and, when contacted by potential customers, would rent rooms at a Kennewick hotel and force the girls to have sex with the men, court documents said.

Salsbury received some of the money from the customers, documents said. Police said she exploited the minors for prostitution and made threats to tell their parents or boyfriends if the girls didn't do as told.

One of the victims reportedly went to the school resource officer at her high school under emotional distress, which led Kennewick detectives to uncover the prostitution ring.

Four men were charged with going to the hotel and paying money to have sex with the girls. Three of them have pleaded guilty.

Salsbury's husband, Stanley Lynn Salsbury Jr., shared in the profits with his wife and accompanied her to the hotel on several occasions and paid for the room, court documents said. He got a deferred sentence with 10 days in jail for prostitution, a gross misdemeanor, and can return to court in September to have his conviction vacated and dismissed if he doesn't get any other violations.

The couple just had a baby boy in October. A court document points out that Melissa Salsbury, while doing her jail time, will be absent "from her child in the most formative/bonding times in the child's life, which is in itself a form of punishment."

The document says "of a more troubling nature in this case" is the fact that Salsbury herself was a victim as a minor, recruited into exotic dancing and then forced into prostitution by an older woman.

Salsbury reportedly was told she would be traded into the sex slave industry if she didn't cooperate, and she in turn instilled this same fear into her victims, the document says.

Salsbury's "lack of understanding of how this crime affected the other girls is evident in her belief that she was befriending the victims, actually cared about them and believed she was helping them despite involving them in the prostitution trade truly shows that her mindset is similar to that of the victims in this matter," the court document said to support the exceptional sentence.

The lawyers added that based on that rationale, the lower term is called for under state law because Salsbury's capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of her conduct was significantly impaired.

As a part of the sentence, Matheson also signed a sexual assault protection order which prevents Salsbury from contacting any of the three young women for the rest of her life.