Rhode Island prosecutor links classified website to crimes against women

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jul 09, 2015 5:48 PM

By John Larrabee

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Reuters) - With two suspects in custody charged with killing women they allegedly met through Backpage.com, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is calling on Congress to shut down the adult services page of the classified ad website.

Kilmartin's office announced an indictment against Daniel Tejeda, 28, of Providence earlier this week, charging him with first-degree murder. He allegedly met his victim, a single mother of three, by responding to an escort ad on Backpage.com.

The second murder suspect, James Adams of Warwick, is now facing trial in Providence Superior Court. Prosecutors say Adams killed a woman who advertised on Backpage.com in 2012 and hid her body in a Cranston garage.

"We are seeing an increase in violent crimes against women and sex trafficking," Kilmartin said on Thursday. "Backpage.com is increasingly a common denominator."

Tejeda, who is in federal custody, does not have a lawyer yet, while an attorney representing Adams could not be reached immediately for comment.

Backpage.com has come under fire from police and prosecutors across the country who say the adult section of the classified site frequently includes advertisements for prostitution.

Kilmartin, as well as the National Association of Attorneys General, have called on Congress to modify a portion of the Communications Decency Act that protects online service providers from legal action related to postings by third parties. That move would force Backpage.com to close its adult services page.

Officials of Backpage.com could not be reached for comment.

Rhode Island is not the only New England state where prosecutors are saying Backpage.com ads have played a role in homicide.

Massachusetts police on Monday arrested two men, Epshod Jeune, 24, and Derrell Fisher, 21, and charged them with murdering a woman who advertised erotic massage services on Backpage. Lawyers for the suspects could not be reached.

Police say the two men used the classified ads to find prostitutes for the purpose of robbing them.

"Most of the human trafficking cases that our office has prosecuted specifically involves advertisements on Backpage," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement Thursday. "It is clear that Backpage must do more to end the kind of exploitation that is advertised every day on its site."

She called on Backpage to immediately close its adult section.

In Rhode Island, police have attempted to combat Internet advertising of prostitution services with a sting operation.

Men responding to an online ad are directed to motel rooms, where they are met by police officers. Over the past three months "Operation Backpage" has resulted in dozens of arrests.

(Editing By Frank McGurty; Editing by Sandra Maler)