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Strip Club Owner gets 16 Years
Phyllis Woodall found guilty of promoting prostitution; lawyer: religious bias led to quick jury decision?
--El Paso Times
El Paso, Texas- Phyllis Woodall, the owner of the Naked Harem, was found guilty on October 19 of promoting prostitution at her Central El Paso strip club. A jury deliberated for about 15 minutes before returning the verdict to Judge Bonnie Rangel of the 171st District Court. Woodall, 50, faces a sentence ranging from probation up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for her conviction on a charge of engaging in organized criminal activity-aggravated promotion of prostitution. Prosecutors said she was involved in the criminal activity on or about March 2001. Punishment testimony was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. today.
Michael Gibson, Woodall's lawyer, said he was shocked by the jury's decision.
"I'm just very surprised. We certainly don't agree with it. I thought we had an excellent defense," he said.
Gibson said he will explore whether there was jury misconduct in this trial, particularly because of the amount of time jurors took to reach a verdict. He said the time they spent deliberating was barely enough to name a jury foreman. A criminal lawyer for 42 years, Gibson said he's never seen a jury come back with a guilty verdict so quickly in a complicated and high-profile case. He said there is a possibility that some jurors had a bias against Woodall based on their "moral and religious" beliefs.
During closing arguments, Gibson told jurors that Woodall did not collaborate with anyone to promote prostitution at the strip club. He said that if there was prostitution, it was promoted by individual dancers and not Woodall. He said the club's policy prohibited sex in the club. Assistant District Attorney Rick Locke argued that Woodall and other club employees knew the dancers were exchanging sex for money and that they encouraged the dancers to do so because it was "profitable."
"Everybody knew this place was a whorehouse," Locke said. After Thursday's hearing, Gibson challenged the judge's ruling to have Woodall taken into custody following the verdict announcement. Woodall had been out on bond. Gibson argued that state law allowed a bond to be in effect until a defendant who is convicted is sentenced. Woodall has not been sentenced because her trial is in the punishment phase. The judge denied Gibson's request to release Woodall on bond. Rangel said the law prohibited her from releasing Woodall. During a break in the trial, the judge described Woodall as a flight risk.