Pimping and pandering charges against a North Hollywood woman accused of forcing her 16-year-old daughter into prostitution were dismissed Friday because the prosecution was unable to produce the girl to testify against her mother.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth Freeman said that, without the girl's testimony, he could not proceed with the preliminary hearing in Van Nuys Municipal Court. Judge Robert Wallerstein then dismissed the case for lack of evidence.
The prosecutor said he had not decided whether to continue his search for the girl in the hope of refiling the charges.
'Above the Law'
Freeman asserted that the defendant, Cheri Barbara Woods, 36, had placed herself "above the law" by hiding her daughter, Regina, in a Midwestern state in an effort to escape prosecution.
In a hearing on whether Woods could be forced to bring her daughter to court, the woman's attorney argued that such an order would be a violation of her constitutional right against self-incrimination. But the defense attorney did not concede that Woods knew where her daughter is living.
Freeman argued that the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination should not extend so far as to allow Woods to hide a witness.
Girl's Current Location
Wallerstein agreed with the prosecutor on the legal issue. But the judge concluded that, although Freeman had presented evidence that Woods probably knew where her daughter was a month ago, he had failed to prove that Woods could locate her as of Friday.
In a tape-recorded interview with Los Angeles Police Detective Alan Vanderpool on Sept. 5, Woods implied that she knew where her daughter was living, Freeman said.
The prosecutor also cited a letter dated Sept. 10 that was confiscated during a search of Woods' home. The writer, whose identity is unknown, said that police apparently were not smart enough to look for Regina in St. Paul, Minn., where Woods' parents live.
Authorities in St. Paul confirmed that Regina had been living with her maternal grandparents and attending school there but disappeared Sept. 30, Freeman said. She disappeared just as Los Angeles police were preparing to go there to apprehend her, he said.
The timing of the girl's disappearance suggested that Woods had tipped her parents that investigators were closing in on Regina, Freeman argued.
Defense attorney Peter L. Knecht denied that Woods was hiding her daughter and argued that his client should not be forced to perform detective work to find her.
"There is no evidence that she ever knew the whereabouts of her daughter," Knecht said. "All she knows is that her daughter is missing."
According to court records, Regina went to police in January and complained that her mother had forced her to become a prostitute. Regina reported that her mother employed more than 185 prostitutes in an out-call service named "Cheri's Angels."
After filing the report, Regina was placed in protective custody at county-run MacLaren Hall, but she ran away in late January, Freeman said.
Knecht maintained that Regina fabricated the allegations to get back at her mother for being too strict.
A related case against Woods is scheduled for preliminary hearing in Van Nuys Municipal Court on Oct. 24. In that matter, she is charged with serving as a pimp for four suspected prostitutes and two undercover police officers.