BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - A man convicted of human trafficking in Kern County learned his punishment and it took a lot of work to bring the case to trial.
Jerome Henderson was sentenced to 32 years and eight months on Tuesday. Henderson’s case was the first in Kern County and possibly the entire state to go to trial since voters approved harsher punishments for human trafficking in Proposition 35.
The proposition changed and expanded the human trafficking law to include three parts. One part of the law now includes persuading or attempting to persuade a minor to become a prostitute and Henderson was accused of trying to bring a 13-year-old to Sacramento for prostitution.
"I do understand I created multiple victims even though there's only one and it really hurts me to sit back and to not know how I affected the girls,” said Jerome Henderson.
Henderson appeared to be remorseful as he explained to the court why he deserved a lighter sentence.
"I had no idea how old the victim was in this case until I was informed by the detective."
But in the end, Henderson got the maximum punishment.
"I think it reflects society's outrage and horror at possibly inflicting the kind of lifestyle that was going to be inflicted on this 13-year-old girl,” said Kern County Deputy District Attorney Dianna Carter.
Henderson was convicted of human trafficking in August, but it all started in January when Bakersfield Police got a call about the victim.
The 13-year-old girl told police Henderson tried to get her to go to Sacramento with him to solicit her for prostitution.
“When we get a case like this where a person is trying to take a child from Bakersfield out of the area it's really important because once that child is gone it is very difficult to find them later,” explained Detective Don Cegielski.
Cegielski and his team had to work quickly to find Henderson.
"You're looking at social media, you're looking at websites and you're traveling. We were back and forth to Sacramento and the Bay Area several times attempting to locate people and multiple interviews to make sure you're getting the facts straight."
Cegielski told 23ABC they also wanted as much information as possible to be prepared when the case went to trial.
"A lot of people looked at the case and thought we didn't have enough but we put it together."
Now the hope is that Henderson's case will send a message to others about human trafficking.
"If you're going to come here we're going to take your case serious and you could potentially face 32 years and 8 months in prison."
The Bakersfield Police Department encourages the community to report human trafficking crimes so officers can investigate. Police also urge anyone who is a victim of human trafficking to call 911 immediately.