The process of selecting a jury in a prostitution case allegedly involving two Guam police officers is expected to begin today — years after the brothel that fronted as a karaoke lounge was shut down.
Jury selection and trial in the Blue House case for officers David Manila and Anthony Quenga is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. in Superior Court of Guam Judge Anita Sukola’s courtroom, according to the Judiciary of Guam calendar.
This afternoon, defense counsel and prosecutors will question potential jurors before selecting the final 12 for the trial. Alternates also will be selected.
The officers face various charges, including kidnapping and compelling and promoting prostitution. The Blue House lounge operated from 2004 to 2008, when it was shut down.
Opening statements for the trial will begin after the jury is seated in the coming days. The case is expected to take anywhere from four to six weeks, attorneys have said.
That’s assuming that no other delays will occur in the trial. Manila and Quenga also have other hearings, including a 9 a.m. pre-trial conference, and motion hearings for later this morning.
Joshua Tenorio, the Judiciary’s director of Policy, Planning and Community Relations, said there’s a possibility that issues brought up at the conferences or hearings could delay the jury selection, though he couldn’t say what motions would be discussed today.
Tenorio did note that Sukola wants the trial to start quickly, as at least one other high-profile trial is expected to start soon.
According to documents filed in the Superior Court of Guam, prosecutors aim to show that the Blue House lounge and the adjacent Cha Cha Club were opened by brothel owner Song Ja Cha and her husband sometime in 2003 or 2004. Certain police officers, whom Cha referred to as “friends,” frequented the club beginning in 2005.
Those friends allegedly were used to intimidate the girls and women brought from Chuuk to keep them in line if they tried to get out of performing their duties, which included enticing customers to order drinks and to go back to the VIP rooms and performing sexual acts.
Girls and women recruited in Chuuk with the promise of well-paying jobs came to Guam only to have their passports taken, be forced to work in the brothel and be locked up every night, documents state.
“The front entrance door and the rear exit were padlocked from the outside,” documents state. “The windows, if any, were covered with bars.”
On occasions when they were allowed outside of Blue House, they weren’t allowed to talk to other Chuukese living on Guam and were kept under the watchful eye of supervisors, documents state.
A series of stories in the Pacific Daily News about alleged police involvement in the brothel prompted a special investigation which resulted in the indictment of the officers.
Blue House lounge owner Song Ja Cha, who is now being charged separately from the two officers, also is expected in court today for a criminal trial setting.
The defendants are charged with multiple counts of kidnapping, felonious restraint, official misconduct, and compelling and promoting prostitution, according to court documents.
Quenga also is jointly charged with Cha of first-degree and second-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Delays in trial
The trial has seen a series of delays. Two were due to appeals filed in the Supreme Court of Guam by Cha, who argued she was being tried twice for the same crime, and by Manila, who wanted justices to allow him to be released until trial.
Cha was convicted in federal court of sex trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.
There was another delay when attorneys representing Cha told the court they want to withdraw from the case.
Cha’s case was then severed out of concern for the speedy-trial rights of the two officers.
The trial against Quenga and Manila was then scheduled to start last month, but they waived their right to a speedy trial.
After her case was severed from Manila and Quenga‘s, Cha waived her right to a speedy trial.
Cha would lure Micronesian woman, mostly from Chuuk, with promises of high-paying waitress jobs, according to Guam Night.
The brothel was shut down in 2008 during a police raid, and Cha and two supervisors were arrested.
The supervisors have entered plea agreements.
In addition to Quenga and Manila, a third police officer was indicted in the case. Officer Mario Laxamana pleaded guilty to his involvement in the case and agreed to assist prosecutors in the upcoming trial on Guam.
There currently are 82 witnesses for all parties in the case who could testify before the court. Sukola has noted many of the witnesses are duplicated in prosecution and defense lists.