Child porn and rape trial begins with testimony from 4 girls


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ST. THOMAS - Four girls took the stand to tell their own stories Monday of how they each felt they were pulled into what now has become a federal child pornography and rape case.

In the first day of trial in federal court, the girls, most of whom still are younger than 18, testified about how they knew, or, in some cases, did not know, the defendant, Tony Jefferson Browne.

Browne is accused of a slew of charges based on two indictments.

His charges include production of child pornography; coercion and enticement; possession of child pornography; transfer of obscene material to minors; aggravated first-degree rape; aggravated second-degree rape; receipt of child pornography and extortion using interstate communications.

Browne, who is in his 30s and is from Estate Lovenlund, originally was arrested July 25. He sat in court Monday whispering frequently to his attorney, Gabriel Villegas of the Federal Public Defender's Office, during the girls' testimony.

The girls did not know Browne by his own name, prosecutors said, because he instead went by a different name, "Billy Button," on Facebook, a social media website.

Each of them knew of "Billy Button" a different way, as some had been suggested to send him photos over text message or Facebook message by one of other girls, they said.

Still, the details were unclear as to who knew who in the testimonies. It was clear, however, that they did not know the name of Tony Browne.

"You have no idea who Tony Browne is, do you?" Villegas asked the second girl, after which she responded, "No."

According to prosecutors, "Billy Button" was a persona that Browne made for himself via Facebook. Assistant U.S. Attorney Everard Potter asked each of the girls about their interactions with "Billy Button," or with the defendant, but rarely about Browne by his own name.

"What we have is this assumption that Billy Button is Mr. Browne," Villegas said.

Prosecutors argued that it was no assumption, as Browne himself admitted that his Facebook account was under the name "Billy Button" after his arrest - corroborated by Special Agent Alicia Blyden with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Using Facebook messages and text messages, Browne coerced the girls into sending him photos of themselves, after which he would use the pictures to blackmail the girls, the girls said.

The third girl said she sent photos to "Billy Button" because he said that he would pay her $400 for the photos. Later, she told him that she would get some of her friends to send photos as well.

The fourth girl said that after speaking with "Billy Button," she met him several months later.

When she saw him, she realized he was "disgusting," and refused to perform any sexual acts with him.

However, he persisted and forced her to perform oral sex on him outside her home after he pulled out a knife and threatened to expose her if she did not have sex with him, the fourth girl said.

"I had no choice," she said.

The second day of trial begins today with Judge Curtis Gomez presiding.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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