Courts & Crime

Human trafficking ringleader pleads guilty, faints during trial

The leader of the largest human-trafficking ring ever prosecuted in the U.S. collapsed Wednesday in federal court in Kansas City as he was concluding his guilty plea.

The episode was the second surprise during Abrorkhodja Askarkhodjaev’s day in court.

He announced his decision to plead guilty just moments after a jury was seated to hear the case against him and co-defendant Kristin Dougherty, an Ellisville, Mo., businessman.

Hours later, federal marshals and defense lawyers were cradling Askarkhodjaev, 31, as he slumped behind a lectern. U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith called a recess to let Askarkhodjaev recover in a holding cell.

Askarkhodjaev returned a few minutes later and finished his plea.

His lawyer, Willie Epps, explained that his client had eaten only three crackers for lunch and was very nervous about his decision to plead guilty.

“He was literally drenched,” Epps said. “This is a big moment and he fainted.”

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