Co-founder’s suicide delays prostitution trial of Backpage executives

The trial of executives at Backpage.com, an online classified webpage that has since been closed down, has been postponed by a federal judge following the suicide of site co-owner James Larkin in July. Larkin, who was 74 years old, died from a gunshot at his home in Paradise Valley, Arizona. He was a well-known figure in the publishing industry as the long-time publisher of the Phoenix New Times and was both admired as a champion of free speech and charged in 2018 as part of a group of Backpage executives who allegedly facilitated prostitution and money laundering through the site’s “adult services” section.

Backpage.com was established in 2004 as a competitor to Craigslist and allegedly allowed the trafficking of women and girls through online ads. The site’s founders claimed that they collaborated with law enforcement, monitored ads for prostitution, and hosted ads from consenting sex workers who they believed were protected by the First Amendment. Among the executives involved in the case, Daniel Hyer of Dallas and former CEO Carl Ferrer reached plea deals. The remaining employees were previously subjected to trial, which ended in a mistrial in 2021 after the judge determined that the jury had been exposed to too many references to child sex trafficking, despite none of the charges being related to that offense.

US District Court Judge Diane Humetewa has now decided to postpone the trial, which was initially scheduled to start on 8 August. It will now take place from 29 August to 9 November. The judge raised concerns about the impact of Larkin’s death on the handling of evidence exhibits in the case and the potential jury pool. She noted that a significant number of potential jurors might have heard about the executive’s suicide. Following Larkin’s death, some individuals have praised his character and expressed their grief over losing a dear friend and colleague.

Lacey, a fellow defendant, stated that he never witnessed any dishonest or dishonorable behavior from Larkin throughout their four-decade friendship. Larkin’s family also released a statement describing him as an incredible husband, father, grandfather, colleague, and friend, emphasizing his determination to forge his own path in life. With the trial now delayed, the legal proceedings surrounding the Backpage.com case continue to unfold, leaving the fate of the remaining executives to be decided by the court in the coming months.

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