December 7, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Wisconsin. No. 3:15-cr-78 - William M. Conley,
Bauer, Manion, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.
Manion, Circuit Judge.
Groce appeals witness-retaliation and sex-trafficking
convictions. The government concedes the retaliation jury
instruction failed to state a particular unsupported element.
We vacate the retaliation conviction and remand for
resentencing. Regarding sex trafficking, Groce raises several
challenges. He argues the court erred by 1) excluding
evidence of the victims' alleged prostitution histories;
2) barring cross-examination of a victim on her alleged
prostitution history after she testified she had no such
history; 3) issuing an instruction lowering the mens
rea required for sex trafficking; and 4) admiting
prejudicial evidence of uncharged sex trafficking. He also
argues cumulative error requires retrial. We affirm the
faced nine counts: 1-3) sex trafficking; 4) conspiracy to
engage in interstate transportation for prostitution; 5)
interstate transportation for prostitution; 6) maintaining a
drug house; 7) using or carrying a firearm in maintaining the
drug house; 8) atempted sex trafficking; and 9) witness
retaliation. The jury heard evidence he abused and coerced
two women to cause them to prostitute involuntarily. He
preyed on their drug addictions and other vulnerabilities,
manipulated debts, and physically abused or threatened them.
The jury also heard evidence he caused a third woman to
prostitute involuntarily. He was convicted on all but Count
8, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He only appeals the
sex-trafficking and retaliation convictions.
Lisa Tischer (Count 1)
Lisa Tischer met Groce in November 2012, she was a heroin
addict. He led her to believe he had romantic feelings for
her. Soon she lost her job and violated drug-related
probation. He offered a place to stay, so she lived with him
in Sparta, Wisconsin. He gave her heroin. At first he did not
charge or she paid $30 to $40. Soon he said she could do
calls-have sex for money-to get heroin from him. Groce said
if she loved him, she would do the calls. He told her she
would earn $150 to $500. So she prostituted. He arranged and
controlled the prostitution. At first she got 40% and did
five to fifteen calls on an average day. She continued using
heroin, buying it with prostitution funds. He reduced her
share. Finally, he wanted it all. He imposed rules, and
isolated and punished her. She could only leave if he
approved. He slapped her face and fined her $500 for meeting
with someone. He said she was disgusting and he advertised
her for full service for $50. She tried to leave but he
stopped her by guarding the stairs. He controlled her heroin
access and induced her to prostitute before giving her
heroin. He withheld heroin if she tried to leave or keep
money. She felt "dope sick, " "[v]ery sick,
depressed, useless." He burned her with a cigarete when
she kept funds. After hearing she talked to the police, he
said he would rape and kill her mother and sister. Tischer
testified she did not want to do calls, but did them to make
him happy and to avoid dope sickness. Once, when he was out,
she used his phone to get a ride to leave. But he returned,
saw her stuff packed, slapped her face a few times, and made
her stay downstairs. Once, he threatened to kill a young man
and told her to get his gun. She hesitated. Groce said if she
did not get it, he would get it and she and the man would be
sorry. So she got the gun for Groce.
left around January 2013, but he found her. He said he
changed and was sorry. So she moved into his small room.
After locking her in twice, he asked her to do a call. She
refused. He locked her in again. She felt withdrawals. He
said she must do a call. Seeing it as her only escape, she
did it. Later, he beat her for reporting to authorities.
Mirika Stuhr (Count 2)
Stuhr met Groce in November 2012. He supplied her heroin. She
started living with him at the Sparta house. She had a
"crush" on him. After suffering much abuse,
including a cigarete burn to her face, Tischer got a ride and
left with Stuhr's help. Groce blamed Stuhr and asked her
to do a call. She agreed, but Groce had to teach her what to
do. Groce kept $60, gave her $40, and also gave her heroin.
She was addicted and regularly bought it from him. She
testified heroin addiction means "you can't go
without it. It means you will do anything at any cost to make
sure that you have it." She testified she had never
taken calls for anyone else.
continued prostituting. Groce cut off free heroin. So she
used her $40 a call to buy it, but he charged $50. So she
always owed him. She had trouble leaving because if she
missed a call she would owe him. He took her phone sometimes.
Once, he allowed her out, so she left and used meth. Then he
called to say she had a customer. She returned around 3:00
am. She had picked her legs bloody and raw due to meth.
Unable to sit still, she asked for heroin so she could do the
call. But he refused as she had missed calls and owed him.
She said she could not do it. He eyed his gun and said,
"'You always have a choice.'" Scared, mad,
and alone, she cried and did the call. Besides owing for
drugs and missing calls, she also owed for unplugging his
phone while cleaning, taking too long on his laundry, and
failing to report. Once, when she withheld funds, he told her
she was a dead duck, was cut off, and would not get calls or
drugs. She felt scared, alone. Once, he punished her by
isolating her, taking her phone, and depriving her of drugs
and food. Suicidal, suffering withdrawal, and under a
warrant, she had nowhere to go. Finally he asked,
"'Are you ready to make some money[?]'"
meaning, "Are you ready to take a call[?]" Her
testimony shows her dungeon's depravity: "In one way
that's all I matered for and on one side, thank God I can
finally feel beter." After she took a call on
Groce's bed, he beat her, and she left. But she suffered
withdrawals and resumed buying drugs from him. She later
lived with him again and continued prostituting, giving him
all the funds. She still used drugs. She also testified about
texts tending to corroborate her.
Amanda Ryan (Count 3)
Ryan was a certified nursing assistant on heroin when she
moved to the Sparta house. She could not function without
drugs, which Groce sold her. Struggling to pay, she agreed to
prostitute "against [her] beter judgment." She kept
prostituting for him, halving the funds, but using hers to
buy drugs from him. He was "manipulative, narcissistic,
controlling." He "had the heroin, so it was
basically what he said goes." He "had a gun and he
wasn't afraid to show it." She lost his debit card.
He insisted she prostitute to repay. She said she had to go
to work. He persisted: "'You're not going until
you do this call, otherwise I'm cuting you off-I'm
not giving you any heroin.' " Seeing no choice, she
did a call against her will, felt like trash, then got drugs.
She did not really want to do any calls, but only did them
for drugs. Groce threatened to cut her off.
Melissa Copeland ...