TYLER, Texas - A 41-year-old auto body shop worker was convicted Thursday of grooming children as young as 5 to perform in sex shows at a small-town swingers club.
Patrick "Booger Red" Kelly showed no emotion after the verdict. Jurors deliberated about two hours before finding him guilty of engaging in organized criminal activity, a conviction that could send him to prison for life.
Prosecutors alleged Kelly was a member of the so-called Mineola Swinger's Club, though Kelly has testified he is innocent. They contended Kelly helped set up a "kindergarten" where young children learned to dance provocatively. To help perform at the club, prosecutors say the children were given Vicodin-like drugs the adults passed off as "silly pills."
Testimony began Thursday afternoon in the sentencing phase of the trial, where prosecutors were pushing for a life sentence. Kelly could go to prison anywhere from five years to life.
During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Joe Murphy accused Kelly of having sexual contact with four children tied to the case who, he said, showed signs of sexual abuse.
"Why is it that every child that comes into contact with him is broken?" Murphy asked.
Kelly's defense attorney, Thad Davidson, questioned why the children didn't remember details about the club and why they weren't examined by medical personnel trained to detect sexual abuse.
Davidson contended the lead investigator had little experience handling sex crimes, said he didn't conduct a thorough investigation and accused him of being improperly influenced by the stepmother of three of the children, Margie Cantrell, who brought the original complaint.
"So you got these incredible suggestive, tainted ... interviews. And who takes over the interviews? The woman who has custody of the three children," Davidson said.
Kelly testified during the trial that he has no knowledge of "silly pills" and never made children do any kind of sexual dancing or touched them inappropriately. He said he has never even been to the Mineola Swinger's Club.
Other witnesses called by Kelly's attorneys have said that while swinger parties took place in the building, children were never present.
Cantrell sparked the two-year investigation by the Texas Rangers when she reported that her foster children told her of having being forced into sex some 18 months earlier inside the windowless rooms of the former day care center.
Two others who allegedly took part in the ring, Jamie Pittman and Shauntel Mayo, were earlier convicted in minutes and sentenced to life in prison. Three other defendants in the case are awaiting trial.
Mineola is about 85 miles east of Dallas.