The conviction Wednesday of an Alabama woman accused of being part of an incestuous sex ring provided graphic evidence about horrendous child molestation, but it didn't answer a baffling question: What happened to a young victim who is missing and presumed dead?
Jurors took two hours to convict Wendy Wood Holland, 35, of sodomy, sexual abuse, sexual torture and child endangerment. She showed no emotion when the verdict was read. Prosecutors say Holland faces at least 20 years in prison and could get a life sentence.
Witnesses heard two days of testimony in her trial that didn't give any clues about the whereabouts of her 19-year-old niece Brittney Wood.
|Brittney Wood and her daughter. Brittney has been missing since 2012.|
Authorities said Wood could provide important evidence about sexual crimes by her adult relatives if only they could find her alive. But searches and two years of investigation have failed to turn up any sign of her. Police believe Wood is dead, possibly killed in the days before the case went public.
Following the disappearance, Holland was charged with sexual abuse, sodomy, sexual torture and child endangerment.
|Donnie Holland - may have murdered|
Brittney then committed suicide
Prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments that Wendy Holland, her late husband and others were monsters who subjected their own children and others to perversions that were almost too depraved to understand, with parents and in-laws using their own young relatives for sex.
Holland used sex toys and other forms of stimulation to groom the alleged victim for sex with adults at an age children typically are watching "Sesame Street" and learning to color, prosecution witnesses told the jury.
|Wendy Wood Holland|
But defense attorney Mitzi Johnson-Theodoro argued that the alleged victim, two other relatives who pleaded guilty to sex charges and a jailhouse friend of Holland were lying when they portrayed her as a serial child abuser.
She said Holland would appeal the verdict.
"This is the beginning of a very long process. This is just the first step," she said.
Neighbors didn't see pornography or sex toys in Holland's home, and prosecutors have no physical evidence, Johnson-Theodoro told jurors. Holland is a loving person who took her own kids trick-or-treating and worked as a certified nursing assistant at a state nursing home for veterans, she said.
"They want you to believe that a woman who cared for the elderly abused children?" Johnson-Theodor said in closing arguments.
Testimony showed Wood was part of at least one family sexual encounter involving Holland, three other adults and two children, but the fact that no one has seen the teen since before the case broke in 2012 wasn't mentioned to jurors.