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Man sentenced to 31 years for sex trafficking

A man who was the first to be prosecuted for human trafficking in Jackson County has been sentenced to more than 30 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of forcing a young woman into prostitution and raping a 15-year-old girl.

Virgil Don Rucker, 41, of Tracy, Calif. was sentenced Tuesday to 31 years and three months in prison by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Barnack.

Barnack went beyond an already stiff 29-year sentence recommended by the Jackson County District Attorney's Office, citing the serious, violent and prolonged nature of Rucker's use of the woman for prostitution.

Barnack noted that the human trafficking included elements of kidnapping, assault and rape.

Last week, a jury found Rucker guilty of 13 felonies, including first-degree rape, third-degree rape and third-degree sexual abuse in the case involving the teen, plus trafficking in persons, compelling prostitution and promoting prostitution in the case involving the woman.

The woman forced into prostitution testified Rucker had trafficked her across the nation for years and subjected her to violence that resulted in multiple trips to the hospital.

Rucker branded her with his name and kept her away from friends and family in motels in various cities. She was not allowed to talk with any other people unless Rucker was present or listening in on a Bluetooth device.

Rucker would often threaten to harm the victim's children if she did not comply.

Barnack praised the woman for breaking free from Rucker's influence and testifying against her abuser.

"I've never met a more courageous person in my life," Barnack told the woman, who appeared at the sentencing hearing via a video feed. "You're my hero."

Barnack said if he faced any horrible experiences in his life, he hoped he could display the same courage.

"We're grateful you did what you did," he told the young woman. "I know you're going to be nothing but a success in life."

The woman said she was glad to be far away from Rucker.

"My life has been so much better not being afraid of you," she told him.

Medford police began investigating Rucker in February when the woman came forward and said Rucker forced and intimidated her into engaging in prostitution at Medford area motels between February and August 2014.

Rucker was also accused of raping the teenager in February 2014.

Medford Police Det. Jim Williams said the woman and teen were courageous young women who were willing to speak with investigators about the crimes committed against them.

Williams said the investigation and prosecution would not have moved forward without them and Rucker would not have been held responsible for his actions.

Standing 6-foot-5-inches tall and weighing 250 pounds, Rucker talked in a gentle, soft-spoken manner during his sentencing hearing.

"I am not the kind of person who was described in this trial," Rucker said.

Rucker asked the judge to overturn the jury's verdict, which he called preposterous and outrageous. Failing that, Rucker asked the judge to allow him to accept a plea agreement even though the trial was over, saying he was pushed into going to trial by his overly aggressive defense attorney.

Barnack denied both requests.

Rucker said he never hurt the young woman and teenager.

Williams, the detective, said Rucker has never taken responsibility for any aspect of the cases against him.

Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Zori Cook, who prosecuted the case, said Rucker had known the woman victim since she was a young child and preyed upon her once she turned 18. Cook also praised the woman for speaking out.

"She's one of the most courageous people we've met in our lives," Cook said. "We're very happy to be done and to have her be able to move on with her life."

According to the DA's Office, Rucker has prior convictions in Nevada and California for child abuse or neglect, inflicting injury upon a child, theft, second-degree attempted robbery, grand theft from a person, second-degree robbery, battery of a former spouse, receiving stolen property and trespassing.

Despite that, Rucker said at his hearing, "I've always been a blessing to my community where I live."

Rucker's defense attorneys tried to have Measure 11 sentencing rules suspended in his case, arguing in a filing that the punishment would be "disproportionate to the offense and is cruel and unusual punishment."

Rucker plans to appeal his sentence, said defense attorney Eugene Thompson.

Grants Pass-based sex trafficking victim advocate Rebecca Bender, who attended the sentencing hearing, said Jackson County's handling of the case and Rucker's sentence will serve as a precedent for how trafficking cases are handled in the state.

"This is a serious crime. The beating and selling of girls and women is serious. It's not funny pimp culture that you write songs about," Bender said, referring to songs performed by Rucker in which he glorified his lifestyle.

Bender said Rucker's prosecution will send a message that people cannot move up and down the I-5 corridor, installing girls and women in motel rooms and running prostitution operations at will.

"It will set a precedent that this will not be tolerated in our community," she said.

The I-5 corridor has sometimes been called a modern West Coast slave route because of the level of sex trafficking.

Oregon passed a human trafficking law in 2007 and has been strengthening its laws since then, including by adding additional punishments for crimes against children.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Man sentenced to 31 years for sex trafficking