TEXARKANA, Texas–A man who sold numerous women for sex in the Texarkana area using drugs, violence and internet websites has been sentenced to 40 years without parole for the continuous trafficking of persons.
Rashaan Cunningham, 46, aka “Fashion,” was scheduled for jury selection Tuesday at the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston on a number of felony charges that could have resulted in life in prison without the possibility of parole. Rather than take his chances with 12 Bowie County citizens, Cunningham entered a guilty plea and accepted a 40-year term.
First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp told TXK Today that “because of the inconceivable trauma they have already endured, the victims in this case determined it was in their best interests to enter into a plea bargain.”
“By virtue of Rashaan Cunningham’s plea of guilty, and acceptance of a 40-year prison sentence, the victims in this case will mercifully avoid what was almost certainly going to be a lengthy and difficult jury trial,” Crisp said. “Sadly, many of these survivors faced trauma, abuse, poverty, mental health and other struggles in childhood. Rashaan Cunningham took advantage of these susceptible women by using various tactics to maintain control, including psychological abuse, harassment, financial threats, drug addiction and physical and sexual abuse. In the end, Cunningham destroyed their dignity, sense of self-worth and, in some instances, even their will to live.”
Cunningham is one of four men charged in the case. Brothers Marcus Lanell Palmer, 38, and Brandon Everett Palmer, 39, allegedly worked with Cunningham to traffic women and teen girls in the Texarkana region, while Ryan Allan Layne, 48, was an allegedly loyal customer who aided the men in their illicit business, according to court records.
The men allegedly used threats, drugs and physical violence to control the women they sold. Cunningham and brothers Marcus Palmer and Brandon Palmer allegedly worked together to find and traffic women.
Cunningham used social media sites to distribute drugs, recruit women as sex workers and to advertise to men wanting to purchase sex. The last four digits of his phone number spelled PIMP. Cunningham’s social media site included graphic photos of women identified in court records as trafficking victims. Cunningham referred to one woman’s body as a “piggy bank” while referring to another’s as an “ATM,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
He and Brandon Palmer allegedly held a woman down and took turns raping her after she was dropped off at a house in Texarkana by Marcus Palmer.
Crisp said there is no telling how many man hours have been expended by law enforcement in their investigation and noted particularly the contribution of Texas Dept. of Public Safety Special Agent Briscoe Davis.
“The successful outcome of this case would not have been possible without the incredible bravery of these women and the tireless hard work and dedication of the Texas Department of Public Safety,” Crisp said.
Cunningham made his intention to plead guilty known to the court on Monday and on Tuesday morning, he was in a courtroom before 202nd District Judge John Tidwell at the Bi-State Justice Building in downtown Texarkana where victim impact testimony was read into the record as Cunningham listened.
Brandon Palmer and Marcus Palmer are scheduled for separate trials this month before Tidwell and Layne’s trial is set for September. If convicted of continuous trafficking of persons, the men face 25 to 99 years or life in prison with no parole possible.
Brandon Palmer is being held in the Bowie County jail with bonds totaling $350,000. Marcus Palmer is being held in the Bowie County jail with a $250,000 bond. Layne is currently free on bonds totaling $95,000.
Update: This article has been updated to include comments from First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp.