James Larkin, a journalist and publisher, commited suicide weeks before standing at trial for crimes related to running ads for prostitution.
Larkin and Michael Lacey, cofounders of the Pheonix New Times, were charged with crimes related to promoting prostitution on their advertising website, Backpage.com. Larkin was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. No foul play is suspected in his death.
Backpage, was similar to and competed with Craigslist. It was an advertising platform which had many different services, including ads that sold sex related material on the site. In 2018, the FBI raided the houses of Larkin and Lacey on accusations they had been facilitating human trafficking, including the trafficking of minors.
As the trial has gone on, the lawyers for the defendants have used the First Amendment as a defense, with one attorney saying that "Controversial doesn’t equal illegal."
The federal prosecution in the case has also sought to prevent reference to free speech as a defense. Other defenses have been raised by lawyers for Larkin and Lacey include that the ads on the website were only legal forms of sex services.
Aside from the broader investigation starting in 2018, other lawsuits have been brought against Backpage for similar activity.
A woman, Melanie Thompson, who said she was exploited for years, starting at age 12, filed a lawsuit against Backpage in 2020. She said that her trafficker used Backpage as an advertising platform to sell er on.
Other crimes Larkin and Lacey are accused of included money laundering and conspiracy.
Timothy Eckstein, who is Larkin's attorney, told the court about his client's death.
A statement from Larkin's family was polished in the Pheonix New Times, saying, "Jim was an incredible husband, father, grandfather, colleague and friend... Jim fearlessly blazed his own path in life and always stuck to it."
"As the publisher of the Phoenix New Times and other weekly alternative newspapers for over 40 years, Jim fought for voices and issues ignored by society," the statement continued.
Lacey wrote in a statment that he "never saw [Larkin] do a dishonest or dishonorable thing in his entire life."
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