Robin T. Applewhite of Cumberland County, N.C., was sentenced on Tuesday morning in Cumberland County Superior Court to at least 230 years behind bars, but no more than 299 years, following his conviction on Monday for coercing women into prostituting for him.
He also was ordered to pay the women nearly $608,000 because he did not pay them when they were his sex workers.
A jury considered charges of human trafficking, promotion of prostitution and conspiracy involving six women, three of whom testified against Applewhite. On Monday the jury convicted him for charges involving the three who testified plus one who is deceased. The jury found him not guilty of the charges involving the remaining two women.
The jury also found Applewhite guilty of being a habitual felon.
Over the years Applewhite, 42, has had addresses in Fayetteville, Hope Mills and Spring Lake.
Kelly Twedell of the 5 Sparrows anti-human trafficking organization in Fayetteville attended the trial. In addition to the three victims who testified against Applewhite, Twedell said, two other women provided key statements: His wife, Samantha Rivard Applewhite, and a prior victim who spoke of other incidents outside the scope of the charges he faced in this trial.
Samantha Applewhite, too, faces charges in this case. She has arranged a plea bargain with the prosecutors in exchange for her testimony. Her sentencing date has not been scheduled, a prosecutor said.
Applewhite made headlines in 2013 and 2015 with arrests on human trafficking charges in Onslow and Cumberland counties. Twedell said the gist of the Cumberland County case against Robin Applewhite was that he forced the women to perform sex services for clients. He kept the money the women earned and he gave them drugs, she said.
Applewhite first contacted the women when he saw them advertising on Backpage, a now-defunct classified advertising website that once was a central location online for prostitution, Twedell said.
When Applewhite met the women and “he saw a vulnerability,” he took advantage of it, Twedell said.
For example, two women met Applewhite at a motel in Fayetteville, she said.
“He had a pill bottle in his hand. He shook it in front of them and said, ‘Hey, do you all need drugs?’” Twedell said.
A victim testified that the pills were “roxies,” Twedell said. That is a slang term for a form a version of the oxycodone opioid.
One testified she traded sexual services for the drugs, Twedell said. “And he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got more where this came from. I’ve got houses. I can put a roof over your head. We can make a lot of money,’” Twedell recounted.
“So they were recruited,” Twedell said.
Once the women were with Applewhite, Twedell said, he kept several locked in a basement. One, who testified she made $40,000 in a month, was kept in another house, Twedell said.
Applewhite advertised the women on Backpage and “he would arrange for dates” with the clients, Twedell said. He took them to hotels and sometimes had them service clients in his house in Spring Lake, Twedell said.
“Each girl said: In exchange for heroin, they would just turn over the money from the dates,” Twedell said. Prices were $100 for 30 minutes, $250 for an hour, she said.
“So they would come over, and come back from the dates, and immediately turn over all the money. So they never had any money,” Twedell said.
Applewhite got caught in March 2015 when one of the women broke out of the basement of the home in Spring Lake and ran for help. Further charges were levied in 2016 as investigators developed the case.
At his trial, which started in mid-February, Applewhite fired his lawyer and represented himself. So it was Applewhite, and not a lawyer, who cross-examined the women he victimized.
On Tuesday’s sentencing, Applewhite spoke on his own behalf.
“I’m not angry at any of the officers. I’m not angry at any of the jurors,” he said. “They had a decision they had to make. And with what they had to go by, I probably would have did the same thing, as far as the information they had.”
Applewhite was referencing evidence he wanted to present, but that the court, Superior Court Judge Thomas Lock, ruled inadmissible. Lock agreed to have this evidence preserved for the state Court of Appeals to review.
Applewhite and the victims knew each other for “quite a while,” he said. “And I’m truly, truly sorry for what they went through after I was arrested.”
Applewhite said he had talked to the alleged victims who did not testify, “and I personally accepted their apologies for making accusations when they were sick on heroin, and they told me they had no choice, they didn’t want to come.”
He said that if he caused any harm to anyone, “I am definitely sorry about that.”
Assistant District Attorney Rob Thompson saw no sincerity in Applewhite’s apology.
“These acts happened every day, over and over, with at least four victims, for months and months and months and months,” Thompson said.
“And what was the purpose? What was the grand design of Mr. Applewhite?” Thompson said. “So he didn’t have to get a job, like regular people. And go out and earn a living, like everybody else.”
Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Lane said the law calls for the women to be compensated for their labor. The woman who testified to earning $40,000 a month is due $580,000.
During the trial, there was no evidence of how much the other women earned while they worked for Applewhite, so they money they are due was calculated based on the state minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. This was $4,650 each for two of the victims, and $18,560 for one of them.
As a practical matter, it’s unlikely the victims will get much if any of that money.