BOISE -- With witnesses on the wing, a man originally accused of rape and human trafficking could walk free in as little as two years behind bars.
Emotion was palpable in the courtroom after Judge Lynn Norton sentenced 44-year-old Derrick Hicklen to five years in prison, with two before he would be eligible for parole.
Just seven months ago Hicklen was facing the possibility of never leaving a prison again after he was snared in what Boise Police touted as the takedown of an organized human trafficking and prostitution ring. Police said then there were more than a dozen victims.
Thursday, only one took the stand.
Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Cathy Guzman blamed the reluctance of Hicklen's alleged victims to speak out on a host of complications. Although the women working as prostitutes weren't charged with a crime, many left the state soon after Hicklen's arrest. Others were worried about losing custody of their children if they went public with their involvement in drugs and prostitution, or said they didn't want parents or other family members to know what they had done.
With a score of witnesses who wouldn't talk and a fistful of anecdotes about Hicklen's violent criminal past, the prosecution was left with little choice but to offer a plea deal. Guzman extended an offer that dropped seven felonies and decades of possible prison time. Hicklen pleaded guilty to procurement of prostitution and accepting the earnings of a prostitute in April. Co-defendant Gypsie Lee Akers was sentenced to 15 years last month.
At the sentencing, Guzman painted Hicklen as the ringleader, a smooth-talking manipulator who was good at getting women in his corner.
One of the women Hicklen prostituted was developmentally disabled and had the comprehension of a 4th-grader, Guzman said. She said that women didn't understand what was happening when men came to her hotel room to exchange cash for sex.
"She looked at it as playing dress-up," the prosecutor said.
Guzman is still getting calls from the parents of another victim, an 18-year-old Hicklen arranged to have bailed out of the Ada County Jail before plying her with methamphetamine and setting her up in a hotel room. She left the state after the defendant's arrest, and was last seen working as a stripper in Texas.
Another, the woman who accused Hicklen of raping her, said he wouldn't let her leave the hotel room and pocketed all her earnings, paying her only in cigarettes, baby diapers and fast food.
"I don't think Mr. Hicklen knows how to care about anyone other than Mr. Hicklen," Guzman said.
But the only witnesses who spoke at the sentencing described Hicklen as a friend, and said they supported him.
One woman said she gave Hicklen half of everything she earned as a prostitute, but insisted she wasn't being forced into the lifestyle. The two had a falling out after Hicklen said she wasn't bringing in enough money, and today the woman is sober and no longer works as a prostitute.
Similarly, Tara Ewing, one of several women Hicklen had promised to marry, said she was standing by her fiance.
"Derrick is really an amazing human being," she said. "He's a good guy."
She said she didn't know about the prostitution or the other marriage proposals, but was adamant Hicklen would be welcome to stay at her home when he was free as long as he did not use cocaine in front of her child.
Defense attorney John Defranco argued there was plenty of blame to go around in the case. He said it wasn't fair to put all the responsibility on Hicklen.
"(The victim) made a choice to engage in this behavior," he said. "It's a wrong choice, but it's a choice. It takes more than just Derrick to be responsible for how this crime unfolds."
He described a circle of victimization that damaged everyone it touched - Hicklen, the women, and even the men paying for sex.
Defranco said Hicklen became unhinged with grief after his mother and girlfriend both died within a short timespan. In that fragile mental state, he said, Hicklen made a series of poor choices.
Norton asked Hicklen if there was anything he wanted to say before she handed down the sentence.
"There is not," he said.
Norton urged him to use his time behind bars to seek treatment, and warned him his continued involvement with women could jeopardize his chances of a 2016 parole.