MARKHAM — The 16-year-old girl found murdered in a Markham garage on Christmas Eve was the victim of online sex trafficking, attorneys for the girl's family said Tuesday.
Desiree Robinson, 16, had been missing for several weeks when her naked body turned up in south suburban Markham on Dec. 24, 2016. The South Chicago teen had been beaten, stabbed and strangled.
Prosecutors later charged Antonio Rosales, 32, with first-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse. According to the Tribune, Rosales met Desiree through an escort ad on the website Backpage.com. The pair had sex in a truck, authorities said, and Rosales killed Desiree after she refused to provide a second sexual encounter for free.
"Desiree was the victim of sex trafficking and was featured in a post on Backpage.com," attorney Gina DeBoni said inside the Markham courthouse Tuesday. "This website has been regarded by the Cook County Sheriff's anti-trafficking task force as a vehicle for pimps to manipulate young girls for money."
A spokeswoman for Backpage.com declined to comment Tuesday.
According to prosecutors, Desiree was brought to the 16200 block of South Hamlin Avenue in Markham by two people on Dec. 23, the Tribune reported. The pair slept in a car and found Desiree's bloody body the next morning. Prosecutors have not charged anyone with sex trafficking in connection with the case.
DeBoni at a news conference Tuesday referred to the duo as sex traffickers. The man and woman were adults, were strangers to Desiree's family and had facilitated or helped facilitate a sexual encounter with a teenage girl through Backpage.com. It's not yet clear how the pair met Desiree.
"We're appalled that Backpage.com continues to create an environment that puts young women and children at risk," DeBoni said. "It outright allows posts that were obviously designed to solicit sex."
The website recently shuttered its escort section — only to see an increase of ads in the romance and dating departments, Kevin Giles of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported last week.
DeBoni and fellow attorney Bhavani Raveendran have launched an investigation into Desiree's case. The women plan on filing a civil claim.
"Nobody should ever have to go through this," said Desiree's mother, Yvonne Ambrose. "This should've never happened. I want justice for Desiree, for all the young women in the world like her. My life is now dedicated to making sure this same awful situation doesn't happen to another teenager out there."
Rosales pleaded not guilty during an arraignment Tuesday. He will appear in court again March 13.
At a memorial service last month, friends and relatives described Desiree as a bright and bubbly girl who loved the color pink, according to media reports. She was a multisport athlete and pep band drummer.