Appeal denied in Litchfield labor case

BOSTON (AP) – A New Hampshire couple convicted of forcing Jamaican laborers to work in their tree-cutting business have lost their attempt to overturn the conviction.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a decision issued Wednesday affirmed the conviction of Timothy Bradley, 44, and Kathleen O’Dell, 49, of Litchfield, N.H., who are serving six-year prison terms.

A U.S. District Court jury in Concord, N.H., last year found them guilty of taking the workers’ passports and visas, reneging on promises about pay and forcing them to live in a shed and small trailer without adequate plumbing or heat.

In the appeal, their lawyers argued in August that U.S. District Judge Joseph DiClerico allowed prosecutors to pile on prejudicial evidence about their treatment of two Jamaican workers in 2000 when they were charged with mistreating two other Jamaican workers in 2001.

They also challenged the trial judge’s instructions to the jury and federal guidelines affecting their sentence.

DiClerico had told the jury “the government . . . need not prove physical restraint; such as, the use of chains, barbed wire, or locked doors, in order to establish the offense of forced labor.”

The three-judge appeals panel wrote that “we find no error at all, plain or otherwise” and said that even if the U.S. Supreme Court were to revise federal sentencing guidelines, they would not apply in this case.

Prosecutors had argued that the evidence of mistreatment of workers in 2000 was needed to show that Bradley and O’Dell’s treatment of all their laborers was consistent.

One worker who testified during the trial said he fled after his first week and returned to Jamaica.

From then on, the workers said O’Dell demanded they turn over their passports. The Jamaicans also testified they heard threats against the man who left.

Defense lawyers said the workers grossly exaggerated their treatment and living conditions. They portrayed the Jamaicans as inexperienced and disgruntled workers who did not understand why taxes had to be taken from their paychecks, refused to wear hard hats, and took no responsibility for their living quarters or medical care.

Two American workers who later quit testified they were paid $11 or $12 an hour at Bradley Tree Service, while the Jamaicans were paid $8.