In April 2020, Alexis Martin, a sex-trafficking survivor who, at 17 years old, was tried as an adult and charged for the murder of a man she claimed was her pimp, was granted partial clemency and released from prison. Two years later, the Akron, Ohio, native was reincarcerated after a random parole visit. Martin had served seven years of her original 21-years-to-life sentence. Now, because the state’s parole board reinstated her original sentence, Martin won’t have the opportunity to return to the parole board until November 2034, when her minimum of 21 years are served. She could remain in prison for the rest of her life.
During a phone call with Martin, who is currently detained at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, and her attorney, Jennifer Kinsley, the two women told Jezebel that they believe Martin is, once again, being unjustly held accountable for a man’s mistakes. “The evidence really did not point to her in any way,” Kinsley said.
Hours before her December 2021 arrest, a man Martin had been dating moved into her apartment. He had yet to unpack his boxes, and Martin maintains she didn’t know exactly what they contained: in part, 26 grams of cocaine, 45 grams of marijuana, and two firearms, per police records. Another firearm, licensed to Martin’s roommate, was found locked in a safe in the roommate’s room, Kinsley said. During the random parole check, officers found the drugs and firearms, and took Martin and the two men who were present into custody. She told Jezebel she never intended to violate her parole. There was too much at stake.
“For the first time in almost two years, I experienced life, laughter...it was the closest to freedom I’ve ever had, because yes, there was still a lot of things that made me feel like I wasn’t free,” Martin said about the time between her release from prison and subsequent arrest. “But it was the closest to freedom that I’ve had in the whole 23 years of my life.”
After she was released in April 2020—due in part to the public advocacy of Kim Kardashian—Martin became an activist, often meeting with politicians and advocating on behalf of Safe Harbor legislation, which are laws that prohibit the arrest and prosecution of young victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Martin said she was also gainfully employed, attending therapy, and consulting doctors as to whether or not she could ever become pregnant. Because of the trauma—bodily and otherwise—incurred from years of repeated sexual assaults, she was unsure if she would ever be able to have children. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that causes enlarged ovaries and small cysts to develop.
When she was a teenager, Martin—who’d already suffered parental abuse, depression, and a miscarriage after she was raped at 12 years old—was repeatedly raped and sex trafficked by Angelo Kerney, a 36-year-old man who was fatally shot in a robbery in 2013. Prosecutors argued that the 15-year-old Martin had a role in the shooting (though she didn’t pull the trigger), resulting in her conviction and first incarceration. A 2021 Washington Post investigation revealed the countless systemic failures that led to this outcome. Even still, numerous appeals and a little attention from the world’s most famous woman were required for Governor Mike DeWine to grant Martin partial clemency. Strict restrictions, which included wearing an ankle monitor and random parole inspections, were mandated as part of her 14-year parole.
“The facts of her case are particularly unique,” DeWine said at the time. “The ultimate decision under the Ohio constitution is mine. The buck stops with me. I take responsibility for any decision.”
Martin, who is now 24, says she took her parole seriously, specifically recalling an instance that could have imperiled it. As an activist, she had traveled to the nation’s capital to receive an award from Shared Hope, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that seeks to prevent sex trafficking. During a dinner with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and two state senators, Martin says Kaptur offered her a glass of the wine everyone else at the table was drinking, which she declined, explaining the constraints of her parole.
“That’s an example of the kind of restrictions that she was living under and the diligence that she took to follow them,” Kinsley said on the phone.
However, Martin said incarceration and trauma incurred from years of abuse irrevocably impacted her romantic relationships. “For the last seven years, I was behind bars and before that, every encounter I’ve had with men wasn’t truly healthy,” she said.
Her latest attempt at a healthy relationship, which ultimately led to her reincarceration, was spurred by what Martin thought was a shared history of abuse and sexual violation in childhood. “He told me that he suffered a lot of things, and to me, I felt like he was lost just like I was and he, you know, just wanted better for himself,” she said. “So, that gave me the ambition to, honestly, save him, even though I still needed saving.”
“I was so focused on saving the world that I forgot to save me,” she continued.
A story like hers—wherein young survivors of sex trafficking and violence are repeatedly subjected to a legal system that too often punishes those it should protect—is sadly common. Take Pieper Lewis, an Iowa teenager and sex-trafficking survivor who was recently ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to her rapist’s family after she killed him in self-defense. Or, Chrystul Kizer, who faces a potential life sentence for killing the man who allegedly forced her into sex trafficking at 16 years old.
Though Ohio has Safe Harbor legislation in place—enacted just one year prior to Martin’s initial arrest—the state’s Adult Parole Authority ultimately didn’t consider it in reincarcerating Martin.
“If we would have protected her when she was 15, we wouldn’t be here today,” Chelsea Golterman, a senior legislative aid for state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D), said when she testified before the Authority on Martin’s behalf. “Our state has repeatedly let her down and treated her like a criminal.”
While both Martin and Kinsley acknowledged that well-intentioned people online have been calling for DeWine to step in again, Kinsley—who said she could not discuss what legal steps will be taken to aid in securing Martin’s freedom—insists that, as of now, the best way to support Martin is to donate to a GoFundMe set up on her behalf, or to send letters to Kinsley so she can forward them to DeWine in the future.
“Right now, there is nothing in front of the Governor for him to do,” she explained. “It’s not at a point in the process where he’s at a decision-making point. We’ve also cultivated a really good relationship with him and his office, so having people just flood his office with communication is likely to wreck that relationship, and we don’t want that. If they wanted to write letters and, you know, emails and whatnot to me, I’ll collect them and present them all at one time.”
Kardashian has not spoken publicly about Martin’s case since her release in April 2020, and Martin hasn’t asked her team for assistance. “We don’t want him [DeWine] to feel as if we’re trying to pressure or drive him into a situation,” Martin said. “We want him to make a decision that’s good sounding on his heart and conscious.”
Until then, Martin says she’s holding onto hope despite waning support since her reincarceration. “There’s days where I’m like, ‘Am I ever going to go home?’ and then there’s days where I’m like, ‘Somebody out there still cares.’”