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This family’s traditions weren’t like most others.
Instead of family barbecues or cheering on each other at sports games, members of one Alabama family were forced to engage in horrific acts of sexual abuse—beginning for one girl when she was still in diapers, according to court testimony reported by the Associated Press.
The teen would testify that she was frequently forced to have sex with her adult relatives—often in group sex situations.
“We would be in a circle and we’d all switch up,” she testified in 2014 during her aunt Wendy Holland’s trial for sodomy, sexual abuse, sexual torture and child endangerment.
Yet, despite the horrific abuse the teen endured, she testified that she still loved Wendy “with all my heart.”
“This case is just … it’s sickening,” Lori Myles, public information officer for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office told AL.com.
The abuse was carried out against children in the family for three generations or more, according to court testimony cited by AL.com.
“You have the perfect storm where you have different individuals from damaged backgrounds themselves who had developed an interest in relationships with children and found one another and sort of fed off one another’s fetishes,” Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Nicki Patterson told AL.com.
The abuse came to light after 19-year-old Brittney Wood, who is believed to be one of the victims in the sex abuse ring, disappeared and her uncle Donald Holland—who authorities consider to be a ringleader of the sex ring—was found shot to death in his vehicle just two days later.
The case is the focus of the new Peacock docuseries “Monster in the Shadows,” available Thursday.
“One victim in particular remembered losing her virginity at the age of 3 to her own father,” former Baldwin County Sheriff’s Det. Eric Winberg said in the docuseries. “They were forced to perform oral sex on each other and other adults, on uncles and aunts. It was really bad.”
But just who were the members of the alleged sex ring? Here’s what we know about those implicated in the case.
Donald “Donnie” Holland: Donald “Donnie” Holland was alleged to have been a ringleader in the child sex ring—but he would never face his day in court. Donnie was found shot to death in his vehicle on June 1, 2012, two days after Brittney Wood disappeared. He had been shot in the back of the head in what authorities have ruled a suicide, although some, including Brittney Wood’s mother Chessie Wood, have speculated that he may have been murdered, noting the angle of the gunshot wound, which was located toward the back of his head.
Winberg described Donnie in the three-part docuseries as a large man with a barrel chest and soft voice.
“His voice certainly did not match his build,” he said, adding that authorities believe he was involved in an incestuous relationship with his own daughter.
Chessie Wood told “Monster in the Shadows” she was surprised to learn her brother-in-law may have been involved in the disturbing deeds and said she didn’t know about the abuse.
“He was charismatic, friendly happy, um, very outgoing. He rode the roads all the time going here and there,” she said. “We thought he was enjoying life to its fullest.”
Yet, Chessie now believes Donnie, who was the last known person to see Brittney alive, may have had something to do with her daughter’s disappearance.
Wendy Holland: Wendy Holland was sentenced to more than 200 years behind bars for her involvement in the sex ring.
According to Winberg, Wendy prodded her own daughter into having sex with grown men and taught her how to pleasure them.
“It was all very, very disturbing,” Winberg said in the docuseries.
One of Wendy’s victims would recall the horrific abuse in court, saying she was still conflicted by the acts.
“I loved her,” the unidentified girl said on the stand, according to AL.com. “She is very special to me. I didn’t want her in any trouble.”
It took a jury just two hours to convict Wendy of sodomy, sexual abuse, sexual torture and child endangerment, according to The Associated Press.
Mendy Kent: Mendy Kent, Wendy’s identical twin sister, also landed behind bars after Mobile County jurors convicted her of sodomy and sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12 in 2015, AL.com reports.
She was sentenced to a maximum sentence of 40 years behind bars, 20 years for each count against her, according to the news outlet.
Dustin Kent: Dustin Kent was married to Mendy Kent. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to charges of second-degree rape and second-degree sodomy in connection with allegations that he sexually abused family members between the ages of 12 and 16 years old, as part of a plea agreement that dropped additional charges against him, according to WALA.
“Mr. Kent did the right thing, he took responsibility for what he did, and that’s what this system is all about,” his attorney John Beck said at the time. “Mr. Kent is going to continue to cooperate in the ongoing investigation, and Mr. Kent knows that he’s going to have to pay the price for his crimes.”
He was sentenced to 17 years in prison for his role in the sexual abuse, WPMI reported in 2015.
Randall “Scott” Wood: Randall “Scott” Wood was the first to blow the whistle on the family’s illicit activities, reporting to police that he believed his niece was being sexually abused in February of 2012. But his motivations for making that report are under dispute.
Chessie told “Monster in the Shadows” that her brother, Randall “Scott” Wood, had been staying with Wendy and her family when he discovered a message to their young daughter on the computer that said “You give a good blow job for a 12-year-old” and reported the abuse to police.
“When he saw this, he was blown away and he didn’t know who to share this with,” Chessie said, adding that she believes “Scott Wood would not hurt a child.”
Yet, Patterson would contend that Scott was in love with one of the girls who was being abused and began talking to law enforcement officers about what was going on out of jealousy, AL.com reports.
Chessie called the prosecutor’s theory ridiculous and said Scott would have known that if he reported the abuse, the girl would have been taken out of the home.
“That didn’t make sense. None of it made sense,” she said. “They could not give me a good answer of why Scott Wood would tell on himself.”
Scott ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree sodomy in exchange for dropping some of the other charges against him, according to AL.com.
“They could take you to trial, and the maximum is so severe in a case like this that you don’t ever want to take a case like this to trial if you are guilty,” his attorney Pascal Bruijn said, AL.com reports. “They had the evidence to back it up, so he decided to plead guilty.”
Derek Wood: Derek Wood, Brittney’s oldest brother, was not only convicted in the case, but had also been a victim himself. He told “Monster in the Shadows” he began to be sexually abused by Donnie and Wendy around the age of 6 or 7 years old and said the abuse continued through his early teenage years.
“It would be some friends of theirs, older women would come over, they would get involved and Donnie would take pictures and coerce me into what I was doing,” he said from jail. “But as far as family members, it was just Donnie and Wendy.”
He’d later be charged for sexual abuse of a cousin who was between the ages of 12 and 16 years old after he’d turned 18. He said in the docuseries that Donnie had given him alcohol and money before the abuse occurred.
“I would say between the intoxication, the bribery and just the way he can manipulate people’s minds and intimidate folks,” Derek said of his participation. “I think probably a bundle of that all put together. If I hadn’t have drunk what I drunk and Donnie being there that day it would have never happened.”
Derek denied having sex with the victim but said he did “touch certain places and stuff like that.”
Derek said he told investigators what he knew about the case to “try to shut [the abuse] down.”
“My life has been a mess ever since and still to this day they won’t help me, they won’t let me go to any rehab,” he said of the authorities. “I guess I’m just a monster in their eyes.”
Winberg called it “a very sad case.”
Derek was granted youthful offender status in connection with his case, which is sealed, and served three years behind bars, according to the docuseries. He has to register as a sex offender for life.
Derek would later help put Wendy Holland away by testifying in her trial that he had sex with his aunt when he was just 14 years old, AL.com reports.
Chessie Wood: Britney’s mother, Chessie, has been an outspoken advocate for her daughter’s case, but she found herself under arrest in connection with the sex ring in 2013.
Winberg said in the docuseries that the missing teen’s mom became part of the investigation after a victim told police that Chessie allegedly participated in a sex act with a minor. In Chessie’s interrogation video, Winberg said the victim told authorities that Chessie and Donnie had been having sex when they called the minor back to a bedroom and forced her to join.
Chessie adamantly denied the allegation and insisted she had never had sex with Donnie or touched any of her nieces and nephews. Her defense team said in the docuseries that she also passed a lie detector test to that effect.
Eileen Swain, a member of Chessie’s defense team, asserted in the docuseries that Chessie was arrested because she had been publicly critical of how law enforcement had handled her daughter’s case.
“She got arrested because she dared to say you’re not doing anything to help me,” Swain said.
Three years after the charges were filed, Chessie pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment, according to WPMI.
Although her attorney Michael McDuffie continues to insist that she was innocent of all the charges, he said they decided to accept the plea deal to end the ordeal and allow Chessie to continue searching for her daughter.
“All I could think of is I ever go behind bars, I’ll never find her,” Chessie said in the docuseries. “Nobody’s gonna look for her like me.”
Nelton “Butch” Morgan: Nelton “Butch” Morgan, a family friend of the Hollands, pleaded guilty to attempting to have sex with a child under the age of 12 years old in Baldwin County in connection to his alleged role in the sex ring, according to AL.com.
Morgan was ordered to serve 10 years in prison and five years of probation under the split sentence. However, under the agreement, he was credited with the two years he’d already served behind bars and received a suspended sentence for the remainder of the prison term as long as he met his probation guidelines.
He reached a similar deal for the charges against him in Mobile County, AL.com reported.
Morgan has been required to register as a sex offender and agreed to testify against other defendants as part of his plea agreement.
Patterson said prosecutors were willing to offer some of those involved in the case plea agreements to spare the children from having to testify.
“They have already had to testify more than once and at some point, they need to be able to move on,” she said of the decision, according to WPMI. “To have them continually brought back to court to testify over and over again is very difficult on the children.”
William Brownlee: William Brownlee, a family friend of the Hollands, agreed to plead guilty to first- and second-degree rape in Mobile County in 2015 for acts that allegedly took place at his home and a hotel, according to WPMI.
He was sentenced to 20 years for each charge, which are being served concurrently. Brownlee claimed in court that he was forced to commit the acts.
He was also sentenced in Baldwin County to 21 years in prison for his connection to the sex ring.
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