ATLANTA — The search for an Atlanta mother, Tonji Gray, is in the spotlight five years after detectives believe she played a role in sexually exploiting a 13-year-old girl.
Shared exclusively with Channel 2 Action News on Thursday, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office said Gray’s son, Erice Dobynes, abducted the child in 2018.
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Channel 2 Action News is not revealing the name of the survivor for her privacy, but she is recovering safely now, according to Deputy District Attroney Earnelle Winfrey.
Winfrey is the lead prosecutor in the case.
She said in January 2018, the little girl was accidentally locked out of her home when a “charismatic” stranger offered to help.
“It started with being locked out of the house,” said Winfrey. “I believe she thought she could walk up the street to the gas station and maybe come back and Mom would be home.”
That’s when Winfrey said Dobynes began asking her to hang out and party.
“She decided to talk to him because she thought he was attractive,” said Winfrey. “She gets in the car, and that was it.”
Police reports said it turns out, Dobynes was a member of the ‘Crips’ gang.
He was 26 years old in 2018 and lived with his mother, Tonji Gray in Southwest Atlanta. That’s where Winfrey said he kept the girl locked up with the help of his mother and his girlfriend, Danita Barber.
“He imprisoned her, he beat her, he raped her, and he sold her to others for money,” said Winfrey.
At times, the beatings were so intense, they left lacerations on the child’s back.
She said Dobynes would take her out to sell her to men who wanted to have sex with her at spots like the Metropolitan Library. He enlisted two brothers, Christopher and Claude Weston, to ensure she did not escape.
24 days and approximately 40 men later, investigators said the child saw a moment to get away.
“She ran. She literally ran. She told me that she ran back to the metro library where she was able to find one of the “dates” or “plays” she had previously been with, and she asked him for money for a bus,” said Winfrey.
Winfrey said that man gave the child money for the bus, and she made it to a MARTA police officer for help.
Prosecutors came together with MARTA Police Department, Atlanta Police, The Federal Bureau of Investigations, DFACS and doctors at a children’s hospital to piece together the case.
By June 2018, officers arrested all suspects except for the mother, Tonji Gray.
The defendants took plea deals with the DA’s office at different times. That paired with pandemic delays left their sentencing dates varying widely.
Last week, Dobynes and Barber, were the final two in court.
Barber was sentenced to 20 years in confinement and five of those were to be served in jail. She served those before the sentencing date. So, she is on probation now.
Dobynes was sentenced to 35 years confinement, 30 of those in prison and the remainder on probation.
Claude Weston, Jr. was in court in June of 2021 and he was sentenced to 25 years confinement with five of those in jail. He is on probation now.
His brother, Christopher Weston, was sentenced in 2019 to a total of 10 years of confinement. The first year was to be served in jail, the remaining nine on probation.
Gray is still on the run.
“She did nothing to ensure this girl was safe, and we believe because of that she shouldn’t be around anyone’s child or children whatsoever. So, she is dangerous,” said Winfrey.
In a letter to those who abducted her, the now-18-year-old wrote, “I still picture you beating me… you took my love and faith for this world away, the joy of thinking good still exists…”
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said she has added attorneys and investigators to the unit that handles these crimes to keep up with an increasing amount of reported cases.
“We have really focused, in this office, on crimes that are against children, sexual assault crimes and, of course, gang violence. What we see is all of these areas are merging,” said Willis.
She said sex trafficking is a crime that seems to be hidden in plain sight.
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“That’s why we need to educate because you may be looking at it not knowing that you’re looking at it,” said Willis.
She has dedicated resources to train the community by holding seminars.
“We’re sending staff to churches, to schools, to tell them things to look for,” said Willis. “Sometimes it’s right in front of your face, and you’re not sure how to intervene.”
Currently, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Human Trafficking & Internet Child Exploitation Unit is prosecuting 101 defendants with 65 defendants either formerly indicted for the charge of Trafficking a Person for Sexual Servitude or facing that charge pre-indictment.
Last year this time, the Human Trafficking & Internet Child Exploitation Unit was prosecuting 89 defendants with 49 defendants either formerly indicted for the charge of Trafficking a Person for Sexual Servitude or facing that charge pre-indictment.
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