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Website operator who paid homeless men to get beat up by women goes on trial

LARGO — He was 36, mentally disabled, schizophrenic, off his medicine and confused.

So confused that after he left his group home in Clearwater one day and wound up in Williams Park in St. Petersburg, he couldn't find his way back home.

For two months.

And that, prosecutors said Tuesday at the start of a trial in a case that has previously gained national attention, was when James Cayer Jr. became a victim.

Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson accused two people of luring the vulnerable Cayer to a Clearwater business called Ringside Studios, where he was filmed in videos for a website that featured scenes of women beating up men.

Davidson said the two, Jeffery Williams, 61, and Zuzu Vargo, 27, should be found guilty of aggravated abuse of a disabled person, a felony.

"His business involved hiring people to be beaten by women, women such as Zuzu Vargo," Davidson said, pointing at Williams. "These men weren't allowed to fight back."

Davidson said the way Cayer was beaten amounted to torture.

"They took a man who was clearly disabled, put him in a ring, told him you can't fight back, and proceeded to kick and punch and beat him down on the ground, and continued to kick him while he was down," he said.

Cayer's mother testified on Tuesday and said she was aghast when she later saw her son with two black eyes and many bruises.

But Williams' defense attorney Luke Lirot told the jury there's a lot more to the story.

Williams never knew of Cayer's disability, he said. It wasn't Williams who invited Cayer into the business, but someone else. Cayer signed a liability waiver saying he was "volunteering to participate in video production activities including fighting and other dangerous and possibly violent activities."

Also, when he got to Ringside Studios, Cayer saw other men being filmed for the same kinds of videos. "He could have left at any time he wanted," Lirot said.

Even then, he said, a lot of the fighting was staged, with punches that didn't actually connect.

Jurors will have a chance to make up their own minds — they are expected to see the video in court today.

The case drew nationwide publicity in 2011 after advocates accused the operators of shefights.net of preying on St. Petersburg's homeless.

In a separate civil case, Williams testified that all the people who appeared in the videos did so voluntarily, and that some of them even liked the experience. He said some men may have been homeless, but that there was no intent to target homeless people.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@tampabay.com. On Twitter: @ckruegertimes.

Website operator who paid homeless men to get beat up by women goes on trial 12/17/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 10:33pm]
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