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Ala. woman’s part in family sex ring goes to trial

BAY MINETTE, Ala. — The aunt of a teenager who disappeared in 2012 and is now presumed dead is set for trial on charges of being part of a family ring that sexually abused children, including the missing young woman.

Jury selection is set to begin Monday in Baldwin County in the trial of Wendy Wood Holland, 35, who has pleaded not guilty to sodomy, sexual abuse, sexual torture and endangering the welfare of a child.

Court records show prosecution witnesses could include Holland’s brother-in-law Dustin Kent and nephew Derek Wood, who pleaded guilty after being accused of being part of a group of relatives and friends who used children — including family members — for sex.

Other potential witnesses include investigators, child welfare workers, and friends of the alleged victim, documents show.

Holland, seven relatives and three family friends were arrested following the disappearance of Brittney Wood, Holland’s 19-year-old niece. The teen was believed to have been with Holland’s husband, Donnie Holland, the night she was last seen on May 30, 2012.

Wendy Holland reported finding her husband in his vehicle with a gunshot to the head a few days after Wood vanished, and he later died. Authorities ruled his death a suicide.

Donnie Holland was under investigation amid allegations of child sexual abuse at the time of his death, but he was never charged.

None of the felony charges filed after Wood’s disappearance directly involve her as a victim, but authorities have said they have evidence showing she was among the children who were forced to watch and participate in sexual activities with adult relatives.

Holland made a last-minute attempt to stop her trial by arguing that the indictment against her was too vague and had other flaws, but Circuit Judge Jody Bishop refused to dismiss charges.

Court officials have set aside a week for the trial of Holland, the second person to go on trial in the case. Her two sisters await trial. They are twins Mendy Kent and Chessie Wood, Brittney Wood’s mother.

In October, family friend Billy Brownlee, 50, was convicted in Baldwin County on charges of sexually abusing a girl in the Holland family when she was about 12.

Jurors rejected Brownlee’s claims that Donnie Holland forced him into the acts against his will.

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