Long-awaited trial begins in case of man accused of imprisoning 3 spouses, 19 children

3:30 p.m. May 5, 2008
MURRIETA – A man starved the 19 children under his roof, beat some of them and their mothers and made the youngsters and two of his three so-called wives virtual prisoners in their own home, a prosecutor told jurors Monday as the defendant's long-delayed trial got under way.
Mansa Musa Muhummed, who was arrested in 1999, faces eight counts of torture – each of which carries a potential life sentence – 11 counts of willful injury to a child, five counts of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse and two counts of false imprisonment.

Marva Boddie, the woman who was legally married to Muhummed under state law – the other two were not – was arrested along with him nine years ago and pleaded guilty in 2000 to one count of willful injury to a child.
Her plea agreement calls for probation and a year in custody, but sentencing has been put off until after her husband's trial.

The case against Muhummed has taken years to come to trial, partly because of a flurry of motions filed by the 55-year-old defendant, who had been representing himself but recently was assigned a conflicts defense lawyer.

Muhummed allegedly kept two of his three so-called wives and 19 children – his and theirs – prisoner in their home, torturing seven of them, prosecutor Julie Baldwin told jurors in her opening statement.

“He would beat their feet ... to the point where they could hardly stand or walk,” she said.

The defendant also beat his victims' palms with a sort of paddle and the backs of their hands until the children begged him to stop, all the while enjoying their suffering, Baldwin alleged.

The defendant's attorney reserved his opening statement until the prosecution rests its case.

Baldwin told the jury that during the course of the trial, they will hear the cries and screams of children being beaten and begging for mercy, as taped by someone in the defendant's Aguanga home.

According to the prosecutor, the defendant also had the so-called wives beat the children, and the children beat each other.

The defendant, said Baldwin, used belts, switches, extension cords and water hoses on the children.

“You will hear the defendant berating a small child for going into a refrigerator and taking a piece of bread,” Baldwin said. “All of the children (that will testify) will tell you that they were starving.”

When authorities went into the home in the 49000 block of Sweepstakes Lane on April 6, 1999 – they were alerted by someone who managed to escape and go for help – some of the children were underweight, undernourished and stunted because of lack of food, the prosecutor said.

A daughter of one of the defendant's “wives” was 19 years old when sheriff's investigators intervened and rescued the children, Baldwin said.

The young woman was 4-foot-1, had never menstruated and weighed 56 pounds, about the average weight of someone half her age, the prosecutor said.

All the time that the children were forced to steal food from their own home in order to survive, the defendant ate three square meals a day, she said.

“These children were stunted due to the fact that the defendant starved them over a period of years,” Baldwin said.

Investigators found indications that some of the children were being kept in two garages attached to Mumummed's Aguanga home, according to sheriff's Sgt. Richard Zerkel.

There were padlocks on doors, sliding doors and garage doors, and doors nailed shut, allowing no escape from the property, according to the sergeant, who said soiled diapers were found in one of the garages, neither of which had running water, toilet facilities or tubs.

In the defendant's room, investigators found a paddle, four knives, a pistol and two boxes of ammunition, as well as a magazine containing live ammunition, he said.

Under cross-examination, Zerkel said there was no round in the chamber and none of the knives were tested for blood traces.

One of Muhummed's so-called wives, Laura Cowan, testified that in 1995, Muhummed and his 13 children and Boddie moved into the San Bernardino condominium where she lived with her infant daughter and toddler son. Her husband had just recently gone to prison.

She tried, but failed to keep her family's restaurant and bookstore businesses going, and everyone moved to a house in Perris, Cowan said.

“In the beginning, it was still good,” she said.

But soon, she said, she saw a different side of the defendant.

“His temperament, the way he treated the children, his demeanor started to change,” Cowan testified.

Boddie, the defendant's legal wife, was already on welfare and Cowan said she had to go on public assistance, as well. The defendant did not work or contribute to the combined family's finances, she said.

He convinced Cowan that they could wed, under Islamic law, because her own husband was away, she said. The moment she married the defendant, he forced her to close all her bank accounts and credit cards and assumed control of her finances and her life, she testified.

“He said I no longer had outside affairs,” Cowan said. “I was told that nothing else I would do alone.”

The defendant also forbade Cowan to work outside the home or go to school, she said, and refused her money for the children's clothing, personal items such as toothbrushes and hair products. He bought everything for the household himself, ruling the home with an iron hand, Cowan said.

She described how the defendant mistreated her young son, who was having problems with toilet training.

“There was a lot of yelling and screaming at him, calling him names –'dufus', 'dumb,' belittling him,” she said.

Cowan said she argued with the defendant for years over the treatment of her son, Ahmed, and would not let him stay with her in her room.

He would force the boy to stand in a bucket in his urine-soaked and soiled clothes “from the morning to night” and sometimes punched him in the face, the woman testified.

The defendant also called her son evil and “possessed by Djinns,” Cowan said, and kept food from the boy in order to punish him for his lack of intestinal control.

The defendant did not want the other children to interact with the boy, and they stole food and put the blame on him, his mother testified.

Eventually her son was so mistreated and tortured that he would jump at the sound of Muhummed's voice and soil himself at the sight of him, Cowan said.

However, to Cowan's other child with her first husband, “he was very, very kind – extremely kind,” and kept the baby girl with him and his first wife, not allowing Cowan very much contact with her, she testified.

From 1995 to 1999, the family moved numerous times, Cowan said, living in San Bernardino, Perris, Hemet, Desert Hot Springs, Riverside and Aguanga, a rural area east of Temecula and just over the San Diego County line.

During the years they spent together, Cowan said she told the defendant she wanted to leave.

“I wanted to take my children and move,” said Cowan, who said she was Muslim when she became involved with the defendant but had never heard of some of the rules he imposed on her, in the name of Islam and Sharia. Cowan said she became an object of his physical abuse.

“I was slapped all the time. He pulled my hair. He grabbed me by my throat,” Cowan testified.

Once, she said, he even threw a videocassette recorder at her, cutting her head and then refusing to allow her to get professional medical treatment. He treated her himself and apologized, she said.

During those years, Cowan said she lost one baby and conceived another, whom she carried to term.