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Polygamist who tortured his family is sentenced to 7 life terms

The 'reign of terror' merits the harshest punishment, Riverside County judge says. Mansa Musa Muhummed starved, beat and imprisoned his 3 wives and 19 children for decades.

February 14, 2009|David Kelly

A polygamist who tortured, starved, imprisoned and beat his wives and children for decades was sentenced to seven life terms in prison Friday by a judge who said the man's "reign of terror" warranted the harshest punishment available.

Mansa Musa Muhummed, 55, spoke before sentencing and denied ever mistreating his three wives and 19 children.

"I never tortured anyone," he told Riverside County Superior Court Judge F. Paul Dickerson III. "I don't know where that came from."

The judge dismissed his comments. "Mr. Muhummed showed no remorse and accepted no responsibility for his twisted behavior, and the court is sending the strongest message possible," he said.

Family members filled the back row of the courtroom, some of the women wearing colorful head scarves.

"I'm very afraid of him. I really don't want him to get out of jail at all," his daughter Sharon Boddie, 28, told the judge. "Please, Your Honor, don't show him any mercy because he never showed any mercy to his kids."

Muhummed was arrested in 1999 at the family's house in rural Aguanga in Riverside County, but legal maneuvering delayed the trial for years.

Originally from Virginia, Muhummed came to California, converted to Islam and moved his family from place to place, living in houses, small apartments and vans.

Family members testified that he would beat them savagely with boat oars, hoses and electrical cords for any perceived infraction. Grounds for beatings included sneaking food, failing to recite a passage from the Koran accurately and not asking to use the bathroom. He also organized fights between his boys.

Muhummed tightly rationed food for everyone but himself. He carefully locked up the cabinets and chained the refrigerator. His children said he "ate like a king" while they went hungry.

In fact, they said, they went up to seven days without food. They had to beg for it or pick a lock and steal it. If caught, they were beaten or made to stand all night in a corner. Buckets in bedrooms usually served as their toilets, they said.

When police found Sharon Boddie in 1999, she was 18 years old, weighed 48 pounds and stood barely 4 feet tall. Her older brother Marlon weighed 53 pounds. Another brother, Curtis, 16, weighed 42 pounds.

Marlon Boddie, in an interview before the sentencing, said his father hung him upside down in the basement by a cord and beat him for hours. He said he was made to eat his own feces and vomit. Marlon Boddie, now 29, said he once smashed a bottle against his head in order to get sent to a hospital and out of the house.

"He broke my arm once and wrapped a towel around it real tight like a cast," he said. "Imagine what it's like to see your dad split open your head, then sew it up with a needle and thread."

Like many members of his family, Marlon Boddie is at loose ends, trying to navigate a world that was hidden from him for most of his life. The experience, he said, has irrevocably scarred him.

"It's like 20 years of my life has gone down the drain. Even now I get afraid to eat. I look around me to see if someone is watching," he said.

The family lived in Bakersfield, North Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Moreno Valley, Riverside and Aguanga. Muhummed made money selling his food stamps and collecting Social Security on himself and his children, family members said. His children were pulled out of elementary school or never sent. Some still struggle with basic skills such as reading, writing a check and shopping for groceries.

"When I got out I couldn't read," Sharon Boddie said. "I had never been to school."

The wives and children were often locked up in a dark garage for days with no heating, air conditioning or toilets.

In 1999, one of the wives slipped a letter to the mailman, begging for help. Police raided the Aguanga home and arrested Muhummed. Another wife, Marva Barfield, was jailed for a year on charges of child endangerment. She was released after agreeing to testify against her husband.

"I married him at 18 and got out at 45," Barfield said in court Friday. "I was scared of him. I want to apologize to my kids for not doing more, but I was truly afraid of him."

A letter was read from another daughter, Felicia Boddie, asking the judge to show mercy: "If he didn't have emotional problems, would he have done this? . . . I want the hate to end and the healing to begin."

When it was Muhummed's turn to talk, all but two family members left the courtroom. He spoke defiantly, saying that he was innocent and that his children were pressured to say they were abused.

"I made mistakes, but they know how I looked after them their whole lives," he said. "I tried to keep them together. My family never suffered the way they say they did."

The judge denied a defense motion to sentence Muhummed to one life term so he might be eligible for parole someday. Instead, he gave him a life sentence for each of the seven counts of torture. Muhummed isn't eligible for parole for at least 65 years, said his attorney, Peter Morreale.

Marta Butterfield, one of the jurors in the case, showed up for the sentencing. "I think he is such a monster," she said, "and I wanted to see him get everything he deserved."

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david.kelly@latimes.com

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