“Reign of Terror”

My name is Laura Cowan, and this is my domestic violence story:

Some of seven children and teenagers who were removed from their father’s Aguanga home were so deprived of food and nurturing that they looked half their age, a pediatrician testified Wednesday. In 1999, Marlon Boddie, (Muhummed’s son), was almost 20. He was 4 ½ feet tall and weighed 78 pounds when Dr. Clare Sheridan-Matney examined him and six of his siblings after they were removed from defendant, my ex-significant other, Mansa Musa Muhummed’s home. Mansa Musa was their father and my abuser. “He didn’t look like a 20-year-old. He looks like a kid,” said Sheridan-Matney, who is the head of forensic pediatrics at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

Marlon Boddie’s weight and height would have been normal for a 10- or 11-year-old, the doctor said. Mansa Musa Muhummed, whose given name was Richard Boddie, was on trial at Riverside County Superior Court after more than nine years of legal wrangling in which he changed lawyers four times and represented himself for more than two years.

He pleaded not guilty to charges of torturing seven of the children, abusing 12 of them and falsely imprisoning two wives, which I was one of them. The trial delays may have hurt his case because his children — once reluctant to talk to authorities — are now telling strangers of extreme deprivation, physical abuse and starvation. Standing just 4-foot-6 and weighing about 98 pounds, Sharon Boddie, 27, told jurors that she had grown and gained weight since her father was arrested nine years ago and the children were sent to foster or group homes. But she still has scars from beatings and burns. She said she was taken out of school in second grade because she kept running away and teachers no longer wanted her there because she stole other children’s lunch. “I’d go like a week without eating, not even water,” she said in a flat, unemotional voice. She said she would be beaten when she tried to steal food from the refrigerator. One son caught sneaking food testified that he was forced to eat what he took until he regurgitated. Then he was forced to eat his own vomit. Another daughter said she was ordered to hand feed her father while she was denied food.

Doctors said the children were extremely malnourished. A 19-year-old daughter was 4-foot-1 and weighed 56 pounds. After moving to rural Riverside County, (before I had met them), they lived for about three years in a van at a Muslim campground, this is what one daughter, Sharon Boddie testified. The van had no running water or gas for cooking. District Attorney Baldwin said Muhummed had no known occupation. The now-adult children have testified that Muhummed forced them to beat each other when he wasn’t doing the hitting. His lawyer has suggested some of the children abused each other and he had challenged their testimony as exaggerations. Baldwin said she expected the defense to accuse the wives (which included myself) of being responsible for the abuse. Muhummed has told authorities he believed his Muslim religion allowed him to have multiple wives. Polygamy! Marva Lewis Barfield, 53, the first of Muhummed’s three wives and mother of 14 of his children, testified that she beat some of her children with a boat oar at his instructions because she feared he would kill her if she disobeyed. Marva said she married Boddie when she was 18 and that she was repeatedly beaten and threatened with death during 26 years of marriage. Marva was jailed for 17 months in the case and pleaded guilty to one count of child endangerment as part of a plea bargain to testify against Muhummed.

Then I, Laura Cowan, his second wife, told authorities that he took control of my bank accounts and finances. Me and the other members of the family also collected public assistance. It was I, who finally got the attention of authorities when Muhummed took me with him to a post office and that is when I was able to slip a 13-page letter about the abuse to a postal clerk. The letter was sent to the county social services agency and to sheriff’s deputies, who found us living in a filthy garage in a gated community. I presented authorities with tapes that I had secretly recorded of some of the beatings. Sharon Boddie said social workers had checked on their welfare before, but her father put food boxes in cupboards before they arrived and the children were taught to lie. “I told them everything was OK because my dad had coached us what to say,” she recalled. “I’d say my dad treated us really good — that he was the best parent in the world.”

When they were removed from his Muhummed’s home, most of the children said they could not read or write and had not been to school. The brothers and sisters have said they were denied use of a bathroom and could not bathe for weeks at a time or wash their clothes. Sometimes, Boddie took them in the yard and hosed them down. Sharon Boddie said she was strung upside down by her feet and left in a dark basement for hours at a time.

Baldwin said many of the children were unwilling to talk to authorities when their father was first arrested in 1999. Even when her father was handcuffed to a car outside their home, Sharon Boddie wouldn’t speak because she feared he wouldn’t go to jail. She said he once waved a gun around and said, “I can kill all of you and nobody will ever know.” She said she decided to tell her story when her father was behind bars and she realized she was “finally going to have a life.”

In February of 2009, Mansa Musa received seven life sentences for torturing and endangering seven of his 19 children and abusing and imprisoning his three wives. A jury found Muhummed guilty of such acts as beating his children with hoses and boat oars, starving them and forcing them to eat their own vomit and feces. In addition, he imprisoned two of his wives in the house’s garage by chaining the doors shut, leaving them for weeks without running water or bathroom facilities. Muhummed will serve a separate sentence of 16 years and eight months before beginning his seven life sentences.

Peter J. Morreale, Muhummed’s attorney, asked the judge to allow his client to serve the sentences concurrently, which would allow the defendant out of prison on parole in as few as 23 years. “The nature of this case is very serious and extremely egregious [but] nobody died as a result of [Muhummed’s] actions,” Morreale said. Judge F. Paul Dickerson III denied that request and dealt the harshest punishment available to ensure Muhummed would never come out of jail. The judge stated he believed if Muhummed ever emerged, he would try to harm his family members.

Dickerson explained the severity of the sentence by stating Muhummed had “shown no remorse or accepted any responsibility” for his “years-long reign of terror over defenseless children.” In response to the sentence, Muhummed rambled semi-comprehensibly for more than four minutes. He defended himself, claiming the family members had lied because one of his wives wanted “revenge” on him. Several of his children and one of his wives – who were sitting in the back of the courtroom – stood up and left while Muhummed spoke. “It’ll come back to haunt them. What they’ve done is wrong,” he said. “My family never suffered like they said they did.”

After speaking for several minutes, Morreale whispered into Muhummed’s ear, shortly after which Muhummed brought his speech to a close. After the sentencing, Morreale called the judgment “overkill.” “I think this case was a good case for concurrent sentences,” he said. The sentencing came more than 10 years after Riverside County police arrested Muhummed in his home in Aguanga. For Muhummed’s children, the last decade has been a period of growing, healing and fearing Muhummed may one day go free. Riverside County Superior Court Judge F. Paul Dickerson III, who said Muhummed’s treatment of his family, amounted to “a reign of terror over defenseless children.” Muhummed, spoke before sentencing and denied ever mistreating his three wives and 19 children. “I never tortured anyone,” he told the court. “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. 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 — whose given name was Richard Boddie — came to California, converted to Islam and moved his family from place to place, living in houses, small apartments and vans.

Muhummed was convicted in June of 25 counts, including torture, child endangerment, false imprisonment and corporal injury on a spouse. At his trial, 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, going without food for up to seven days. 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.

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

I testified at this Muhummed’s trial and my accounts of the abuse were essential in getting him sentenced to life in prison. After Muhummed was arrested, my children, Maryam, Ahmed and Tasslimah, stayed in battered women’s shelters in California for more than a year before returning to my home town in Ohio. I didn’t let my past bring me down, and decided to become an influential role model to those I encountered. I went to school and received an associate’s degree in Applied Business Management in Information Technology. I now work for the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority teaching and training those living in their facilities on computers and new technology.

I’m a member of the Living Truth Center in East Cleveland, which taught me to release resentment and channel my energy positively. I also was nominated and won the People’s Choice for the 2010 American Red Cross Heroes Award, and was selected as one of the Plain Dealer’s community heroes recognized on March 14. My real joy is being a volunteer at the Domestic Violence Center of Greater Cleveland and giving back that was given to me, help and my way of repaying the care my children and I received from shelter workers after years of being terrorized. I am an advocate and domestic violence survivor. Now I just want to serve as a beacon for other survivors of domestic violence and friends of those who lost someone to domestic violence. I want share my story as an example for others.

To read more on my story, just Google the perpetrator’s name in Google: (Mansa Musa Muhammed, California) and you can read more about my case. I’m now a co-host on WERE1490AM radio show under Radio-One called “Women Share” my partner, Lulu Woodruff is a domestic violence survivor also. We share information to our audience and give them hope and inspiration by inspiring, motivating and encouraging those who listen to the show by sharing with them that they too can overcome their fears and life obstacles by discovering the secret of self empowerment. Love yourself, and the rest will come. “Remember……..LOVE DOESN’T HURT

Laura Cowan