By TAMMY J. McCOY
A mother beat her own children with a boat oar because she feared her husband would kill her, but managed to sneak food to them when he refused to let them eat, the first wife of an Aguanga man testified Wednesday.
Marva Lewis Barfield, 53, said she risked being beaten herself to get food to her 14 children when defendant Mansa Musa Muhummed would not permit them to eat during the course of their 26-year-marriage.
Barfield testified she would get food to her children, but there were periods where she would not see her children for up to three days.
It was during those three-day periods, Barfield said, that she would not be able to sneak food to them.
Earlier in the trial, several of Muhummed's children testified their father forced them to go days and sometimes a week without eating.
Barfield's testimony, part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, came during Muhummed's trial on torture and abuse charges at the Southwest Justice Center. The 55-year-old man was arrested in 1999 and could get seven life prison terms if convicted of seven counts of torture for starving seven children.
Authorities arrested Barfield months after receiving a letter from one of Muhummed's three wives detailing abuse and horrid living conditions at the Aguanga residence, home to the wives and 19 children.
Barfield initially faced torture and other charges that could have netted her a life-long prison term, but she pleaded guilty to one count of child endangerment. Barfield testified that she spent 17 months in jail and soon will be formally sentenced to time served.
In a hushed and gentle voice, prosecutor Julie Baldwin on Wednesday asked Barfield about the instances when she beat her children.
"Was this something you wanted to do?" Baldwin asked.
No, Barfield said, Muhummed made her do it and would beat her when she tried to defend or protect her children.
Defense attorney Pete Morreale asked Barfield if she beat the children rather than take the hits herself. As he asked, he grabbed the yellow-colored oar and slapped it against the palm of his hand.
"I hit them because I was scared," Barfield said.
"So rather that being struck yourself, you hit the children?" Morreale asked.
"Yes, I was afraid," she said. "He said he would kill me."
Barfield said she believed Muhummed would actually kill her if she didn't beat the children.
"Now that you are out of that situation, do you feel bad that you did it in order to survive?" Baldwin asked.
Barfield then launched into a tear-filled description of the abuse she said she suffered during her marriage to Muhummed.
The couple married when she was 18 and Muhummed took steps each day to ensure that she feared him, she testified.
"He would bash my face in," she said. "He just beat me every chance he got."
She said on one occasion Muhummed took off her clothes and choked her.
Morreale asked Barfield if she ever told police or the prosecutor about the choking incident.
"No," she answered. "They never asked and we never got that far with it."
Baldwin asked her why she didn't tell anyone about this incident.
"Because I was still scared," Barfield said.
The trial will resume Monday at the Southwest Justice Center.
Muhummed remains in Riverside County jail where he's been held since 1999.
Reach Tammy J. McCoy at 951-375-3729 or tmccoy@PE.com
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