Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Defendant in CA torture trial denies abusing kids


MURRIETA, Calif. (AP) — A self-described polygamist accused of torturing and starving many of his 19 children and stepchildren testified Monday the family fasted as part of their Muslim faith but were not deprived of food, and he never crushed their toes with a hammer.

During the trial, a string of Mansa Musa Muhummed's children and wives have described horrific abuse, including being beaten with paddles, strung up by their feet, denied food and forced to eat vomit and feces. Doctors have said the children were extremely malnourished. A 19-year-old daughter was 4-foot-1 and weighed 56 pounds.

Muhummed, 55, has pleaded not guilty to torturing seven of the children, abusing 12 of them and falsely imprisoning two wives. He faces up to seven life sentences if convicted on a raft of abuse charges.

"Did you ever beat their knuckles until they bled?" defense attorney Peter Morreale asked.

"No," said Muhummed, his voice cracking.

"Did you ever beat their feet until they were swollen?" Morreale asked, showing Muhummed a broken boat paddle.

"No," he replied.

"When you were in Bakersfield, did you ever take a hammer and smash their toes?" the attorney asked.

"No, I didn't," Muhummed replied, beginning to sob and covering his face with his hands.

Muhummed, whose birth name was Richard Boddie, has told authorities that his Muslim faith gave him the right to take multiple wives. He was arrested in 1999 after one of those women, Laura Cowan, managed to slip a 13-page letter to a postal service worker describing the alleged abuse.

His trial started last month after nine years of legal wrangling in which he changed lawyers four times and represented himself for more than two years.

Earlier Monday, Muhummed said that his children and stepchildren ate three regular meals a day except during the holy month of Ramadan, when the older children ate two meals — one before dawn and one after sunset.

He said that in the Muslim faith, forcing a child to fast during the holy month of Ramadan or threatening a child with physical punishment for not fasting would be the "most horrendous thing anyone could say."

"My children eat every day that I know of. Even if we didn't have it, they had it," he said, referring to food.

He told the jury Monday that the youngest child who fasted with the family was a 9-year-old girl, and she participated of her own will — and with modifications.

"I didn't let her go through all the Ramadan. I didn't let her go all day," Muhummed said. "Under the laws of Islam ... the children basically gotta come on their own. It's up to you to decide whether they physically can do that."

He said the family fasted on five other religious holidays outside Ramadan as part of their Muslim faith. Muhummed testified that he was raised a Baptist in Norfolk, Va., but converted to Islam in the late 1980s after a friend introduced him to the faith.

He said he fully converted by 1987 and described himself as a Sunni Muslim.

Also Monday, Muhummed alleged that Cowan would beat her son because the boy had problems with bed wetting. Muhummed said he never touched the boy, but witnessed Cowan beating him and took pictures of the boy's wounds.

Morreale showed the jury three photos of the boy dressed in a blue shirt that appeared stained with blood and a large bruise on the right side of his head.

"I got tired of her doing things. I used the pictures to take and warn her that if she continued to do this, what I was going to do," Muhummed said.

Original Article -

The Associated Press: Defendant in CA torture trial denies abusing kids

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