Southlake couple in federal court
A young African woman on Tuesday morning told a federal jury in detail about beatings by a Southlake couple when she didn’t complete chores at times or burned food.
The woman identified as Jenna also told the jury of eight women and four men the couple called her a “dog,” “slave,” “worthless” and an “idiot.”
The testimony came on the third day of the trial for Mohamed Toure and his wife, Denise Cros-Toure, both 57, who are accused of forcing the young African girl to be a domestic servant for almost 16 years.
With the help of former neighbors of the Toures, Jenna left the Southlake home in 2016. She was a girl when she arrived in Southlake in 2000, and she’s now a young adult living near Houston.
“She used an electrical cord on me when she realized a belt wasn’t hurting me enough,” Jenna testified Tuesday morning, speaking of Cros-Toure.
Jenna claimed to have been a nanny to the Toures children and said she cooked and cleaned their home from morning to night.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Rebekah Perlstein, Jenna acknowledged she never sent a message to friends on Facebook asking for help. She also said she was allowed to run in the neighborhood.
Perlstein introduced photographs of Jenna with the Toures on vacation in Austin and New Orleans, with a youth group at a Southlake Starbucks, playing Putt-Putt golf, trick-or-treating on Halloween and eating a turkey leg at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas.
“You could have left at anytime when they were away from the home?” Perlstein asked Jenna.
“I guess, yes,” Jenna answered.
Things got testy in the courtroom Tuesday afternoon as defense attorney David Finn asked Jenna whether she knew her father in Guinea had attempted to marry off and sell his daughter.
“Did you know your father tried to marry you off in Guinea?” Finn asked.
“No,” Jenna said.
Finn then attempted to ask Jenna about a report concerning the proposed arrangement.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor stopped the hearing and told Finn not to ask about the marriage arrangement because the witness had already answered the question.
Seconds later, after Finn again attempted to ask about the arrangement, O’Connor ordered the jury out of the courtroom. On Monday afternoon, he evicted Finn for a short time after an outburst of laughter during testimony from Jenna’s mother. The judge asked who in the courtroom had laughed but only Finn raised his hand.
With the jury out Tuesday afternoon, O’Connor instructed Finn that there would be no further questions about marriage. Jurors returned to the courtroom a few minutes later.
The Toures were arrested on April 26 after being accused of forced labor. Mohamed Toure was also charged with making false statements to federal agents.
They were indicted in September on federal charges of forced labor, alien harboring for financial gain, and conspiracies to commit forced labor and alien harboring.
On the forced labor charge, if convicted, the couple faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.
The girl, identified in the federal complaint as female victim 1 or “FV-1,” was born in Guinea and lived with her family in a one-room mud hut with a thatched roof and no electricity before she came to Texas. Her father was a farmer and her mother sold produce to support the family.
On occasion, the girl attended school and learned Malinke, a Guinean dialect, and some French. She did not know English, according to a federal complaint.
Toure and Cros-Toure are also from Guinea but have been permanent U.S. residents since 2005. Mohamed Toure is the son of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure, according to the complaint.
The girl told federal agents in 2018 that her father asked her when she was 4 or 5 years old if she wanted to go to a city in Guinea, and took her to Cros-Toure’s parents. She stayed there for just over a year caring for the Cros family’s blind daughter. She remembered being upset one day, and the Cros family told her to stop crying because they were her family now.
When she was a young girl, the family placed her on a plane to Houston and then onto DFW Airport, arriving on Jan. 19, 2000. Denise Cros-Toure and three of her children met her and took her to their Southlake home, according to the federal complaint. She never left the United States after that.
Jenna’s mother, who flew from Guinea to Texas for the trial, testified through an interpreter Monday afternoon that she wanted her daughter back.
“I love my child,” the woman said. “I didn’t like what they did.”
In a 2018 hearing, it was determined that the girl was believed to be over 10 years old when she arrived in 2000. A discrepancy exists because her date of birth has not been verified.
As the years went by, according to the federal complaint, the girl’s job responsibilities increased. She cooked, cleaned, made beds, vacuumed, did the laundry, mowed the yard and painted. She also walked the children to school. Some neighbors believed the girl was a nanny because they would see her with the children or walking the dogs. One neighbor believed the girl did not have a social life.
A Southlake Carroll school official testified Monday afternoon that there were no school records to indicate Jenna was ever enrolled at a school in the district where the Toures lived. Records indicated the Toures children were enrolled.
The girl escaped from the couple’s home in 2016 with the help of several former neighbors, according to testimony Monday afternoon. The Southlake couple never filed a missing person report when she left their home.
Defense attorneys for the Toures have argued the girl was treated like a member of the family, went on family vacations, left the home on her own, engaged in social media and even jogged in the neighborhood.
On Monday, the federal courtroom was filled with friends and family members there to support the Toures.