FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) – A Texas federal jury convicted a wealthy married couple Thursday night for audaciously enslaving an African child for 16 years in their affluent suburban home and denying her pay and an education before she escaped.
Mohamed Toure and Denise Cros-Toure, both 57, of Southlake, now face up to 20 years in federal prison. The jury acquitted them on two charges of forced labor and conspiracy and convicted on two charges of harboring an alien for financial gain and conspiracy. They were indicted four months ago.
Toure faced an additional charge of making false statements based on when he allegedly told authorities he tried to adopt Djena Diallo, now 23. They have remained under house arrest since their indictment and were taken into custody by federal marshals immediately after the verdict. The couple’s children were visibly emotional after the verdict was read and left the courtroom.
Diallo testified during the week-long trial that she escaped the home in 2016 with the help of friends and former neighbors and now lives with them in The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston. She testified that she flew to the United States in 2000 from Guinea as a small child and was forced to sleep on the floor and perform chores around the house from sunrise to sunset. Prosecutors said she had previously lived in a mud hut in a village in Guinea with her family.
“The defendants required her to cook, clean, do the laundry, perform yard work, and paint, as well as care for their five children,” prosecutors said in a statement. “Although the victim was close in age to the children, the defendants denied her access to schooling and the other opportunities afforded to their children.”
Diallo testified Cros-Toure would beat and choke her when she was dissatisfied with her chores and that she often resorted to sleeping on park benches when she was banished from the house. She testified she finally decided to leave in 2016 after the punishments and beatings grew worse.
“On different occasions, defendant Denise Cros-Toure ripped out D.D.’s earring, slapped D.D., struck D.D. with a belt, and struck D.D. with an electrical cord,” the indictment states. “On another occasion, defendant Mohamed Toure restrained D.D. while defendant Denise Cros-Toure struck her.”
Defense attorney Scott Palmer flatly disagreed that Diallo was exploited, stating she was treated as a member of the family, was taken in at the request of her father and is shown in photographs at vacations, weddings and parties laughing and smiling.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Rebekah C. Perlstein repeatedly emphasized that Diallo could come and go from the house at any time. Diallo agreed that she could have left and had friends to help her, but that she had no family members in the country.
The gallery during the trial has largely consisted of supporters of the defendants and their children, with Toure and Cros-Toure frequently acknowledging them.