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Fifth Circuit Upholds Conviction of Fort Worth Woman Who Enslaved 2 Mexican Immigrants

18 Jan

By John Council, Texas Lawyer

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has affirmed the six-year prison sentence of a Fort Worth woman who used two Mexican citizens as slaves by forcing them to clean houses in the United States without pay and controlling the undocumented immigrant sisters by telling them she was a prophet from God.

The recent decision affirms Olga Murra’s 2016 felony convictions on two counts of forced labor and two counts of harboring an illegal alien for profit.

Murra, a U.S. citizen, met the sisters while living in Mexico and made the claim she was a prophet. Murra ordered the sisters to cut off ties with their family, which they did, leaving them completely dependent on Murra. Murra moved to El Paso, Texas, in 1997 and later facilitated the sisters’ illegal entry into the United States.

In 1999, Murra moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where the sisters began cleaning houses six days a week while Murra retained all of the money they earned. One sister was also forced to obtain employment at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart under a false name in addition to cleaning houses. The sisters were forced to sleep on the floor and they were confined to sleep in the garage, which was neither heated nor cooled, as punishment.

Murra also constantly reminded the sisters that they were in the country illegally and that they had nowhere else to go because “immigration is going to . . . grab you, they are going to get you and then they are going to put you in a casket and they are going to bury you alive.” One of the sisters testified that she was so indoctrinated by Murra that she believed that federal immigration officials would treat an undocumented immigrant that way.

One sister left Murra’s home in 2006, preferring the unknown to “dying in this hell.” The other sister left in 2011 and testified that Murra had subjected her to ice baths, beatings, verbal abuse, and spiritual threats. The women sought help from a nonprofit organization, Mosaic Family Services, which specializes in immigration-related legal and counseling services. Mosaic later referred Murra’s case for criminal prosecution.

Murra appealed her conviction to the Fifth Circuit arguing that, among other alleged errors, the district court wrongly imposed a “vulnerable victim” enhancement to her sentence.

But in a Jan. 15 decision, the Fifth Circuit rejected all of Murra’s arguments, ruling the trial court correctly enhanced her sentence because she targeted undocumented immigrants to become victims of forced labor.

“They were forced to accept abusive conditions Murra created for them because they were in an unfamiliar country with no food, clothing, shelter, or money other than what Murra provided,” Judge James Graves wrote for the Fifth Circuit. “And during the time Murra exercised complete dominion over them, she retained their immigration documents and threatened them with immigration-related retribution if they disobeyed her.”