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United States v. Murra

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 15, 2018

OLGA SANDRA MURRA, also known as Sandra Olga Capon-Meneses, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before DENNIS, CLEMENT, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.

          JAMES E. GRAVES, JR., Circuit Judge

         The earlier opinion issued January 12, 2018, is withdrawn by the panel, and the following is issued in its place:

         In August 2016, Defendant-Appellant Olga Murra was convicted by a jury of two counts of forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1589(a), and two counts of harboring an illegal alien for profit, in violation of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii) and 1324(a)(1)(B)(i), based on conduct toward her half-sister Vania Rodriguez and quasi-adopted family member Ingrid Guerrero. The district court sentenced her to seventy-two months' imprisonment. Murra now appeals from that conviction and sentence, claiming that (1) the district court erred by admitting the testimony of the Government's expert witness; (2) the Government prosecutor improperly commented on her decision not to testify; (3) the district court erred in ruling that Mosaic Family Services, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provided both counseling and legal services to the victims, did not have to produce documents that Mosaic contends are protected by psychotherapist-patient or attorney-client privilege; and (4) the district court erred by imposing a "vulnerable victim" enhancement to her sentence. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.


         According to the evidence and testimony presented at trial, Murra used psychological manipulation, mental and physical abuse, and threats of abuse to coerce both Vania and Ingrid to work for her without pay for over a decade.


         Around 1985, while living in Mexico, Murra and her family (her children and now-deceased husband) met Ingrid Guerrero and her three sisters-Tania, Yuriria, and Jehan-who were living apart from their mother and father because of a tumultuous home life. A few years into their relationship with Murra, the Guerreros began attending church at Murra's home, with Murra "preaching" and leading the services. Murra later told the sisters that they should move out of their house and live with her, which they did.

         Shortly thereafter, Murra began to inflict physical and psychological abuse on the Guerreros. Murra would hit them with a wooden paddle almost daily as punishment for being "obscene" or "rebellious, " or if they didn't agree with something she said. She made Ingrid sit in baths of ice water because she wasn't "pure." She forced the sisters to sleep in the laundry room, at times for up to a week, because she felt they needed to repent for their "sins." She would slap the sisters, cut their hair, and tell them "nobody will love you."

         Murra told the sisters that "she was a prophet from God." Based on this, they believed that whatever Murra said came directly from God. They were ordered to cut off ties with their family, which they did-leaving them completely dependent on Murra.

          Vania was in medical school during the time Murra lived in Mexico. Vania and Murra used to communicate via letter, and at one point the content of Murra's letters became increasingly more religious. Murra claimed she was a prophet of God and would communicate prophecies to Vania. One of Murra's "prophecies" was that Vania had to end the relationship with the man she was dating because the marriage would be without God's consent or approval; she also told Vania that the man could beat or kill her, and that if they had a child together the child would be sick. Vania left the man as a result and returned to Mexico. Vania never practiced medicine because Murra told her that God did not want her to do so. While living in Mexico, Vania witnessed Murra's nightly paddling of the Guerreros. Murra instructed Vania to paddle the sisters or risk being punished herself. Murra also occasionally paddled Vania.

         Ingrid, her sisters, and Vania were forced to work in Murra's husband's factory making jeans five or six days a week. And while they were ostensibly paid for their work, all of their wages went to Murra.


         Claiming that "God had told her to come to the promise[d] land, " Murra- who is a U.S. citizen-moved with her children to El Paso, Texas, in 1997. The Guerreros stayed behind in Mexico to work in the jeans factory, and Ingrid took care of Murra's husband for no compensation. Murra facilitated the Guerreros' illegal passage into the United States in 1998. Vania entered the country illegally a year later. While in the United States, Murra retained Vania and Ingrid's identification documents and birth certificates. The Guerreros did not have beds in the house in El Paso and had to sleep on the floor or, as punishment, in the garage. Ingrid delivered flyers and cleaned houses for Murra, who retained all of the money Ingrid earned.

         Murra moved the group from El Paso to Fort Worth in 1999. Once in Fort Worth, Ingrid and her sisters delivered flyers advertising a house-cleaning service, and they and Vania began cleaning houses. They cleaned three or four houses a day, six days a week. Clients would pay by cash or by checks made out to Murra, and Murra would retain all the money they earned. They would not hold back from Murra the money they were given by clients out of fear of punishment. Ingrid also was forced to obtain employment as a cashier at McDonald's and Wal-Mart under a false name and using false identification documents that Murra had supplied. Oftentimes, Ingrid would clean houses and work as a cashier on the same day-getting only four hours of sleep at night.

         During the twelve years Ingrid lived in Fort Worth with Murra, she never had a bed or bedroom; she was forced to sleep on the floor. Murra continued to send the Guerreros to sleep in the garage as punishment, as she had done in El Paso. When confined to the garage, which was neither heated nor cooled, the Guerreros would have to request permission to use the bathroom.

         Murra constantly reminded the Guerreros that they were in the country illegally and that they had no papers. Vania testified that she eventually confronted Murra about her treatment of the Guerrero sisters; Murra responded by subjecting Vania to the same treatment from then on. Murra threatened Vania with immigration consequences, as well, telling her she had nowhere to go because "immigration is going to . . . grab you, they are going to get you and then they are going to put you in this casket and they are going to bury you alive." Vania testified that she was so indoctrinated by Murra that she believed that federal immigration officials would treat an illegal alien in that way.

         Murra continued to exert religious-based influence over Vania and the Guerreros. The Government proffered a tape recording that Murra made concerning the victims' purported religious failings. On the recording, Murra stated (translated from Spanish), "I'm good before God because I speak the will of God." She accused the women of existing in a "vicious circle of mistakes and mistakes and self-pity and laziness" and told them they were destined for hell (an accusation that Ingrid testified Murra made every day during the years she lived with Murra).

         Over time, several of Murra's house cleaning clients began to notice signs of abuse, and the victims confided in them about Murra's treatment. Alicia Richardson testified to her belief that Vania lost at least thirty pounds during her employment and that she looked "very thin and frail" and "unhealthy." Vania eventually told Richardson that she was not being fed, that she would not be paid for her cleaning work, and that Murra maintained her immigration papers, which caused Vania fear regarding her immigration status. Richardson offered to have Vania come live with her family, and she and her husband would pay Vania to watch their children, but Vania was "scared to death" that Murra would have her sent back to Mexico. Marsia Blackwell, another client, also testified as to Vania's weight loss. Blackwell noticed Vania's "progression of degradation . . . mentally, physically, emotionally." Eventually, Vania emotionally recounted to Blackwell the details of Murra's punishment, including that she was prohibited from using the refrigerator at home and was given rotten food to eat.

         Linda Ziegler, for whom Ingrid provided cleaning services from 2001 to 2011, testified that Ingrid looked "very thin" and that she would clean her house despite appearing sick. Ingrid told Ziegler about the abuse she suffered and how she was not allowed to keep the money she earned, but she was afraid of having nowhere to live and nowhere to go. John Angle, for whom Ingrid provided cleaning services between 2008 and 2011, testified that Ingrid frequently looked "run down" while cleaning his house and would clean despite being "clearly . . . ill."

         Vania testified that the money the victims earned from house cleaning went to fund cosmetic procedures for Murra. The Government's analysis of Murra's expenditures between February 2009 and May 2011 indicated that her spending, made possible by revenue from the victims' house cleaning, included thousands of dollars spent on salons, cosmetics, other health and beauty products, clothes, and home-improvement items. Review of these accounts during this period revealed no checks written or other transfers to Ingrid, despite $287, 000 of cleaning revenues in that twenty-seven-month period.


         Vania left Murra's home in October 2006, preferring the unknown to "dying in this hell."[1] Marsia Blackwell brought Vania to stay with her until she was up on her feet. Vania revealed later in group counseling sessions that Murra had allowed her no personal freedoms and punished her by putting her in the garage and depriving her of food and water. She also explained that Murra would use scripture to curse her and threaten her with an eternity in hell.

         Ingrid left in 2011, after feeling trapped and having suicidal thoughts. One witness who saw Ingrid thereafter, Margarita Delosantos, testified that In-grid was extremely upset and fearful. Ingrid recounted to Delosantos the abuse she suffered-that Murra subjected her to ice baths, beatings, verbal abuse, and spiritual threats. She also told Delosantos about Murra's practice of segregating her and her sisters to certain areas of the house and depriving them of food.

         Ingrid and Vania both eventually sought help from a nonprofit organization, Mosaic Family Services, Inc. ("Mosaic"), which specializes in immigration-related legal and counseling services. Mosaic ultimately referred this case to the Government for prosecution.


         Murra was charged with two counts of forced labor and two counts of harboring an illegal alien for profit, based on her treatment of Vania and Ingrid. Both the Government and Murra submitted evidence and testimony, though Murra elected not to testify in her own defense. At the close of the five-day trial, the jury found Murra guilty on all counts. The district court entered judgment on January 27, 2017, and Murra timely filed a notice of appeal.

         We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a).


         We now briefly summarize the facts pertinent to each of ...

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