PERRIS, Calif. — The California couple accused of holding their 13 children captive in their home, allowing them to have one meal a day and chaining some to their beds as punishment, appeared in court on Thursday to face multiple charges that carry a penalty of up to 94 years behind bars.
Attorneys for David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, entered not guilty pleas for 12 counts of torture, six counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse or neglect and 12 counts of false imprisonment. David Turpin is also charged with one count of committing a lewd act on a child by force.
Some charges only reflected 12 children since the youngest, age 2, appeared in the best condition of all of the siblings.
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin explained both in court and during a press conference the serious allegations made against the Turpins. He outlined that the couple’s 29-year-old daughter only weighs 82 pounds and the 12-year-old has the weight of a seven-year-old. Hestrin said that the family would sleep all day and be up all night.
“Victims report that as a punishment, starting many years ago, they began to be tied up,” he explained. “One victim at one point was tied up and hogtied, and then when that victim was able to escape the ropes, these defendants eventually began using chains and padlocks.”
He said that the punishment would vary from weeks to months.
Hestrin also stated that the children were not permitted to have toys, although investigators found unused toys in their original boxes in the home. Instead, all the children were allowed to do was to write. Authorities are now reviewing hundreds of journals for evidence.
However, a number of the children didn’t know much about life outside of the home, as some weren’t familiar with what a police officer was, and when the 17-year-old was asked if any of the siblings were on medication, she didn’t know what that meant.
“[T]he parents would apparently buy food for themselves and not allow the children to eat it,” Hestrin stated. “They would buy food, including pies—apple pies, pumpkin pies—[and] leave it on the counter, let the children look at it, but not eat.”
It is also alleged that the children were only allowed to shower once a year, and that the house smelled of urine. Some of the siblings have cognitive disabilities and nerve damage due to the abuse, which also included physical beatings.
“This is severe, emotional and physical abuse. There is no way around that,” Hestrin said. “This is depraved conduct.”
“As a prosecutor, there are cases that stick with you, that will haunt you,” he stated. “Sometimes in this business, we’re faced with looking at human depravity—and that’s what we’re looking at here.”
According to reports, the children spent the past two years hatching a plan to escape. The 17-year-old who fled through a window on Sunday initially was accompanied by one of her siblings, but they became scared and eventually turned around and went back in the house.
As previously reported, the teenage girl called 911 from a deactivated cell phone and told the responding officers that she and her siblings were being held captive by their parents. She also showed them photos as proof.
“Further investigation revealed several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings, but the parents were unable to immediately provide a logical reason why their children were restrained in that manner,” the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department reported on Monday night.
It explained that officers thought all of the siblings were children due to their size and condition from malnourishment, but were shocked to learn that seven of them were actually adults, ages 18 to 29. Authorities state that Louise Turpin appeared “perplexed” as to why the police were there.
The children, who were transported to the hospital for examination, are being fed and provided with vitamins, and the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services is seeking court approval to care for the siblings.
The Turpins are scheduled to appear in court again on Feb. 23. Bail has been set at $12 million each.