RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A California couple who shackled some of their 13 children to beds and starved them in what was a dubbed a “house of horrors” pleaded guilty Friday to torture and other abuse that lasted years.
David and Louise Turpin entered the pleas in Riverside County Superior Court to 14 counts that included cruelty toward their 12 oldest children and imprisoning them in a house that appeared to be neatly kept from the outside, but was festered inside with filth and reeked of human waste.
The couple was arrested in January 2018 when their 17-year-old daughter called 911 after escaping from the family’s home in the city of Perris, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles.
The children, who ranged in age from 2 to 29 at the time, were severely underweight and hadn’t bathed for months. Some of the children had stunted growth and wasted muscles and described being beaten, starved and put in cages.
David Turpin appeared stoic as he pleaded guilty, but Louise’s face reddened and she began crying and dabbed her eyes with a tissue during the hearing.
The two face prison terms of 25 years-to-life when they are sentenced April 19, Riverside District Attorney Mike Hestrin said.
“The defendants ruined lives so I think it’s just and fair that the sentence be equivalent to first-degree murder,” Hestrin said.
He said the guilty pleas were important to protect the children from having to testify at a trial.
The couple had faced dozens of additional counts if they went to trial. During a preliminary hearing, a judge tossed out a single count involving their 2-year-old daughter, finding she was the only child who didn’t suffer abuse.
In a recording of the 911 call played in court last year, the girl who escaped said two younger sisters and a brother were chained to their beds and she couldn’t take it any longer.
“They will wake up at night and they will start crying and they wanted me to call somebody,” she said in a high-pitched voice. “I wanted to call y’all so y’all can help my sisters.”
The intervention by authorities marked a new start for the 13 Turpin offspring who lived in such isolation that the teen who called for help didn’t know her address and some of her siblings didn’t even understand the role of the police when they arrived at the house.
Two girls, 11 and 14, had been hastily released from their chains when police showed up, but a 22-year-old son remained shackled.
The young man said he and his siblings had been suspected of stealing food and being disrespectful, a detective testified. The man said he had been tied up with ropes at first and then, after learning to wriggle free, restrained with increasingly larger chains on and off over six years.
Authorities said the children were deprived of food and things other kids take for granted, such as toys and games, and were allowed to do little except write in journals.
Although the parents filed reports with the state that they home-schooled their children, the oldest child had only completed the third grade and a 12-year-old couldn’t recite the full alphabet.
The children had never seen a dentist and only one child appeared to have been seen by a doctor after fracturing a jaw.
An investigator testified that some suffered from severe malnutrition and muscle wasting, including an 11-year-old girl who had arms the size of an infant. The 17-year-old who had difficulty pronouncing some words and spoke like a much younger child.
The kids were rarely allowed outside, though they went out on Halloween and traveled as a family to Disneyland and Las Vegas, investigators said. The children spent most of their time locked in their rooms except for limited meals or using the bathroom.
All the children were hospitalized immediately after they were discovered. Riverside County authorities then obtained temporary conservatorship over the adults.
Hestrin said he had met with all the children and was impressed by the resiliency they had shown. He said they would be given the chance to speak at sentencing.
“I was very taken by their optimism, by their hope for the future, for their future,” Hestrin said. “They have a zest for life and huge smiles and I am optimistic for them and I think that’s how they feel about their future.”
Associated Press reporters John Antczak and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this report.