A Perris couple accused of holding their 13 children, half of them adults, captive in inhumane conditions — even shackled to furniture — were charged Thursday with more than three dozen felonies, including torture, child abuse and false imprisonment.
“The victims reported that, as punishment, they were tied up with ropes. One of them was hogtied. The (defendants) chained the victims to their beds,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said during a briefing in downtown Riverside to announce the filing of charges. “This went on for weeks and months at a time.”
David Allen Turpin, 56, and his wife, Louise Ann Turpin, 49, were charged with 12 counts each of torture and false imprisonment, as well as six counts of child abuse and seven counts of cruelty to a dependent adult. David Turpin is additionally charged with one count of lewd acts on a child under 14 years old.
They pleaded not guilty during an arraignment before Superior Court Judge Michael Donner, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for Feb. 23 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Prosecutors successfully argued for each defendant’s bail to be hiked to $12 million — up from $9 million apiece. They’re both being held at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside and are facing 94 years to life in state prison if convicted.
Hestrin characterized the alleged mistreatment inflicted by the pair as “horrific,” describing how the 13 victims endured “severe neglect that intensified over time.”
“All of the victims are severely malnourished,” the district attorney said. “The 29-year-old female (victim) weighs 82 pounds. They were fed very little on a schedule.”
According to Hestrin, the alleged prolonged harm to the victims and their captivity left them physically and cognitively damaged.
“Many of the children didn’t know what a police officer was,” he said. “They didn’t know what medication was for.”
He said none of the victims were permitted the use of toys or to engage in any form of recreational activity. They were allowed to write notes in journals, and the county’s top prosecutor said there are “hundreds” of notebooks that investigators have yet to pore over.
Hestrin acknowledged that while the abuse was extreme, there’s no evidence the Turpins had an intent to kill. But the D.A. was tight-lipped as to a possible motive. He alluded to a pattern of behavior that pointed to the defendants’ gratification from manipulation.
“The parents would buy food for themselves and not allow the children to eat,” Hestrin said. “They would bring home apple pies and leave them on the kitchen cabinet for the children to see but not have.”
The alleged abuse also involved choking and beatings, according to the D.A. He said punishments worsened, particularly after the family moved to California, noting that the children were initially bound with ropes, but when they figured out how to escape from such bondage, the couple switched to chains and padlocks. When they were shackled, the often were not even released to go to the bathroom.
The children were allowed to shower once a year, and according to Hestrin, if they washed their hands above the wrist, “they were accused of playing in the water and they were chained up.”
“This was depraved conduct,” he added. “It breaks our hearts.”
Hestrin said the victims are “relieved” to be out of the house on Muir Woods Road and are now in “good hands.”
According to sheriff’s investigators, the family moved to Murrieta in 2010, then to Perris in 2014. They had previously resided in Fort Worth, Texas, where Hestrin alleged the parents lived separate from the children for a time, stopping by only to drop off groceries.
None of the victims have received medical care in at least four years, and none have ever seen a dentist, Hestrin said.
The Turpins’ single-story home has been at the center of a media blitz following Monday’s revelations about what deputies found when they went into the residence.
“Our deputies described a foul smell in the home. It was extremely dirty, and many of the children were malnourished,” sheriff’s Capt. Greg Fellows told reporters Tuesday.
The Turpins’ 17-year-old daughter escaped the home by jumping through a window shortly before 6 a.m. Sunday, carrying a deactivated mobile phone with which she was able to dial 911, according to Fellows. The girl told dispatchers her 12 siblings were in need of help, and when deputies arrived, she presented them with photographs documenting conditions inside the residence, the captain said.
According to Hestrin, the 17-year-old had been plotting the escape with some of her siblings for two years. He said one of her sisters escaped with her, but returned home out of fear.
Fellows said three children were found chained to furniture in the residence when deputies went inside. According to Hestrin, the defendants managed to get two of those children — aged 11 and 14 — unchained as deputies searched the premises, but a 22-year-old was still shackled.
Six of the children are under 18, while the others are adults. Their ages range from 2 to 29. Hestrin said the couple were not charged with torturing the 2-year-old, who appeared to have been properly fed.
The lewd acts charge against David Turpin stems from his alleged molestation of one of the girls.
Fellows said Louise Turpin was “perplexed” when deputies asked to enter the house. No illegal activity had been reported there before.
State records show the residence was designated Sandcastle Day School, with David Turpin listed as the principal. He’s a former aerospace engineer with Northrop Grumman, and his wife a homemaker.
Louise Turpin’s sister, Teresa Robinette of Knoxville, Tennessee, told a news outlet that she and her younger brother have been largely estranged from their sister for years. Robinette said she was speechless on learning of the couple’s arrest and the alleged circumstances.
“I can’t even say the words to you that I’d like to say to her,” Robinette said. “Our life wasn’t perfect growing up, but we didn’t live like that.”
Questions were raised Tuesday regarding religious zealotry, or even cult-like behavior by the parents, but Fellows said the investigation was still in the early stages.
The child victims are undergoing medical treatment at Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley, while the adults are receiving care at Corona Regional Medical Center. Representatives from the facilities said they’re being gradually restored to health.
–City News Service
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