A Perris couple accused of imprisoning, starving and torturing 12 of their 13 children for years, leaving them physically and psychologically damaged, pleaded not guilty Friday to the more than three dozen felony charges they are facing.
David Allen Turpin, 56, and his wife, 49-year-old Louise Turpin, were scheduled to return to court Oct. 5. The pair were ordered in June to stand trial following a preliminary hearing before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz.
Schwartz dismissed one charge against them — an abuse allegation connected to the defendants’ youngest child, a 2-year-old girl.
Each defendant is being held in lieu of $12 million bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside. They’re facing nearly 100 years behind bars if convicted of multiple counts of torture, child cruelty and false imprisonment.
The couple’s 17-year-old daughter escaped the family’s Muir Woods Road residence on Jan. 14 and told a 911 dispatcher that her two younger sisters were “chained up to their beds,” shackled so tightly their bodies were bruised, according to testimony at the hearing Wednesday.
“They chain us up if we do things we’re not supposed to,” Jordan Turpin said in a conversation with a 911 dispatcher, played in court during the preliminary hearing. “Sometimes, my sisters wake up and start crying (because of the pain). I called you so you can help my sisters.”
The girl, who acknowledged not receiving more than a first-grade education, stumbled over the spelling of her own surname several times while trying to read her home address on an envelope. She could not distinguish between the ZIP code and the house number.
“We don’t do school,” Jordan said. “My mother says we’re private schooled, but we really don’t do school.”
Along with playing the 911 recording, the prosecution called sheriff’s Deputy Manuel Campos to testify during the preliminary hearing regarding his Jan. 14 interview with the girl.
“Her hair appeared to be unwashed. There was dirt caked on her skin. The odor emitting from her body was that of someone who doesn’t bathe,” Campos testified.
The deputy said the girl admitted “being scared to death” about fleeing her home, but felt desperate to get out and leapt from an open window.
“She said she couldn’t stay there and watch her two sisters chained up, crying and hurting,” he said.
Jordan told the deputy she also couldn’t bear hearing her mother call one of the girls “the devil” for sobbing in pain.
“Jordan said she believed in God and was a good Christian, and hearing her mother say `devil’ really bothered her a lot,” Campos testified.
He said the teenager had been planning an escape for two years and was ultimately able to procure a mobile phone discarded by her older brother, 25-year-old Joshua Turpin. She used it to snap pictures of her younger sisters chained to beds, exhibited in court.
Campos said the victim told him that her sisters had been shackled to their beds because they were caught by Louise Turpin snatching candy from the kitchen — verboten under the house “rules.”
According to the deputy, the girl described a compulsory sleep schedule of 20 hours a day and a middle-of-the-night meal — combination “lunch and dinner” — that consisted of peanut butter sandwiches, chips and microwave-heated burritos.
The girl’s only exercise was pacing back and forth in the room she shared with her two younger sisters, Joanna and Jolissa, according to Campos.
He said the filth and stench in the bedroom was so overwhelming that the teenager told him she often couldn’t breathe and had to stick her head out the window for relief.
District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in January the victims were allowed to shower only once a year.
The siblings were virtually imprisoned, according to testimony, and the only time they were free to leave their assigned quarters was when both parents were out of the house.
D.A.’s office Investigator Wade Walsvick testified that all but one of the victims were severely malnourished, with the average weight deficit at 32 pounds.
Walsvick testified that when he spoke to the oldest son, Joshua, the victim revealed how he and his siblings were locked inside cages if their parents became angry with them. There were alleged beatings with paddles, “hitting on the face, slapping, pushing and being thrown across the room or to the ground,” the witness said.
“Joshua said his parents used a fiberglass tent stick to impose discipline,” Walsvick stated.
Jordan told him that when she was 12, her father, an aerospace engineer, yanked off her pants and sat her naked on his lap, trying to kiss her until her mother started into the living room, at which point he released her and told her she would be in trouble for divulging what happened.
The girl told Campos that Louise Turpin had choked her after learning she’d watched a Justin Bieber video, telling the victim while gripping her throat, “Do you want to die and go to hell?”
The children, whose ages range from 2 to 29, are in the care of county Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services staff. Most of them were hospitalized in January for treatment, but they have since been released and placed in undisclosed residential facilities, according to county officials. Only the 2-year-old appeared to be in good health.
Sheriff’s investigators said the family moved to Murrieta in 2010, then to Perris in 2014. They had previously resided in Fort Worth, Texas.
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