In an emotionally wrenching hearing in which several of their children professed continued love for their parents, a Perris couple were sentenced Friday to 25 years to life in prison for imprisoning and torturing 12 of their 13 children, turning their home into a house of horrors.
David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Ann Turpin, 50, pleaded guilty in February to six counts of cruelty to a dependent adult, four counts of false imprisonment, three counts of child abuse and one count of torture. At the outset of Friday’s sentencing hearing, two of the false imprisonment charges were amended to false imprisonment of a dependent adult.
The Turpins, from the Riverside County town of Perris, effectively imprisoned their children in the family’s home for years, chaining them to furniture as punishment, allowing them to shower only once a year and barely feeding them — leaving them woefully malnourished, prosecutors said.
Both Turpins fought back tears throughout the hearing, with Louise Turpin visually trembling as two of her own children came into court. Their 30-year-old daughter said, “My parents took my whole life from me, but now I’m taking my life back.”
“I believe everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Life may have been bad, but it made me strong. I fought to become the person I am. I saw my dad change my mom. They almost changed me. When I realized what was happening, I immediately did what I could to not become like them. I’m a fighter. I’m strong and I’m shooting through life like a rocket.”
Their 26-year-old son, meanwhile, said, “I cannot describe in words what we went through growing up. Sometimes I still have nightmares of things that have happened, such as my siblings being chained up or getting beaten, but that is the past and this is now. I love my parents and have forgiven them for a lot of the things they did to us.”
The son also read a statement from one of his sisters, who said, “I love both of my parents so much.”
“Although it may not have been the best way of raising us, I’m glad that they did because it made me the person I am today,” according to the daughter’s statement. “I just want to thank them for teaching me about God and faith. I hope that they never lose their faith.”
Her statement concluded, “I love you and I wanted you to know. P.S. — God is all we need.”
An attorney read a statement on behalf of another of the children, who said the Turpins did the best they could raising and home-schooling their kids — taking them to Disneyland and giving them Christmas and birthday presents “even if they couldn’t afford it.” But eventually, things got too “overwhelming,” especially when “our mother lost both of her parents in 2016.”
“I feel that 25 years is too long,” according to the statement. “I believe with all my heart that our parents tried their best to raise all 13 of us and they wanted to give us a good life.”
Before their sentences were handed down, David Turpin’s attorney read a statement on his behalf, in which he said, “I never intended for any harm to come to my children. I’m sorry if I’ve done anything to cause them harm.”
He also professed his love for his children, saying, “I hope and pray that my children can stay close to each other and look out for each other,” since he and his wife would be unable to do so from prison.
Louise Turpin read her own statement, also saying, “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to hurt my children. … I only want the best for them. Their happiness is very important to me.”
She added, “I want them to know how special they are and how very proud I am.”
Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz excoriated the couple before pronouncing sentence, saying “children are a gift” not only to their parents but to society as a whole, but the Turpin children’s lives “have been permanently altered.” He called the Turpins’ actions “selfish, cruel and inhumane,” and said the only reason they weren’t receiving a harsher prison sentence was the fact they admitted guilt early in the criminal case — and spared their children the pain of testifying against them in a trial.
The couple’s 17-year-old daughter escaped the family’s Muir Woods Road residence on Jan. 14, 2018, 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 from the defendants’ June 20-21 preliminary hearing.
“They chain us up if we do things we’re not supposed to,” the girl said in a conversation with a 911 dispatcher, played in court. “Sometimes, my sisters wake up and start crying (because of the pain).”
She went on to describe how her mother and father denied her and her siblings the opportunity to attend school.
“My mother says we’re private schooled, but we really don’t do school,” the girl said.
She characterized her mother as an authoritarian who “doesn’t like us.”
David Turpin, an aerospace engineer, had registered as the principal of the purported home school program set up through the California Department of Education. But prosecutors said the enterprise was bogus, and he lied on forms filed with the state.
Along with the 911 recording, sheriff’s Deputy Manuel Campos testified in the preliminary hearing about his interview with the victim, recalling how the girl’s hair was filthy and her skin was caked with dirt. He said the girl admitted “being scared to death” about fleeing her home, but felt desperate to get out and leapt from an open window.
Campos 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. She used it to snap pictures of her younger sisters chained to beds.
The lawman said the victim told him her sisters had been shackled because they were caught by Louise Turpin snatching candy from the kitchen — verboten under the house “rules.”
According to the witness, 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, according to the deputy.
He said the filth and stench in the bedroom was so overwhelming that the teen told him she often couldn’t breathe and had to stick her head out the window for relief.
District Attorney Mike Hestrin said 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 — the youngest, a now-3-year-old girl — were severely malnourished.
Walsvick testified that when he spoke to the oldest son, who was then 26, the victim revealed how he and his siblings were locked inside cages if their parents became angry with them. There were beatings with paddles, “hitting on the face, slapping, pushing and being thrown across the room or to the ground,” the witness said.
After the hearing, Jack Osborn, an attorney representing the Turpins’ adult children said they “are most of all survivors, not victims. None of our clients disagree about the outcome today. They realize their parents — mistakes were made, but ultimately our clients are working toward forgiveness, and there is love too.”
The children, whose ages range from 3 to 30, are in the care of county Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services staff. Most of them were hospitalized in January of last year for treatment, but they were later placed in undisclosed residential facilities, according to county officials.
Osborn said some of the Turpin children live together and the adult siblings make it a point to regularly see the minor siblings.
“Their objective is to keep this family together,” he said.
He added that the adult siblings have all gained strength and weight since escaping the family home, and are moving toward gaining their independence.
“They really, really value their privacy. They do not want to give up their anonymity. They want to be normal adults, going to Target, going to baseball games, going out and living their lives without people first thinking of them as the Turpin children,” Osborn said.
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