By Sunita Patel-Carstairs and Ceren Senkul, News Reporters
The parents of 13 children have appeared in court accused of abusing and starving them and chaining them to their beds in their squalid California home.
David Allen Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise Anna Turpin, 49, their hands and legs shackled, appeared calm as they pleaded not guilty on Thursday to multiple charges of abuse, torture and imprisonment.
The pair were arrested on Sunday after their 17-year-old daughter jumped out of a window at their home in Perris, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, and used a mobile phone to call police.
She had been planning the escape with one of her sisters for two years, but the sibling, who also managed to flee the house with her, became frightened and returned to the property.
Prosecutors say the alleged abuse by the Turpins started many years ago when the family lived in Texas, and intensified over time as they relocated to Murrieta, California, in 2010, before moving to their current family home in 2014.
In a news conference, Riverside County district attorney Mike Hestrin revealed more information about the charges, along with harrowing details of the alleged abuse, describing it as a case of “human depravity”.
::A happy family? Photos of chained siblings
The children, aged between two and 29, were held captive at home and denied basic freedoms.
The only thing they were allowed to do was to write in their journals – hundreds of which are being reviewed for evidence.
They were only allowed to shower once a year, it is claimed, and if they ever washed their hands above their wrists they would be accused of playing with the water and punished.
The district attorney described the alleged torture as “severe, emotional, physical abuse”, and revealed that at least one of the children had once been hogtied.
“The victims said as a punishment they would be tied up with ropes but when they were able to escape, their parents began using chains and padlocks,” he said.
Other punishments included “frequent beatings” and “strangulation”.
Mr Hestrin said the children would be chained up for weeks, or even months at a time, and would not be freed to go to the toilet.
The prosecution claims when they were not chained up, they were kept in separate rooms and fed very little and on a schedule.
It is alleged the mother and father would buy food for themselves but not give any of it to their sons and daughters.
“They would buy food, including pies, apple pies, pumpkin pies, leave it on the counter. let the children look at it but not eat the food,” said Mr Hestrin.
::Captive siblings: Police reveal how girl escaped
Its is alleged that when the family lived in Texas the parents at one point lived apart from most of their children and would drop off food from time to time.
Mr Hestrin said the children had been starved so much they were malnourished, their growth was stunted and their muscles deteriorating.
The eldest, a 29-year-old woman, weighed just over five-and-a-half stone (82lbs), and a 12-year-old appeared to be the size of an average seven-year-old.
Mr Hestrin said there had been no torture charge filed in relation to the two-year-old because the toddler appeared to be “getting enough food”.
None of the victims had seen a doctor in more than four years, and none of them had ever seen a dentist, according to the district attorney.
“They were not allowed to have toys, although there were many toys found in the house that were in their original package and had never been opened,” he said.
The victims lacked a basic knowledge of life. Many of the children did not know what a police officer was, he continued.
When the 17-year-old was asked if there was any medication or pills in the home, she did not know what they were.
The parents turned their home into a private school called Sandcastle Day School, where the father was listed as the principal and its six pupils were the couple’s younger children.
However, at least one of the older boys attended college classes, Mr Hestrin said, but his mother would accompany him, wait outside and take him home once his class had finished.
Mr Hestrin said the entire family would sleep during the day, going to bed at around 4am or 5am, and be up all night.
When officers raided the home they found one of the siblings, a 22-year-old, chained to a bed and evidence suggesting two others – aged 11 and 13, had been freed moments before their arrival.
The couple were charged with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependant adult.
David Turpin was also charged with performing a lewd act on a child, a girl, under the age of 14.
When asked to elaborate on the lewd act charge, Mr Hestrin said: “We are alleging that David Turpin touched one of the victims in a lewd way by using force or fear.”
The parents – who were married in 1985 in Pearlsburg, Virginia, when he was 23 years old and she was 16 – could each face 94 years in jail if found guilty.
“A case like that sticks with you and haunts you,” Mr Hestrin said.
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“Sometimes in this business you are faced with human depravity, and that’s what we have here.”
The Turpins are next due in court on 23 February.
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