Couple Who Tortured 12 Children in Their California Home Are Sentenced to Life

The New YorkTimes/April 19, 2019

By Anemona Hartocollis

A California couple who tortured 12 of their 13 children, starving and beating them, depriving them of sleep and sometimes shackling them to their beds with chains, were sentenced on Friday to 25 years to life in prison.

Some of their children gave statements at the sentencing hearing in Riverside, Calif., saying they were haunted by the abuse, but also that they had forgiven and still loved their parents. One daughter told a packed courtroom that the suffering “may have been bad, but it made me strong.”

“My parents took my whole life from me, but now I’m taking my life back,” said the young woman, who is now in college. She added: “I’m a fighter. I’m strong.”

The couple, David and Louise Turpin, cried and trembled as four of their children made statements, two of them through intermediaries, in Riverside County Superior Court.

One of the children, a young man who is studying software engineering at college, said he had learned to ride a bike since being rescued. “Sometimes I just go on long rides because I enjoy it so much,” he said.

The children were rescued in January 2018 after one of the girls worked up the courage to escape by jumping from a window of the suburban Los Angeles home where they had been kept prisoner. She called 911 from a cellphone she had grabbed from the house and in a calm, clear voice described the years of abuse to a police dispatcher.

“I’ve never been out. I don’t go out much,” the girl told the dispatcher. She was 17, but her voice sounded like that of a much younger child, because, prosecutors said, her growth had been stunted by the abuse. The abuse left two of her sisters unable to bear children, the authorities said.

Now, in a reversal of fortune, the parents, who pleaded guilty to multiple counts of torture and abuse, are likely to spend the rest of their lives locked up. They will be eligible for parole after 25 years, prosecutors said, but they will probably remain in prison for life.

The children ranged from 2 to 29 years old when they were found. Some were emaciated and appeared to have cognitive deficiencies from the abuse. Only the toddler did not appear to have been abused, the authorities said.

During the hearing on Friday, the children revealed some disturbing details of their captivity. One of the daughters said that the children had been shackled because their parents were afraid they were consuming too much sugar and caffeine. But her parents continued buying bottles of soda, she said, because if their father did not have it, he might fall asleep while driving and get into an accident.

Some of the children described their household as a religious place where they believed what was happening to them was God’s will. One of them quoted a Bible verse about trusting in God.

Their words evoked the strange mix of terror and unreality that reigned in the household. The young woman who described herself as a fighter said: “I saw my dad change my mom. They almost changed me.”

Another daughter said her parents decided on home schooling because people criticized them for having so many children. “It worked out good at first,” especially after they moved from Texas to California, she said.

She said the family had passes to Disneyland and went to the Grand Canyon. She asked the judge for leniency. “I feel like 25 years is too long,” she said. “I believe with all my heart that our parents tried their best to raise all 13 of us. They wanted to give us a good life, and they did everything they could to protect us.”

To their neighbors, the family seemed normal, if reclusive. Mr. Turpin, 57, had been an engineer for Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Ms. Turpin, 50, apparently stayed at home. They lived in a nondescript stucco house in the small, working-class city of Perris, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles. Neighbors rarely saw the children outside the home. It was neat on the outside, and so did not arouse suspicion. But it reeked of human waste on the inside, where the children were often not released from their shackles to go to the bathroom.

“We live in filth,” the 17-year-old said in the 911 call. “Sometimes I wake up and I can’t breathe because of how dirty the house is.” She said she had not bathed for almost a year.

The children were forced to stay up at night and sleep during the day. They were given carefully rationed meals — generally only one meal, a combination of lunch and dinner — per day. The meals often consisted of bologna or peanut butter sandwiches.

Three of the children who spoke said they still loved their parents. None of the children were identified by name. The young man said he still had nightmares about his siblings’ being chained up. “But that is the past, and this is now,” he said. “I love my parents and have forgiven them for a lot of the things they did to us.”

Their parents also addressed the court. “I never intended for any harm to come to my children,” Mr. Turpin said. “I miss all of my children and will be praying for them.”

Mrs. Turpin said through tears that she wanted to hug her children and tell them how sorry she was. “I only want the best for them,” she said.

The judge, Bernard J. Schwartz, was unmoved. Children, he said, are “a gift,” but the parents forfeited their right to raise them by their “selfish, cruel and inhuman treatment.”

“Their lives have been permanently altered,” Judge Schwartz said, adding, “To the extent that they do thrive from today, it will be not because of you both, but in spite of you both.”

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