A California couple could face life in prison after pleading guilty to starving, abusing and torturing their 12 oldest children over the course of several years, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said Friday.
David and Louise Turpin each entered guilty pleas on 14 felony counts, included one count of torture. Officials say the couple repeatedly beat, choked and tied up their children with ropes and chains in what Southern California authorities later dubbed a “House of Horrors.”
As part of their plea agreement, they each face sentences ranging from 25 years to life, according to the district attorney’s office.
The Turpins were arrested in January 2018 after one of their 13 children — a 17-year-old girl — escaped from the family’s home by climbing out a window, then called 911.
In addition to the torture charge, the parents also pleaded guilty to four counts of false imprisonment, six counts of cruelty to an adult dependent and three counts of willful child cruelty, authorities said.
Inside the home, the children were not allowed to bathe more than once per year and were punished for washing their hands above their wrists, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said last year. Riverside County Sheriff’s Detective Thomas Salisbury testified that the couple’s 22-year-old son, who at one point managed to untie himself, “had been restrained with chains and ropes off and on for 6½ years,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Manuel Campos testified that the siblings called their parents “Mother” and “Father” to resemble “the Bible days,” the Times reported. The 17-year-old told investigators that David Turpin had tried to sexually abuse her. When she was 12, her father pulled her pants down and placed her on his lap. He also tried to kiss her on the mouth several times, she told investigators.
“Do you want to die?” Louise Turpin asked the girl as she choked her, according to Campos’s testimony.
“Yes, you do. You want to die. You want to die and go to hell,” the mother told her daughter, Campos said, recounting the teenager’s statements.
The teenager said that her mother choked her after she was caught watching a Justin Bieber video on a cellphone, the Press-Enterprise reported.
Defense attorneys for David Turpin argued in court last year that he was gone during much of the abuse. The judge agreed, but he said that although Louise Turpin inflicted most of the injuries, David Turpin did nothing to stop her. A charge pertaining to the youngest of the couple’s 13 children was dropped over a lack of evidence that the toddler had been physically abused, according to media reports following their arrest.
Three of the siblings were chained to their beds when police arrived at the family’s house in Perris in January 2018. The Turpins were unchaining two of them, an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old, as police stood at the door, Hestrin, the district attorney, told reporters. Another sibling was still chained to a bed when police entered the home.
Police at the time said the children were not allowed to have toys, and that the parents would torment the children by buying them food such as apples and pumpkin pies — without permitting them to eat it. All the siblings were severely malnourished and had never been to a doctor or dentist.
“About the only thing the children were allowed to do in their rooms, or chained up, was to write in journals,” Hestrin said. “We now have recovered those journals, hundreds of them.”
Attorneys for the couple did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment on the plea agreement and sentencing, which will take place April 19.
“We needed to determine whether proceeding to trial was worth having the victims testify in this case that has received worldwide media attention,” Hestrin said Friday in a statement. “We decided that the victims have endured enough torture and abuse. I personally met with the victims and, rest assured, they all are relieved to know this case has been resolved. The defendants in this case essentially accepted the maximum punishment under current California law.”