DA: Couple who kept kids in filthy house 'will serve the rest of their lives in prison'
A California couple pleaded guilty Friday to torture and years of abuse that included shackling some of their 13 children to beds and starving them to the point it stunted their growth. (Feb. 22) AP
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The Southern California couple accused of torturing and abusing their children for years in their home east of Los Angeles pleaded guilty to 14 counts, including torture, false imprisonment and child endangerment in court Friday, ensuring they will spend decades behind bars.
The plea deal for David Turpin, 57, and Louise Turpin, 50, means they will not stand trial. After initially pleading not guilty to all charges last year, the couple will be sentenced April 19.
"Those pleas will result in life sentences," said Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin during a news conference. "They're going to serve an indeterminate sentence of 25 years to life. ... Unless the parole board, at some point, affirmatively decides they should be released, they will serve the rest of their lives in prison."
The plea deal involved one count of torture, four counts of false imprisonment, six counts of cruelty to a dependent adult and three counts of willful child cruelty. The couple initially faced nearly 50 counts each related to the abuse of some of their 13 children.
"I think it's just and fair that the sentence was equivalent to first-degree murder," Hestrin said.
Inside the courtroom, David Turpin sat hunched over and wore a pale yellow shirt, black dress shoes with white athletic socks. Louise Turpin wore the black jacket that she's worn in previous court appearances. Both were soft-spoken when entering their guilty pleas.
David Macher, an attorney representing David Turpin, declined to comment after Friday's deal.
Hestrin further explained that California's Elder Parole law guarantees defendants older than 60 automatically receive parole hearings after serving 25 years in custody.
"When I spoke to you when the case was filed last year, I commented that this office was fully prepared to seek justice in this case... but that we were going to seek justice in a way that did not bring further harm to these victims. This is among the worst most aggravated child abuse cases I have ever seen or been involved in my career as a prosecutor. Part of what went into the decision-making process was that the victims in this case would not ultimately have to testify," he said.
Hestrin repeatedly refused to comment on the state of mind of either the parents or the children and did not speculate on a possible motive for the abuse. He said he didn't want to pre-empt the children from speaking at the sentencing hearing, which they "may or may not" decide to do.
However, he did say that the children "are uniformly pleased that they would not have to testify.
"The attention that they would have had to go through, the scrutiny they would have had to go through I think made this case much different than other child abuse cases," he said.
The plea deal means that the Turpins admitted to at least one crime for each of the 12 victims in the case, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Before the plea
The case came to light when the couple's 17-year-old daughter called police in January 2018 after escaping through the window of a tract home in Perris, a small community about 70 miles east of Los Angeles.
On the 911 call, the girl said she and her siblings had been chained to their beds. She added that she never finished first grade and wasn't permitted to take baths.
“Sometimes I wake up and I can’t breathe because of how dirty the house is," she told authorities.
At a preliminary hearing in June, authorities said the children were an average of 32 pounds underweight. They often starved and were deprived of water, but when they were fed, their diets mostly consisted of frozen burritos, baloney sandwiches, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Investigators testified that the children lacked education and said a 22-year-old son had told them he only completed the third grade.
Photos show some of the Turpin children wearing feces-stained clothing, which investigators described as putrid.
The abuse against the couple's children, as cited in criminal charges, stretched back more than a decade to when the Turpins lived in Texas. In interviews with investigators, the Turpin children said that if they were disobedient they were frequently subjected to punishment included beatings with a paddle, an oar, and a metal-tipped tent pole. They were padlocked inside feces-stained cages or dog kennels for days, weeks or even months.
In photos, the children appear bruised on their wrists and torsos from shackles and other forms of punishment. One of the children told an investigator her neck was left bruised for days after her mother choked her while asking if she wanted to die. When the girl responded that she didn't, her mother is said to have responded, "Yes, you do. You wanna die and go to hell."
In addition to abuse charges, David Turpin also faces eight perjury charges stemming from documents authorities claim were falsified to state his kids were being home-schooled.
The family home, which sits in the middle of a residential street in Perris, has remained vacant since the couple was arrested. In February 2018, the family’s cars disappeared.
About nine months later, a foreclosure took place; the home hit the auction block in December 2018. After the initial auction closed with a bid of more than $310,000, the home was on the online auction for a second time in January before the listing was removed.
It’s unclear whether the home has a new owner.
Contributing: Colin Atagi, Christopher Damien, The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun. Follow Shane Newell and Sam Metz on Twitter: @journoshane and @metzsam