California couple face lengthy prison terms for torturing their 13 children
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The Southern California couple who pleaded guilty to torture, false imprisonment and endangering their children for dozens of years in a case that shocked the world will be sentenced Friday and spend at least 25 years behind bars.
David and Louise Turpin of Perris, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, are due in court Friday morning in Riverside. They pleaded guilty in February to 14 felony counts. Their sentencing caps a saga that publicly played out for nearly 16 months after being concealed for several decades.
It was unveiled in January 2018 after one of the couple's 13 children escaped their tract home and called police. The 17-year-old girl who made the call told authorities that she never finished first grade, wasn't allowed to take a bath and her siblings were chained in their beds.
Following the Turpins' arrests, more horrific details emerged about the abuse that took place inside their home.
The couple initially faced nearly 50 counts each related to the abuse of most of their children. But on Feb. 22, they pleaded guilty to one count of torture, four counts of false imprisonment, six counts of cruelty to a dependent adult and three counts of willful child cruelty.
Riverside County District Attorney spokesman John Hall confirmed Friday's sentencing would include victim impact statements. He said the children are the only victims in this case, but he didn't know if any of them would be present or if statements would be read on their behalf. However, in granting a photographer for The Desert Sun permission to photograph the session, a judge's stipulation noted that victims' faces could not be photographed.
The siblings, who were between the ages of 2 and 29 in January 2018, have been kept out of the public eye as details of their abuse emerged over the past year.
Their story captivated the nation and was the quiet suburban street the Turpins lived on transformed into a media circus in the immediate aftermath, with more than a dozen news trucks parked outside the family's vacated home.
For the most part, the only glimpses of the Turpin children were in older photos that have circulated online and in news stories. They show them during family trips to Disneyland and Las Vegas; none of the older siblings look their age.
Their earliest weeks of freedom were spent engaging in activities that most would consider mundane but they'd consider new and unique: Watching "Star Wars" films, eating lasagna and playing sports.
It was a far cry from the lifestyle that prosecutors described in court last year.
On Jan. 14, 2018, a 17-year-old girl dialed 911 from a cellphone she had hidden from her parents.
She fled from the family home after two years of planning. She was with a sibling who turned back at the last minute out of fear, prosecutors said.
In a 20-minute conversation with a dispatcher, which was played in court, the girl explained she and her siblings were chained up daily, did not go to school and could barely breath because their home is so dirty.
"I wanted to call y’all so you can help my sisters," said the girl, who had the voice of a small child.
By the time the children were rescued, they were an average of 32 pounds underweight and their diets mostly consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, baloney sandwiches and frozen burritos.
They wore feces-stained clothes and were severely undereducated, to the point they were unfamiliar with basic concepts such as the police and medications. One investigator testified a 22-year-old son said he had only completed the third grade.
Children were often punished for the most trivial behavior, such as having to use a toilet after undressing for a bath, getting their hands wet and even watching a Justin Bieber music video.
They were beaten, choked and even thrown against walls and down stairs, investigators testified.
The daughter claimed her father sexually abused her when she was 12. The defense argued the girl only “thought” she was being abused, her father never actually kissed her and he never actually touched her private areas.
During one court appearance, David Turpin claimed he wasn't culpable since his wife committed the abuse while he was at work.
Investigators said it traces back to at least the late 1990s, when the family lived near Fort Worth, Texas. As the Turpin story unfolded, former acquaintances recounted stories of their brief encounters with the family and early signs of abuse.
David and Louise Turpin were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for torturing their children. Palm Springs Desert Sun
A former neighbor said the family kept to themselves and left behind a home filled with feces and padlocks. A classmate posted on Facebook that one of the daughters –possibly the oldest – was in his third-grade class and was bullied for wearing the same clothes and coming to school dirty.
The Turpins moved to California in June 2010 because of David Turpin’s job with defense contractor Northrop Grumman and they lived in a two-story home in Murrieta. Residents there said they rarely saw the family, unless it was late at night when children were loaded into a van for an unknown destination.
On at least one occasion, a neighbor saw them from the outside when undrawn curtains revealed children marching back and forth for hours.
The oldest son attended classes at Mount San Jacinto Community College, where classmates described him as shy, frail and visibly hungry. Investigators said Louise Turpin would go to the campus with her son, wait outside the classroom and then immediately escort him home.
David Turpin filed paperwork with the California Department of Education indicating his children were being home-schooled, but investigators said none of them followed a curriculum and few had an education past third-grade. This led to him facing charges of perjury. The charges were eventually dropped in the plea deal.
In response to the case, two California Assembly members introduced bills that would give the state more oversight of home schools. Neither made it past the Assembly.
Follow Colin Atagi on Twitter: @tdscolinatagi.
Follow Shane Newell on Twitter: @journoshane.