RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — They were starved and shackled to their beds, sometimes for months. They were beaten and choked. They were given scant medical care, often denied use of a toilet and allowed to shower but once a year. They lived mostly at night, out of sight of neighbors, and knew virtually nothing of the outside world.
And yet, some of the children of David and Louise Turpin hatched an escape plan.
It took two years to carry out but last weekend a 17-year-old girl and her sister climbed out of the window of their Southern California home. The other girl turned back out of fear but the teen persisted and called 911. That act of courage and desperation freed her 12 siblings from a house of horrors that shocked police, a prosecutor said Thursday in announcing criminal charges that could send the parents to prison for life.
Prosecutors laid out horrifying details of the allegations but didn’t offer any theories about the motivation for what they called an escalating climate of brutality that began in Texas and ended in a small, close-knit desert town a couple of hours southeast of Los Angeles.
“The victimization appeared to intensify over time,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “What started out as neglect became severe, pervasive, prolonged child abuse.”
When sheriff’s deputies arrived Sunday at the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house on a dead-end street in Perris, they were appalled. They found a 22-year-old chained to a bed and a house that reeked and contained human waste, indicating that the children were prevented from using the toilet, authorities said.
The oldest child, a 29-year-old woman, weighed only 82 pounds and a 12-year-old was the weight of a typical 7-year-old, Hestrin said.
David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple counts of torture, child abuse, dependent adult abuse and false imprisonment. David Turpin also pleaded not guilty to performing a lewd act on a child under age 14.
They were jailed on $12 million bail each.
Sharon Ontiveros, 63, stopped by the house with her 3-year old granddaughter, who left a stuffed animal with dozens of others on the front walkway.
“Sure, we’re saying we should have known, but behind closed doors you don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
As for the parents, she added: “They deserve no mercy whatsoever.”
Prosecutors say the children range in age from 2 to 29. The torture and false imprisonment charges do not include the 2-year-old, who was not malnourished. All the children’s names begin with the letter J, according to court documents that didn’t provide their full names.
David Turpin had worked as an engineer for both Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Louise Turpin identified herself as a housewife in a 2011 bankruptcy filing.
The charges include allegations dating to 2010, when the couple moved to Riverside County from outside Fort Worth, Texas.
The abuse began in Texas with the…