LOS ANGELES (CBSMiami) – The California parents accused of imprisoning their 13 children have made their first court appearance.
David and Louise Turpin pleaded not guilty to 37 felony counts of torture, false imprisonment, and child abuse.
During the proceeding, they barely spoke and did not seem to show any emotion as their attorney entered their plea. The couple was shackled with chains, the same type of restraints that the district attorney said they used on the own children for weeks or months at a time.
“The victims were often not released from their chains to go to the bathroom,” said district attorney Mike Hestrin.
Hestrin said the abuse and neglect had been going on at least since the family moved to Riverside County in 2010.
“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.”
None of the children were allowed to shower more than once a year. They were only allowed to eat once a day and that led to severe malnourishment. One child, 12-years-old, only weighed what a typical seven year old would weigh.
The oldest, “the 29 yr old female victim weighs 82 pounds,” said Hestrin.
The siblings were beaten and choked. They were given scant medical care.
They lived mostly at night, out of sight of neighbors, and knew virtually nothing of the outside world.
And yet, some of the children 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 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.
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.
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 children being tied to beds with ropes and then hog-tied, Hestrin said. When one child was able to wriggle free, the couple began restraining them with chains and padlocks — for up to months at a time, Hestrin said.
The Turpins ate well and tormented their children by putting apple and pumpkin pies on the kitchen counter, but not letting them have any, Hestrin said.
Similarly, the children were not allowed to play with toys, though many were found throughout the house — in their original packaging.
“This is depraved conduct,” Hestrin said. “It breaks our hearts.”
David Turpin’s father, James, the children’s’ grandfather, said from his home in Princeton, West Virginia, that he did not believe the reports about the abuse.
“I’m going to talk with the children, find out the real story on this as soon as I can get a call through to them,” he said.
The siblings, who were schooled at home, were rarely seen outside the house, though the parents posted photos of them smiling together at Disneyland and in Las Vegas, where the couple renewed their wedding vows.
In addition to raising them largely in isolation, the parents may have been able to hide the abuse by functioning while other families slept. The children were reared on the graveyard shift, with the family staying up all night and going to bed shortly before dawn, Hestrin said.
One of the only things the children were allowed to do was to write in their journals.
Investigators were combing through hundreds of journals found in the home, Hestrin said. They are expected to provide powerful evidence against the parents.
Bail for the Turpins was set at $12 million. David Turpin’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender David Macher, had only begun to investigate the allegations but said the case was going to be a challenge.
“It’s a very serious case,” he said. “Our clients are presumed to be innocent, and that is a very important presumption.”
The Turpins could face life in prison if convicted.
The family also had two dogs which officials say were in good shape and suggest they may have been cared for better than the children. Those dogs are now up for adoption.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)