A decision on whether a couple accused of shackling and starving some of their 13 children in a Southern California home will go to trial is expected Thursday after a day of heart-wrenching and detailed testimony about years of abuse endured by the siblings.
David and Louise Turpin were in court Thursday for the hearing’s second day in a case that attracted worldwide attention following their arrests last winter.
The abuse came to light in January after their 17-year-old daughter escaped from the Perris house — a plan she said was two years in the making — and called 911. The girl’s conversation with a police dispatcher, in which she details squalid conditions in the home, was played Wednesday in court.
The girl is heard on the recording saying two younger sisters and a brother were chained to their beds, choked, starved and beaten. She told the dispatcher that she could not take it any longer and pleaded for help.
“They will wake up at night and they will start crying and they wanted me to call somebody,” she said in a high-pitched voice. “I wanted to call y’all so y’all can help my sisters.”
The Turpins have pleaded not guilty to torture, child abuse and other charges. They are being held on $12 million bail each. Louise Turpin dabbed her eyes with a tissue as the recording of her daughter was played.
The 911 call marked a new start for the 13 Turpin offspring — ages 2 to 29 — who lived in such isolation that some didn’t even understand the role of the police when they arrived at the house in Perris, 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Two girls, 11 and 14, had been hastily released from their chains when police showed up, but a 22-year-old son remained shackled.
The young man said he and his siblings had been suspected of stealing food and being disrespectful, Det. Thomas Salisbury said. The man said he had been tied up with ropes at first and then, after learning to wriggle free, restrained with increasingly larger chains on and off over six years.
Children were deprived food and things other kids take for granted, such as toys and games, authorities said. They were allowed to do little except write in journals that may corroborate the horrific stories they told investigators.
Some suffered from severe malnutrition and muscle wasting, said investigator Patrick Morris. An 11-year-old girl who was shackled to a bed had arms the size of an infant, he said.
The 17-year-old, who said she hadn’t finished first grade, had difficulty pronouncing some words and spoke like a much younger child.
The girl planned her escape for two years and was terrified as she climbed out a window to freedom, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Manuel Campos testified.
“She couldn’t even dial 911 because she was so scared that she was shaking,” he said.
She didn’t know the neighborhood and had to read her address to the dispatcher off a piece of paper. The kids were rarely allowed outside, though they went out on Halloween and traveled as a family to Disneyland and Las Vegas, they said.
“Sometimes I wake up and I can’t breathe because of how dirty the house is,” the girl told the dispatcher.
She said she hadn’t bathed in a year and Campos observed dirt caked on her skin and a stink from being unbathed.
The girl referred to her parents as “mother” and “father” because she said it was “more like the Bible days,” he said.
She reported that her father pulled down her pants and put her on his clothed lap in a recliner chair in the TV room when she was 12. She said she didn’t like it and pulled up her pants, and that he told her not tell anyone, Campos said.
The children spent most of their time locked in their rooms except for limited meals or using the bathroom.
If they didn’t obey strict rules, they were slapped in the face or had their hair pulled, the girl told Campos.
The eldest son in the family told authorities discipline in the home included beatings with the leather or buckle end of a belt, said Wade Walsvick, senior investigator for the Riverside County district attorney’s office. Years earlier, when the family lived in Texas, he said the beatings involved “a switch, the paddle and the oar” and the siblings were sometimes placed in cages.
About two years ago, the mother found out the girl had been watching a Justin Bieber video, and started choking her and asked, “do you want to die?” Campos said.
The girl said she didn’t want to die, but she feared she was about to as the choking continued.
“Yes you do, yes you do, you do, you want to die,” the mother said, according to Campos. “You want to die and go to hell.”
Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California