David and Louise Turpin, the California couple accused of holding their 13 children in shackles at their home, have pleaded not guilty.
The parents are facing charges of torture, abuse and false imprisonment.
David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, were arrested after their daughter escaped from their home where police found some of her siblings chained to their beds and severely malnourished.
They appeared in court hours after prosecutors detailed the horrific abuse allegations against them.
According to Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, David and Louise Turpin had allegedly punished their children by tying them up – first using ropes and later chaining them to their beds with padlocks.
Mike Hestrin said the alleged punishments would last weeks or months, and intensified over time.
According to prosecutors, circumstantial evidence showed the children were not released from their chains to go to the toilet.
Image source Riverside County Sheriff’s Department
The children, who are aged between two and 29, have been treated in hospital since being freed on January 15.
Mike Hestrin detailed some of the gruesome allegations against David and Louise Turpin at a news conference on January 18.
An investigation has found that:
David and Louise Turpin’s children were accustomed to frequent beatings, including strangulation
The children were only allowed one shower a year
They would stay awake all night until going to sleep at four or five in the morning and slept during the day
The children were not allowed to play with any toys but many were found inside the house in their original packaging
If the children washed their hands above the wrist they were subjected to punishments, allegedly accused of “playing with water”
David and Louise Turpin allowed their children to eat only one meal a day but the parents would sometimes buy food, like pumpkin pies, and place it where the children could see it but not eat it
The children have never seen a dentist and haven’t visited a doctor in over four years
They lack basic knowledge of life, and did not know who a police officer was
According to authorities, the two-year-old was of normal weight but the other children were severely malnourished.
The 12-year-old weighed as much as a 7-year-old and the 29-year-old weighed only 82 lbs.
Mike Hestrin said that several of the children have cognitive impairment and “neuropathy, which is nerve damage, as a result of this extreme and prolonged physical abuse”.
Though little is known about the children’s education, some of them were able to read and write. David Turpin registered a private school in their California home, known as Sandcastle Day School.
Police have obtained hundreds of journals that the children were allowed to write in.
Before moving to California, the Turpins lived in Texas.
At one point, the parents allegedly lived in a different house from their children and would drop off food from time to time, officials said.
If found guilty of the dozens of charges against them, David and Louise Turpin face 94 years to life in prison, Mike Hestrin added.
The 13 children were found in an emaciated state in their filthy, foul-smelling house, police revealed earlier. Officers had at first thought all the children were minors but later realized some were frail and malnourished adults, they said.
Mike Hestrin said that when officers arrived, three of the couple’s children were chained to their beds.
David Allen Turpin and his wife, Louise Anna, have been arrested after police found their 13 children were held captive at home, some “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks”.
The couple was held on charges of torture and child endangerment.
Their children – aged two to 29 – lived in Perris, 59 miles south-east of Los Angeles.
Police officers were alerted by one of the victims, a 17-year-old girl.
On January 15, the girl – who appeared to be “only 10 years old and slightly emaciated” – managed to escape and call the emergency number using a mobile phone found inside the house, the Riverside Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
Officers later found “several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings”.
They were “shocked” to discover that seven of them were actually adults aged between 18 and 29.
“The victims appeared to be malnourished and very dirty,” the police said.
The children are now being treated in local hospitals.
The head of one of the hospitals, Mark Uffer, told Reuters: “It’s actually heartbreaking for the staff and it’s unbelievable what you see.”
Image source Riverside County Sheriff’s Department
According to public records, David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, lived in Texas for many years before moving to California in 2010.
David Turpin has twice been declared bankrupt. At the time of his second bankruptcy he is said to have had a relatively well-paid job as an engineer at aeronautics and defense technology company Northrop Grumman.
However, with so many children and his wife not working, records suggest David Turpin’s expenses exceeded his income.
The man’s parents, James and Betty Turpin, said that they had not seen the family for four or five years.
They told ABC they were considered a good Christian family in their community and that “God called on them” to have so many children.
The family’s Facebook page shows numerous pictures of them, apparently happy and smiling, some from events where David and Louise Turpin renewed their vows.
Many posts have comments from family or friends.
David Turpin’s parents said their grandchildren were home-schooled, but it is not entirely clear what that means.
On the California Department of Education website, David Turpin is listed as the principal of Sandcastle Day School – a private school operated out of his home.
According to the website, the school was opened in March 2011. Six pupils are enrolled there, all in different grades.
In California, private schools operate outside the jurisdiction of the education department and most regulations. They are directly accountable to students and their parents or guardians, and the state has no authority to monitor or evaluate them.
Teachers at private schools in California also do not need to hold a valid state teaching qualification.
One neighbor told Reuters that the Turpin family “were the type that you didn’t really get to know anything about them”.
He said: “You would never see them on visit, you would never see anyone come outside. All you would really see is that they go out and maybe do a grocery round. And that was about it.”
Another neighbor from across the street, Kimberly Milligan, 50, told the Los Angeles Times they seemed strange and wondered why the children never came out to play.
“I thought the kids were home-schooled,” Kimberly Milligan said.
“You know something is off, but you don’t want to think bad of people.”
Kimberly Milligan recalls on one occasion saying hello to the children but said they looked at her “like a child who wants to make themselves invisible”.