California couple plead not guilty to torturing children, bail set at $12M each

Prosecutors say 13 malnourished siblings found in captivity in California were shackled as punishment. Their parents have pleaded not guilty in court to numerous charges that they tortured and abused their children for years.

Daughter who alerted police had plotted her escape for 2 years, district attorney says

David Turpin, 57, and Louise Turpin, 49, pleaded not guilty in a California court to numerous charges that they tortured and abused their children for years. Authorities found some of the children, ranging in age from two to 29, shackled to beds with chains and padlocks in their Perris, Calif., home. (Riverside County Sheriff's Department/Reuters)

The parents of 13 children and young adults have pleaded not guilty in a California court to numerous charges that they tortured and abused the siblings for years.

David and Louise Turpin were each ordered held on $12-million US bail after entering their pleas Thursday and were scheduled to return to court on Feb. 23.

Police officers found the children malnourished, undersized and with cognitive impairments after visiting the home after one of the siblings escaped and contacted law officials.

Severe, emotional, physical abuse. This is depraved conduct.- Mike Hestrin, DA

"Severe, emotional, physical abuse," Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in announcing charges against David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49. "This is depraved conduct."

Prosecutors filed 12 counts of torture, seven counts of dependent adult abuse, six counts of child abuse and 12 counts of false imprisonment against the couple. David Turpin was additionally charged with one count of a lewd act on a child under age 14.

The Turpins' children range in age from two to 29. The charges involve acts alleged to have taken place in Riverside County dating back to 2010.

The torture and false imprisonment charges do not include the two-year-old, Hestrin said.

Riverside County district attorney Mike Hestrin takes questions from the media at a news conference Thursday. He said a 29-year-old woman rescued weighed just 82 pounds. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

The district attorney said the couple chained their children as punishment.

He called it "pervasive, prolonged child abuse."

A 17-year-old daughter who climbed out a window on Sunday and called 911 on a cellphone had plotted her escape for two years, he said. Another sibling escaped with her but turned back out of fear.

Hestrin said all the siblings were severely malnourished and as a result some have cognitive impairment and a lack of basic knowledge. He said the oldest, a 29-year-old woman, weighed 82 pounds.

The victims were not allowed to shower more than once a year, he said.

In an interview, grandparents of the children said their son's family looked happy and healthy when they last visited California six years ago.

Two parents in California have been charged with the torture and endangerment of their 13 children. David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin were arrested after their 17-year-old child managed to escape the home and call 911. Police say several of the children were shackled with chains and padlocks to their beds in terrible conditions, all of them malnourished. Seven of the 13 are adults ranging in age from 18 to 29 1:57

"They were just like any ordinary family," said Betty Turpin, the 81-year-old mother of David Turpin. "And they had such good relationships. I'm not just saying this stuff. These kids, we were amazed. They were 'sweetie' this and 'sweetie' that to each other."

Betty Turpin and her husband, James Turpin, of Princeton, W.Va., visited her son's family for five days at their previous home in Murrieta, Calif.

Betty Turpin told the Southern California News Group on Wednesday that they were still in shock from learning that her son and his wife were arrested.

'They were model Christians'

Betty Turpin said her son told her he had so many kids because God wanted him to. She said her son shared her Pentecostal Christian faith but he wasn't affiliated with a church in California.

"I feel they were model Christians," she said. "It's hard to believe all of this. Over the years, the Lord knows what happened."

Media converged on the couple's home Monday after news of the children's rescue came to light. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

James Turpin said during their visit, "they all looked to me well-adjusted. They weren't skinny or nothing. They were joyous to see us."

He said they were dealing with social workers in attempting to connect with their grandkids, who are hospitalized as they recover from their years-long ordeal.

On Wednesday, authorities searched the couple's current home in Perris, 98 kilometres southeast of Los Angeles. Investigators removed dozens of boxes, what appeared to be two safes and pieces of a bed frame.

Some siblings were shackled to furniture in the foul-smelling four-bedroom home that looked perfectly normal from the outside.

Police had no prior contact with family

The Turpins have lived in two Riverside County communities since moving to California in 2010, and police said they were never called to either home, nor were any reports fielded by child protective services.

It's not clear what motivated the Turpins to live a secluded life with their large brood or what went on in the house.

The power that must have been exerted to keep an entire family like that for so long must have been pretty sophisticated.- Dr. Bruce Perry, psychiatrist

Psychiatrists say that even in cases of extreme deprivation, it's common for feelings of helplessness or confusion to lead to staying in place despite opportunities to flee.

"This happens all the time. The number of individuals who would immediately respond to an opportunity where they could get away is very small compared to the number of people who would have that paralysis and insecurity and confusion about what to do," said Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist and senior fellow at the Child Trauma Academy in Houston.

The vulnerable girl might have been shamed, beaten or threatened with violence, and only after many missed opportunities did she probably work up the courage to act, Perry said.

"It's pretty remarkable that she'd do that," he said. "The power that must have been exerted to keep an entire family like that for so long must have been pretty sophisticated."