A California couple accused of holding their 13 children captive in their home near Los Angeles pleaded not guilty Thursday to more than 30 counts of torture, child abuse, and false imprisonment.
David and Anne Turpin are jailed on $13 million bail each – $1 million for each child.
Their alleged crimes stunned and sickened police who discovered the children Sunday after one of them – an emaciated 17-year-old girl who police thought was a 10-year-old child – escaped from the dark, filthy, foul-smelling house.
Officers in Perris, California, found three of the children chained with padlocks. They say some of the captives were so malnourished and dirty, it took them a while before they found out some of the children were actually adults between 18 and 29 years old.
“There are cases that stick with you, that haunt you,” Riverside County California District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Thursday. “In this business, we’re faced with looking at human depravity and that’s what we’re looking at here.”
Hestrin said the girl that escaped had been planning her getaway for two years. Another child initially joined her, but turned back.
Hestrin said the children were frequently beaten and sometimes strangled for such minor violations as washing their hands, accusing them of “playing in the water.” He said none of the captives saw a doctor in the last four years, had never seen a dentist, were not allowed to play with toys, and were given little to eat and fed on a strict schedule.
The captives were allowed to shower just once a year and not allowed use the bathroom, forcing them to sit in their own filth.
Hestrin alleged the Turpins themselves were well fed; they would tease the children by setting out pies on a counter and not letting the youngsters have any.
Although the children were apparently home schooled, they knew little about life and could not even recognize that it was a policeman who came to their rescue, Hestrin said.
“Several of the victims have cognitive impairment and neuropathy, which is nerve damage as a result of this extreme and prolonged physical abuse,” he said.
Hestrin said the only activity the kids were permitted to do was writing in journals. He said prosecutors plan to use those journals as evidence against the parents.
All 13 children are in hospitals for malnutrition and various tests.
The Turpins have given no explanation for their behavior.
Neighbors described the children as being a bit odd, but said they saw no signs of what was allegedly going on inside the house.
David Turpin’s mother, Betty, told the Associated Press that she and her husband, James, visited the family in their previous home in Murrieta, California. She described the family as “ordinary” and “model Christians.”
James Turpin said the kids looked well-adjusted, not skinny, and happy to see their grandparents.