NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A couple accused of starving and torturing their 13 children pleaded not guilty Thursday.
As CBS2’s Chris Martinez reported, prosecutors in Riverside laid out the harrowing life of starvation and punishment David and Louise Turpin allegedly inflicted on their 13 children.
“The victims report as a punishment, starting many years ago, they began to be tied up… Circumstantial evidence from the house suggests that the victims were often not released from their chains to go to the bathroom… One of the children at age 12 is the weight of an average 7-year-old. The 29-year-old female victim weighs 82 lbs,” Riverside County District Attorney, Mike Hestrin said.
During the couple’s first court appearance Thursday, Louise Turpin sat in silence as her lawyer entered a plea on her behalf.
“We would ask that pleas of not guilty be entered on all charges,” her lawyer said.
Her husband, David Turpin, answered his attorney when informed of his right to a speedy trial.
“Are you away of that right?” he was asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Do you understand that right?” the attorney continued.
“Yes,” he said.
Surveillance video showed the couple being taken into custody on Sunday. Police said they found a dozen malnourished kids in the family home after a 13th sibling — a 17-year-old girl — escaped from a window and called authorities.
“The 17-year-old who escaped had been working on a plan to escape with her siblings for more than two years,” said Hestrin.
Child endangerment in California carries a maximum sentence of six years, but torture is a felony and can lead to a life sentence.
Investigators said three of the children rescued Sunday were found chained to furniture.
An old photograph given to CBS station KTVT by a neighbor when the family lived in Texas shows the inside of the Turpin’s home and what appears to be a rope tied to one of the bedframes.
Neighbor Michael Clifford said he saw unusual behavior through the windows.
“They would march in circles for hours in the middle of the night,” he said.
An attempt to escape seemed to make at least one sibling’s situation worse.
“One victim, at one point, was tied up and hog-tied. And then when that victim was able to escape the ropes, these defendants eventually began using chains and padlocks,” Hestrin said.
Relatives said the Turpins were deeply religious, but they never had any indications the couple might be mistreating their children.
Investigators said despite their alleged home-schooling, the siblings were deeply sheltered.
“The children lacked even — they lack a basic knowledge of life,” said Hestrin. “Many of the children didn’t know what a police officer was.”
Prosecutors said the children weren’t allowed to shower more than once a year, they endured frequent beatings and sometimes strangulation.
Both David and Louise Turpin face more than two dozen charges, carrying a sentence of 94 years to life if convicted.