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California Parents Sentenced To Life In Prison After Years Of Torturing 12 Children

Louise and Daivd Turpin, who pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts for the abuse of 12 their 13 children, listened on Friday as two of their adult children testified in court.
Will Lester
AFP/Getty Images
Louise and Daivd Turpin, who pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts for the abuse of 12 their 13 children, listened on Friday as two of their adult children testified in court.

A California couple who beat, tortured and abused 12 of their 13 children for years were sentenced to life in prison during an emotional hearing that included testimony from some of the victims.

David and Louise Turpin pleaded guilty in February to 14 felony counts each, including counts of torture, false imprisonment, cruelty to dependent adults and child endangerment, after police discovered they had held their children captive, starving them and forcing them to live in horrific conditions.

"My parents took my whole life from me," said one of their elder daughters, whose name was not revealed in court. She was one of the two adult children who read statements to the court before the sentencing. "Life may have been bad, but it made me strong. I saw my dad change my mom, they almost changed me. I'm a fighter, I'm strong.

"But now," she said, "I'm taking my life back. ... Life is great."

Her mother wept as she looked on, the Associated Press reported.

"I cannot describe in words what we went through growing up. Sometimes I still have nightmares of things that happened, such as my siblings being chained up or getting beaten," said the couple's son.

"But that is the past and this is now," he said.

Like his sister and at least one other sibling, he is enrolled in college and says he is optimistic about the future. He is studying to be a software engineer and has learned to ride a bike.

"I love my parents and have forgiven them for a lot of the things that they did to us," he told the court, speaking slowly.

Both siblings sat in the courtroom accompanied by a support and comfort dog named Raider, from the Corona Police Department.

The sentencing came just over a year after the couple's then-17-year-old daughter escaped through a window of the family's Perris, Calif., home and called 911. It was the culmination of a two-year plan.

The girl directed police to the house where officials found the children — ages 2 to 29 at the time — living in appalling squalor. Some were "shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings," according to the Riverside Sheriff's Department.

They were so malnourished and emaciated that police mistook them for much younger children. In fact, they believed the 17-year-old was only 10. Police were also shocked to discover seven adults among the group, ranging in age from 18 to 29 — the eldest weighed 82 pounds when found. Officials also concluded several of the victims suffered cognitive impairment and neuropathy as result of the extreme and prolonged physical abuse.

Further investigations revealed the siblings were restrained by ropes and later chains as a form of punishment. They were often beaten, strangled or tied up for "weeks or even months at a time." They were only allowed to shower once a year, and their parents often taunted them by keeping food and toys just out of reach.

The youngest child, who was 2 when the Turpins were arrested, was apparently spared the abuse, the Riverside County district attorney determined.

Both parents offered tearful apologies to their children in court, saying they acted out of love.

"I'm sorry for everything I've done to hurt my children," Louise Turpin said, weeping. "I love my children so much. I'm blessed to be the mother of each one of them. I only want the best for them; their happiness is very important to me. They are very smart, amazing individuals. I hope they get all the education they need."

Their father, David, spoke briefly before breaking down. "I am so proud of each and every one of my children. I miss all of my children and I will be praying for them. I long for the opportunity to have contact with them again," he said.

His lawyer finished reading the statement saying, "My home schooling and discipline had good intentions. ... I'm sorry if I've done anything to cause them harm."

Judge Bernard Schwartz had harsh words for the Turpins and the irreparable years of maltreatment they inflicted on their offspring.

"Their lives have been permanently altered in their ability to learn, grow and thrive. You have delayed their mental, physical and emotional development," Schwartz said.

"To the extent that they do thrive, and it appears from today that perhaps a couple are, it will be not because of you both, but in spite of you both," he rebuked the pair.

The couple will be eligible for parole after 25 years.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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