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The press conference was held on Feb. 22, 2019 after David and Louise Turpin plead guilty to torture, abuse charges.
Sam Metz, The Desert Sun

The Southern California couple who pleaded guilty in February to torture, false imprisonment and endangering their children for dozens of years in a case that shocked the world will be sentenced Friday and spend at least 25 years behind bars.

David and Louise Turpin of Perris, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, who pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts, are due in court Friday morning in Riverside. Their sentencing caps a saga that publicly played out for nearly 16 months after being concealed for several decades.

It was unveiled in January 2018 after one of the couple’s 13 children escaped their tract home and called police. The 17-year-old girl who made the call told authorities that she never finished first grade, wasn’t allowed to take a bath and her siblings were chained in their beds.

Following their arrests, more horrific details emerged about the abuse that took place inside their home.

The couple initially faced nearly 50 counts each related to the abuse of most of their children. But on Feb. 22, they pleaded guilty to one count of torture, four counts of false imprisonment, six counts of cruelty to a dependent adult and three counts of willful child cruelty. 

Riverside County District Attorney spokesman John Hall confirmed Friday’s sentencing would include victim impact statements. He said the children are the only victims in this case, but he didn’t know if any of them would be present or if statements would be read on their behalf. However, in granting a photographer for The Desert Sun permission to photograph the session, a judge’s stipulation noted that victims’ faces could not be photographed. 

The siblings, who were between the ages of 2 and 29 in January 2018, have been kept out of the public eye as details of their abuse emerged over the past year.

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TIMELINE: David and Louise Turpin case: A timeline of parental torture and abuse

 

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RELATED: An overview of the Turpin case

Their story captivated the nation and was covered by media outlets around the world, from Chicago to China. The quiet suburban street the Turpins lived on transformed into a media circus in the immediate aftermath, with more than a dozen news trucks parked outside the family’s vacated home. 

For the most part, the only glimpses of the Turpin children were in older photos that have circulated online and in news stories. They show them during family trips to Disneyland and Las Vegas; none of the older siblings look their age.

Their earliest weeks of freedom were spent engaging in activities that most would consider mundane, but they’d consider new and unique: Watching “Star Wars” films, eating lasagna and playing sports.

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It was a far cry from the lifestyle that prosecutors described in court last year.

Tales of abuse

On Jan. 14, 2018, a 17-year-old girl dialed 911 from a cellphone she hid from her parents.

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She fled from the family home on Muir Woods Road after two years of planning. She was with a sibling who turned back at the last minute out of fear, prosecutors said.

In a 20-minute conversation with a dispatcher, which was played in court, the girl explained she and her siblings are chained up daily, don’t go to school and can barely breath because their home is so dirty.

“I wanted to call y’all so you can help my sisters,” said the girl, who was 17 years old but had the voice of a small child.

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By the time the children were rescued, they were an average of 32 pounds underweight and their diets mostly consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, baloney sandwiches and frozen burritos.

They wore feces-stained clothes and were severely undereducated to the point they were unfamiliar with basic concepts like police and medications. One investigator testified a 22-year-old son said he only completed the third grade.

Children were often punished for the most trivial behavior, such as having to use a toilet after undressing for a bath, getting their hands wet and even watching a Justin Bieber music video.

They were beaten, choked and even thrown against walls and down stairs, investigators testified. 

The daughter claimed her father sexually abused her when she was 12 by pulling down her pants, putting her on his lap and forcing kisses on her lips. The defense argued the girl only “thought” she was being abused, her father never actually kissed her and he never actually touched her private areas.

During one court appearance, David Turpin claimed he wasn’t culpable since his wife committed the abuse while he was at work.

Investigators said it traces back to at least the late 1990s, when the family lived near Fort Worth, Texas. As the Turpin story unfolded, former acquaintances recounted stories of their brief encounters with the family and early signs of abuse.

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David and Louise Turpin are charged with 49 counts related to child abuse and torture. They face life in prison if convicted.
Palm Springs Desert Sun

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A former neighbor said the family kept to themselves and left behind a home filled with feces and padlocks. A classmate posted on Facebook that one of the daughters —possibly the oldest — was in his third-grade class and was bullied for wearing the same clothes and coming to school dirty.

The Turpins moved to California in June 2010 due to David Turpin’s job with defense contractor Northrop Grumman and they lived in a two-story Murrieta home on Saint Honore Drive. Residents there said they rarely saw the family, unless it was late at night when children were loaded into a van for an unknown destination.

On at least one occasion, a neighbor saw them from the outside when undrawn curtains revealed children marching back and forth for hours.

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The oldest son attended classes at Mount San Jacinto Community College, where classmates described him as shy, frail and visibly hungry. Investigators said Louise Turpin would go to the campus with her son, wait outside the classroom and then immediately escort him home.

David Turpin filed paperwork with the California Department of Education indicating his children were being home-schooled, but investigators said none of them followed a curriculum and few had an education past third-grade. This led to him facing charges of perjury due to eight years of fraudulent filings.

The perjury charges were eventually dropped in the plea deal.

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The aftermath

In response to the case, two California Assembly members introduced bills that would give the state more oversight of home schools. Neither made it past the Assembly.

Inland Empire residents flocked to the Perris home and set up a makeshift memorial with candles, flowers, balloons and cards for the children. Thousands of dollars were collected during fundraising efforts organized by area chambers of commerce.

The Perris home continued to attract unwanted visitors, with neighbors complaining it had devolved into a pseudo tourist attraction. There were later reports of vandalism, trespassing and thefts.

Someone slashed the tires of the Turpins’ Chevrolet Express van and both of their Volkswagen cars had been stolen from the driveway. A Menifee man was arrested on suspicion of possessing one of the cars.

The home was put up for auction on Dec. 29 and bids reached $310,360 by the time the online auction closed four days later.

It reopened days later and a realty firm’s website indicated this month the home was no longer for sale. No transaction records had been recorded by the county through this week.

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Desert Sun reporter Colin Atagi covers crime, public safety and road and highway safety. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow him at @tdscolinatagi.

Shane Newell covers breaking news and the western Coachella Valley cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. He can be reached at [email protected], (760) 778-4649 or on Twitter at @journoshane. 

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