By Brian Melley / Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Some one of the children of a California couple convicted of torturing them for years spoke in a packed courtroom Friday for their parents’ sentencing, marking the first time they’ll been heard from publicly since being freed from their filthy home.
The children have the right to address the court to say how they’ve been impacted by the abuse by their parents, David and Louise Turpin, who are expected to be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison as part of a plea agreement. None of the children were being publicly identified.
One of the Turpins’ adult children walked into court already in tears just after the hearing began, holding hands with a prosecutor.
A daughter said, “Life may have been bad but it made me strong. I fought to become the person that I am. I saw my dad change my mom. They almost changed me, but I realized what was happening. … I’m a fighter, I’m strong and I’m shooting through life like a rocket.”
Judge Bernard Schwartz said the children were not allowed to be filmed or photographed by assembled members of the media in the court.
The Turpins pleaded guilty in February to torture and other abuse that was uncovered when their 17-year-old daughter jumped out a window and called 911. Authorities say the abuse and neglect was so severe it stunted their children’s growth, led to muscle wasting and left two girls unable to bear children.
Most of the 13 children — who ranged in age from 2 to 29 — were severely underweight and hadn’t bathed for months.
The desperate cry for help from the 17-year-old came after a lifetime of living in such isolation, the girl didn’t know her address, the month of the year or what the word “medication” meant.
But she knew enough to punch the digits 9-1-1 into a barely workable cellphone and then began describing years of horrific abuse to a police dispatcher.
Before the 17-year-old escaped from the home in a middle-class section of the city of Perris, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, the Turpins had lived largely out of view.
David Turpin, 57, had been an engineer for Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Louise Turpin, 50, was listed as a housewife in a 2011 bankruptcy filing.
Their home was neatly kept and neighbors rarely saw the kids outside the home.
When deputies arrived, they were shocked by what they discovered. A 22-year-old son was chained to a bed and two girls had just been set free from their shackles. The house was covered in filth and the stench of human waste was overwhelming.
Deputies testified that the children said they were only allowed to shower once a year. They were mainly kept in their rooms except for meals, which had been reduced from three to one per day, a combination of lunch and dinner. The 17-year-old complained that she could no longer stomach peanut butter sandwiches — they made her gag.
The Turpin offspring weren’t allowed to play like normal children. Other than an occasional family trip to Las Vegas or Disneyland, they rarely left the home. They slept during the day and were active a few hours at night.
Although the couple filed paperwork with the state to homeschool their children, learning was limited. The oldest daughter only completed third grade.
“We don’t really do school. I haven’t finished first grade,” the 17-year-old said, according to Deputy Manuel Campos.
The children said they were beaten, caged and shackled to beds if they didn’t obey their parents.
Investigators found that the toddler had not been abused, but all of the children were hospitalized after they were discovered.
The seven adult children were living together and attending school in February when their parents pleaded guilty. Attorney Jack Osborn, who represents them, declined to comment on them Thursday.
It’s not clear if any children will attend the sentencing, but they will be offered a chance to speak or can offer written statements to be read in court.
Defense attorneys would not say if their clients will address the court.
The couple pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges. Prosecutors said the deal would likely keep them in prison for the rest of their lives and spare the children from testifying.
“The defendants ruined lives, so I think it’s just and fair that the sentence be equivalent to first-degree murder,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said at the time of the plea.