Parents of 13 captive siblings must stand trial on dozens of felony charges, judge rules
A judge on Thursday ruled that the parents of 13 siblings found living captive in Perris in January must stand trial on dozens of felony charges related to the torture and abuse of their children.
“One can’t imagine why some of these things would have been done to their own flesh and blood,” Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard J. Schwartz said as he made his ruling.
David Turpin and his wife, Louise Turpin, were arrested after their 17-year-old daughter escaped their home and called police using a deactivated cellphone.
Shortly after, Riverside County prosecutors filed dozens of charges against both parents related to allegations of abuse, captivity and torture of the children. They later filed additional charges of child abuse against the couple, felony assault against Louise Turpin and perjury against David Turpin.
On Thursday, Schwartz ruled that there is sufficient evidence to support 49 of the 50 charges that prosecutors brought against the couple.
He said there was not enough evidence to support an endangerment charge related to the couple’s 2-year-old daughter.
The couple has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Schwartz heard testimony Wednesday from numerous investigators who detailed the horrific conditions that the Turpin children described after they were removed from the home.
Investigators also offered details about severe abuse and abandonment that the siblings said they suffered in Texas, before the family moved to California about eight years ago.
The charges in the case relate only to abuse suffered in California, and defense attorneys asked the judge to exclude details about the family’s time in Texas.
David Macher, David Turpin’s attorney, argued that the evidence was so inflammatory it made it impossible for his client to get a fair hearing.
“The Texas evidence, once you’ve heard it, is difficult to forget,” he said. “It is not relevant. … It is highly prejudicial.”
But prosecutors argued successfully that abuse the siblings described to investigators during their time in Texas was relevant because it set the stage for the children to feel powerless and unable to escape in California.
According to the testimony Wednesday, the siblings told investigators that David Turpin inflicted severe physical punishments on them in Texas. Those punishments would escalate in severity with the children at times being placed in cages or a dog kennel. In California, Louise Turpin inflicted much of the corporal punishment, investigators said.
One of the siblings, a 25-year-old, told investigators that the parents also abandoned their children for about three or four years, leaving them to live in a trailer in the small town of Rio Vista, Texas, while the couple lived in an apartment not far away. He and his older sister were left in charge, investigators said.
Despite being absent, the parents continued communicating with the siblings by phone and forcing the two older children to punish the others — including by putting them in cages or a kennel, investigators said.
David Turpin “conditioned the children over years, over decades, of physical torment and abuse, all stemming from Texas,” said Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin Beecham. “He conditioned them in a way that’s unimaginable. Sure, in California, they could have run away. … Sure, at any time when one of the select few were out of the house with Mother, they could scream for help. But they were conditioned from what happened in Texas, conditioned by the abandonment. When the parents weren’t there, they were still forced to obey.”
In making his ruling, Schwartz said he believed the Texas evidence was relevant. But, he said, even without it, there was enough evidence to support the charges.
While David Turpin may not have been the one inflicting most of the physical abuse in California, Schwartz said, he “had a duty to ensure that these kids were cared for in a proper manner, and it’s clear to the court that he failed in that duty.”
Beecham also told the judge that when the family lived in Texas, their oldest daughter ran away and tried to get a job. But she had never interacted with anyone outside of her family and didn’t know what to do. So she eventually called her mother, who came to pick her up.
In finding that there was insufficient evidence for an endangerment charge against the couple related to their 2-year-old daughter, Schwartz said the testimony showed that the toddler had not suffered from the extreme malnourishment that her siblings suffered. He also cited the 911 call that her 17-year-old sister made to authorities when she escaped.
In that call, the teen tells the dispatcher about her 2-year-old sister: “Mother takes care of her right.”
In making his arguments, Macher, Turpin’s attorney, cautioned the court not to allow emotion to overcome reason.
“In this case, we see enormous suffering of children. We’re not here to defend the conduct. We’re here to determine what that conduct means, where does it fit in the corpus of criminal law?” Macher said. “Crimes against children trigger outrage and anger. … It can overcome our ability to reason, and reason is the life of the law.”
The couple will be arraigned on the 49 remaining charges on Aug. 3.
2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with details from the hearing.
This article was originally published at 12:30 p.m.
The perils of parenting through a pandemic
What’s going on with school? What do kids need? Get 8 to 3, a newsletter dedicated to the questions that keep California families up at night.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.