Standing at a lectern in a Riverside courtroom, just feet away from her parents and their defense attorneys, the woman identified only as Jane Doe No. 4, looked frail. Her sweater seemed too big for her thin body. She shook and cried even before she began to speak. But the message she delivered spoke to an astonishing resilience.
“My parents took my whole life from me, but now I’m taking my life back. I’m in college now and living independently,” she said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. Life may have been bad, but it made me strong. I fought to become the person I am.”
Her mother, Louise Turpin, who minutes earlier had been chatting and laughing with an attorney, was now crying.
David and Louise Turpin, the Perris couple who for years tortured, abused and imprisoned 12 of their 13 children, starving them and at times chaining them to their beds, were sentenced Friday to 25 years to life in prison.
The Turpins had each pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges in February: one count of torture, four of false imprisonment, six of cruelty to adult dependents and three of willful child cruelty. On Friday, two of the charges were amended from false imprisonment to false imprisonment of a dependent adult, but that did not affect the couple’s sentence.
The siblings’ “lives have been permanently altered in their ability to learn, grow and thrive,” Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard J. Schwartz told the couple before handing down the sentence. “To the extent that they do thrive, and it appears from today that perhaps a couple of them are, it will be not because of you both, but in spite of you both.”
The horrific details of the case have drawn attention around the world, but Friday was the first time some of the siblings publicly spoke for themselves. They spoke of looking toward the future. Some also described the love they still have for their parents.
Jane Doe No. 4, who is 30, said she had watched her father change her mother. “They almost changed me,” she said.
But “I’m a fighter, I’m strong and I’m shooting through life like a rocket,” she said.
When she finished reading her statement, Jane Doe No. 4 took a seat in the courtroom and was followed by her brother, who gave his name, Joshua. He is 27 years old.
As the two oldest children, their lawyer later said, Jane Doe No. 4 and Joshua felt an obligation to be in court to speak for their siblings.
Joshua began by reading a statement written by another sister, Jessica, 25.
“I love both my parents so much. Although it may not have been the best way of raising us, I’m glad that they did because it made me the person I am today. I just want to thank them for teaching me about God and faith,” the statement said. “I pray often for them.”
Jessica’s statement went on to describe the things she has learned since her parents were arrested.
“I am doing well,” the statement said. “I am going to college full time. I have an apartment and I am able to transport myself independently by bus, bike or walking. We are not supposed to necessarily understand God’s will, but we are only to follow and trust in him, for as the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.”
When Joshua read his own statement, he described how the abuse he endured haunts him.
“I cannot describe in words what we went through growing up. Sometimes I still have nightmares of things that have happened, such as my siblings being chained up or being beaten,” he said. “But that is the past and this is now. I love my parents and have forgiven them for a lot of the things that they did to us.”
He also detailed many of the things he has learned since he was rescued.
“In June of last year, I learned how to ride a bike and since then I have been hooked and ride it everywhere,” he said. “Sometimes I just go on long rides because I enjoy it so much.”
He now lives in an apartment and is studying to become a software engineer, he said. And he spoke of aspiring to get a master’s degree.
“I also have learned to advocate for myself,” he said.
In another statement, which was read by a victims’ attorney, one of the Turpins’ children, who is now 21 years old, expressed an understanding for her parents and what they had done and described her hope that she could talk to them again.
“I want the court to know that our parents loved each other and loved each of their children,” the statement said. “I remember our mother sitting in her recliner and crying, saying she don’t know what to do. She didn’t want to use rope or chain, but she was afraid her children were taking in too much sugar and caffeine.”
The statement went on to say that the parents continued buying soda because “father needed it for work.”
“He would fall asleep driving and got in an accident,” the statement said. “They didn’t know what else to do. I believe our parents feared if they asked for help, they would lose their children.”
“I believe our parents tried their best. … They believed everything they did was to protect us,” the statement said. She asked to be able to talk to her parents by phone.
Despite some of their expressions of love for their parents, the adult siblings all agreed with the sentence that was handed down on Friday, said attorney Jack Osborn, who represents them.
“They do love their parents,” he said. But “they understand what happened. They understand there are consequences.”
David and Louise Turpin also read their own statements prior to the sentencing.
“My homeschooling and discipline had good intentions,” David Turpin said in a message that was initially read by his attorney. “I never intended for any harm to come to my children. I’m sorry if I’ve done anything to cause them harm.”
Louise Turpin said she had only wanted the best for her children and was sorry “for everything I’ve done to hurt my children.”
“I love my children so much. I’m blessed to be the mother of each one of them,” she said. “I only want the best for them. … I want them to know that mom and dad are going to be OK.”
The abuse that the children endured had gone seemingly unnoticed in the couple’s Perris neighborhood until January 2018, when one of them climbed out of a window and called 911 to ask for help.
Inside the family’s home on Muir Woods Road, deputies found two young girls who had been chained to their bed for weeks. Twelve of the 13 siblings were so frail and malnourished that deputies at first assumed they were all minors; they later learned that seven were adults.
Investigators later learned that the chains were punishment for stealing candy.
Prosecutors said the couple had abused and neglected their children for years, dating back to the 1990s, when the family lived in Texas.
At a hearing in June, investigators said the siblings told them that while they lived in Texas, David Turpin would inflict physical punishments that escalated in severity. At times, the children were placed in cages or a dog kennel. In California, Louise Turpin was the one who inflicted much of the corporal punishment, investigators said.
According to investigators, the parents 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 nearby.
During that time, the parents would call the siblings by phone and force the two oldest children to punish the others, investigators said.
David Turpin “conditioned the children over years, over decades, of physical torment and abuse, all stemming from Texas,” Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin Beecham said at the hearing in June. “He conditioned them in a way that’s unimaginable. … When the parents weren’t there, they were still forced to obey.”