Judge says life in prison; David Turpin: 'I'm sorry'; Louise Turpin: 'I'm truly sorry'; Some kids: We forgive you
The Southern California couple who pleaded guilty in February to torture, false imprisonment and endangering, their children — some for dozens of years — were sentenced Friday to life in prison with the possibility of parole only after 25 years for crimes involving 12 of their 13 children .
David and Louise Turpin of Perris, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, appeared in court Friday morning in Riverside about three months after pleading guilty to 14 felony counts. The charges didn't apply to their youngest child, who was 2 years old when investigators found the victims.
Their sentencing caps a saga that publicly played out for nearly 16 months after being concealed for several decades.
"Children are indeed a gift, they are a gift to their parents," Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard J. Schwartz told the couple before reading the sentence. "The selfish, cruel and inhumane treatment of your children has deprived society and especially you of those gifts.
"Their lives have been permanently altered in their ability to learn, grow and thrive," he continued. By pleading guilty, he told the couple, "you spared your children from having to relive the humiliation and harm they endured in that house of horrors."
The Turpins, Louise, 50, and David, 57, had been prevented from seeing their children since their arrests. And on Friday, two of the children made their first public appearance since January 2018 and chastised their parents in a courtroom full of reporters and law enforcement officials.
The eldest daughter, whose attorney, Jack Osborn, described her as 30 years old, spoke for about a minute. Her hair was in a pony tail and she wore a white shirt and black cardigan with a piece of paper and cup of water in her hands.
“I believe everything happens for a reason. ... My parents took my whole life from me, but now I’m taking my life back,” said Jennifer Turpin, 30. "I saw my dad change my mom, but they didn’t change me. I am a fighter, I am strong and I am shooting through life like a rocket."
Louise Turpin cried as her daughter spoke and the tears continued as she listened to her 27-year-old son, Joshua Turpin, who wore a gray dress shirt with a tie.
"Sometimes I still have nightmares of things that happened, such as my siblings being chained up and being beaten. That is the past and this is now,” said Joshua Turpin. "I love my parents and have forgiven them for a lot of the things that they did to us."
David Turpin broke down when his son mentioned God. Joshua Turpin, who said he is working toward a bachelor's degree in software engineering, wiped away a tear with tissue.
In a statement read in court, daughter Joy Turpin said, “Every year from as far back as I can remember, our parents tried to give us the nicest Christmas they could.”
She recounted how her parents got annual kids' passes to Disneyland and took them to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. She also said a 25-year sentence was too long for her parents.
Then, it was the parents' turn to speak.
"Your honor, I’m going to ask my attorney to read my statement for me," David Turpin said in a Texas accent as he started to cry.
"I’m sorry if I’ve done anything to cause them harm. I hope the very best for my children in their future," he said after his attorney ended the written portion of his statement. "I hope they are successful in their chosen professions. I am so proud of each and every one of my children. I miss all of my children."
His wife followed with her statement, which she read herself in her own Texas accent.
"I'm sorry for everything I’ve done to hurt my children,” she said through tears. "I'm truly sorry. I love them more than they can ever imagine."
More than 75 people, mostly members of the media, crowded into the courtroom. Extra seats were brought in to fill the room to capacity. A Corona Police Department officer sat in the front row of the courtroom with a dog to provide emotional support to any witnesses who needed it.
The Riverside County District Attorney's Office had to revise two counts relating to false imprisonment. The Turpins individually withdrew their guilty pleas to the two counts and then pleaded guilty to those counts with slightly different penal code violations because the victims were listed as minors but actually were adults.
The couple's abusive behavior was unveiled in January 2018 after one of the couple's 13 children escaped their tract home in Perris 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 that her siblings were chained in their beds.
Following the couple's 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.
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. Even in court, a judge ordered they not be photographed or recorded on video.
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 was transformed into a media circus in the immediate aftermath, with more than a dozen news trucks parked outside the family's vacated home at one point.
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 looked 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.
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.
She fled from the family home on Muir Woods Road after two years of planning. She was with a sibling who then 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 were 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 had the voice of a small child.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Desert Sun photographer Omar Ornelas contributed to this report.
Desert Sun reporter Colin Atagi covers crime, public safety and road and highway safety. He can be reached at Colin.Atagi@desertsun.com or follow him at @tdscolinatagi.
Desert Sun reporter Christopher Damien covers crime, public safety and the criminal justice system. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @chris_a_damien.
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 Shane.Newell@DesertSun.com, (760) 778-4649 or on Twitter at @journoshane.
Joe Hong is the education reporter for The Desert Sun. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @jjshong5.