PERRIS, Calif. - A Perris couple accused of torturing their 13 malnourished adult and juvenile children face up to 94 years to life in prison if convicted of a number of charges, authorities announced Thursday.
Among the charges filed against the Perris couple are 12 counts of torture, seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse and 12 counts of false imprisonment. A charge was also filed against father David Allen Turpin of one count of a lewd act on a child by force, fear or duress, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announced at a morning press conference.
The Turpins appeared in court Thursday afternoon shackled and in dress clothes and entered pleas of not guilty at their arraignment. A court conference was scheduled for Feb. 23 in Riverside.
They were ordered held on bail of $12 million each.
Hestrin said the charges range from the year 2010 to the present, all alleged to have occurred in Murrieta and Perris in Riverside County. If convicted of all charges, the defendants are facing up to 94 years to life in prison.
The torture and false imprisonment charges do not include the 2-year-old, Hestrin said.
Following the arraignment, the attorneys for the Turpins say they plan to mount a vigorous defense.
"What we would like the public to know is that our clients are presumed to be innocent," said defense attorney David Macher. "And that's a very important presumption. It applies to each and every one of you. It applies to us and it applies to our clients."
Watch the full press conference below:
Riverside County district attorney holds press conference on Perris child abuse case
Hestrin revealed a number of alarming details about the siblings' alleged abuse at the Perris home, now dubbed the "house of horrors."
A 17-year-old daughter who climbed out a window of the home and called 911 on a cellphone on Sunday had plotted her escape for two years, he said. A sister escaped with her but turned back over fear she would get caught.
Hestrin said all 13 victims were severely malnourished and as a result some have cognitive impairment and a lack of basic knowledge. He said a 29-year-old daughter weighed 82 pounds and a 12-year-old had the weight of a 7-year-old child. The children had not been seen by a doctor in years, and none has ever seen a dentist.
He also said that while the children were allegedly home-schooled, "the children lack a basic knowledge of life." Several of the siblings, he said, didn't know what a police officer was.
"These individuals sleep all day and are up all night. All 13 of the victims, including the defendants, typically go to sleep around 4 or 5 in the morning, sleep all day and be up all through the night," Hestrin said.
According to the victims, starting many years ago, they began to get tied up as a form of punishment - first with ropes and eventually chains and padlocks. The punishment would last for weeks or even months at a time, Hestrin said, adding that when the children were chained, they often were not released to go to the bathroom.
The family moved to Murrieta in 2010 then to Perris in 2014, he said.
The couple apparently had enough money. They bought food for themselves only and ate well. Sometimes they would leave food items like pies on the counter but would not let the starving children touch it.
The abuse apparently started when they lived in Fort Worth, Texas, for 17 years, but the torture intensified as they moved to California. The parents at a time lived apart from the children and dropped off food from time to time.
The victims were not allowed to shower more than once a year, Hestrin said. If the children washed their hands above the wrist, "they were accused of playing in the water and they were chained up."
Riverside County DA discusses childrens' journals found in Perris torture case
Hestrin said that one of the only things the children were allowed to do while in their rooms or chained up is to write in journals, which have been recovered by investigators who are "combing through them for evidence."
All victims, ranging in age from 2 to 29, were found shackled to their beds amid foul conditions in the house in the 100 block of Muir Woods Road after the unidentified 17-year-old got ahold of law enforcement.
She told authorities she and her other siblings were held captive by their parents. When authorities arrived to help her, they thought the girl was only 10 years old because of how emaciated she looked.
At first, Riverside County sheriff's deputies thought they found 12 children inside the home, but discovered that seven of them were adults ranging in age from 18 to 29.
When the Turpins were foreclosed on in Texas, the new owners said they found the carpets soiled, windows broken and boarded up, and scratches on the inside of the doors.
At the time, those owners thought the marks might have been from pets, but now aren't sure.
Elizabeth Flores, sister of Louise Turpin, spoke to "Good Morning America" in an emotional interview and said she was shocked to hear about the abuse.
She said the Turpins were always private. She said once her father wanted to fly out to see them, but Louise Turpin turned him away.
The Riverside University Health Center Foundation set up a fund to accept donations and the chamber of commerce created a page listing clothing sizes and items needed for the victims. You can access the page by clicking here.