LOS ANGELES - The California couple who are accused of starving their 13 children kept two dogs which they fed significantly better than their children, according to US officials.
David Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise, 49, were arrested at their home in Perris, California, on Sunday (Jan 14).
Police found three children shackled with chains and padlocks in their filthy, foul-smelling home after receiving an emergency assistance call from a 17-year-old girl who had managed to escape.
She was so emaciated that officers first thought she was a young child. Officers also initially assumed all the other siblings to be children, but were shocked to discover seven ranging in age from 18 to 29. All 13 are being treated for malnutrition and undergoing other diagnostic tests.
Joe Vargo, Perris city spokesman, said two small dogs were found inside the house, reported CNN.
"They are in good condition, very active and friendly," Vargo said on Wednesday of the two one-year-old Maltese mixes.
Vargo said the dogs - a black one named Fluffy and a white one with no known name - bark and wag their tails when they meet people and look pretty happy.
He said both are available for adoption. The dogs are at a shelter, and the authorities plan to find a new home for them as a pair by holding a raffle that is open to locals only. The winner will be announced on Feb 5.
Senior animal control officer, Christina Avila, said the dogs appear to be leash-trained. The dogs will be spayed, immunised and microchipped prior to being placed in their new home, The Press-Enterprise newspaper quoted her as saying.
David and Louise Turpin were hit with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependent adult at a court hearing on Thursday.
David Turpin was also charged with committing a lewd act against a child by force or fear or duress, District Attorney Mike Hestrin told a press conference, adding that bail had been set at US$13 million for each of the defendants.
More details emerged on Thursday about the horrific conditions faced by the 13 children as prosecutors revealed that the children were beaten, shackled, starved and even taunted with food that they were forbidden to eat.
The children were denied food, basic hygiene and medical care and were punished for perceived infractions such as washing their hands above the wrist.
The victims were chained for weeks or even months at a time, not released even to use the bathroom. They were allowed to shower only once a year.
“The parents would apparently buy food for themselves and not allow the children to eat it,” said Hestrin.
“They would buy food, including pies, apple pies, pumpkin pies, leave it on the counter, let the children look at it but not eat the food.”
As a result of malnourishment, the 12-year-old child was the weight of an average seven-year-old while the oldest, a 29-year-old woman, weighed just 37kg, he said.
"If convicted of all charges, they face 94 up to life in prison," Hestrin told reporters in Riverside.
Dressed all in black with their hands and legs shackled, the couple appeared calm as they submitted the not-guilty plea before a packed courtroom, reported Agence France-Presse.
Their next court appearance is scheduled for Feb 23.
Meanwhile, experts say the couple may have used starvation as a weapon to control the children.
Although their motives were still unclear, the couple may have denied the children food as a way to weaken them and assert power. they say, adding that the malnourishment would likely cause lifelong physical and mental issues for the siblings,
“You’re tired, your ability to stand up for yourself is at its limits,” said Dr Roy Lubit, a New York-based child psychiatrist with expertise in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Lubit said that starving a child showed premeditation when compared with someone who lashes out and strikes his or her victim in a spasm of rage.
“Hitting comes from angry outbursts, where with starving its a prolonged period of wanting to domineer, be in control. It’s a power trip,” he said.