LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A California couple pleaded guilty on Friday (Feb 22) to imprisoning and torturing 12 of their 13 children in a grisly "house of horrors" case that gained international attention.
David Allen Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise Anna Turpin, 50, each pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts - including one count of torture and three counts of willful child cruelty - involving their children who range from three to 30 years old, the Riverside County District Attorney's office said.
There were no charges involving the youngest child.
"This is among the worst, most aggravated child abuse cases that I have ever seen or been involved in in my career as a prosecutor," District Attorney Michael Hestrin told reporters following the court hearing.
Hestrin said he was satisfied with the plea as it would spare the children from having to testify at a trial.
"We needed to determine whether proceeding to trial was worth having the victims testify in this case that has received worldwide media attention," he said.
"We decided that the victims have endured enough torture and abuse. I personally met with the victims and, rest assured, they all are relieved to know this case has been resolved."
The elder Turpins, who had initially pleaded not guilty in the case, face between 25 years to life in prison at their sentencing in April.
The case came to light last year when one of the children - 17-year-old daughter Jordan - escaped through a window from the couple's home in the town of Perris, about two hours southeast of Los Angeles, and called the emergency services.
'THEY CHAIN US'
According to excerpts of the call released during court proceedings, she told the dispatcher that two of her siblings were chained to their beds so tightly that their skin was bruised and she struggled to tell the operator the home address.
"I've never been out. I don't go out much," the teen said in the call.
She told responding officers that the house was so dirty she couldn't breathe and that she and her siblings never took baths.
"They chain us up if we do things we're not supposed to," she said.
"Sometimes, my sisters wake up and start crying (because of the pain)."
An officer who interviewed the teen after her escape said she was so emaciated that he first thought she was a child.
He said the girl described a routine in which the children were forced to sleep 20 hours a day and in the middle of the night ate a combination of lunch and dinner that most often consisted of peanut butter sandwiches, chips and microwaved food.
Hestrin said during previous court hearings that the children had been subjected to prolonged abuse, were allowed to shower once a year and never saw a doctor.
"If the children were found to wash their hands above the wrist area, they were accused of playing in the water and they would be chained up," he said.
One of the older children also told investigators that the couple would lock him and his siblings in cages as punishment and beat them with paddles.
Since their rescue, the children have been in the care of child and adult protective services.
"I met with all the victims prior to today, all of them, including the three-year-old," Hestrin said. "I was very taken by them, by their optimism, by their hope for their future.
"They have a zest for life and huge smiles and I'm optimistic for them. And I think that's how they feel about their future."
The Turpins moved from Texas to California in 2010.
Investigators have said it is unclear what prompted the abuse.
Under California law, both will be eligible for parole in 25 years because of their age.