A California couple who inflicted years of torture and abuse on 12 of their 13 children have been sentenced to life in prison.
The sentencing of David and Louise Turpin was preceded by the first public statements from some of the children, who alternately spoke of love for their parents and what they had suffered despite it.
The Turpins pleaded guilty in February to neglect and abuse after one of their daughters escaped from their home and called 911 for help.
One of the adult children walked into court already in tears just after the hearing began, holding hands with a prosecutor.
“Life may have been bad but it made me strong. I fought to become the person that I am,” one of the daughters said.
“I saw my dad change my mom. They almost changed me, but I realised what was happening … I’m a fighter, I’m strong and I’m shooting through life like a rocket.”
Some of the others said they still love their parents. One asked for a lighter sentence because “they believed everything they did was to protect us”.
The horrors within the home were concealed behind a veneer of suburban normalcy in a middle-class section of Perris, a small city about 100 kilometres south-east of Los Angeles.
David Turpin, 57, had been an engineer for Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Louise Turpin, 50, was listed as a housewife in a 2011 bankruptcy filing.
The children’s desperate plight became public after a teenage daughter jumped from a window and called 911, describing years of horrific abuse to a police dispatcher.
When deputies arrived, they were shocked by what they discovered. A 22-year-old son was chained to a bed and two girls had just been set free from their shackles.
The house was covered in filth and the stench of human waste was overwhelming.
Children said they were beaten, caged and shackled to beds if they did not obey their parents.
Most of the 13 children — who ranged in age from 2 to 29 — were severely underweight and hadn’t bathed for months.
They were mainly kept in their rooms except for meals, which had been reduced from three to one per day, a combination of lunch and dinner.
In a statement, one daughter said she thought their mother believed they were eating too much.
“Through the years things became more and more overwhelming but they kept trusting in God. I remember our mother sitting in her recliner and crying, saying she don’t know what to do. She didn’t want to use ropes or chains, but she was afraid her children were taking in too much sugar and caffeine.”
The children were not allowed to play like normal children. Other than an occasional family trip to Las Vegas or Disneyland, which one of the daughters mentioned at Friday’s hearing, they rarely left the home.
In a statement made during the sentencing, one son said he only recently learned to ride a bike.
“Since January I have learned so much and become very independent. In June of last year I learned how to ride a bike and ever since then I’ve been hooked and ride it everywhere, such as to school, the store, or sometimes I just go on long rides because I enjoy it so much.”
Although the couple filed paperwork with state authorities to homeschool their children, learning was limited.
“We don’t really do school. I haven’t finished first grade,” the 17-year-old said, according to police deputy Manuel Campos.
Investigators found that the toddler had not been abused, but all of the children were hospitalised after they were discovered.
“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to hurt my children. I love my children so much,” Louise Turpin said at the sentencing.
David Turpin’s lawyer read part of a statement because he was too upset. “My homeschooling and discipline had good intentions,” he said. “I’m sorry if I’ve done anything to cause them harm.”
The couple will be eligible for parole after 25 years.