US parents who shackled 12 kids get life

Louise and David Turpin have been sentenced to life in prison for the torture of their 12 children.
Louise and David Turpin have been sentenced to life in prison for the torture of their 12 children.

A Californian couple who inflicted years of torture and abuse on 12 of their 13 children, including starving them and shackling them to beds, have been sentenced to life in prison.

Their crimes were only discovered when one of their daughters fled their home and pleaded for help to a 911 operator.

The sentencing of David and Louise Turpin was preceded by the first public statements from some of the children, who alternately spoke of of what they had suffered and their love for their parents despite it, as the couple wiped away tears.

The Turpins pleaded guilty in February to neglect and abuse. They will be eligible for parole after 25 years.

None of the children were publicly identified.

One of the adult children walked into court already in tears just after the hearing began, holding hands with a prosecutor.

A daughter said: "Life may have been bad but it made me strong.

"I fought to become the person that I am. I saw my dad change my mum. 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 100km southeast of Los Angeles.

The residence was neatly kept and neighbours rarely saw the children outside but nothing triggered suspicion.

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.

But the children's desperate plight became public after a teenage daughter escaped from the filthy home by jumping from a window.

The cry for help from the 17-year-old came after a lifetime of living in such isolation, she did not know her address, the month of the year or what the word "medication" meant.

But she knew enough to punch the digits 9-1-1 into a barely workable phone and then begin 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.

The 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 two to 29 - were severely underweight and had not bathed for months.

Deputies testified the children said they were only allowed to shower once a year.

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.

The children were not allowed to play like normal youngsters.

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.

They slept during the day and were active a few hours at night.

Although the couple filed paperwork with the state to home school their children, learning was limited. The oldest daughter only completed third grade.

"We don't really do school, I haven't finished first grade," the 17-year-old said, according to Deputy Manuel Campos.

Investigators found the toddler had not been abused but all of the children were taken to hospital after they were discovered.

Australian Associated Press