TUCSON, Ariz. – A jury convicted an Arizona couple Friday of kidnapping and child abuse charges for imprisoning their three daughters, monitoring them through video feeds and forcing them to urinate and defecate in their closets.
The jury found Fernando and Sophia Richter guilty on three counts each of kidnapping and child abuse. Fernando Richter was also convicted of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The jury is now deliberating the addition of aggravating circumstances to all of the charges, which could increase the length of sentences.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Paul Tang has not yet set a sentencing date.
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The girls testified to having been physically abused, taken out of school and held captive for several months before the two younger girls escaped through a window in November 2013. Police rescued the oldest girl, who was held in a different room.
They were 12, 13 and 17 at the time. The Associated Press does not generally name minors who authorities say are victims of crimes.
All three testified in the trial that began over two weeks ago. They described months of abuse and bizarre rules imposed by their parents. The girls were forced to wake up at 2 a.m. every day to march in place, sometimes for so long that their legs ached, they said. They said they were fed rancid food and forced to overeat or face punishment.
The youngest said Fernando Richter made her recite the dictionary at all hours and beat her if she mispronounced words. She described being moved around from bedroom to hallway to closet before her parents let her live in a room with her older sister. The oldest said she was not allowed to leave her bed, had to listen to a loud radio at all hours and hadn’t seen her sisters in months when she was rescued.
Authorities say the abuse began in a house in Catalina in nearby Pinal County, where the Richters face separate criminal charges. They pleaded not guilty in both cases. The defence said prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence and that the girls were free to roam about the house.
Sophia Richter testified in court on Tuesday that the girls were free to leave their rooms and were fed properly. She denied all of the accusations against her, including that she force fed the girls a rancid pasta-type meal. She wept in court after the verdicts were read. Her husband did not show emotion.
“They had fruit daily, they had snacks daily. They were never without. I always had fruit for them,” she said.
Attorneys for the Richters were under an order to not speak about the case.
The Richters moved to a Tucson house about four months before the girls escaped.
Police officers who testified described a house that smelled so bad of urine and feces they had to open all the windows to conduct their investigation.
The girls said they were rarely allowed bathroom breaks, forcing them to urinate and defecate in their bedroom closets.
The oldest sister described the plastic water jugs they were given as mouldy and the meals they were fed twice a day as rancid.
“It was nasty. Gagging nasty,” she testified. “We would have to lick our plates if we wanted them clean and if not my mom would just throw more food on it if I didn’t lick it.”