The children, aged two to 29, were beaten, shackled, starved and even taunted with food that they were forbidden to eat during their years inside the squalid family home.
They were found severely malnourished, suffering from muscle wasting and stunted growth. A number of children even had cognitive impairment and nerve damage from extreme and prolonged physical abuse, the prosecutor said.
And ahead of a plea hearing, it was revealed the parents began tying the children up with ropes years ago as punishment.
Then, after one escaped, “the defendants eventually began using chains and padlocks to chain up the victims to their beds”, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said.
The abused children were only freed after one teenage daughter launched an escape plot which had been two years in the making.
The 17-year-old fled with a sibling, but they became too anxious and returned to the house.
The children were denied food, basic hygiene and medical care and were punished for perceived infractions such as washing their hands above the wrist.
He said 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.
At a news conference, Mr Hestrin said: “The parents would apparently buy food for themselves and not allow the children to eat it.
“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 82 pounds, he said.
Harsh physical punishment including beatings and strangulation was meted out for transgressions such as washing their hands above the wrists, which the parents considered playing with water.
David Turpin and Louise Turpin denied torture charges
The children had not been to a doctor in at least four years and none has ever visited a dentist, Mr Hestrin said.
He added: “They were not allowed to have toys although there were many toys found in the house that were in their original package and had never been opened.”
Mr Hestrin was speaking as parents, David Turpin, 57, and wife Louise, 49, denied more than two dozen charges of torture, abuse and false imprisonment when they appeared in court yesterday.
They face 94 years to life in prison if convicted.
David Turpin is also accused of sexually abusing one of his young daughters.
The couple was arrested on Sunday in their home in Perris, California, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles.
The father registered the house, where the family lived since 2014, as the private Sandcastle Day School and listed himself as the principal. The children were the only students. Most states, including California, do not monitor or inspect such schools.
Mr Hestrin suggested the children’s schooling was deficient, as many lacked basic knowledge about such things as police officers and medication.
The abuse and neglect began when the family lived in the Fort Worth, Texas, area, with the parents at one point residing apart from most of their children and dropping off food from time to time, Hestrin said.
The family relocated to Murrieta, California, in 2010, and then moved again to nearby Perris in 2014, with the abuse and neglect intensifying after they arrived on the West Coast, Hestrin said.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said no report was made there of any misconduct involving the Turpins.
During Thursday’s brief court hearing, Judge Michael Donner ordered each defendant to remain held on $12million bail and set the next court date for Feb. 23.
Mr Hestrin told reporters: “A case like that sticks with you and haunts you.
“Sometimes in this business you are faced with human depravity, and that’s what we have here.”