Jury mulls case of Arizona couple accused of imprisoning girls

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 03, 2015 2:04 PM

By Bradley Poole

TUCSON, Ariz. (Reuters) - A jury in Arizona was deliberating on Thursday the fate of a mother and stepfather accused of holding three girls in prison-like conditions, regularly beating them, depriving them of sleep, and subjecting them to strange rituals.

The girls endured such long-term isolation that the eldest, now 19, was diagnosed with a condition known as disarticulation disorder, prosecutor J. Alan Goodwin told the court in Tucson on Wednesday during closing arguments.

"She spent so much time alone that she was beginning to lose her ability to speak," Goodwin said.

The case came to light on Nov. 26, 2013, when two of the girls, then aged 13 and 12, escaped through a window of their suburban home and ran to a neighbor's house.

The two girls told police they fled after their stepfather, Fernando Richter, now 36, kicked in their bedroom door while brandishing a knife. Officers then found the third sister, who was 17 at the time, in a separate bedroom.

All three related a tale of captivity lasting more than a year. Loud music or static was blasted through loudspeakers around the clock, they told investigators, while closed-circuit cameras monitored their every move.

They were also forced to perform "mumble," a daily, pre-dawn marching in place which lasted so long one daughter said she eventually learned to sleep while doing it.

The girls never left home and rarely left their bedrooms, all three testified. They said they were terrified they would be killed if they ran away.

Fernando Richter and their mother, Sophia Richter, 34, are charged with three counts of kidnapping and child abuse. Fernando is also charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. They are being tried together in Pima County Superior Court.

Similar charges are pending in neighboring Pinal County, where the family lived before September 2013.

Fernando Richter's lawyer, Paul Shitzki, suggested the girls exaggerated. Repeated beatings with belts would leave significant scarring, he said, while fruit peels found in their trash showed they were not solely fed the bland pasta and left-over steak fat they claimed.

"Certainly things were not ideal in this home, but the girls seem to have embellished things," Shitzki said.

Sophia Richter's attorney, Leo Plowman, urged the jury to consider lesser charges for her, saying "very little" of the girls' testimony mentioned their mother.

Jury deliberations are expected to continue through at least Friday, said Judge Paul E. Tang.

(Reporting by Bradley Poole; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Richard Chang)