Arizona couple convicted of imprisoning, abusing daughters

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 04, 2015 4:45 PM

By Bradley Poole

TUCSON, Ariz. (Reuters) - A jury convicted an Arizona couple of kidnapping and child abuse on Friday after a trial in which their three daughters described being beaten and held in prison-like conditions, deprived of sleep and subjected to bizarre rituals.

The girls' mother, Sophia Richter, 34, and stepfather Fernando Richter, 36, could face decades in prison after being found guilty at the Pima County Superior Court in Tucson.

They were both convicted of three kidnapping counts that carry a sentence of up to 12-1/2 years in prison, two of which must be served consecutively because the victims were under 15. No date was set for sentencing.

During the three-week trial prosecutors told the jury that the girls endured such long-term isolation that the eldest, now 19, was losing her ability to speak when police found her.

The case came to light in November 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.

All three told the court a tale of captivity lasting more than a year, with their parents blasting loud music or static at them through loudspeakers around the clock, and watching their every move with cameras fixed to the walls.

They were also forced to perform "mumble," a daily, pre-dawn marching in place which lasted so long one that daughter said she eventually learned to sleep while doing it. The girls never left home and rarely left their bedrooms. All three said they were terrified they would be killed if they ran away.

Both parents were convicted of three counts of kidnapping and child abuse. Fernando Richter also was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

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

During closing arguments on Wednesday, Fernando Richter's lawyer said the girls "embellished things," that repeated beatings with a belt would have left significant scarring, and that fruit peels found in their trash proved they were not solely fed the bland pasta and left-over steak fat they claimed.

Sophia Richter's attorney had urged the jury to consider lesser charges for her, arguing that very little of the girls' testimony had mentioned their mother.

(Reporting by Bradley Poole; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)