TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — One of three young sisters who authorities say were imprisoned in an Arizona home for months testified Wednesday that her mother and stepfather monitored the girls with video cameras, awoke them at night to march in place, and forced them to urinate and defecate in their bedroom closets.
The girl who testified in the kidnapping and abuse case was 13 when she and her 12-year-old sister escaped through a bedroom window and sought a neighbor’s help in 2013. Authorities say the oldest sister was kept in a separate room.
The girl wept on the witness stand as she recounted for several hours the abuse and bizarre rules her parents imposed on the sisters.
She said she feared for her life after defendant Fernando Richter broke her bedroom door in half and acted erratically while holding a knife. She opened a window that she thought would set off an alarm but didn’t, then escaped with her younger sister.
“Something in my heart, I knew I needed to get out or something bad was gonna happen,” the girl testified.
Fernando and Sophia Richter have pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, child abuse and domestic violence charges.
The Associated Press does not generally name minors who authorities say are victims of crimes.
Prosecutors say the girls were not allowed to leave their rooms during the three to four months they lived in the Tucson home. Prior to that, they lived in Catalina, a nearby town in Pinal County, where prosecutors say they were also abused.
The Richters face a separate criminal case in Pinal County that includes charges of kidnapping and child abuse. They have also pleaded not guilty in that case.
Defense attorney Paul Skitzki, who represents Fernando Richter, said during opening statements in the Tucson case that the state doesn’t have enough evidence to prove its allegations. He said his client’s mother will testify to having seen the girls roam freely around the house and even leave for outings.
The girl who testified Wednesday said she was taken out of school in the fifth grade and didn’t receive home schooling or any other type of education in the following two years.
Now a sophomore in high school, she described how her parents’ behavior became more and more erratic as time passed. She said the sisters were allowed out of their room while living in the Catalina house but were hidden in a car when the family moved to Tucson. The younger sisters were covered by bags while the oldest was in the trunk.
After the move, the girl said, cameras tracked them night and day, and they were rarely allowed to leave their rooms.
They didn’t know where they lived or what the outside looked like, and the two youngest sisters were allegedly banned from speaking to their older sister, who was kept in a different room.
Asked why she hadn’t escaped earlier, the girl said: “I never tried because I didn’t wanna get punished. I didn’t wanna get whooped. I didn’t wanna get yelled at,” she said.
The two other sisters were expected to testify on Thursday.