Tucson police chief: Evidence supports girls' claims of imprisonment

2013-11-28T00:00:00Z 2013-11-28T13:55:02Z Tucson police chief: Evidence supports girls' claims of imprisonmentKimberly Matas Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Evidence uncovered by police at a north-side home indicates the claims by three sisters that they were imprisoned by their parents are valid, Tucson's police chief said today.

Chief Roberto Villaseñor said detectives are trying to sort through a complicated and involved case that began early Tuesday when two of the sisters said they fled from the house after being threatened by their stepfather. Officers went into the house and found an older sister still locked in a bedroom.

"Evidence found in the rooms supports their stories," Villaseñor said.

The girls were dirty and appeared to be malnourished, he said. The house was filthy and the girls were apparently locked in their bedrooms and that loud music was played constantly in their rooms.

"We're being told by the girls that the music never stopped," the chief said.

He said the music could not be heard from the outside because the rooms were soundproofed, including with towels stuff under the doors and the duct work was sealed.

The girls' mother and stepfather — Sophia Richter and Fernando Richter — are facing a series of charges related to child abuse. Fernando Richter is also facing one count of sexual abuse of a child. They are being held in the Pima County jail.

Villaseñor said the home where the girls lived was had alarms and numerous locks on doors and windows. The bedroom doors where the girls said they were imprisoned were also on alarms that sounded when they were opened.

Villaseñor said the girls have been medically evaluated and the department is working with other agencies, including Child Protective Services, to make sure they are safe. CPS officials Wednesday would not say if they had prior contact with the family, citing privacy laws.

After they were evaluated, the three girls were cleaned up, fed and reunited Tuesday night. The chief said it was obvious from their reactions that the older sibling had not seen the younger siblings in some time.

He said the 17-year-old girl had a satchel in which officers found a journal. He said the teen had kept a detailed journal dating back about 1.5 years that police are now reviewing.

He said the girl also kept a picture of singer Enrique Iglesias in the satchel.

Villaseñor said the girl told officers the picture was "her most prized possession." The photo was returned to the girl Tuesday night.

The chief said the family lived at the home in the 2800 block of North Estrella Avenue since August. Before that they lived at a residence in Catalina, north of Tucson, and before that they lived in Tucson in the 3600 block of East March Place, near East 22nd Street and South Alvernon Way.

Villaseñor said police had been called to the house on Estrella on at least two occasions, but neither calls were related to this case. The prior calls included Fernando Richter claiming he had been chased by several juveniles and the other called concerned a robbery.

The chief said Sophia Richter claims the girls were home-schooled.

Villaseñor said additional charges are possible.

Aunt: Mother lied about family's whereabouts

The mother of three children lied about the family's whereabouts and wouldn't let an aunt speak with her nieces on the phone, the aunt said during an interview Wednesday.

Chame Bueno told The Associated Press that the 32-year-old mother said that the family was living in San Diego when they actually were in Tucson.

Bueno, 34, told the AP the stepfather was mentally abusive toward his wife.

"She always talked him up, 'Oh well he pays for all my kids' clothes and he takes them here and he takes them to eat and do this' — and all that time being locked up in a room," said Bueno of Tucson. "And he hasn't done nothing she said. She has just been lying."

Tucson police said the girls are sisters — ages 12, 13 and 17 — and their mother and stepfather were arrested Tuesday.

A judge on Wednesday set bail of $100,000 for the stepfather and $75,000 for their mother as they made initial court appearances. They face multiple counts of kidnapping and child abuse and the man also faces one count of sexual abuse.

EARLIER UPDATE

The stepfather of three girls police say were held captive in their home had previously been arrested.

The Tucson Police Department has released a booking photo of Fernando Richter, 34, from a March 2012 arrest in connection with disorderly conduct, assault and criminal damage, however the court dismissed all of those charges.

As part of the 2012 case, the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona (CPSA), according to online court documents, did a review. The results of the CPSA review are not disclosed in the online information, however, the agency is a non-profit that “contracts with behavioral health agencies in Pima County to provide mental health and substance use treatment services for eligible individuals,” according to its website.

In October 2007 Fernando Richter plead guilty to driving under the influence.

Sophia Richter, 32, the mother of the three girls, has no previous record of arrest in Tucson and Pima County.

The couple wed in 2010.

The three malnourished sisters — ages 12, 13, and 17 — told police they were held in captivity and filth for up to two years until two of them escaped early Tuesday to a neighbor’s house, after their stepfather allegedly threatened them with a knife.

The Richters face three counts each of kidnapping, emotional child abuse and physical child abuse. Fernando Richter also faces one count of sexual abuse with a person under 15 years old, Sgt. Chris Widmer, spokesman for the TPD, said.

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