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Trial begins for Tucson couple accused of imprisoning children
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Trial begins for Tucson couple accused of imprisoning children

The trial of a Tucson couple accused of imprisoning their three daughters for nearly two years began Friday morning, with legal teams painting contrasting pictures of how the girls were treated.

In her opening statement, Deputy Pima County Attorney Frances Kreamer Hope told jurors Tucson police officers rescued the girls from a “horrific ordeal” in November 2013.

The girls suffered “emotional abuse on a constant, daily basis” in their north-side home as Fernando and Sophia Richter kept them locked in their bedrooms, monitored them with video cameras, served them rancid food, and forced them to use a bedroom closet as a bathroom, Hope said.

The couple also beat them with belts, plastic and metal spoons, and wires, she said.

The girls are “no longer suffering silently” and will testify against their mother and stepfather, Hope said.

Fernando and Sophia Richter each face three counts of kidnapping and three counts of child abuse in Pima County Superior Court before Judge Paul A. Tang.

Fernando Richter also faces two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with an attempt to break down a bedroom door while wielding a knife.

Attorney Paul Skitzki, who is representing Fernando Richter, told jurors they will not see evidence of physical injuries or scars on the girls.

Jurors will hear from witnesses who will say the girls were seen walking freely around the house, which was generally tidy, Skitzki said. Fernando’s mother will testify that she took the girls out occasionally.

“Basically, what this case is going to come down to is what the girls say,” he said, adding the girls objected to their stepfather’s relationship with their mother.

Attorney Leo Plowman, representing Sophia Richter, said his client reserved her right to an opening statement until later in the trial.

Tucson police found the three sisters at a house in the 2800 block of North Estrella Avenue around 4 a.m. Nov. 26, 2013, court records show. At the time, the girls were age 12, 13, and 17.

The 17-year-old daughter had been kept separate from the other two daughters. She told police she had not seen her younger sisters in more than a year, despite living in the same house.

The two younger siblings said Fernando Richter tried to kick in the door of the bedroom where they were living.

One of the girls saw a knife in her stepfather’s hand and the two girls fled through a window. Tucson police responded to a 911 call from a neighbor after the two girls sought help.

During their stay on North Estrella Avenue and at a previous residence in Catalina, the girls were forced to wake up at 2 a.m. and perform “mumbling,” in which they moved their feet as if they were walking in place, Hope said Friday. If they stopped, their parents yelled at them and made them start over.

“They knew they would suffer dire consequences if they broke the rules. So they didn’t,” Hope said.

When the girls wanted to use the bathroom, they covered their heads and signaled to their parents who were watching them through surveillance cameras, she said. In some cases, they waited hours to use the bathroom or they urinated on themselves or in the closet.

They were rarely allowed to shower and when they were, the showers lasted only a minute or two, Hope said.

“They were fed the same disgusting food day after day,” she said.

The parents made large batches of food and served it to the girls for days on end. When police searched the house, they found a 5-gallon orange Home Depot bucket full of a “pasta mix” in the refrigerator, she said.

The trial is expected to last about three weeks.

Contact Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or cprendergast@tucson.com. On Twitter @CurtTucsonStar

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