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Jury convicts Tucson couple of imprisoning girls

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 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.

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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 Skitzki, 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," Skitzki 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.

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TPD

Fernando Richter, 34, and Sophia Richter, 32.