Richter Trial Day 6: State rests case after psychiatrist testifies

Richter Trial Day 6: State rests case after psychiatrist testifies
Sophia and Fernando Richter (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A child and adolescent psychiatrist took the stand and the state rested its case Tuesday in the trial of the Tucson couple accused of abusing and imprisoning three young girls.

Fernando and Sophia Richter are accused of holding Sophia's three daughters captive inside their Pinal and Pima county homes in filthy prison-like conditions for up to two years. The couple faces multiple charges, including kidnapping.

Tuesday marked Day 6 of the Richter Trial. Last week, all three girls testified they were abused and held captive by the Richters.

Dr. John Leipsic, who has interviewed the three girls, took the stand around 11 a.m. and testified until 4 p.m. After Leipsic finished his testimony, the state rested its case.

Leipsic first talked about the youngest sister.

"She looked neglected," he said. "Her clothing was mismatched, disheveled and soiled. Her hair was soiled, greasy and unkempt. She looked traumatized, her eyes showed her underlying emotional state."

Leipsic described photographic evidence of the alleged neglect and abuse.

"There is no evidence of muscular development (in the youngest sister)," he said. "She is not healthy in appearance. Her teeth weren't cared for and she hadn't been to a dentist in a long time. (They found) dried blood on a shoe, which is from shoes that were too small."

He said the child had scars on her back and legs.

"It is consistent with trauma from a belt, cord, wire, stick or hanger," he said. "(One of the scars) was long, an inch and a half, at least an inch, wide. It was from a cord, TV cable, wire, hangar or stick."

He said he diagnosed the girl with several conditions due to the prolonged abuse and entrapment. Leipsic said she showed signs of complex PTSD and Stockholm syndrome.

"Like a veteran who comes back from a war and hears a car backfiring and thinks it is a mortar shells going off," he said. "She experienced those things but it became more complex because the perpetrators of her abuse were family members and were captors. She was subject to repeated trauma, not just one episode like a car accident."

He said people with Stockholm syndrome, out of self preservation, can begin to empathize, defend and try to appease their captors.

"In Stockholm syndrome, feelings of empathy can continue post release," Leipsic said. "This can affect their ability to testify their cooperate with police."

Leipsic said when the girls escaped and went to the neighbor's house, they said they didn't want Fernando to necessary to be arrested, they just wanted him to get help. He also said the youngest sister said Fernando was "nice, but he beat us."

Leipsic described the girl's emotional state when she was first interviewed by Child Assessment Services after the arrest of the Richters.

"She was clearly severely traumatized," he said. "She (was) rocking back and forth repeatedly. Her speech was wavering. Her hand was rubbing the cushion repeatedly as if she was attempting to self soothe. There were a number of behaviors she was using to self sooth or calm herself to be able to tell her story."

Leipsic said the girl suffers from anxiety and panic attacks and told him she still dreams about Fernando and Sophia.

"She told me 'it's never going away,'" he said. '"She said 'I get really scared, start crying and my heart was pumping hard.'"

Leipsic said the girl was shaking when she told him that she still has dreams of Fernando and her mother.

He also spoke about the oldest sister, who testified last week that she was kept separate from her two younger sisters and forced to stay in her bed nearly 24 hours a day.

"Her muscles were highly degenerated. She showed lack of muscle development, what we call atrophy. So her muscles were wasted away basically because of immobility and lack of physical exercise," Leipsic said. "Her symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder on page 6, I outlined, are flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, emotional numbness, suicidal thoughts and panic attacks."

The defense is expected to call its first witness Wednesday. Jury members could hear opening statements from Sophia Richter's attorney and testimony from Fernando Richter's mom Maria Richter. It is unknown if the defendants will testify.

It'll be a short week as court will be closed Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holidays. The trial is expected to resume next week.


Authorities claim the girls were monitored by video surveillance 24 hours per day, fed the same "disgusting food" day after day, forced to drink bath water out of moldy plastic jugs, beat with belts and spoons and sometimes had to use their closets as a bathroom. Authorities also said the Richters blasted loud music through the home.

Paul Skitzki, who is representing Fernando Richter, said the sisters were unhappy with Fernando's relationship with Sophia. Skitzki claimed there is no evidence of abuse or beatings and the girls were allowed to come and go as they pleased.

The allegations came to light November 2013 when two of the girls managed to escape the family's Tucson home. The girls said they escaped through a window when Fernando Richter tried to break down their bedroom door with a knife in his hand.

Investigators said the Richters, who pleaded not guilty to all charges, moved to Tucson in August 2013 after living in Pinal County for several years.

Previous Coverage

• DAY 1: Richter trial breaks for weekend, will continue Tuesday.

• DAY 4: Neighbors reflect on day girls escaped.

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