TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The mother of one of the defendants took the stand Wednesday in trial of the Tucson couple accused of imprisoning and abusing three young girls for years.
Fernando and Sophia Richter are on trial for child abuse and other charges. They are accused of holding Sophia's three daughters captive inside their Pima and Pinal county homes in filthy conditions. The girls escaped from a midtown home in November 2013.
Fernando's mother Maria Richter took the stand on Day 7 as the defense's first witness. On Tuesday, the prosecution rested after testimony for a psychiatrist who examined the three girls.
The defense for Fernando rested after Maria's testimony. The trial will resume around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The judge said the jury should expect to hear closing arguments and have its instructions by Tuesday afternoon.
Maria Richter, through an interpreter, said she went to the family's homes in Catalina and Tucson about once per week to take Sophia and/or Fernando to the store.
She said she didn't go into the homes often or for very long and sometimes Sophia would be outside to meet her.
Maria testified about the time she went to the Tucson home to make enchiladas with Sophia. She said it was about three days before Sophia and Fernando were arrested in November 2013.
Maria said she was in the home for about three hours and only saw the girls once and didn't talk to them. She said she saw the youngest and middle sisters when they were going to the bathroom.
The prosecution asked Maria if she interacted with the girls any during the visit.
"No, I was busy making enchiladas," Maria said. "I saw them but didn't speak to them."
When asked if the girls went to the bathroom together, Maria said she didn't know.
"I'm not sure, I wasn't really paying attention," she said. "I was busy frying tortillas."
Maria said she didn't notice a bad smell coming from the girls or the home.
Maria said when the Richters were living in Catalina, the girls would visit her home.
She said the longest visit was two weeks and the girls never told her about any trouble they were having at home.
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.
• DAY 3: Middle sister takes witness stand.
• DAY 4: Neighbors reflect on day girls escaped.
• DAY 5: Girls' aunt, grandmother testify.