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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional
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Couple Get Long Terms for Torturing Children

March 31, 2000

SAN BERNARDINO — A couple convicted of using a staple gun to torture their four young nieces and nephews have been sentenced to long prison terms.

The judge sent 44-year-old Rita Meserve to prison for 78 years to life, while her husband, William Franklin Meserve, 40, was sentenced to 21 years to life.

A jury convicted the pair on 25 counts of abuse, including four torture charges.

Rita Meserve was charged with repeatedly abusing her four nieces and nephews--two boys, now 14 and 11, and two girls, 16 and 9--after the children were placed with her in 1994.

Her husband failed to stop the abuse and in some cases held down the children while they were attacked, prosecutors said.

During the sentencing, the Meserves continued to deny any wrongdoing.

"We did not do these things to the kids," Rita Meserve told the judge. "They did this to themselves."

"I maintain my innocence," William Meserve told the judge. "That's all I have to say."

The staplings were punishment, according to the children, usually for failing to properly complete their chores or schoolwork.

The children lived in the couple's mobile home until February 1999, when the eldest boy alerted police to the abuse.

Evidence photos showed 50 staple marks on the eldest girl's abdomen and about half that number on the eldest boy's body.

The couple was asked to take care of the children by their mother before she died of breast cancer. Their father is in federal prison for bank robbery.

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