July 29 (UPI) -- Several members of a Louisiana family are facing federal charges of keeping an autistic relative locked up in a cage and forcing her to perform abusive and humiliating acts over a 10-month period, such as living in a cage outside and eating her mother's ashes.
U.S. attorneys in the Eastern District of Louisiana say Raylaine Knope, 42, and her husband, Terry J. Knope II, 45, conspired to keep the victim, referred to as "D.P." in the indictment, as a slave to perform household and yard work between 2015 and 2016. During that time, prosecutors say the Knopes and their children, Jody Lambert, 23, and Taylor Knope, 20, also put the victim through extreme physical and mental abuse.
The indictment says Raylaine Knope forced D.P. to perform various household tasks in her mobile home in Amite, La., including washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom. At first, D.P. was allowed to sleep on the floor of the mobile home, but prosecutors say Raylaine Knope and her family built a cage in the backyard and forced D.P. to live there, only coming inside the mobile home to do housework.
"The cage consisted of an animal pen made out of chicken wire," the indictment states. "A plastic tarp was placed over the top of the cage. Jody Lambert cut three branches and placed them over the top of the cage. The defendants put a tent inside the cage. The defendants also put a bucket in the cage to be used as a toilet."
Prosecutors say D.P. attempted to escape once, but was caught, and Raylaine Knope told her she would be killed if she tried to escape again.
Those charged were also accused of forcing the woman to perform tasks that were increasingly denigrating in nature -- like cutting the grass with a pair of scissors and cleaning out the septic tank without any gloves, tools or protective clothing -- and making her go without food.
The woman was also subject to extreme physical abuse, prosecutors said, like being shot with a BB gun and being burned with a lighter.
The charges say on one occasion, Raylaine Knope made her open an urn containing her mother's ashes, pour them in to a bowl and eat them with a spoon.
The indictment also accuses the Knopes and Lambert of forcing the woman to remove her clothing and make sexual advances to men who came to the property.
The Knopes and Lambert are each charged with one count of conspiring to obtain forced labor, one count of forced labor and one count of using force and threats of force to interfere with the federal Fair Housing Act, due to the woman's disability.
Terry Knope is additionally charged a hate crime, prosecutors say because he physically abused the woman, and one count of theft of government funds. He and Raylaine Knope are also charged with one count of attempted sex trafficking.
A fifth relative, Bridget Lambert, 21, was separately charged in a one-count Bill of Information for conspiring to obtain forced labor.