A Minneapolis father who was arrested in February for the alleged rape and torture of his twin daughters with developmental disabilities has a history of abusing young relatives dating back to the late 1970s, according to prosecutors.

Jerry Lee Curry, 52, sexually assaulted a cousin when she was 8 years old and threatened to whip her with an extension cord if she did not submit to the assaults, according to new court filings. He also forced his cousins to fight each other under threats of beatings and whippings, between 1977 and 1983, while Curry was living with his cousins at his mother’s home in Omaha, according to the documents.

In interviews, a third cousin said she was glad to see prosecutors taking note of events that she remembered from childhood visits to his family’s home during the summers. She described a household where whippings and other forms of physical abuse were common, and where children were threatened with beatings if they told anyone.

“The memories of what happened in that house haunt me to this day,” said April Tomes, 46, who said she is Curry’s cousin and now lives in Denver. “He does not deserve to breathe the same air as we breathe.”

Tomes said she and other relatives were too frightened to tell authorities at the time. According to a review of court records, Curry does not have a criminal record in Nebraska.

The new allegations suggest a “pattern of abuse” by Curry toward female family members, according to a court motion filed by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. Curry faces nine felony charges connected with the alleged yearslong abuse of his twin daughters in what became known as the “house of horrors” case in south Minneapolis.

The twins, who are now 21, described being repeatedly raped, beaten with bats and chained to a door for days at a time without food. One of the twins was beaten so severely that she lost vision in her left eye and suffered a disfigured ear.

Clinicians who examined the girls after they were removed from the home said they had been subjected to torture, according to court documents in the case. Both victims have cognitive deficiencies and function at the intellectual level of young children.

The alleged abuse went undiscovered for years until one of the twin girls ran away from the home last May and described her ordeal to workers at a shelter.

Jane Ranum, a former district judge in Hennepin County, said the introduction of Curry’s family history could be an effort by prosecutors to buttress their case and stave off attempts by the defendant’s attorneys to discredit his daughters, who may have difficulty testifying in a jury trial because of their developmental disabilities.

“This certainly speaks to a pattern of maliciousness, and shows that this may not have been a one-time event,” Ranum said.

“It shows a common scheme, of having access to young children and abusing that access.”

Young cousins

According to a motion filed by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, Curry repeatedly molested one of his cousins beginning in 1977, when she was 5 years old, and began having sexual intercourse with her when she was 8. The victim described the frequency of the sexual assaults, saying, “It’s too many to count. It was a constant thing,” according to the court motion.

The sexual assaults stopped in 1983 when Curry’s family moved to Denver. Another cousin said Curry would force the girl cousins to fight and whip them with an extension cord if they refused. Curry and his older brother also placed bets on the fights between their cousins, according to Hennepin County’s motion.

Speaking from her home in Denver, Tomes said she still suffers from severe post-traumatic stress from the abuse she suffered nearly 40 years ago, when she was 7 and 8 years old, while staying at the home of Curry’s mother in Omaha during the summers.

“Our family has a big problem about hiding and keeping things secret, but the court needs to know how dangerous [Curry] really is,” Tomes said.

“He could have killed those daughters of his.”

Prosecutors are also seeking to introduce the expert testimony of two medical professionals, including a pediatrician and nurse practitioner, who diagnosed that Curry’s daughters were victims of torture, which they define as the physical injury or deprivation of a child over an extended period, according to a recent court filing.

Hennepin County is reviewing its handling of the case, asking why child protection workers and other authorities did not respond earlier to remove the two girls from the home.

The girls reported being beaten by their father as far back as 2013, and one of the twins was known to be pregnant while she was a junior at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. Police visited the family’s house in south Minneapolis more than 50 times, often in response to reports of domestic violence, police records show.

A jury trial has been set to begin in late September.

 

Staff researcher John Wareham contributed to this report.