LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Whittier couple pleaded not guilty Thursday to the torture-murder of a 2-year-old girl whose body was found stuffed in a duffel bag as they were trying to cross the border into Mexico.
According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, Mercy Mary Becerra, 44, and Johnny Lewis Hartley, 39, have been charged with one felony count each of murder, torture and assault on a child causing death involving the girl, who is identified in the criminal complaint only as "Angelina W."
The pair was also charged with human trafficking to commit pimping or pandering in connection with the girl's mother.
If convicted as charged, Becerra and Hartley could face up to life in state prison.
A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for March 16 in downtown Los Angeles to determine if there is enough evidence to require them to stand trial.
According to prosecutors, Becerra and Hartley allegedly trafficked the woman between November 2012 and August 2016, seized her daughter, and severely abused the girl on or about Aug. 9.
Authorities believe the child died in Whittier from a residential drowning, with contributing causes of malnutrition and dehydration.
Her body was discovered during an X-ray examination of the bag Hartley had been carrying as he entered the pedestrian lane to cross the border with Becerra.
Prosecutors in San Diego originally charged the pair with the girls' murder, but the case was subsequently dismissed, according to the district attorney's office.
Becerra and Hartley remain jailed in lieu of $3.2 million bail each.
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