LOS ANGELES A Whittier, California, couple who initially were charged in San Diego County in connection with the discovery of a 2-year-old girl’s body in a duffel bag as they were crossing the border into Mexico were arraigned in Los Angeles Friday on felony charges including torture and murder, CBS affiliate KFMB report.
Mercy Mary Becerra, 43, and Johnny Lewis Hartley, 39, were charged in Los Angeles County last week with one felony count each of murder, torture and assault on a child causing death involving the toddler, who was identified in the criminal complaint only as ‘’Angelina W.’’
The two are also charged with human trafficking to commit pimping or pandering involving the girl’s mother.
Becerra and Hartley allegedly trafficked a woman between November 2012 and August 2016, seized the woman’s daughter, severely abused the child and killed the girl on or about Aug. 9, according to Los Angeles County prosecutors. Authorities have said they believe the toddler died in Whittier.
Becerra and Lewis entered Tijuana in a pedestrian lane Aug. 9, and Becerra ran off as Mexican customs agents approached the pair, San Diego police said. Authorities chased and caught her and took her companion into custody.
The girl’s body was discovered during an X-ray examination of the bag Hartley had been carrying, authorities said.
San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals had said the child died in a residential drowning, with contributing causes of malnutrition and dehydration.
For 25 years, advocate Jim Carson has rescued countless women and their children from pimps in Los Angeles and Orange counties, CBS Los Angeles reports.
He suspected that Becerra and Hartley used the woman’s daughter to coerce her into prostitution.
Carson said the mother did not leave her pimps because they used her child as ransom. “She had her daughter next door in a hotel room. You’re going to do something to that daughter unless you go out and make me my money. If I’m a mother, I’m not leaving,” he explained.
“People think it’s overseas or they’ll bring people from other countries into the United States. That’s typically in the massage parlors. But when you’re on the streets and the motels, it’s mostly American-born,” Carson added.
“What you are hearing is real. It’s not just one isolated case in Whittier. It’s all over the United States, he said.