SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — A Whittier couple accused of trying to smuggle a two-year-old girl’s body in a duffel bag across the border into Mexico are set to be arraigned Friday on murder, torture and other charges, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday.
Mercy Mary Becerra, 43, and Johnny Lewis Hartley, 39, were charged last week with one felony count each of murder, torture and assault on a child, identified in the criminal complaint only as “Angelina W.”
Becerra and Hartley are also charged with pimping and pandering after prosecutor said they forced the toddler’s mother into sex trafficking between November 2012 and August 2016.
The defendants are accused of severely beating the child, who eventually died from abuse.
The couple entered Tijuana in a pedestrian lane on Aug. 9. As Mexican customs agents approached the two, Becerra ran off. They later caught her and arrested Hartley as well.
Agents found the girl’s body during an X-ray examination of the bag Hartley was carrying, authorities said.
San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals said the child drowned and suffered from malnutrition and dehydration.
If convicted of the charges, the two could face up to life in prison.
For 25 years, advocate Jim Carson has rescued countless women and their children from pimps in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
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.