LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Whittier couple charged with the torture and murder of a two-year-old girl whose body was found in a duffel bag as they attempted to cross the border into Mexico will appear in court Thursday.
According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Mercy Mary Becerra, 43, and Johnny Lewis Hartley, 39, have each been charged with one felony count of murder, torture and assault on a child causing death.
Becerra and Hartley were also charged with human trafficking to commit pimping or pandering in connection to the girl’s mother.
The couple allegedly trafficked the woman between Nov. 2012 and Aug. 2016, seized her daughter, severely abused the child and killed her on or about Aug. 9, according to prosecutors.
Authorities believe the child, who has been identified in a criminal complaint as “Angelina W,” died in Whittier.
Becerra and Hartley were arrested on Aug. 9 as they fled from authorities while trying to enter Tijuana.
The victim’s body was discovered during an X-ray examination of the bag.
According to San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals, the girl died in a residential drowning, with contributing causes of malnutrition and dehydration.
San Diego prosecutors had initially charged the couple with the girl’s murder, but the case was subsequently dismissed.
If convicted as charged, Becerra and Hartley could each face up to life in state prison.
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