LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The parents of 4-year-old Noah Cuatro pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of murder and torture in connection with his July 2019 death in Palmdale.
Jose Maria Cuatro Jr., 28, and Ursula Elaine Juarez, 26, were indicted Jan. 23 on one count each of murder and torture. Cuatro was also charged with one count each of assault on a child causing death and sexual penetration of a child under 10, the latter alleged to have happened on the date Noah was taken to the hospital in a reported drowning incident.
Juarez is facing one count of child abuse under circumstances likely to cause death.
The pair reported that Noah had drowned in the family’s pool in the 1200 block of East Avenue S around 4 p.m. on July 4, 2019. Noah was taken to Palmdale Regional Medical Center and then transferred to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where he was pronounced dead the following day.
In the week after Noah’s death, Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced that an investigation was underway into the child’s death and that his siblings had been taken into protective custody.
On July 1, Noah’s great-grandmother, Evangelina Hernandez, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Los Angeles County on behalf of herself and Noah’s siblings, alleging that his death was allowed to happen despite multiple reports of abuse made to the Department of Children and Family Services.
“Instead of protecting Noah and his siblings, DCFS continued to place the children with their abusive parents, where the children continued to be abused over the course of several years,” the suit alleged.
DCFS, in a statement issued in response to the suit, said that its employees were committed to the department’s mission of keeping children safe.
“At any given time, the Department of Children and Family Services serves more than 34,000 families and vulnerable children in Los Angeles County with an unwavering commitment to pursue child safety every day in our communities,” the statement read. “Our 9,000 employees are committed to this mission, and we look to do everything possible to safeguard the children entrusted to our care.”
Cuatro and Juarez are due back in court for a pretrial hearing Dec. 8 in Lancaster.
Cuatro, who has remained behind bars since his arrest Sept. 26, 2019, could face a maximum sentence of 47 years to life in state prison if convicted as charged. Juarez, who was arrested the same day, could face a sentence of 32 years to life in prison, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)