SAN DIEGO - The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has taken over the prosecution of a Whittier couple arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border with a duffel bag containing the body of a 2-year-old girl, authorities in San Diego announced Thursday.
John Lewis Hartley, 39, and Mercy Becerra, 43, were arrested Aug. 9 and charged with murder. The child's body was found by Mexican law enforcement at the El Chaparral port of entry, across from San Ysidro, during an X-ray scan.
Prosecutors in San Diego said the child had been drowned in Whittier shortly before the defendants were detained as they tried to enter Mexico.
Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals said the defendants knew the victim's family but there doesn't appear to be a blood relationship between the child and the defendants.
Mechals said the child died in a residential drowning, with contributing causes of malnutrition and dehydration. There was no motive for the killing.
On Wednesday, San Diego authorities dismissed the case against Hartley and Becerra so the case can proceed in Los Angeles County, where prosecutors charged the defendants with murder, human trafficking, torture and assault on a child causing death.
Court records show Hartley has been to prison three times for crimes committed in Orange County. Some of those crimes are violent.
In 2010, Hartley was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and murder, along with several other charges. In a plea deal, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison for possession of a firearm and for being a member of a criminal street gang.
In 2005, Hartley was convicted for drug possession with the intent to sell. His sentence was two and a half years.
Hartley was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 1999. He was sentenced to 2 years, 8 months in prison.
Becerra also spent time behind bars. In 1992, she was sentenced to 6 months in jail for the sale and transport of an illegal substance. She also has several misdemeanors and infractions, but nothing serious on her record.
Court records show the couple was evicted from a property in Orange County in 1999.