A couple accused of attempting to carry a dead toddler inside a duffel bag across the U.S.-Mexico border will be tried in Los Angeles County, the LA Deputy District Attorney said Thursday.
The suspects -- Mercy Mary Becerra, 43, and Johnny Lewis Hartley, 39 -- of Whittier, California, face four felony counts of murder, torture, human trafficking and assault on a child in connection with the case.
Both Becerra and Hartley are set to appear in court this Friday at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles, the LA District Attorney Office confirmed.
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Lisa Coen of the Sex Crimes Division has been assigned to the case. Between Nov. 2012 and Aug. 2016, prosecutors said Becerra and Hartley allegedly trafficked a woman.
During that time, they kidnapped the woman's daughter, severely abused the child and eventually killed her on or around Aug. 9, 2016, the LA District Attorney's Office said in a press release Thursday.
On Aug. 9, prosecutors say the couple tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in south San Diego. Hartley was carrying a duffle bag, which held the body of the two-year-old girl they had allegedly been abusing.
When Mexican law enforcement officials scanned Hartley's bag in an X-ray machine, they discovered the body of the little girl, San Diego police said.
Hartley and Becerra were arrested by Mexican authorities and deported back to the U.S. side of the border where they were turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Ultimately, investigators determined the child had been drowned. San Diego Deputy DA Kurt Mechals said the drowning happened in Whittier.
If convicted, prosecutors say Hartley and Becerra each face a maximum sentence of life in state prison. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Whittier Police Department and San Diego Police Department, are working together in the ongoing investigation.