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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Couple Caught at Border With Dead Baby Charged

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A couple arrested over the summer for trying to smuggle a toddler's body in a duffle bag across the U.S.-Mexico border was charged in Los Angeles Thursday after initially being arraigned in San Diego.

Mercy Becerra, 43, and Johnny Hartley, 39, face murder, torture and other felony charges in connection to a child's body found stuffed in a duffle bag the couple tried to carry across the international border on Aug. 9.

The mother of the child is believed to be a woman whom prosecutors say was human trafficked by the couple between November 2012 and August 2016, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. Prosecutors believe Becerra and Hartley seized the woman's daughter, severely abused the child and eventually killed her on or near Aug.6.

A public information officer for the DA's office declined to comment on the identity of the mother or if she has been located.

Becerra and Hartley are each charged with four felony counts including murder, human trafficking to commit pimping/pandering, torture and assault on a child causing death. They were expected to be arraigned at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon.

The couple faces maximum sentences of life in prison if convicted.

On Aug. 9, the Whittier, California, couple attempted to cross the San Ysidro Port of Entry with the child's body in a duffle bag. Authorities stopped them and took into custody.

Hartley was carrying the duffle bag when he was stopped. Becerra ran off when Hartley was detained but was caught a short time later, according to prosecutors. The child's body was discovered when officials put the bag through an X-ray machine at the pedestrian border crossing.

The two were originally arraigned in San Diego in August, but the San Diego District Attorney's Office dropped that case Wednesday so LA's DA could take over. The Los Angeles DA was able to add additional charges, while San Diego's DA could only charge the couple for murder, San Diego spokeswoman Tanya Sierra said in an email.

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