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Mercy Mary Becerra and Johnny Lewis Hartley

Couple found entering Mexico with dead girl deny murder

by Jacquelyn Gray, Contributor

On Thursday, a Whittier, California, couple plead not guilty to the torture-murder of a 2-year-old girl found dead in a duffel bag as they attempted to cross into Mexico.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office charged Mercy Mary Becerra, 44, and Johnny Lewis Hartley, 39, with felony counts of murder, torture, human trafficking to commit pimping/pandering, and assault on a child causing death, according to KTLA 5.

Prosecutors alleged Hartley and Becerra sexually trafficked a woman (identified only as “Amanda Z” in the complaint) between November 2012 and August 2016, took her daughter (identified only as “Angelina W” in the complaint), and fatally abused her on or about Aug. 9, according to CBS Los Angeles.

Mexican customs’ X-ray machines supposedly detected Angelina W’s body in Hartley’s bag on Aug. 9 as they tried to cross into Tijuana at the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry via a pedestrian lane. They were later turned over to US Customs and Border Protection.

Authorities claimed they believe the child died in Whittier. San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals relayed that Angelina W died in a residential drowning, with contributing causes of malnutrition and dehydration.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office charged Hartley and Becerra in August before the trial was moved to Los Angeles. Though Angelina W wasn’t the couple’s child, Becerra is a mother of nine.

Becerra and Hartley each face life in state prison if convicted. They will return to a Los Angeles courtroom on March 16 for a preliminary hearing which will determine whether there’s enough evidence for a trial.

The couple remains jailed in lieu of $3.2 million bail each.

[Feature Photo: Facebook]

Jacquelyn Gray is a New Jersey-based writer and journalist. When she's not covering crime, she's probably tweeting or doing yoga.