A Whittier couple who pleaded no contest in the death of a 4-year-old girl whose body was found in a duffel bag as they were trying to cross the border into Mexico were sentenced Thursday under a plea deal that spared them potential life prison terms.
Mercy Mary Becerra, 48, was sentenced to 24 years in state prison and waived credit for all of the time she has served since her August 2016 arrest.
Johnny Lewis Hartley, 43, was sentenced to 36 years and eight months in state prison. He waived credit for 235 days he has served.
The two — who were initially charged with counts including murder and torture — pleaded no contest Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter, child abuse, human trafficking of an adult and criminal threats, according to Deputy District Attorney Guillermo Santiso.
Hartley also admitted that he had a prior conviction for involuntary manslaughter from Orange County in 1999.
Along with the prison terms, the two were ordered to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
Becerra and Lewis entered Tijuana in a pedestrian lane on Aug. 9, 2016, and Becerra ran off as Mexican customs agents approached the pair, San Diego police said. Authorities chased her and took her companion into custody.
The girl’s body was discovered during an X-ray examination of the bag Hartley had been carrying, authorities said.
Becerra and Hartley trafficked a woman between November 2012 and August 2016, seized her daughter and severely abused the child, prosecutors said shortly after the case was filed.
The girl, identified only as “Angelina W.,” was initially thought to be about 2 years old.
An autopsy determined that the girl — who weighed 19 pounds — died of drowning in the setting of malnourishment associated with chronic neglect, according to Santiso, who said Becerra and Hartley had been trafficking the girl’s mother.
The two could have faced potential life prison terms if the case had gone to trial and they had been convicted of murder and two other charges, which were dismissed as a result of their pleas.
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