The parents of Noah Cuatro, a 4-year-old Palmdale boy who was known to social workers and died in July under suspicious circumstances while in their care, each face murder and torture charges in the death of their son, prosecutors said Monday.
Jose Cuatro Jr., 27, and Ursula Elaine Juarez, 25, were scheduled to be arraigned Monday afternoon in Lancaster.
In addition to the murder and torture charges, Cuatro faces one count of assault on a child causing death, and Juarez faces one count of child abuse resulting in death, according to Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jon Hatami.
“It was apparent when Noah was six months old that he was doomed,” Brian Claypool – the attorney for Noah’s great-grandmother Eva Hernandez – said Friday. “I applaud the district attorney for prosecuting cases of alleged abuse, neglect, torture and murder of children to the fullest extent to help serve as a deterrent. What can’t be lost in all of this is the fact that the Department of Children and Family Services was Noah’s life support and they deliberately failed to throw him a life jacket.”
Cuatro and Juarez were arrested Thursday morning, homicide investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced. A search warrant was served at the residence in an attempt to recover evidence related to Noah’s death. Officials have not revealed what, if anything, was taken.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Claypool said he and his client hoped additional details could provide a solid explanation for how Noah died, a question at the center of the case.
“If the district attorney and L.A. County sheriff has evidence that Noah Cuatro was beaten to death, then we would think there might be elevated charges for murder,” he said. “We are just putting our faith in the hands of law enforcement and the district attorney to get justice for Noah.”
Hernandez, the grandmother of Noah’s mother, addressed reporters through tears and recounted her great-grandson’s pleas to stay with her before he was removed from her care.
“I feel relief. I feel sad,” she said. “Everything is so mixed up in my brain right now.”
If convicted as charged, Cuatro and Juarez face a possible maximum sentence of 32 years to life in state prison.
Bobby Cagle, director of the county DCFS, released a statement Thursday after their arrest.
“While my staff at DCFS and I continue to mourn the tragic death of Noah C., I am grateful to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for its hard work leading to arrests in the case. I deeply respect the diligent work of my staff and our law enforcement partners. DCFS will continue to collaborate with law enforcement as their investigation is ongoing,” Cagle said.
This month, a report about the boy’s death absolved the agency of responsibility in the case.
“They ultimately did the right thing,” said Michael Nash, executive director of the Office of Child Protection, which evaluates child welfare policy and operations for the county’s Board of Supervisors. “The department had consistent eyes on this family.”
But the report will not shield the agency from potential lawsuits or future scrutiny by the Board of Supervisors.
Noah died July 6, one day after his parents dialed 911 and said their son had drowned in an apartment complex pool. Sheriff Alex Villanueva later told reporters that the death appeared inconsistent with drowning, and he launched an investigation. Little information has been provided about the findings of the investigation in the months since.
Noah was placed in foster care and later in the custody of his great-grandmother in 2014. He was placed with his parents the following year, then bounced back into foster care and under the care of Hernandez again in 2016 following allegations that he had been medically neglected by his parents. The court returned Noah to the care of his parents in 2018. Following further allegations of neglect in May 2019, the Department of Children and Family Services intervened. As their investigation continued, social workers disagreed about whether an order to remove Noah should have been filed, after a social worker sought a court order to remove Noah from his home on May 15 following an unverified tip that Noah had possibly been sexually abused.
Social workers last saw Noah in late June. Noah died two weeks later, after they updated the court and asked for a 30-day continuance to investigate further.
Times staff writer Matt Stiles contributed to this report.