Couple transporting toddler's body in a bag across the border faces charges in L.A. County

Besides murder, they're also charged with pimping the girl's mother.

A Whittier couple arrested after the body of a child was found in a duffel bag at the U.S.-Mexico border will be prosecuted in Los Angeles County instead of San Diego County, where they were arraigned in August.

Johnny Lewis Hartley, 43, and Mercy Mary Becerra, 39, had been charged with murder by the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.


On Wednesday, that office dismissed the case so that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office could take over.

The defendants are expected to be arraigned Friday on four felony charges: murder, human trafficking to commit pimping/pandering, torture and assault on a child causing death.

If convicted, they each face life in prison.

According to prosecutors, Becerra and Hartley trafficked a woman — the mother of the dead child — between November 2012 and August of this year.

During that time, they took the woman's daughter, severely abused and then killed the child, prosecutors say. A San Diego prosecutor has said the child was drowned, and that malnutrition and dehydration were contributing causes of death.

Becerra and Hartley then tried to cross the border from San Diego into Tijuana on Aug. 9, with the child's body in a duffel bag, but they were stopped by authorities and taken into custody, prosecutors say.

Mexican authorities found the body while screening the bag at a pedestrian crossing in San Ysidro. Hartley had been carrying the bag, San Diego police said, before he was sent to a secondary inspection area and the bag was put through an X-ray machine.

Becerra ran off when Hartley was detained, but she was caught a short time later, police said.

Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.