A California couple was arrested when authorities allegedly discovered a dead little girl stuffed inside a duffel bag they were carrying as they tried to cross the border into Mexico, officials said.
Mercy Mary Becerra, 43, and Johnny Lewis Hartley, 38, were entering Tijuana in the pedestrian lane about noon Tuesday when they were approached by Mexican customs agents.
Becerra fled and was taken into custody soon after, while Hartley, who carried the bag, was immediately detained by authorities, the San Diego Police Department said.
Police X-rayed the sack and discovered a body inside.
They examined the contents and found the body of a dead little girl believed to be around 2 years old, cops said.
Becerra and Hartley were turned over to the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
They were interviewed by SDPD’s Homicide Unit and were booked at about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday into San Diego Central Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder and child cruelty.
Police believe the child was killed in Whittier, California, where the couple lives, and said the little girl was not their daughter. San Diego and Whittier police are working the case together.
It was not immediately clear if the toddler’s body showed signs of suspicious injuries, but authorities did not believe she died of natural causes, San Diego police homicide Lt. Ray Valentin told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
A cause of death will be determined by the San Diego Medical Examiner’s office, which is conducting an autopsy.
Both Becerra and Hartley have criminal records dating back to the 90s.
Hartley has a violent criminal past, having pleaded guilty in 1999 to involuntary manslaughter and possessing, manufacturing or selling a deadly weapon, according to Orange County court records viewed by the Union-Tribune.
A gang enhancement was applied to the case, suggesting Hartley was a gang member or a gang associate. He was sentenced to 2 years and 8 months in prison.
He was convicted in 2005 of possessing drugs with the intent to sell them and possessing drug paraphernalia. He was again sentenced to 2 years and 8 months in prison.
Hartley pleaded guilty in 2010 to being a felon in possession of a firearm with a gang enhancement, for which he received three years in state prison.
Becerra pleaded guilty in 1992, at 19 years old, to a felony of selling or transporting a controlled substance, records show. She was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years’ probation.
They are being held without bail pending arraignment, scheduled for Friday.