Couple charged with murder, torture after toddler’s body found in bag

Mexican authorities turned over Mercy Mary Becerra (L) and Johnny Lewis Hartley (R) to San Diego homicide detectives Tuesday at the San Ysidro port of entry.

Mexican authorities turned over Mercy Mary Becerra (L) and Johnny Lewis Hartley (R) to San Diego homicide detectives Tuesday at the San Ysidro port of entry.

SAN DIEGO  – The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has taken over the prosecution of a Whittier couple arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border with a duffel bag containing the body of a 2-year-old girl, authorities in San Diego announced Thursday.

John Lewis Hartley, 39, and Mercy Becerra, 43, were arrested Aug. 9 and charged with murder.

Prosecutors in San Diego said the child had been drowned in Whittier shortly before the defendants were detained as they tried to enter Mexico.

Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals said the defendants knew the victim’s family but there doesn’t appear to be a blood relationship between the child and the defendants.

Mechals said the child died in a residential drowning, with contributing causes of malnutrition and dehydration.

On Wednesday, San Diego authorities dismissed the case against Hartley and Becerra so the case can proceed in Los Angeles County, where prosecutors charged the defendants with murder, human trafficking, torture and assault on a child causing death.