LANCASTER — The parents of a four-year-old Palmdale boy who died last summer pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of murder and torture in his death.
Jose Cuatro, 28, and Ursula Elaine Juarez, 25, are each charged with one count of murder and torture.
In addition, Cuatro is charge with one count of assault on a child causing death, and Juarez is charged with child abuse resulting in death.
If convicted as charged, Cuatro and Juarez face maximum sentences of 32 years to life in prison.
The couple were arrested in September. They are being held in lieu of $3 million bail, each.
The pair are due back in the Antelope Valley Courthouse on April 7 to set a date for a preliminary hearing, which will determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial.
Noah Cuatro died July 6, after what was originally reported as a drowning, but which raised suspicions leading to an investigation.
Authorities were called about 4 p.m. July 5 to the family’s home in the 1200 block of East Avenue S and Noah’s parents said the boy nearly drowned in the family’s pool, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said. He was taken to Palmdale Regional Medical Center, then transferred to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where he was pronounced dead the morning of July 6. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Noah Cuatro’s parents were questioned but not arrested at that time and his three siblings were taken into protective custody.
He was reportedly under the supervision of the Department of Children and Family Services at the time of his death.
Noah Cuatro’s great-grandmother, Eva Hernandez, filed a multi-million dollar damages claim against Los Angeles County in August, stating he died despite “countless reports of abuse” that had been made to the department.
“There were at least a dozen calls made to the child abuse hotline and police from people who said they suspected Cuatro and his siblings were being abused,” according to the claim filed on behalf of Hernandez.
She told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year that Noah spent time in various foster homes and she was one of the people who served as a foster parent for the boy. She told that paper that she would facilitate visits between Noah Cuatro and his mother and the boy once begged her not to make him go.
DCFS issued a statement in August saying: “At any given time, the Department of Children and Family Services serves more than 34,000 families and vulnerable children in Los Angeles County with an unwavering commitment to pursue child safety every day in our communities. Our 9,000 employees are committed to this mission, and we look to do everything possible to safeguard the children entrusted to our care.
“We cannot comment on any pending claim, litigation or lawsuit involving the department at this time,” according to DCFS.