LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The parents of a 4-year-old Palmdale boy pleaded not guilty today to a grand jury indictment charging them with murder and torture in their son's July 2019 death.
Jose Maria Cuatro Jr., 28, and Ursula Elaine Juarez, 26, were indicted Jan. 23 those charges in the death of their son, Noah Cuatro.
The indictment also charges the boy's father with one count each of assault on a child causing death and a newly added count of sexual penetration of a child under 10, with the indictment alleging that the latter crime occurred on the same day the boy was attacked.
The boy's mother is additionally charged with one count of child abuse under circumstances likely to cause death.
The two are due back in court for a pretrial hearing Dec. 8 in Lancaster, where the case was sent for trial.
Cuatro -- who has remained behind bars since his arrest last Sept. 26 - - could face a maximum of 47 years to life in state prison if convicted as charged.
Juarez -- who was arrested the same day -- could face up to 32 years to life in prison, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
The two reported a drowning in their family pool in the 1200 block of East Avenue S around 4 p.m. on July 5, 2019.
The youngster was taken first to Palmdale Regional Medical Center and then to Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where he was pronounced dead the next day.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced the following week that an investigation was underway into the boy's death. The sheriff said Noah lived with his parents and three siblings, who were taken into protective custody.
On July 1, the boy's great-grandmother, Evangelina Hernandez, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Los Angeles County on behalf of herself and the boy's sister and two brothers, alleging that his death occurred after multiple reports of abuse had already been made to the Department of Children and Family Services.
“Instead of protecting Noah and his siblings, DCFS continued to place the children with their abusive parents, where the children continued to be abused over the course of several years,'' the suit alleges.
After Noah's death, DCFS social workers made threats against Hernandez “in an attempt to silence her,'' the lawsuit alleges.
The social workers told Hernandez that if she made any public statements about Noah's case and/or potential lawsuits, she would lose her request for guardianship of her other three great-grandchildren and would never see them again, the suit states.
Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services is also named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit. Hathaway-Sycamores knew of or suspected the abuse and misconduct occurring in Noah's home after the boy was sent to the agency by the county Department of Children and Family Services for mental health services, but failed to report the abuse, according to the suit.
The DCFS previously issued a statement regarding Noah's death.
“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,'' the statement read. “Our 9,000 employees are committed to this mission, and we look to do everything possible to safeguard the children entrusted to our care.''