LOS ANGELES – The parents of a 4-year-old Palmdale boy are set to be arraigned April 15 on a grand jury indictment charging them with murder and other counts in connection with their son’s death last summer.
At the defense’s request, arraignment was delayed Wednesday for Jose Maria Cuatro Jr., 28, and Ursula Elaine Juarez, 26, who were indicted on one count each of murder and torture in the death of their son, Noah Cuatro.
The indictment, unsealed Jan. 28, 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.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta Wednesday morning that he estimated that the trial would last about two months.
A trial date has not yet been set, and the judge told the defendants that it can typically take a year or longer for such a case to go to trial. Ohta indicated that it was “more than likely” that the case would remain at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse instead of Lancaster, where the two were initially charged last year, but said a final decision had not yet been made.
Cuatro — who could face a maximum of 47 years to life in state prison if convicted as charged — is jailed in lieu of $4 million bail.
Juarez is behind bars in lieu of $3 million bail and could face up to 32 years to life in prison, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
The pair, who were arrested last Sept. 26, 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.
The boy’s death raised questions about the actions of county social workers who interacted with the family. An attorney for Noah’s great-grandmother, Eva Hernandez, has said he plans to file a civil lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services on the family’s behalf.
A multimillion-dollar damages claim — the precursor to a lawsuit — was filed against the county last year, alleging that the boy died despite “countless reports of abuse” that had been made to the Department of Children and Family Services. That claim was recently denied, according to attorney Brian Claypool.
According to the damages claim filed on behalf of Hernandez, Noah was repeatedly removed from his mother’s care, once after she was arrested and another time due to neglect, but each time he was returned to the home.
“In February 2019, a DCFS caseworker noted that Cuatro appeared lethargic and withdrawn,” according to the claim. “There were then three more referrals in March and April, including a report that Cuatro arrived at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar with bruises on his back.”
The claim also contends that in May 2019, a DCFS caseworker filed a 26-page petition to have Noah removed from his parents’ custody. That petition was granted, “but willfully ignored by DCFS,” according to the claim.
“Noah Cuatro is not going to be forgotten,” Claypool said, calling the indictment “the first step in helping Noah carry out his legacy to stop this from happening again.”
DCFS issued a statement last year 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.” The Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection released a report last year that determined DCFS officials acted “appropriately” in their handling of Noah’s case.