Noah Cuatro: Parents plead no contest to murder, torture in death of Palmdale boy

PALMDALE, Calif. - The parents of Noah Cuatro, who initially claimed their son drowned, pleaded no contest Friday to murder and torture charges in his July 2019 death.

Jose Maria Cuatro Jr., 32, and Ursula Elaine Juarez, 30, were indicted four years ago in the death of their son, Noah. He was just 4 years old when he passed away.

Cuatro entered his plea of first-degree murder and torture charges for a sentence of 32 years to life in state prison. Juarez pleaded to second-degree murder and torture charges for a sentence of 22 years to life behind bars, attorneys said.

Both defendants waived their appellate rights. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 30 in the Antelope Valley Courthouse in Lancaster.

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Noah's parents reported a drowning in their family pool in the 1200 block of East Avenue St. in Palmdale on July 5, 2019.

The boy was taken first to Palmdale Regional Medical Center and then to Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where he was pronounced dead the next day.

<div>Noah Cuatro, the 4-year-old Palmdale boy was allegedly killed by his parents, who initially reported that he drowned in the pool on July 5, 2019. A grand jury later indicted Jose Maria Cuatro and Ursula Elaine Juarez with murder and torture in their son's death.</div> <strong>(FOX 11)</strong>
Noah Cuatro, the 4-year-old Palmdale boy was allegedly killed by his parents, who initially reported that he drowned in the pool on July 5, 2019. A grand jury later indicted Jose Maria Cuatro and Ursula Elaine Juarez with murder and torture in their son's death.
(FOX 11)

According to documents, Noah was often abused by his parents. Following his death, his siblings, a sister and two brothers, opened up about the abuse in their home, mostly at the hands of their father.

One of the siblings also said that he and Noah were always hungry and that he saw his parents slapping his other brother in the face when he was an infant. He also said he observed his parents fighting often and was "scared of his dad because he would beat him up" by punching him and hitting him with his belt, the plaintiff's lawyers state in their court papers.

The three siblings were eventually taken into protective custody.

The boy's great-grandmother, Evangelina Hernandez, subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Los Angeles County on behalf of herself and the siblings, 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."

City News Service contributed to this report.