VISTA (CNS) - An Oceanside couple accused of beating and sexually abusing a 12-year-old Mexican girl smuggled into the country on a promise of a better life pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 26 counts each of aggravated sexual abuse of a child.
Inez Martinez Garcia, 43, and her husband, 45-year-old Marcial Garcia Hernandez, were ordered held on $2 million bail apiece. Their arrests last month were the result of a two-and-a-half-year "cold case" investigation into the victim's allegations, sheriff's Sgt. Joe Mata said.
Each defendant faces up to 390 years to life in prison if convicted, said prosecutor Gretchen Means.
The girl, now an adult, told investigators she was brought into the United States at age 12 with promises of a better life and education. However, she alleged that when she arrived at the suspects' household, she was forced to care for their three young children and cook and clean their house under the threat of violence, including beatings, Mata said.
The alleged victim was also forced to have sex with Hernandez over a 21-month period, Mata said. When she refused to have sex or did not complete her assigned tasks in a timely or correct manner, she was beaten, he said.
At one point, the victim had to lie about her age to work at a restaurant and Garcia allegedly took her wages, Mata said. She was later forced to have sex with older men for money, Mata said.
The victim was eventually placed in protective custody after she was allegedly beaten by Garcia and the police were called. She was then reunited with her family in Mexico.
The case was suspended while the victim was in Mexico. But it was reopened when she returned to the United States and came forward with her story, Mata said.
The North County Human Trafficking Task Force, along with Vista sheriff's deputies, Homeland Security investigators and Oceanside police, arrested Garcia and Hernandez.
The defendants will be back in court Feb. 5 for a readiness conference and Feb. 20 for a preliminary hearing,
A preliminary hearing is scheduled Tuesday for a former San Diego police officer accused of groping four women during pat-down searches last year.
Chula Vista police will be looking for drivers talking or texting on cell phones Tuesday and through the end of the month as part of "Distracting Driving Awareness Month."
Police were on the lookout Tuesday for the man who fired a shot while robbing a Rolando-area smoke shop and his accomplice who emptied its cash register.