Noah Cuatro's parents sentenced to potential life terms for 4-year-old Palmdale boy's death

City News Service
Wednesday, May 1, 2024
Parents sentenced to potential life terms for Palmdale boy's death
The parents of Noah Cuatro, a 4-year-old Palmdale boy who was tortured to death in July 2019, were sentenced Tuesday to potential life prison terms.

PALMDALE, Calif. (CNS) -- The parents of a 4-year-old Palmdale boy who was tortured and murdered were sentenced Tuesday to potential life prison terms.

Superior Court Judge Robert G. Chu sentenced Jose Maria Cuatro Jr. to 32 years to life in prison, and Ursula Elaine Juarez to 22 years to life for Noah Cuatro's July 2019 death, which was initially reported as a drowning.

Cuatro, 32, pleaded no contest March 29 to one count each of first-degree murder and torture, and Juarez, 30, pleaded no contest to one count each of second-degree murder and torture.

As part of their plea deal, both defendants waived their appellate rights.

The judge called the little boy's death a "devastating loss" and said he wanted the victim's family to know that he saw "the love from Noah's family." He said he was confident that the boy would never be forgotten.

In a statement read in court by Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, the boy's great-grandmother, Evangelina Hernandez, said Juarez had told her at one point that she didn't like the boy.

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"Why, my God, why is there such evil in you, Ursula? What kind of monster are you, Jose?" the victim's great-grandmother asked the defendants. "You're both very sick! You are the worst kind of sickos."

The boy's great-aunt, Maggie Hernandez, said she had memories of Juarez as an "innocent child" -- memories that she said have been replaced by her being an abusive parent to Noah.

"She would paint a picture of her being a great mom while abusing Noah behind closed doors," she said. "I will never forget him and I will never forget the monsters who took him away from us."

State Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, told the judge, "It deserves to be noted that the tragedy of Noah Cuatro has been and will continue to be felt far beyond these courtroom walls. Noah was not only betrayed by his parents, who are sitting here today, but the network established to protect children from mistreatment also failed."

He noted that the little boy had once made the request to "never forget me," saying that he pledged to "do all I can to honor it by reminding our world, 'Let's all remember Noah.'"

L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement Tuesday saying, "Today's sentencing is another step towards achieving justice for Noah Cuatro."

Barger added, "The horrific treatment this little boy suffered at the hands of his parents disgusted me. Life sentences without the possibility of parole would have been most appropriate, in my opinion, but I respect the judicial and sentencing process. I am hopeful today's sentencing will help his surviving siblings, grandmother, and family members heal and find some peace. Little Noah's memory will be in my heart and mind forever."

Outside court, the boy's great-aunt said she believed that the county's Department of Children and Family Services "failed him."

Also in the Lancaster courtroom in support of the victim's family were members of the families of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos and 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, whose mothers and their boyfriends were convicted of murder in previous trials.

"It's a sad day," Avalos' aunt, Maria Barron, told reporters outside court. "I mean it keeps happening over and over again ... DCFS needs to be held accountable ... Kids are still dying under their care."

One of Fernandez's cousins, Emily Carranza, said, "Eleven years ago, we stood in the same place as Noah's family ... We've come together to support one another."

Another of Fernandez's cousins, Olivia Rubio, said that she never met Noah, but that he "holds a place in my heart just like Anthony and Gabriel."

"I hope we don't have to stand here with another family and grieve again because this hurts," she told reporters.

Authorities were called after Cuatro and Juarez reported a drowning in their family pool in the 1200 block of East Avenue S around 4 p.m. 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.

Then-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 great-grandmother subsequently 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.

Pasadena-based Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services was also named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit, which alleges the agency knew of or suspected the abuse and misconduct occurring in Noah's home after the boy was sent to the agency by DCFS for mental health services, but failed to report it.

Hathaway-Sycamores has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

"Noah's death was tragic and we all mourn his passing," Hathaway-Sycamores CEO Debbie Manners said in a statement. "However, as we have clearly stated in the past, Sycamores had no knowledge of any abuse impacting Noah and also did not provide services to him while he was living with his parents. ... Sycamores is not involved in this criminal matter and we have aggressively denied any liability related to ongoing civil litigation connected to the case."

The DCFS issued the following statement following Tuesday's sentencing:

"With the conclusion of this devastating criminal case, it is our hope that Noah Cuatro's loved ones have achieved a sense of justice and peace. In Los Angeles County, social workers and other professionals dedicated to safeguarding children continue to grieve Noah and other child victims of violence. Tragedies of this nature reaffirm our purpose of striving to keep children safe and families well through the collective efforts of county departments, community and faith-based organizations, advocates and engaged citizens. Suspicions of child abuse or neglect may be reported 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by calling the Child Protection Hotline at 800-540-4000."