A 14-month-old whose mother’s boyfriend has been charged in the boy’s slaying died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office said.
Julio Mejia, 44, was charged Wednesday with one count each of murder and assault on a child causing death. He pleaded not guilty.
Mejia is suspected of fatally beating his girlfriend’s son Sunday in a Hawthorne apartment he shared with the victim, his mother and two older siblings, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
The suspect is not the toddler’s biological father, officials said.
Mejia’s bail has been set at $1 million. He is scheduled to appear in court again Sept. 17.
The victim’s mother, Sandra Cartagena, was also arrested after her son’s death, but has not been charged.
Records show police have not been previously called to the couple's home for any domestic violence reports.
Cartagena’s 9- and 14-year-old sons have been taken into protective custody by the Department of Children and Family Services, according to LASD.
A neighbor told NBC4 the toddler had been sick last week. His mother took him to the doctor, who said he had a double-ear infection, the neighbor said.
If convicted, Meija could face a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in state prison, the DA said.
The charges against Meija are similar to those faced by another Southern California couple, accused in the May 24 death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.
In that case, Gabriel's mother and her boyfriend face capital murder charges after the boy's broken body was found at the Palmdale apartment he shared with the couple and his siblings.
Gabriel Fernandez's case garnered national headlines and sparked days of protest against the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services, which critics say did not do enough to protect the 8-year-old despite dozens of complaints by family members, teachers and neighbors.
More Southern California Stories: