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Parents charged with murder in death of malnourished child

PHOENIX (AP) — A suburban Phoenix couple was formally charged Wednesday in the death of their 3-year-old daughter who authorities said weighed just 15 pounds and had numerous injuries when she died last weekend.

Carlos Cruz, 28, and Rosemary Velazco, 36, now are each accused of first-degree murder and felony child abuse, according to the Maricopa County attorney’s office. The couple from Surprise had previously been jailed only on suspicion of one count of child abuse.

Surprise police said the child showed signs of being beaten and sexually abused when she was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead Saturday, a week shy of her fourth birthday.

Neither Cruz nor Velazco has a lawyer yet. But in a jailhouse interview with a Phoenix TV station Tuesday, Cruz denied sexually and physically abusing his daughter.

“I’m not guilty of what they’re investigating,” Cruz told KTVK (http://bit.ly/1cZBYQl). “My conscience is clean. … She’s my blood. She’s my daughter.”

The girl showed signs of extreme malnourishment, had injuries all over her body that were in various stages of healing and had a 1-inch cut on her forehead that exposed her skull, police said.

Investigators said Velazco told them her husband has anger issues and would use a belt to repeatedly whip the girl and her 6-year-old brother.

“Yes, I would hit her. I can’t say I didn’t,” Cruz told KTVK. “I would hit her but not to the point of killing her. Two on the behind or one with a belt. The normal.”

Police served a search warrant and found a small paint can that appeared to be used as a toilet by the children, and the girl’s bed, which was a 2-foot-by-2-foot wobbly wooden structure. The girl and her brother shared a bedroom with their parents.

The bedroom door had no handle, but it did have a padlock about 43 inches from the floor that could be locked and opened only from the outside, according to police, who said they also found keys to the lock suspended by a rope about 6 feet off the floor.

“I was told by investigators this is one of the worst cases of child abuse and neglect they have seen in their career,” Surprise police Lt. Bert Anzini said.

Police also said there was little food in the refrigerator, but the freezer contained beer.

Cruz said his daughter only weighed 15 pounds “because she ate very little.”

Arizona Department of Child Safety officials said the girl was removed from the home in 2011 when she and her mother tested positive for amphetamines at her birth.

Cruz and Velazco remain jailed on bail of $500,000 apiece.

The couple’s 6-year-old son and an infant are in foster care, according to authorities. Cruz said he hopes he can put the allegations behind him and regain custody of the two children.

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Information from: KTVK-TV, http://www.azfamily.com/

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