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Parents of 3-year-old girl plead not guilty to murder, abuse

PHOENIX (AP) — The parents of a 3-year-old Arizona girl who weighed just 15 pounds when she died have pleaded not guilty to murder and child abuse charges in a case that has renewed scrutiny of Arizona’s child protection system.

Rosemary Velazco, 36, and Carlos Tercerro Cruz, 28, both of Surprise, entered their pleas Thursday in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix.

Each faces one count of first-degree murder and kidnapping and five counts of child abuse.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has said his office was considering whether to seek the death penalty if the couple are convicted of the murder charge.

Their nearly 4-year-old daughter was found dead May 23. A relative had called police to the couple’s home because the girl was unresponsive.

Police said the girl showed signs of extreme malnourishment and had numerous injuries that included a cut exposing her skull. She and a brother shared a bedroom that had a padlock that could only be locked from the outside, police said.

Citing a court rule imposing secrecy requirements on documents involving juvenile crime victims, the grand jury indictment charging the parents identifies the dead girl only as “confidential victim A.” The Surprise Police Department previously identified her as Alexandra Velazco-Tercerro, while the state Department of Child Safety separately identified her as Alexandra Tercerro.

The girl was placed in foster care at birth because she tested positive for methamphetamines but was returned to her parents about 10 months later after they completed substance abuse and parenting classes.

The head of the Department of Child Safety disclosed during a May 28 legislative oversight hearing that his agency had taken custody of another infant from the family in June 2014, but the parents told social workers Alexandra and her brother were out of the country.

State Rep. Kate Brophy McGee during the hearing called the case “a horrible, horrible tragedy.”

Brophy McGee said she’ll sponsor legislation allowing the department to drug-test parents who are reunified with their children after losing custody because of drug abuse.

“We require professional athletes to pee in a cup before they play a game,” the Phoenix Republican said. “Why do we not require this of drug-addicted parents who want to be parents again?”

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