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After authorities found 'no concerns,' police detail abuse of twins

By the CNN Wire Staff
Carmen Barahona faces aggravated child abuse and child neglect charges, as well as a first-degree murder charge.
Carmen Barahona faces aggravated child abuse and child neglect charges, as well as a first-degree murder charge.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The girl's body was found soaked with "hazardous liquid," police say
  • Police say Jorge Barahona "repeatedly punched" his adopted daughter until she died
  • Authorities say his wife helped; both are charged with murder and repeated abuse
  • Before the alleged killing, a state investigator found no reason for concern in the household

Miami (CNN) -- The same day that law enforcement records painted a grim picture of brutal, systemic abuse of 10-year-old Florida twins, one of whom was found dead in a plastic bag in her adoptive father's truck, the state child welfare agency released a report indicating that investigators had concluded there were "no safety threats" in the family's home.

Both of the twins' adoptive parents -- mother Carmen Barahona, 60, and father Jorge Barahona, 43 -- are charged with first-degree murder in the girl's death, with the mother being so charged Saturday and the father charged on all counts Monday. They also each face seven counts of aggravated child abuse and seven counts of child neglect.

James Loftus, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, told reporters Monday that the twins were found only after an extended period of "systemic long-term abuse." That culminated last Friday, when an arrest affidavit claims Jorge Barahona "repeatedly punched (the girl) while she screamed and cried, until she was dead."

"This is, in my experience, one of the saddest commentaries on the human condition that I've ever seen," Loftus said, calling the parents' alleged behavior "subhuman."

"It's depressing, it's sickening," Loftus said.

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Jorge Barahona earlier pleaded not guilty on charges of attempted first-degree murder with a weapon and aggravated child abuse with a weapon in the case.

Neither he or his wife Carmen had any past criminal history, according to police. It could not be determined whether either of the suspects had retained an attorney as of Monday.

A Miami-Dade police arrest affidavit released Monday claims the twins were "intentionally and repeatedly beaten, willfully tortured, maliciously punished and willfully and unlawfully caged, causing great bodily harm and/or permanent disability (or) disfigurement" by both parents. That includes being "repeatedly hit, punched ... and found and left for days on end, locked inside the only bathroom in the family home," according to the affidavit.

This treatment continued into this fall and winter, when both children were unenrolled from public school and kept home 24 hours a day. The twin boy's scar from a previous cleft palate surgery opened up in recent weeks but he didn't get medical care, the affidavit states.

Days before the twins were found, the Florida Department of Children and Families received tips alleging poor treatment of children at the Barahona household in Miami-Dade County.

One caller on February 10 claimed that the 10-year-old girl and another child had been "tied by their hands and feet with tape, and made to stay in the bathtub all day and night as a form of punishment," with the tape removed only so they could eat, according to a copy of the report released Monday.

No one was home when investigators went to the house that night, though they finally tracked down Carmen Barahona the following night. She told authorities that the twins weren't there, having moved in with the father, while an investigator saw two other adopted children in the home. The arrest affidavit claims the adoptive mother intentionally misled investigators.

Then, on February 12, authorities began looking into another claim that one of the Barahonas' children needed stitches after being hurt on the face and lip.

Carmen Barahona applied a bandage but didn't take the child to the hospital. The mother said the child fell -- though the report notes that "the injury is not consistent with the story." During that visit, the investigator did not see the female twin, whose name was Nubia.

Investigators went to the home and late that night filed a report, in which they did not find any reasons for concern for the children's well-being.

"There is no reason to believe that the family is about to flee or refuse access to the children," investigator Bridget Moore said in the "initial in home safety assessment" report. "The home was observed, and there were no hazardous conditions."

The report concluded with an assessment that the risk to the children was "moderate," with no risk of abuse.

"There are no concerns for the safety of the children while in the care of the parents," the investigator writes.

Two days later, on February 14, authorities say Jorge Barahona parked his pest-control truck alongside I-95. A roadside ranger said he found Barahona beside the truck and his adopted son ill inside the vehicle, which was filled with toxic chemicals. The boy was taken to a hospital to be treated for severe burns.

The body of Nubia -- the boy's twin sister -- was later discovered in the back of the truck in a plastic bag.

The arrest affidavit noted that the girl's body was decomposed and soaked with "hazardous liquid." Reinhard Motte, a Palm Beach County medical examiner, later determined Nubia was killed by blunt force trauma, and had numerous injuries on her body.

The arrest affidavit claims that she'd been beaten to death three days earlier by Jorge Barahona. The girl's twin brother told investigators Carmen Barahona was home then, having "assisted and encouraged the aggravated child abuse that resulted in" the girl's death.

The Florida Department of Children and Families held its fourth of five scheduled meetings Monday afternoon to examine how authorities had handled the case.

In one instance, a caller told Florida authorities that he knew the Barahonas, and he was worried about the couple's twins. The contents of that phone call, which was made two days before the twins were found, was released last week by the department.

The caller said he was worried that something sinister had happened to the 10-year-old girl because the Barahonas could not explain where the girl was.

"(Jorge Barahona) doesn't come out with a straight answer, which is worrying me so much that something might have happened to that little girl," said the caller, who was not named.

During Monday's press conference, Katherine Fernandez Rundle -- the state attorney for Miami-Dade -- said the surviving children in the Barahonas' home "clearly are key witnesses" in the case, describing their cooperation with investigators thus far as "very courageous."

Rundle said a decision hasn't been made yet on whether prosecutors would seek a death sentence in this case, though she signalled that this scenario appeared likely.

"If there ever was a case that the death penalty would apply, it would seem to apply to this one," she said.

CNN's Kimberly Segal contributed to this report.

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