BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — The adoptive parents of two California boys who were reported missing in 2020 pleaded not guilty Thursday to killing them.
Trezell West, 35, and Jacqueline West, 32, entered pleas in a Bakersfield courtroom to two counts of second-degree murder, two felony counts of willful cruelty to a child and a misdemeanor charge of making a false report of an emergency. They could face 30 years to life in prison if convicted.
They were ordered held without bail, with the judge calling them “a significant and substantial risk to public safety.”
“Just knowing that they are handcuffed and they aren’t leaving is a blessing,” Rosanna Willis, a cousin to the missing boys, told KERO-TV. “I could finally get some sleep now, you know, knowing they’re not out just running. So it’s a lot of relief on our family.”
The Wests were indicted by a grand jury and arrested Tuesday night. Their trial is tentatively set for May 23.
Their sons Orrin West, 4, and Orson West, 3, were reported missing from their family’s backyard in the desert town of California City on Dec. 21, 2020. A huge search by law enforcement agencies and community members failed to find them.
In announcing their arrests, Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said investigators believe the boys died three months before the parents reported them missing but she declined to provide details until the trial.
The bodies of the children haven’t been found.
The family has four other children, two of them also adopted, and all are in protective custody.
The missing boys lived with the Wests since 2018. The couple fostered them and then officially adopted them in 2019.
The family previously lived in Bakersfield, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) west of California City. Zimmer previously said that a week after the boys were reported missing “crucial information came to light” that brought in the involvement of police in Bakersfield.