Couple Charged With Second-Degree Murder Of Infant

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Two Payson residents were arrested Wednesday on charges of killing their infant son.

Justin Philip Valencia, 19, and Nichole Ploughe, 18, are being charged with second-degree murder in the alleged killing of their 2-month-old son, Leon Valencia.

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Justin Valencia

Payson Police Commander Don Engler said the baby was transported to Phoenix Children's Hospital by helicopter Dec. 5 with serious injuries.

The infant died Wednesday after being moved from the hospital to Hospice. The baby was moved after hospital staff concluded the baby was too seriously injured to survive.

Engler said the investigation, which is still ongoing, led to the charges. The two are being charged with murder because they had custody of the child when the injuries occurred that that led to the death.

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Nichole Ploughe

He said the child had head and spinal cord injuries, but the investigation is ongoing to determine what caused them.

The police commander said the two will face harsher sentences if convicted of murdering their son because state statutes mandate longer sentences for killing children under 15 years of age.

The minimum sentence in Arizona, according to state statute is 16 years. Aggravating factors, such as the age of the child, could add six additional years to the sentence.

Valencia and Ploughe are being held in the Gila County Jail in Globe.

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