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File photo
Rebecca Hernandez-Velasco

Prosecutors say the pair forced the young boy to stand in a tub of icy water for punishment — an act which led to his death.

The pair accused of the murder said today they don't know what happened — especially how the 9-year-old died.

Early testimony in the preliminary hearing for Rebecca Hernandez-Velasco, 19, and Pedro Gaucin-Canales, 36, gave rise to more questions than answers over the death of Josue Contreras-Velasco.

The defendants — identified as the victim's sister and a "family friend," were in 3rd District Court for the start of a preliminary hearing on charges of first-degree felony murder and second-degree counts of child abuse and obstruction of justice.

On July 22, authorities responded to the Melting Pot Restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, where officers found the boy's body on the floor in the kitchen area. Salt Lake Police Officer Dennis McGowan testified that a police recruit observed the child's socks were on his feet in a haphazard manner and his shoes were next to the body, with the laces still tied.

McGowan said both the defendants were cooperative and courteous, but professed no knowledge of what happened to lead to the boy's death.

Gaucin-Canales, who had a managerial position at the restaurant, would take the boy to work and have him help with minor tasks, such as cleaning. In exchange, Gaucin-Canales would buy him clothes or tutor the child, according to testimony.

The sister said on the day the child died, she was cleaning in the bathroom and heard Gaucin-Canales cry out. The boy's body was on the floor, according to her testimony.

Gaucin-Canales called the boy's mother, his wife and 911.

Under questioning by defense attorney Ron Yengich, McGowan said the man's demeanor was "resigned, calm to whatever had occurred." When asked to elaborate, McGowan said, "he was not emotional. His demeanor was calm, perhaps traumatized or sad after what he went through."

Prosecutors contend the pair forced Josue to stand naked into a tub of icy water for 45 minutes as a punishment. Attorneys on both sides of the case have said they do not know why the pair wanted to punish Josue.

Testimony was to continue this afternoon, with a state medical examiner slated to reveal more details about the child's cause of death.

Both Hernandez-Velasco and Gaucin-Canales, who appeared in court in beige jump suits and spoke through Spanish-speaking interpreters, are being held in the Salt Lake County Jail on $1 million cash-only bail.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com