LOS ANGELES – A woman suspected of abducting 4-year-old Jessica Cortez from a city park pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of kidnapping and child stealing.
The plea for Patricia Cornejo, 39, was entered by her public defender at the arraignment. Asked by the judge if she understood an order to stay away from the girl, her family and witnesses, Cornejo answered, "Yes."
Deputy District Attorney Ron Geltz declined comment on the motive for the alleged kidnapping. He added that authorities have found no previous connection between Cornejo, a mother of four, and the child.
Bail was set at $500,000. If convicted, Cornejo faces up to 13 years in prison.
According to police, Cornejo confessed to taking Jessica from a playground at a park where the girl had been playing with her family Sunday evening. Jessica later complained of a sore throat, so Cornejo on Tuesday took her to a medical clinic. The receptionist there recognized the little girl and called police.
After Cornejo was arrested, her two daughters were placed in protective custody, Pomeroy said. He said her two sons live with their father, who has not been identified by police.
Police believe Jessica simply walked away with her abductor.
"I don't believe there was great force used and perhaps nothing more complicated than this woman held hands with Jessica and walked her out of the park," Pomeroy said.
The receptionist who recognized Jessica was working just her second day at St. John's Well Child Center. She said she recognized the girl even though her hair had been cut and she wore different clothes, was barefoot and dirty.
"I was certain, I was positive," Denise Leon said.
Within hours Jessica was reunited with her family.
"It was very moving," her mother, Maria Hernandez, said. "We looked at each other. I yelled 'mija' (my daughter) and she yelled 'mama!"'
Jessica and her parents returned to Echo Park on Wednesday to thank police and others who helped facilitate her rescue.
"Me siento bien (I feel fine)," Jessica said in Spanish. As she left with her family, she waved and blew kisses.