Family members have identified the child as Emmanuel Burton.
Chowchilla Police say the 2-year-old boy was beaten and killed, and then left at a Madera gas station.
"It's so surreal," said the victim's stepmom Jeanette Burton. "This isn't happening, you know, this can't be real."
Jeanette Burton says her stepson, Emmanuel Burton, was the little boy in Tuesday’s homicide in Chowchilla. She & the child’s dad are separated.She was taking care of Burton until Sunday when his dad asked for him back. Jackson and Meza(the suspects) are due in court today @ABC30 pic.twitter.com/QleB6d81JY— Nathalie Granda (@NathalieABC30) March 15, 2018
We weren't allowed in the courtroom, but the suspect, 39-year-old Cornell Jackson, appeared in front of a judge via video on Thursday to plead not guilty.
"My nephew is dead, so how are you not guilty? It doesn't make sense to me," said the victim's uncle Markus Johnson.
Johnson claims to have known the suspect growing up, but never thought he'd hurt his nephew.
Police say Jackson called 9-1-1 to tell them he was going to the hospital with a drowning victim. When asked to give his location, he dropped Burton and two other children off at a gas station.
Chowchilla Police arrested him and his girlfriend, Monica Meza on Tuesday. Jackson has been charged with torture and murder
"(Emmanuel) getting dropped off at a gas station like that, is really bad on my mind right now," said Johnson. "Him being beat up, is really bad on my mind, his chest being caved in."
Since this is a capital murder case, the district attorney says it's possible Jackson could face the death penalty.
"There's no reason or excuse for what they did," said Burton.
The District Attorney's office decided not to file charges on Meza, but wouldn't comment on the reason.
Jackson is still in custody with no bail. He's due back in court later this month.