LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Justice was handed down Thursday for the torture and murder of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy, Gabriel Fernandez, in the form of a life sentence for his mother and a death sentence for her boyfriend.
Isauro Aguirre, 37, and Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 34, faced Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli in downtown Los Angeles in the May 2013 killing of Gabriel, who had been tortured and starved before being beaten to death. Aguirre apparently believed Gabriel was gay.
"Gabriel had unconditional love for you, and you took advantage of that," a relative said before the pair was sentenced.
Gabriel's biological father, who is serving time for robbery, was also present at the sentencing hearing, but declined to speak. He watched the sentencing from his cell.
Jurors last December recommended Aguirre be sentenced to death after convicting him of first-degree murder and torture. Fernandez pleaded guilty in February to murder and torture in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During the trial, it was revealed that Gabriel had been starved, kept in handcuffs and shot with BB guns. Court records also detailed that Gabriel had been doused with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and locked in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams.
Pearl Fernandez called 911 on May 22, 2013, to report that her son was not breathing. According to testimony, she told sheriff's deputies that Gabriel had fallen and hit his head on a dresser.
When paramedics arrived, they found Gabriel naked in a bedroom, not breathing, with a cracked skull, three broken ribs and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin. Gabriel died two days later.
"It goes without saying the conduct was horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil," the judge said. "It is unimaginable the pain this child probably endured.
"You want to say the conduct was animalistic, but that would be wrong," he continued. "Because even animals know how to take care of their young, some to an extent that they sacrifice their own lives in caring for their young."
The case had exposed severe deficiencies in the way cases of possible child abuse were handled by Los Angeles County. The boy's first-grade teacher, Jennifer Garcia, had called authorities to report that the boy had asked her if it was normal for a mother to hit her children with a belt.
Los Angeles County social workers apparently found nothing wrong in multiple contacts with the family before Gabriel's death.
A subsequent investigation led to criminal charges being filed against two former social workers – Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement – and their supervisors, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt. They are awaiting trial on one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records involving the boy.
Garcia described Gabriel to the court as a kind child who liked to help his classmates and her in the classroom, and said his abuse and death will haunt her for the rest of her life.
"They are evil people for what they did. And despite how I feel, I know that if Gabriel had survived, he wouldn't have wanted his mom or Isauro to be punished for anything that they did to him," she said. "Because that is the kind of person he was."
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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