LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has dropped its bid for the death penalty against a Lancaster mother and her boyfriend charged in the death of her 10-year-old son, a prosecutor told a judge Thursday.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami opposed the latest decision in the case of Heather Maxine Barron and Kareem Ernesto Leiva.
"This is not based upon new evidence," Hatami said in a statement. "This is not based upon new mitigation or new law. I stand by the special-circumstances committee decision that I announced to the court on the record two years ago."
Hatami has previously criticized Gascón's new directives, including one that states "a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case." Under fire, Gascón has walked back some of his earlier statements, including changing course on sentence enhancements in certain cases involving hate crimes, children and the elderly.
Barron, 31, and Leiva, 35, now face a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted as charged of murder and torture, along with a special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture in the June 2018 death of Anthony Avalos.
The move came just two days after what would have been Anthony's 13th birthday.
"He was always so joyful, and his laughter, his smile, so contagious," Maria Barron, his aunt, said. "It's just not fair."
Anthony's grandmother called the decision "unjustified."
"They committed this crime," Anthony's aunt said. "They did this to Anthony. They should be punished."
Prosecutors allege Barron and Leiva severely tortured Anthony during the last five or six days of his life. The alleged abuse included whipping him with a belt and a looped cord, pouring hot sauce on his face and mouth and holding him by his feet and dropping him on his head repeatedly, according to court filings.
Family members filed a lawsuit last summer against the county, alleging that multiple social workers failed to properly respond to reports of abuse.
This is the second high-profile case in which the prosecutors assigned have publicly objected to the death penalty being dropped as a potential sentence.
Deputy District Attorneys Garret Dameron and Geoff Lewin said they were "ordered to remove the death penalty as punishment consideration" in the case of Michael Christopher Mejia, who is awaiting trial on charges related to the 2017 killings of Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer and Mejia's cousin.
Along with the murder charge, Barron and Leiva both face two counts of child abuse involving two other children in the home. Leiva is also facing an allegation that he personally inflicted great bodily injury on one of the children in circumstances involving domestic violence.
A pretrial hearing is scheduled for July 20.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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