After four long years, the trial has begun to seek justice for the death of 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez.
The first trial is for Isauro Aguirre who is believed to have dealt the final blows that killed the boy. The only explanation given, the prosecutor maintained, was the youngster was systematically tortured because the defendant believed the child was gay.
The first day of a jury trial was difficult for everyone in the courtroom, and as the days moved into the first week it hasn’t become easier. Those who knew Gabriel and were relatives, but hadn’t seen him since he was taken by his mother, sobbed.
They got up from their seats and excused themselves from the courtroom when it became too much. While they have spoken to prosecutors and read the results of the injuries listed on the coroner’s report, it was the first time that they saw the close up photos of Gabriel’s tortured body.
“Those photos will, forever, be etched in my memory,” said the boy’s cousin Emily Carranza. A Sylmar resident, Carranza has been closely following this case and is one of the founders of the website, “Gabriel’s Justice.”
It was the first time they saw the small cupboard where Gabriel was forced to sleep in bound and gagged. It was brought into the courtroom for all to see, along with the instruments of abuse.
It was hard not only for the relatives, but for everyone in the courtroom to stay composed. They heard horrific details about the boy being starved, with only cat litter and animal hair found in his stomach.
The prosecutor told the jury, “Gabriel’s teeth had been knocked out. He wasn’t allowed to go outside. His penis was burned, bruised and cut. He was forced to stay under cold water, he had no toys or friends and they [Aguirre and Gabriel’s mother] conspired together.”
Text messages between the two of them were shown. In one, Aguirre wrote that Gabriel was still underneath cold water. “It sucks to be him,” the text message read.
John Alan, the defense attorney for Aguirre, making a case to have him spared from the death penalty, acknowledged that the Palmdale man is guilty of murder, but said that he didn’t intend to kill Gabriel.
The prosecutor maintained the youngster was systematically tortured because the defendant believed the child was gay. Relatives doubted that “explanation.”
Alan said there were “unspeakable acts of abuse” against his girlfriend’s son Gabriel before “exploding into a rage of anger” that the defense maintains resulted in the boy’s unintentional death.
Aguirre, 37, is charged with capital murder in the May 22, 2013, beating death of Gabriel Fernandez, as is the boy’s 34-year-old mother, Pearl Fernandez, who will be tried separately. Fernandez could also face the death penalty if convicted.
“He is guilty of murder,” defense attorney John Alan told the seven-woman, five-man jury in his opening statement, but he said the evidence would show that “Isauro never intended for Gabriel to die” and that his client should not have been charged with a special circumstance allegation of torture that could bring the death penalty.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami relied on more than a dozen close-up photos to illustrate the “systematic torture of a helpless and innocent child.”
Before opening statements began, the bailiff in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom warned that “this is a highly emotional case” and asked everyone to either keep their emotions in check or leave the room to avoid being barred from the trial.
Hatami showed jurors a photo of Gabriel at age 7, “happy and healthy,” before he moved from his grandparents’ home and was forced to live with his mother and Aguirre in 2012.
Relatives told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that the grandparents who previously lived in Pacoima and San Fernando before moving to Palmdale, never went through formal custody hearings to have the Gabriel legally in their care as his guardian.
Up to then, his mother had no interest in caring for him. So when his mother showed up and took him under the premise of taking him to her apartment for a visit, they had no legal leg to stand on when she refused to return Gabriel to them.
“Pearl only wanted him for a welfare check,” a relative told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol. “She cut Gabriel off from interacting with his grandparents and other family members.
“It is so difficult to hear how much Gabriel suffered,” said Carranza.
“This case is about one thing, and that is the systematic torture of a helpless and innocent child,” Hatami said. “After eight months of living with the defendant … his body was battered. The evidence will show he was beaten, burned, bruised,” Hatami told jurors, displaying a photo of Gabriel lying in a hospital bed.
The prosecutor noted that Aguirre, when arrested stood 6-feet 2-inches tall and weighed 270 pounds. As a security guard, he was trained in the use of a baton and pepper spray and was “nothing more than a bully” who routinely abused the 4-feet 1-inch boy who weighed 59 pounds, the prosecutor said.
He said that two weeks after the child moved in with the defendants, the boy asked his first-grade teacher, “Is it normal to be hit with the metal part of a belt and to bleed?”
A month later, Gabriel came to school with his hair shaved into a mohawk, but with “chunks of his hair missing … bloody scabs … a busted lip,” the prosecutor said. “Gabriel cries almost every day after school …because he doesn’t want to go home.”
The youngster missed school for two weeks that April.
“(Aguirre and Fernandez) were torturing him and they were beating him” and texting back and forth about it, Hatami told the jury.
A worker at a welfare employment office called 9-1-1 to report the boy’s injuries on April 26, 2013, after seeing “that he has black eyes, bruises, burn marks, ligature marks,” the prosecutor said.
Thirteen days before he was killed, Gabriel was taken out of school again.
“He’ll never go back,” Hatami said, telling the panel that the child’s teacher later found a note in his desk that read, “I love you mom and Gabriel is a good boy.”
“Even tortured, Gabriel continued to try,” Carranza said through her tears. “This really broke me up. I have to remember him as the sweet little boy I knew who loved animals, not the images of his tortured body.”
She took issue with the defense’s argument for Aguirre.
The final beating came reportedly after Aguirre was told that the child perhaps searching for a solution, asked his mother if they could go away [without Aguirre].
“He was a little boy. To say he was beaten because he was gay? There is no explanation. This is really about hatred and evil,” Carranza said.
Following Aguirre’s trial, Pearl Fernandez will stand trial. The social workers who failed to take action are also facing charges.