LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The older brother of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy who was allegedly tortured and killed by his mother and her boyfriend in May 2013 recounted a harrowing tale of abuse, telling a jury that his sibling was forced to eat cat litter and cat feces and was repeatedly beaten in the months leading up to his death.
Gabriel Fernandez’s 16-year-old brother, who was identified in court only as Ezequiel C., told jurors that he recalled his little brother being hit by his mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, and frequently being kept in a “box” in the couple’s bedroom.
“I noticed two beds in your room, but Gabriel still stayed in that box most of the time?” Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami asked the teenager in reference to photos showing the bedroom the brothers shared.
“Yes,” he responded.
His testimony came on the third day of trial for Aguirre, a 37-year-old former security guard who is charged with murder in Gabriel’s May 22, 2013, fatal beating, and also faces a special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Aguirre and Fernandez, 34, who will be tried separately.
During his opening statement Monday, Hatami told jurors that the youngster was systematically tortured because Aguirre believed the child was gay.
One of Aguirre’s attorneys, John Alan, acknowledged that Aguirre committed “unspeakable acts of abuse” against his girlfriend’s 8-year-son before “exploding into a rage of anger” that resulted in the boy’s death, but said in his opening statement that the evidence would show that “Isauro never intended for Gabriel to die.”
The boy’s sibling said he recalled Aguirre calling his younger brother “gay a lot,” and some times placing a sock in — and a bandana over — the boy’s mouth.
“So, Gabriel was in the box for months and tied up like he was?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” the teen responded.
He said Gabriel was hidden in the box when social workers came to their apartment and that his mother and her boyfriend told him to lie about his brother’s injuries and to say that they occurred while the two boys were playing.
He said he also recalled his younger brother being kicked and being struck by Aguirre with the metal part of a belt, a metal hanger, a wooden club and a baseball bat, along with being shot with a BB gun in the face and groin area.
“Is it tough to remember that?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” the boy responded.
He testified that his mother also kicked Gabriel in the groin area, hit him with a broomstick, punched him and forced him to wear girl’s clothing to school. He said his younger sibling — who would take other clothing and change in the school restroom — was hit once by his mom after she caught him.
The teen testified that he remembered his mother and Aguirre putting the boy in the bathtub and Aguirre spraying him in the face with pepper spray.
“They’d make him eat the cat litter and the cat poop,” he said, noting that his mother hit him after catching him trying to sneak food to his younger brother.
Aguirre would sometimes put make-up on the boy to cover his bruises, the teen said.
Paramedics and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies responded to the apartment after the couple called 911 to report that the child was not breathing.
The youngster — who had missed school for two weeks — was declared brain dead that day and was taken off life support two days later.
His death triggered investigations into the county’s child welfare system and resulted in the filing of criminal charges of child abuse and falsifying public records against two former county social workers and two of their supervisors, who are due back in court Friday, Oct. 20, for a pretrial hearing.