Gabriel Fernandez would have turned 13- years-old on Tuesday, Feb. 20, if he had not been in the care of his mother Pearl Sinthia Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre.
Gabriel was 8-years-old when he was tortured and killed at the hands of his mother, who avoided a trial last week by entering a guilty plea for murder. After a lengthy and graphic trial that displayed horrific evidence of cruelty and torture, Aguirre was found guilty by a jury who recommended the death penalty.
Gabriel was regularly beaten, starved, forced to sleep in a closet and tortured until his death in 2013.
Gabriel’s birthday underlined that it has taken five long years to go through the legal system to seek justice for his murder.
In Palmdale, the city where he last lived, a tree previously dedicated in his memory was surrounded by birthday messages to mark the day.
Sylmar resident Emily Carranza had cupcakes for her children and they sang “Happy Birthday” and talked about him. Carranza, a cousin, said she wants to hold on to his memory as the sweet boy he was and wants her children to remember him too.
“I remember your last birthday party Gabriel [when he was six years old] when we played in the jumper,” said her son Paul Lerma. Her daughter made silly faces she said, to “try to make Gabriel laugh.”
Carranza, who attended court to hear the jury verdict of Aguirre and later to witness Pearl Fernandez plead “guilty,” broke down in tears while explaining that after years of dealing with the loss of her cousin and hearing the horrific details, her emotions were difficult to contain.
“I’m glad it’s over,” she said.
Knowing that Fernandez would not be released from prison brought a long awaited relief. “I’m a churchgoing woman so I can’t say I hate her, but I hate what she did.”
Carranza said the plea agreement allowed Fernandez to circumvent a death sentence or having to publicly face what she did to her son during a very public trial.
Gabriel’s father and paternal grandparents supported the plea agreement and had consulted with the District Attorney. They recognized that Fernandez’ guilty plea would mean that Gabriel’s siblings wouldn’t have to return to LA and go back to court to provide testimony again, this time in front of their mother.
“It was very hard for them to witness what they did to their brother and to go to court,” Carranza said.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Fernandez is expected to be sentenced June 7 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She admitted to the first-degree murder charge and a special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture.
Aguirre, is scheduled to be sentenced March 8.
The trial for the social workers involved in this case is still pending.