By Terri Vermeulen Keith
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A woman whose 10-year-old son’s lifeless body was found on the living room floor of their Lancaster home told responding sheriff’s deputies that she didn’t hit her children, and asked if she was going to be taken to jail and if her children were going to be removed from her custody, a former deputy testified Tuesday.
Ex-Deputy Adan Ordaz told Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta — who is hearing the non-jury trial of Heather Maxine Barron and her boyfriend, Kareem Ernesto Leiva — that Anthony Avalos appeared not to be conscious or breathing and that he immediately “realized something was wrong” because the boy had “multiple injuries” that “didn’t seem right for a 10-year-old boy.”
The boy’s mother “didn’t seem really distressed” and wasn’t crying or hysterical, the former deputy said. Ordaz told the judge that Barron claimed the boy had thrown himself back and hit his head during a tantrum a day earlier, but the ex-deputy said it didn’t seem to be a reasonable explanation for the boy’s injuries.
“She was saying that she doesn’t hit her kids. She was asking us if we were going to take her to jail … if we were going to take her kids from her,” Ordaz said.
Barron’s daughter, Destiny, who was upstairs that day, told Ordaz that “my mom doesn’t hit me, nobody hits us,” the former deputy said, noting that another of the woman’s sons, Rafael, gave “pretty much exactly the same” statement. He said it seemed suspicious.
“To me, it seems like maybe they were told to say those things,” Ordaz said.
Barron and Leiva are charged with one count each of murder and torture involving Avalos’ June 2018 death, along with two counts of child abuse involving two of the boy’s half-siblings.
The murder count includes the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture. Barron, 33, and Leiva, 37, now face a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole if they are convicted as charged.
Sheriff’s Deputy David Pine, who was the first to arrive at the family’s Lancaster apartment following a 911 call on June 20, 2018, said the boy appeared to be dead. He said he began chest compressions in an effort to revive the boy, whose legs were covered with bruises and marks.
He said he noticed that Avalos mother wasn’t crying or hysterical and that he considered her demeanor to be abnormal.
“I heard her say … Why are you questioning my kids? I didn’t do anything,” Pine testified. “She just kept saying that she didn’t do this.”
Just before her first lengthy interview with sheriff’s detectives, Barron was notified while at Antelope Valley Hospital that Avalos was being transferred to UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and that he was not expected to recover.
“Oh my God, oh my God. Don’t say that, don’t say that, don’t say that,” she can be heard saying in the audio recording, which was played in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom. “Don’t tell me that, don’t tell me that. That’s my baby, my first-born … I promise I didn’t do nothing.”
When asked about the “pretty significant scrapes” on Avalos’ knees, the boy’s mother said he got them while playing basketball and that he liked to “pick his scabs.”
“I know you guys are coming at me like, like I’m Gabriel’s mom,” she said, in an apparent reference to the case against Pearl Fernandez, who was convicted along with her boyfriend of murdering her 8-year-old son. “And it was nothing like that. I promise I did not hurt my son. I did not let nobody hurt my son. I promise you to God. You can give me a lie detector test. I did not do this.”
In his opening statement last week, Deputy District Attorney Saeed Teymouri told the judge that Barron and Leiva tortured and abused Avalos for two weeks before his death, while an attorney for Leiva countered that his client should be acquitted of murder.
“Anthony Avalos graduated the fourth grade on June 7, 2018, and for two consecutive weeks he was abused and tortured every single day culminating to when the first responders found his lifeless body on June 20,” Teymouri said.
The boy died early the next morning.
Teymouri told the judge that there had been multiple contacts with the county’s Department of Children and Family Services dating back to 2014.
“She’s been torturing her kids for a long period of time, and once defendant Leiva came into the picture it turned deadly,” he said.
The prosecutor said the boy was “already brain dead” and had been lying on the floor in the family’s townhouse “for at least a day, possibly more” when Barron called 911 to seek assistance for the boy, and that the two “concocted a story that Anthony Avalos had injured himself.”
The boy had “new and old injuries — literally from head to toe,” the deputy district attorney said, showing a photo of the boy while he was alive and then in a video from the hospital in which some of his injuries were depicted.
Leiva subsequently acknowledged that he had the boy kneel on uncooked rice and admitted that he had rendered him unconscious for about five minutes just days earlier, according to the prosecutor.
Leiva’s attorney countered that the evidence would demonstrate that there is “reasonable doubt” involving the murder charge against his client.
Dan Chambers said the two major issues will be “a lack of intent to kill” and the issues of “causation.”
Chambers told the judge that many of the statements by the boy’s half-siblings are “inconsistent,” saying that their initial statements “showed a lack of any actions on behalf of Mr. Leiva with respect to the treatment of Anthony” and that “Mr. Leiva’s conduct allegedly grew worse” as the children underwent further questioning.
“Those inconsistencies in the evidence will be apparent and once we demonstrate that, it will show that what the children claim they say Mr. Leiva is doing is inconsistent with the medical evidence,” the defense attorney said. “This case is a case of severe abuse, but as to Mr. Leiva, it is not a murder.”