In court on Wednesday, a California teen described the relentless assaults inflicted for months on his 8-year-old brother until, at last, the little boy was dead.
Los Angeles County prosecutors argue Gabriel Fernandez was the victim of an eight-month-long campaign of terror by his mother and her boyfriend, who were “conspiring together to deceive everyone in order to torture [him] to death,” after he moved to live with them in 2012, NBC Los Angeles reports.
On Wednesday, according to local TV stations CBS Los Angeles and KABC, Gabriel’s 16-year-old brother, Ezequiel, testified in horrific detail about the abuse the boy suffered at the hands of Isauro Aguirre.
Aguirre, 37, is on trial in L.A. Superior Court for murder in Gabriel’s May 2013 death.
Gabriel’s 34-year-old mother, Pearl Fernandez, is also charged with murder in the boy’s death. Her trial is pending.
Both have pleaded not guilty and face a possible death sentence if convicted.
According to news reports, the evidence and testimony in Aguirre’s trial has left both court observers and jurors stunned — sometimes gasping or sobbing at what they learned.
Aguirre’s attorney John Alan said in court this week his client is “guilty of murder” and does not deny the “unspeakable” abuse but that he should not face the special circumstance allegation of torture, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Alan said Aguirre became enraged before the boy’s final beating but “never intended for Gabriel to die.”
According to Ezequiel’s testimony, Gabriel was beaten daily and was forced to eat cat feces and cat litter.
When paramedics were called to his home on May 22, 2013, he was found naked, with a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body, according to the L.A. Times.
He was declared brain-dead and taken off life support two days later.
Gabriel’s death prompted criminal charges against some of the social workers who were involved in the boy’s care after they were allegedly negligent.
All of the accused social workers have reportedly pleaded not guilty.
A subsequent L.A. Times investigation found that, according to court documents, multiple L.A. sheriff’s deputies were also disciplined following Gabriel’s death. The paper reported earlier this year that “deputies visited Gabriel’s home multiple times … [but] found no signs of abuse and did not file paperwork that would have led specially trained detectives to do more investigating.”
Ezequiel told the jury this week that his brother suffered regular beatings, allegedly at the hands of Aguirre and his mother, and was gagged and bound without food or water for hours in a small, locked cabinet he called the “box.”
The couple would allegedly laugh during the beatings, he testified.
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Ezequiel said that Aguirre would pick up his brother by the neck and drop him to the floor when he passed out, would pepper-spray him in the face, make him eat cat litter and feces, use a belt buckle with a metal hanger to beat his naked body and shoot him in the face, chest, legs and groin with a BB gun.
Ezequiel said that on one occasion, Aguirre hit Gabriel’s head so hard on a wall that it left a mark.
He also testified that Aguirre and his mother would allegedly force Gabriel to eat rotten food — and when he threw it up, they would make him eat his own vomit.
“My mom and her boyfriend made Gabriel eat spoiled stuff or expired stuff,” he testified. “One thing I remember is expired spinach. He threw it up, and they made him eat it off the table.”
Asked if Aguirre made him eat his vomit, Ezequiel responded, “Yes.”
The teen, who was 12 years old when Gabriel died, said his mother and her boyfriend had allegedly threatened to beat him up if he alerted people to Gabriel’s abuse and told him to lie to social workers if they asked about how Gabriel received his injuries.
He told the jury that his mother and Aguirre allegedly focused their wrath on Gabriel and didn’t abuse him, his brother or sister.
Prosecutors said at the start of Aguirre’s trial that he was motivated, in part, by a belief that Gabriel was gay.
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“This wasn’t about drugs. This wasn’t about mental health issues,” L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami told the jury on Monday.
Aguirre was abusive “because he didn’t like him … he believed Gabriel was gay, and to him that was a bad thing … he did it out of hatred of a little boy,” Hatami said.
Gabriel’s 14-year-old sister, Virginia, also testified this week at Aguirre’s trial, according to KABC.
She said she regularly witnessed the beatings and that her brother was forced to wear pink leggings and a pink shirt to school.
On the night of Gabriel’s death, she told the jury, Aguirre “knocked the air out of him and he fell over, and he didn’t get back up.”
“So they picked him up, they threw him in the shower and they kept yelling at him to wake up,” she testified. “And when he didn’t wake up, my mother decided to call the police. And she told me to grab a rag, and we cleaned most of the blood that was on the floor.”
According to CBS News, Aguirre’s trial is expected to last between six to eight weeks.