Everything to Know About Gabriel Fernandez's Tragic Abuse Case Examined in Netflix Docuseries
The series, which began streaming Feb. 26, traces the horror Gabriel endured at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. Each was convicted of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of torture.
At the couple’s sentencing, Los Angeles County Judge George G. Lomeli called the violence the boy suffered “horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil.”
Here are six things to know about the disturbing case.
1. Gabriel Was Fatally Beaten After He Didn’t Clean Up His Toys
Los Angeles County prosecutors said in court Gabriel 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 May 22, 2013, Gabriel was found naked, with a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body at his family’s home in Palmdale. He was declared brain dead and taken off life support two days later.
The day he was reported unresponsive, his mother and Aguirre beat him fiercely after he didn’t clean up his toys, the Los Angeles Times reported.
2. Parents Laughed During Abuse, Brother Testified
Gabriel’s older brother testified that Gabriel was forced to eat cat feces and cat litter and prosecutors said he “slept bound and gagged inside a small cabinet.”
The brother also testified, “My mom and her boyfriend made Gabriel eat spoiled stuff or expired stuff.”
The teen, who was 12 years old when Gabriel died, said his mother and her boyfriend had 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.
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He told the jury that his mother and Aguirre focused their wrath on Gabriel and didn’t abuse him or his sister.
The couple would laugh during the beatings, the brother testified.
3. Mom’s Boyfriend Beat Gabriel Because He Thought He Was Gay: Prosecutors
In a press release, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said, “Gabriel was frequently beaten by Aguirre because he believed the boy was gay.”
The director of the Netflix series, Brian Knappenberger, tells PEOPLE, “What we do know is that he called him gay when he was beating him.”
Knappenberger added, “It’s one of the first things he told the first responders when the first responders entered the house and were trying to save Gabriel’s life. So take from that which you will, but it certainly played a role.”
4. Deputies Visited Gabriel’s Home Multiple Times ‘But Found No Signs of Abuse’
An investigation by the L.A. Times 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.”
“I think Gabriel could have been saved about a dozen different ways and that’s what’s so intense and so heartbreaking about his story,” Knappenberger, who also directed the 2017 Netflix documentary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, tells PEOPLE.
5. Mom Got Life in Prison, Boyfriend Got Death Sentence
Fernandez pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, admitting Gabriel’s death was an intentional murder by torture. Aguirre was convicted at trial of first-degree murder, with the jury confirming the special allegation against him of intentional murder by torture.
At the couple’s sentencing, Judge Lomeli told them, “I hope you think about the pain you caused this child and that it tortures you,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
The judge called the abuse Gabriel suffered “horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil.”
He then sentenced Fernandez to life in prison and ordered Aguirre be put to death.
6. Director: Gabriel Was Full of ‘Warmth and Potential’
Knappenberger, citing court records, tells PEOPLE Gabriel’s mother “took him back for welfare money, that she wanted extra welfare money.”
Knappenberger says Gabriel came from a fractured home environment and was shuffled between relatives before going back to his mother and Aguirre.
“At one point he was with his uncle and his partner and during that period of time, there’s no question, he seems happy,” says Knappenberger. “He seems like a young, curious kid. I think you see that in a lot of the pictures of Gabriel. If you look at him, it’s easy to understand the kind of warmth and potential he had.”
The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez began streaming on Netflix on Feb. 26.