On Monday, the grandfather of Gabriel Fernandez — the 8-year-old California boy who was allegedly tortured and murdered in 2013 — tearfully testified about the last time he spoke to the boy and the promise he made but could not keep.
Robert Fernandez, according to KTLA, testified for the prosecution in the murder trial of Isauro Aguirre, Gabriel’s mother’s boyfriend.
Prosecutors alleged that Aguirre abused and ultimately killed the boy because he believed Gabriel was gay. Identical allegations have been made against the murdered child’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, who is being tried separately at a later date.
Robert Fernandez, who along with his wife had previously taken care of Gabriel, broke down Monday as he recalled the last time he heard Gabriel’s voice — during a phone call that came months after his daughter and Aguirre allegedly took the boy into their own home.
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“He said he wanted to come home. I told him that…the DCFS was investigating the case and I couldn’t bring him home, but that they were, one of these days, going to bring him home,” the grandfather said, according to CBS Los Angeles. “And I promised that to him.”
Gabriel died from a skull fracture, shattered ribs and severe burns. Buried in his skin were BB pellets; one was also found in his lung.
Aguirre, 37, and Fernandez, 34, have both pleaded not guilty to murder charges. Both defendants face a possible death sentence.
Robert Fernandez told the court he practically raised Gabriel, reports ABC7, and that he loved him like a son.
“We had custody of him,” Robert testified. “I didn’t think Pearl wanted him.”
The grandfather testified that Aguirre called saying he wanted to take Gabriel to a barbecue, promising to return him in time for school the next day. But the child was never brought back.
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After that, Fernandez said he only saw Gabriel a few times before learning of his death, according to ABC 7.
Gabriel’s grandfather will resume his testimony Tuesday. The child’s aunt will also testify Tuesday.
Last week, Gabriel’s teacher took the stand and spoke about her attempts to bring the boy’s alleged abuse to light.
Trial dates have not yet been scheduled for Stefanie Rodriguez, 32, Patricia Clement, 66, Kevin Bom, 37, and Gregory Merritt, 61 — four Los Angeles County social workers who have been charged with child abuse and falsifying records stemming from Gabriel’s death. They have all pleaded not guilty, and judge order them to stand trial this spring.
PEOPLE was unable to reach the attorneys representing Aguirre and Fernandez for comment.