Gabriel Fernandez died in 2013 after a months-long campaign of abuse by his mother and her boyfriend

By Christine Pelisek and Greg Hanlon
March 04, 2020 12:16 PM

The details of Gabriel Fernandez‘s 2013 death, after a months-long campaign of torture by his mother and her boyfriend, are unthinkable.

Two days before he was taken off life support at the hospital, Gabriel was found naked with a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body. A California judge described the abuse as “horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil” — and the case is examined on Netflix‘s new six-part docuseries, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, which began streaming Feb. 26.

The director of the series, Brian Knappenberger, tells PEOPLE that before Gabriel moved in with his mother and her boyfriend in 2012, Gabriel enjoyed happier days while living with his uncle and his uncle’s partner.

“During that period of time, no question, he seems happy,” Knappenberger says. “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.”

Gabriel Fernandez

Knappenberger, citing court records, says Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, had “basically left” Gabriel earlier in his childhood, but she “took him back for welfare money, that she wanted extra welfare money.”

At that point, Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, set about torturing the boy for eight months until his death.

Pearl Fernandez
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty
Isauro Aguirre
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty

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 said his mother and Aguirre focused their wrath on Gabriel and didn’t abuse him or his sister. He said the couple would laugh while abusing Gabriel.

Prosecutors said Aguirre abused Gabriel because he thought he was gay. Knappenberger says Aguirre “called him gay when he was beating him, and 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.”


Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up forPEOPLE’s free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

Aguirre was sentenced to death in 2018 after he was convicted of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of intentional murder by torture. Pearl Fernandez pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, admitting it was an intentional murder by torture, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 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 Trials of Gabriel Fernandez began streaming on Netflix on Feb. 26.