PEOPLE Explains: Mom Murdered and Tortured 8-Year-Old Who Had BBs Lodged in His Body
Gabriel Fernandez died two days after being found with a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body
The mother of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez and her boyfriend have now both been convicted in the little boy’s 2013 death following the mom’s guilty plea Thursday.
Pearl Fernandez, 34, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in a Los Angeles courtroom, admitting that Gabriel’s death was intentional and involved torture, according to a release by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
She faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when she is scheduled to be sentenced on June 7.
Here are five things to know about the disturbing case:
1. Gabriel Suffered ‘Unspeakable’ Abuse for 8 Months
Aguirre’s own attorney, John Alan, admitted during Aguirre’s 2017 trial that his client committed of “unspeakable acts of abuse” against Gabriel prior to “exploding into a rage of anger” that caused his death, according to NBC Los Angeles.
In court papers filed in 2016, Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami wrote of the “eight months of torture and abuse” Gabriel suffered, according to CBS News.
Hatami added that Gabriel was “withheld from school by [Fernandez and Aguirre] for the last three weeks before he was murdered.”
2. His Mom and Her Boyfriend ‘Torture[d] Gabriel to Death’
Hatami, during Aguirre’s trial, described the “systematic torture of a helpless and innocent child,” according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
The couple was “conspiring together to deceive everyone in order to torture Gabriel to death,” he said.
Hatami said Gabriel moved in with his mother and Aguirre in 2012 after living with his grandparents. Hatami showed jurors a photo of Gabriel at 7 years old, when he lived with his grandparents, describing him as a “happy and healthy” child.
Then he showed jurors a photo of Gabriel lying in a hospital bed and said, “After eight months of living with the defendant … his body was battered. The evidence will show he was beaten, burned, bruised,” he said.
According to news reports, the evidence and testimony in Aguirre’s trial left both court observers and jurors stunned — sometimes gasping or sobbing at what they learned.
Gabriel’s 16-year-old brother, Ezequiel, testified in horrific detail about the abuse the boy suffered at the hands of Aguirre.
According to Ezequiel’s testimony, Gabriel was beaten daily and was forced to eat cat feces and cat litter. Ezequiel also told the jury that his brother suffered regular beatings 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 laugh during the beatings, Ezequiel testified.
He also testified that Aguirre and his mother would force Gabriel to eat rotten food — and when he threw it up, they would make him eat his own vomit.
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“My mom and her boyfriend made Gabriel eat spoiled stuff or expired stuff,” Ezequiel testified. “One thing I remember is expired spinach. He threw it up, and they made him eat it off the table.”
3. He Was Found Naked with Shattered Ribs and BB Pellets Buried in His Body
When paramedics were called to his home on May 22, 2013, Gabriel was found naked, with a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body, the L.A. Times reported.
He was declared brain-dead and taken off life support two days later.
At least 9 metal BBs were found embedded in Gabriel’s neck, face, lung, legs, buttocks, foot, chest and groin area, according to ABC.
4. Aguirre Abused Gabriel Because He Believed The Boy Was Gay: Prosecutors
“This wasn’t about drugs. This wasn’t about mental health issues,” Hatami said during his opening statement in Aguirre’s trial. Rather, he said, Aguirre abused Gabriel “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.”
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2014 that according to grand jury testimony, Gabriel’s siblings said that Aguirre and Fernandez called Gabriel gay, punished him for playing with dolls and made him wear girl’s clothing to school.
Hatami said that when he was arrested, Aguirre stood 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 270 pounds, and Gabriel was 4 foot 1 inches tall and weighed 59 pounds. Aguirre, said Hatami, was “nothing more than a bully.’
5. Gabriel’s Teacher Said He Told Her ‘My Mom Makes Me Bleed’
During Aguirre’s trial, Jennifer Garcia, who was Gabriel’s first-grade teacher, took the witness stand and told the court the boy had once confided in her, allegedly telling her, “Sometimes, my mom makes me bleed,” NBC Los Angeles reported.
Gabriel’s teacher said it was obvious to her — as well as other school staffers — the boy was allegedly living in an abusive home. ABC reported Garcia testified that Gabriel was absent often, and frequently came into class with bruises.
Garcia testified that in late 2012, Gabriel allegedly told her his mother had beaten him with a belt that had a metal buckle. She called California’s Department of Children and Family Services, NBC reported. Jurors were played a recording of the call that initiated the agency’s investigation into the alleged abuse.
“‘Sometimes, my mom makes me bleed’,” Garcia quoted the boy as telling her. “And I say, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘Well, on my bottom.’”
NBC reported that Garcia also told the court she once addressed with Gabriel about bruises she noticed on his face. Initially, he lied, telling her he had had a bad fall. When pressed, the boy allegedly told her his mother had fired a BB gun at his face.
“I asked him, ‘Why did you lie? Why didn’t you tell me?’ And he said, ‘Because when I tell you, and that lady comes, I get hurt worse,’” Garcia said, adding it was apparent the child was referring to a social worker.