Gabriel Fernandez was a slight boy with a big smile when his mother’s boyfriend first moved into their Palmdale, California, home. Eight months later, when he was taken off life support, his body was bruised, broken, burnt and riddled with BB pellets.
The man who inflicted those wounds killing the 8-year-old in 2013 was found guilty of first-degree murder on Wednesday.
A jury can now sentence Aguirre, 37, to death by the jury. Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, who was dating Aguirre, is also being tried for the death of her son. She has pleaded not guilty to murder charges against her, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Jon Hatami, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, embraced Gabriel’s father after the verdict was delivered, the Times reported. In a press conference, the prosecutor couldn’t contain his emotion.
“I’m a dad and, you know, he’s a dad,” Hatami said, wiping away tears. “It’s just two dads, and two humans in the community, just sharing the fact that maybe there was some justice.”
Gabriel was found unconscious in his Palmdale, California, home on May 22, 2013, naked, with a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body — one was also found in his lung.
He was declared brain-dead and taken off of life support two days later.
Hatami had argued that Aguirre frequently abused and tortured Gabriel because he thought the boy was gay.
“This wasn’t about drugs. This wasn’t about mental health issues,” Hatami said during his opening statement. 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.”
Aguirre’s attorney, Michael Sklar, told the jury that while his client killed Gabriel, there was no premeditation, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
Instead, the 37-year-old “acted in a rage of anger followed by an explosion of violence” after allegedly learning Gabriel wanted his mother to end their relationship.
Aguirre stood at 6 feet 2 inches tall at the time of his arrest and weighed 270 pounds, while Gabriel was 4 foot 1 inches tall and weighed 59 pounds.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2014 that according to grand jury testimony, Gabriel’s siblings alleged that Aguirre and Fernandez called Gabriel gay, punished him for playing with dolls and made him wear girl’s clothing to school.
Gabriel’s life was full of humiliation and systematic abuse, according to Hatami, who alleged Aguirre and Pearl were “conspiring together to deceive everyone in order to torture Gabriel to death,” the Los Angeles Daily News reported.
Hatami said Gabriel moved in with his mother and Aguirre in 2012 after living with his grandparents. He showed jurors a photo of Gabriel at 7-years-old, when he lived with his grandparents, and described him as a “happy and healthy” child.
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.”
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.
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, 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, Ezequiel testified.
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.