What to Know
- Isauro Aguirre's attorney says "unspeakable acts of abuse" were committed, but that he never meant to kill 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez
- Eight BB pellets were recovered from the boy's body after his death in May 2013
- The boy's siblings testified that he was forced to eat cat litter and cat feces
Jurors heard a gut-wrenching account of an 8-year-old boy's final moments alive when attorneys delivered closing arguments Monday in the torture-murder trial of a Palmdale man accused in the child's death.
The trial of Isauro Aguirre included emotional and graphic testimony from relatives, including the siblings of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. Aguirre, 37, who worked as a security guard, is charged with murder, along with a special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture. The boy's death in 2013 also resulted in criminal charges against two former social workers and two of their supervisors.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Aguirre and the boy's mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 34, who will be tried separately. Their closing arguments Monday morning included a heart-breaking portrayal of the day Gabriel died.
"Gabriel was lying on the floor with blood coming out of his mouth. He had no pulse, no heart beat, and he wasn't breathing," said prosecutor Jon Hatami. "And, the last thing he saw was the defendant standing over him, punching him and kicking him, calling him gay and beating him to death.
"The defendant took everything from Gabriel, snatched his whole life away."
Recalling photographs shown during the trial, Hatami said Gabriel was "injured from head to toe."
"There is evil in this room, right now," said Hatami as he pointed to Aguirre. "And, it's right over there."
Defense attorney Michael Sklar began his summation by telling jurors that "the evidence in this case requires you to find (Aguirre) guilty of (second-degree) murder, not first-degree murder.
"I recognize how difficult it will be to put aside your complete horror,'' he said, while asking the panel to consider the evidence "clearly, conscientiously and dispassionately."
Sklar said his client did not match the portrait of an evil man outlined by the prosecution, telling the jury that Aguirre once worked in a retirement home caring for dependent elderly residents, a job requiring "considerable patience and compassion."
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He had no prior history of abuse, other than his own, according to Sklar.
"We're not asking you not to punish Isauro Aguirre,'' the defense attorney said, but asking for "a verdict that serves the ends of justice. Follow the law down the path it takes you ... do what is right and just."
During the trial, the downtown Los Angeles jury heard testimony from a senior deputy medical examiner that it took two days to finish the autopsy on Gabriel, with jurors being told that the boy suffered numerous injuries from his head to his feet and that eight BBs were recovered from the boy's body after his death in May 2013. Jurors also heard testimony from two of the boy's siblings, with his 16-year-old brother telling jurors that the boy was forced to eat cat litter and cat feces and was repeatedly beaten in the months leading up to his death.
The boy's sister testified that Aguirre shot her youngest brother with a BB gun and put him in a cabinet that had handcuffs attached to it so he couldn't get out.
The boy's maternal grandfather, described the boy as "like a son" and said he and his wife had practically raised the boy before his daughter and Aguirre took the child to live with them. Robert Fernandez cried as he recalled promising the boy that he could come home and live with his grandparents after an investigation by the county Department of Children and Family Services was completed.
"Was he loved?" Deputy District Attorney Hatami asked.
"Always," the boy's grandfather responded.
The boy's first-grade teacher told jurors that she called authorities to report his account that he was being hit months before his death and continued to call social workers at various times throughout the school year about the boy, saying it was more calls than she had ever made in her career.
The teacher, Jennifer Garcia, testified that she stopped sending home notes about behavioral concerns because she was concerned that they were causing him to get injured. She also said she noticed that he had "various bruises in different stages of healing" after he returned from being absent from school.
Jurors also heard emotional testimony from a registered nurse who saw the boy on May 22, 2013, after he was brought by paramedics to Antelope Valley Hospital's emergency room.
Christine Estes described the boy's body as "lifeless" with "bruising from head to toe," saying it was "literally worse than any horror movie I've seen."
During the defense's portion of the case, jurors saw portions of a videotaped interview in which Aguirre was crying as he was being interviewed by a Los Angeles County sheriff's detective.
At one point, Aguirre can be heard saying that he wanted to go see the little boy.
During his opening statement last month, Hatami told jurors that the boy was beaten and systematically tortured because Aguirre believed the child was gay.
One of Aguirre's attorneys, John Alan, acknowledged during his opening statement that his client committed "unspeakable acts of abuse" against the boy before "exploding into a rage of anger." But the defense contends that Aguirre never meant to kill the child.
Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel were called to the family's home in the 200 block of East Avenue Q-10 in response to a call that the boy was not breathing. He was declared brain dead that day, then taken off life support two days later.
Aguirre and the boy's mother have remained jailed without bail since being charged in May 2013 with the boy's death. The two were subsequently indicted by a Los Angeles County grand jury.
Two former Los Angeles County social workers -- Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement -- and supervisors Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt were charged last year with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records in connection with the case.
Jurors will return Tuesday morning to begin deliberating.