LOS ANGELES – Eight BBs were recovered from the body of an 8-year- old Palmdale boy who had numerous other injuries from his head to his feet, a senior deputy medical examiner testified Tuesday in the murder trial of the live-in boyfriend of the child’s mother.
Dr. James Ribe, who works for the county coroner’s office, told the downtown Los Angeles jury hearing the case against Isauro Aguirre that one BB was retrieved from Gabriel Fernandez’s lung and that seven other BBs were recovered from the boy during an autopsy conducted over two days.
The senior deputy medical examiner testified that it is unusual for an autopsy to take two days, noting that the eight BBs were recovered during the second day of his examination of the boy’s body.
Aguirre, 37, is charged with murder, along with the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture involving the boy’s May 2013 death.
The boy’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 34, will be tried separately.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the two.
Ribe testified that the boy suffered a head injury that was caused by blunt force trauma, likely from being thrown or slammed against a hard surface.
The senior deputy medical examiner said he also documented other injuries stretching from the boy’s head to the bottom of his feet, including about 10 patches of traumatic alopecia where his hair had been “torn out,” swelling to the left side of his face, four teeth knocked out and partially healed burn wounds to his feet. The boy had also suffered numerous rib fractures — some of which were very recent and others that were in the process of healing, the senior deputy medical examiner said.
Some of the injuries were inflicted within a period of days of the boy’s death, while others could have been sustained weeks, months or years earlier, Ribe said.
The senior deputy medical examiner testified that he spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the BB had gotten into the inner part of the boy’s right lung, and said he concluded that the only way would be through the boy’s nose or mouth.
“All of these injuries were inflicted by a caregiver,” he said after being asked if he was able to determine the manner of the boy’s death.
He said the child’s injuries could not all have been self-inflicted, caused by falling off a bicycle or a series of accidental events, noting that the boy had not received any treatment for his earlier injuries.
The boy “probably hadn’t been eating,” with his intestines showing “very little content,” his thymus gland “barely even there” and “almost a complete absence of body fat,” the senior deputy medical examiner testified.
“So, Gabriel wasn’t being fed?” Deputy District Attorney Scott Yang asked.
“Correct,” Ribe responded.
When asked by defense attorney Michael Sklar if the boy’s last series of injuries were consistent with an “explosion of violence,” Ribe responded, “I think they are.”
One of Aguirre’s attorneys, John Alan, told jurors during his opening statement last week that his client committed “unspeakable acts of abuse” against the boy before “exploding into a rage of anger” that the defense contends resulted in the boy’s unintentional death.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami told jurors in his opening statement that the boy was beaten and systematically tortured because Aguirre believed the youth was gay.
In other testimony Tuesday, a security guard who worked at a Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services office in Palmdale told jurors that he called 911 and a Los Angeles County sheriff’s station to report injuries to the boy in an effort to save him about two weeks before he heard about the child’s death.
Arturo Martinez told jurors that the boy was “sad” and “full of bruises,” along with cigarette burns, lacerations and a black eye.
The security guard testified that he decided to call 911 after noticing the boy’s injuries when the boy’s mother brought the child into the public welfare office with his siblings on April 26, 2013.
“I saw probably about 17 to 23 burns,” he said, noting that some were fresh, some were healing and some were old and that the boy also had marks around his wrist that looked like he had been tied up recently.
The prosecution witness said the boy appeared yellow and skinny, with his head looking larger than his body.
“Did you observe Gabriel was missing any hair?” Hatami asked.
“Oh, yes,” Martinez responded.
The security guard identified a photo of the boy’s mother, saying that he heard one of the boy’s siblings tell the boy that his mom was going to “get” him after she ordered him to sit down.
“She noticed me observing him and she didn’t like that,” Martinez said of the boy’s mother.
The woman subsequently tried to block him from observing the boy as the family left the office, he said.
Jurors heard recordings of Martinez’s 911 call and a subsequent call to the sheriff’s department, in which he tells authorities the mother’s name, which he said had been given to him by an office worker who had been dealing with the woman.
He said he was both surprised and disappointed when he was directed during the 911 call to notify the local sheriff’s station instead.
“…. Were you trying to save that little boy?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” Martinez responded, saying that the child “looked very bad.”
“You believed on that day that Gabriel needed to be saved?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” the witness responded.
“Did you ever see that little boy again?” Hatami asked.
“No,” Martinez responded, noting that he later learned that the boy had died.
Last week, two of the boy’s older siblings provided a harrowing account of abuse of their younger brother, with his older brother testifying that the little 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 older sister broke down in tears as she was asked to identify a photo of him. She testified that she saw Aguirre shoot her brother with a BB gun and repeatedly punch him, and that her mother knocked two of his teeth out.
The boy also was forced to wear girls’ clothing, his two siblings testified.
The boy’s death triggered investigations into the county’s child welfare system and resulted in the filing of criminal charges of child abuse and falsifying public records against two former county social workers and two of their supervisors, who are awaiting trial.
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