LOS ANGELES – One of the younger sisters of a Palmdale man convicted of the torture-murder of his girlfriend’s 8-year-old son testified Tuesday that she does not believe he’s responsible for the crime.
In her second day on the stand, Elizabeth Aguirre told the downtown Los Angeles jury tasked with recommending whether Isauro Aguirre should be put to death or spend the rest of his life behind bars that she was aware that he was convicted of Gabriel Fernandez’s May 2013 killing. But she said his family remains undaunted in their belief that he did not commit the crime.
The seven-woman, five-man jury found the 37-year-old former security guard guilty Nov. 15 of first-degree murder and found true the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture, making him eligible for capital punishment.
The boy’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 34, is awaiting trial separately in her son’s killing. She could also face the death penalty if convicted.
Defense attorney Michael Sklar acknowledged during the guilt phase of the trial that Aguirre killed the boy, but said the defendant “acted in a rage of anger followed by an explosion of violence.”
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami countered that Aguirre was an “evil” man who “liked torturing” the boy and did so systematically in the months leading up to the child’s death because he thought Gabriel was gay.
When asked Tuesday by Hatami whether she believed her brother was “not responsible” for the boy’s torture and murder, Elizabeth Aguirre responded through a Spanish interpreter that she believed he wasn’t “because the social worker never did anything.”
“You don’t believe that he murdered and tortured Gabriel?” the prosecutor asked.
“No,” she responded.
” … We don’t believe it,” Elizabeth Aguirre said when asked if it was true that her entire family felt the same way.
She said she would believe that her brother admitted punching the boy 10 times in the face “if he tells me so.” She later told jurors that her sibling has denied torturing and murdering the boy when she has spoken to him. She said he served as an altar boy and attended church regularly as a child, and doesn’t remember her parents ever physically disciplining her brother when he was a child.
Aguirre’s sister said that she still believed there was good in her brother, tearing up as she said she would feel “sad” if he was put to death at San Quentin State Prison.
Two of his cousins said they, too, had trouble believing the accusations against him.
What he’s here for (doesn’t) match up, Angelica Hernandez said. “I just can’t see that happening.”
When the prosecutor asked if she was told there was evidence that Aguirre had force-fed cat litter to the boy, she said, “I can’t see that. My memory is just how I see him. I don’t see him like you are describing him.”
She again said, “from my experience, I don’t see him doing that” when asked whether her opinion would change if she was told that he had admitted punching the boy 10 times in the head.
Another of his cousins, Fernando Hernandez, said he was “shocked” when he found out that Aguirre had been charged with the boy’s killing.
“I still don’t believe it,” he said. “It’s not who I know.”
He said he found it “hard to believe” the allegations against Aguirre, including when the prosecutor asked him if it would change his opinion that Aguirre was a good person if he knew that the boy had been kept in a “box.”
“The Isauro I know — it’s really hard to believe,” he said, adding later that he did not believe that his cousin tortured the boy over an eight-month period.
The defendant’s aunt, Maria Leonor Hernandez, said it would be “very sad” if her nephew was sentenced to death.
The testimony came during the third day of the defense’s portion of the penalty phase of Aguirre’s trial.
The final witness called by the prosecution last week was the boy’s uncle, Christopher Contreras, who said he still remembers the way his nephew looked in the hospital whenever he thinks about him.
In emotional testimony, the military veteran said he had “seen some bad stuff in war,” but what his nephew went through “makes it nothing.”
Jurors have been shown photos of Gabriel’s battered body lying on an autopsy table with injuries from head to toe and heard testimony from a medical social worker and a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy that the injuries– including burns, broken ribs, a fractured skull, missing teeth, multiple BB gun shots — were the worst child abuse they had ever seen.
Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli has told jurors that he expects the case to be submitted to them Monday after attorneys deliver their closing arguments.
Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel went to the family’s home in the 200 block of East Avenue Q-10 in Palmdale on May 22, 2013, in response to a call that Gabriel was not breathing. He was declared brain-dead that day and taken off life support two days later.
Aguirre and Fernandez have been 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 are awaiting trial on one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records involving the boy.
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