PALMDALE – In court papers filed Wednesday, a prosecutor opposed a re-sentencing bid by a Palmdale woman who pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of her 8-year-old son, who was routinely beaten, starved, forced to sleep in a closet and tortured until his death nearly eight years ago.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami is urging Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli to deny the petition for re-sentencing by Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, who was convicted along with her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, in the May 2013 killing of her son, Gabriel.
“Based upon the facts presented to the grand jurors and the trial jurors in defendant Aguirre’s trial, defendant Fernandez personally tortured and murdered Gabriel. Both defendant Fernandez and defendant Aguirre are equally responsible for Gabriel’s torture and murder,” Hatami wrote in his court filing. “Defendant Fernandez was clearly an active and major participant in the torture and murder of Gabriel.”
Hatami noted that the now 37-year-old Fernandez pleaded guilty in February 2018 to first-degree murder and “admitted that she personally and intentionally murdered Gabriel by torturing him to death,” and that she waived all of her appellate rights in exchange for a life prison term without the possibility of parole. She had been facing a possible death sentence if the case had gone to trial and she had been convicted as charged.
Fermandez’s plea came about two months after jurors recommended that Aguirre be sentenced to death for the boy’s killing. Aguirre, now 40, is now on death row. In a petition filed April 1, Fernandez alleged that she could not now be convicted of first-degree murder or second-degree murder because of recent changes made in state law that affect defendants in some murder cases. She also checked a box indicating that she was not the actual killer. A hearing on the petition for re-sentencing is set for June 1.
At the March 2018 sentencing for Fernandez and Aguirre, the judge called the case ” without a doubt the most aggravated and egregious case of torture this court has ever witnessed.”
“You want to say that the conduct was animalistic, but that would be wrong because even animals know how to take care of their young … It’s beyond animalistic,” Lomeli said then, noting that he hoped the two defendants would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about what they had done to the boy.
In denying an automatic motion to reduce the jury’s recommendation of a death sentence for Aguirre to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the judge cited the “repeated beating, binding, burning and starving” of the youngster. In a brief statement shortly before she was sentenced, Fernandez said, “I want to say I’m sorry to my family for what I did … I wish Gabriel was alive. Every day I wish that I made better choices.”
During Aguirre’s trial, prosecutors told jurors that Gabriel was routinely beaten, shot with a BB gun, forced to eat cat feces and sleep inside a small cabinet while gagged and bound. Hatami called Aguirre an “evil” man who “liked torturing” the boy and did so systematically in the months leading up to the child’s death. Aguirre hated Gabriel because he thought the boy was gay, according to the prosecutor. Gabriel was 7 when the abuse began and was killed three months after he turned 8.
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. One of Aguirre’s attorneys, Michael Sklar, contended that Fernandez was the one who hit the boy with a belt, shot him with a BB gun and was responsible for much of the abuse prior to his death.
“I think they both pointed the fingers at each other, which sometimes happens in co-defendant cases,” Hatami responded after Fernandez’s plea. “The evidence showed and our office believed that they were both equally culpable in the case, and I think the evidence showed that.”
The judge agreed, saying that the evidence indicated that Aguirre was a “major participant.” The boy’s death and the arrests of Fernandez and Aguirre led to an outcry over the handling of the case by Los Angeles County social workers, who had multiple contacts with the family.
A subsequent investigation led to the filing of criminal charges against two former social workers and their two supervisors. But that case was subsequently dismissed after a state appeals court panel found that the four “never had the requisite duty to control the abusers and did not have care or custody of Gabriel” for purposes of the child abuse charge leveled against them, and were “not officers” within the meaning of the Government Code section involving falsification of public records.
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