A Lancaster woman charged along with her boyfriend with the torture and murder of her 10-year-old son inflicted some of the same type of punishment on her children that had been used against her by her mother and stepfather years earlier, her brother and sister testified Thursday.
David Barron and Crystal Diuguid told Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta — who is hearing the non-jury trial of Heather Maxine Barron and Kareem Ernesto Leiva — that they warned their sister against inflicting the same kind of punishment they had faced as children. The pair testified that they subsequently repeatedly notified the county Department of Children and Family Services about the alleged abuse of Anthony Avalos and three of his half- siblings.
David Barron said he told DCFS during one of the calls that he believed one of the children would be dead in five years if they were left in the home. He said it wound up being only about three years before Anthony died.
Heather Barron, 33, and Leiva, 37, are charged with one count each of murder and torture involving Anthony’s June 2018 death, along with two counts of child abuse involving two of the boy’s half-siblings. The murder count includes the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture. Over the objection of Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office dropped its bid for the death penalty against the two after the 2018 election of District Attorney George Gascón, who issued a directive that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case.” The two could now face a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole if they are convicted as charged.
“Most of the time she would say the kids did it to each other or themselves,” David Barron testified on Thursday, Jan. 26, adding that he didn’t think children who were that young would be making up their accounts of the alleged abuse. David Barron said he saw Heather Barron hit three of her children, including Anthony, with her hand, a wire hanger and a wooden spoon, and another of her children with her hand alone. He testified that Heather Barron begged him not to call the Department of Children and Family Services and that she told him she would have Leiva leave the home.
Anthony’s aunt, Crystal Diuguid, said she also provided information to a mandated reporter who notified DCFS that there were “four victims” of abuse by Heather Barron and that the one receiving the “worst treatment” was Anthony, who was 5 years old at the time. Diuguid told the judge that she and her sister were forced as young children to kneel on uncooked rice — something the prosecution contends that Anthony was also forced to do.
“She told me that she did a lot of punishments to her children that we had to do as children,” Diuguid said. “It did get worse after Kareem entered the picture.”
Anthony’s aunt and uncle testified that Heather Barron subsequently didn’t allow them to see the children after they reported the alleged abuse, and that she never saw Leiva abusing any of the children. Anthony’s cousin, identified in court only as Luz B., grew emotional when shown a photo of Anthony, whom she described as “more like a brother to me.” She testified that she remembered asking him once about a bruise and that he told her that his mom and Leiva hit him a lot.
“I never once thought Anthony was lying,” Luz B. said.
Anthony’s father, Victor Avalos, testified that he split from Heather Barron when Anthony was about six or seven months old and that he only saw him on video chats after moving to Mexico to find a job. “She said she never needed me. She could do it herself,” he said of Heather Barron, whom he said rebuffed his attempts to see his child.
When asked by the prosecutor whether he loved Anthony, the boy’s father responded, “Yes, very much. I still do … I still can’t believe what I’m going through.”
Michael Gelardo — who was a patrol deputy at the Los Angeles County sheriff’s station in Lancaster at the time and is now a detective — testified that three of Heather Barron’s children, including Anthony, reported in September 2015 that Leiva had been abusive to them and that they had been locked in a room. Gelardo said he was called to Heather Barron’s home after she complained that her brother wouldn’t return her children to her when she got off work, but said he decided after speaking to the children that they should temporarily remain at David Barron’s home. Gelardo subsequently called a DCFS hotline to report what the children had told him, but said he was never contacted by a sheriff’s detective to follow up on the allegations.
Testimony is set to resume Monday, Jan. 20, with three of the boy’s half siblings expected to be called to the stand later next week.
In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Saeed Teymouri told the judge that Heather Barron and her boyfriend tortured and abused Anthony for two weeks before his death.
“Anthony Avalos graduated the fourth grade on June 7th, 2018, and for two consecutive weeks he was abused and tortured every single day culminating to when the first responders found his lifeless body on June 20th,” Teymouri said.
Teymouri told the judge that there had been multiple contacts with the county’s Department of Children and Family Services dating back to 2014. The prosecutor said Anthony was “already brain dead” and had been lying on the floor in the family’s townhouse “for at least a day, possibly more” when Heather Barron called 911 to seek assistance, and that the two “concocted a story that Anthony Avalos had injured himself.”
The boy had “new and old injuries — literally from head to toe,” the prosecutor said, showing a photo of Anthony while he was alive and then in a video from the hospital in which some of his injuries were depicted. The prosecutor played an audio recording of an interview with Barron, in which she told investigators, “I promise I did not hurt my son. I did not let nobody hurt my son … I swear he was just acting up and he threw himself because he didn’t want to eat.”
Heather Barron told investigators that Anthony might be gay and that she responded that she would love him no matter what because he was her “baby.”
Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva were charged in June 2018 with Anthony’s killing and were subsequently indicted by a Los Angeles County grand jury in October 2018. They remain jailed without bail. Last October, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors formally approved a $32 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by the boy’s relatives, who alleged that multiple social workers failed to properly respond to reports of abuse of Anthony and his siblings.
The other remaining defendant in the lawsuit, Pasadena-based Hathaway- Sycamores Child and Family Services, settled its portion of the case for an undisclosed amount. The lawsuit cited other high-profile deaths of children who were also being monitored by the DCFS — 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez and 4-year-old Noah Cuatro, both of Palmdale — to allege “systemic failures” in the agency.
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