LOS ANGELES (FOX 11 / CNS) - A Palmdale man was sentenced to death and his girlfriend to life in prison without parole Thursday for killing of the woman's 8-year-old son, who was routinely beaten, starved, forced to sleep in a closet and tortured until his death in 2013.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli called the couple's actions "nothing short of evil'' before handing down the sentences.
Jurors recommended Dec. 13 that Isauro Aguirre, 37, be sentenced to death after convicting him of first-degree murder and the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture for the death of Gabriel Fernandez.
Gabriel's mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 34, pleaded guilty Feb. 15 to first-degree murder and admitted the torture special circumstance allegation in exchange for a life prison term without the possibility of parole. She had been facing a possible death sentence if the case against her had gone to trial and if she had been convicted as charged.
The boy's family was consulted about Fernandez's plea and "all of the family members were supportive of the decision here today,'' Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami told reporters after the hearing in February.
The prosecutor said he was ``relieved for the family members,'' particularly the boy's older brother and sister, who offered emotional testimony in Aguirre's trial about abuse their younger brother had suffered.
The boy's cousin, Emily Carranza, said she was also relieved by the plea, which spares family members from having to go through a second trial stemming from the boy's killing.
``We don't have to go through it a second time. I don't think anybody should have to go through that again, to see those pictures to see what they did to him,'' Carranza told reporters, noting that she was ``O.K.'' with the decision by the District Attorney's Office to go forward with the plea ``because I know she's never going to be out and I know she's never going to be able to hurt another child.''
``I don't hate her as a person. As a family member, I hate her actions and I hate what she's done. I'm a church-going person so I don't have hate against anybody, but I do hate the crime that she committed,'' the boy's cousin said.
The boy's first-grade teacher, Jennifer Garcia, who called authorities to report that the boy had asked her if it was normal for a mother to hit her children with a belt, was also among those in court for the hearing.
``It swings back and forth, the pendulum of being sad and being angry,'' she said. ``Today I felt more of the angry side and I felt like she got what she deserved. Of course, she deserves worse. She definitely deserves worse, but as far as what we are able to give legally I feel like she got that.''
She said she recalled Fernandez telling her out of the blue ``I don't hit my kids'' when they were discussing the boy at a parent-teacher conference.
``I knew in my heart that she was doing what he said she was doing,'' the teacher said. ``I have a lot of emotional baggage from it. He'll always be in my thoughts and in my mind.''
During her testimony in Aguirre's trial, Garcia said it fell to her to explain to the boy's classmates at Summerwind Elementary School in Palmdale that he was not coming back to class because he had died.
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.
During Aguirre's trial, prosecutors told jurors that Gabriel Fernandez 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.
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 happen 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 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 criminal charges being filed against two former social workers -- Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement -- and their supervisors, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt. They are awaiting trial on one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records involving the boy.