A California woman and her boyfriend were sentenced this week for their systematic torture of the woman’s 8-year-old son, which covered his body with abuse and eventually killed him five years ago, PEOPLE confirms.
In a rare exhortation during their court hearing on Thursday, Judge George G. Lomeli reportedly told Isauro Aguirre and Pearl Fernandez: “I hope you think about the pain you caused this child and that it tortures you.”
Lomeli called the violence Fernandez’s son Gabriel suffered “horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Fernandez, 34 — who pleaded guilty in February to first-degree murder, admitting it was an intentional murder by torture — was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Aguirre, her boyfriend at the time of Gabriel’s death, was ordered put to death. The 37-year-old was convicted in November of first-degree murder, with the jury confirming the special allegation against him of intentional murder by torture.
“This case showed how evil can not only inflict lasting damage to those who loved Gabriel but our society as well,” L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement after the sentencing. “The horrific nature of Gabriel’s abuse and murder has been seared into our minds and the defendants will now spend the rest of their lives in prison for their reprehensible actions.”
According to news reports, the evidence and testimony in Aguirre’s trial left both court observers and jurors stunned — sometimes gasping or sobbing at what they learned.
L.A. County prosecutors argued Gabriel was the victim of a eight-month-long campaign of terror by his mom and Aguirre, who were “conspiring together to deceive everyone in order to torture to death,” after he moved to live with them in 2012, local TV station KNBC reported last year.
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“Gabriel was frequently beaten by Aguirre because he believed the boy was gay,” prosecutors said in their statement this week.
His older brother testified that Gabriel was forced to eat cate feces and cat litter and prosecutors said he “slept bound and gagged inside a small cabinet.”
When authorities were called to Gabriel’s home on May 22, 2013, he was found naked, with a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body, according to the L.A. Times.
Gabriel was declared brain-dead and taken off life support two days later.
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“It was just like every inch of this child had been abused,” paramedic James Cermak later said on the stand, the Times reports. Gabriel’s brother testified that Fernandez and Aguirre struck him with various weapons such as a club and a small bat, as well as a belt buckle and metal hanger.
The day Gabriel was reported unresponsive, his mother became angry because he didn’t clean up his toys, his brother said, according to the Times. She and Aguirre proceeded to beat him fiercely.
“And that’s when it all stopped,” his brother said. “It just went quiet.”
In court on Thursday, Fernandez apologized to her family and said, “I wish Gabriel was alive,” according to the Times.
A jail chaplain also said that Fernandez loved Gabriel and had changed while in custody, praying and reading the Bible, the Associated Press and the Times report.
Aguirre’s attorney said an execution for the murder was “grossly disproportionate” with his responsibility for the crime, according to the Times.
The paper reports that Aguirre’s defense has said he likely has a learning disability and Fernandez’s attorney said she has a low IQ, with a neuropsychologist testifying for her that she is intellectually disabled and “virtually unable to use thought to guide her behavior and temper her emotional reactions.”
Attorneys for the couple could not immediately be reached by PEOPLE on Friday.
At Thursday’s hearing, they also faced Gabriel’s relatives and his first-grade teacher, who had reported signs she saw that he was being assaulted. She remembered Gabriel as a kind student, and she described Aguirre and Fernandez as “evil,” according to the Times.
“Gabriel loved you,” his cousin Emily Carranza reportedly said in court, looking straight at his mother. “The world fell in love with Gabriel as their own. Why couldn’t you?”