One-time co-workers of a Palmdale man facing a potential death sentence for the torture-murder of his girlfriend’s 8-year-old son testified Monday that the man they knew was compassionate and kind and his life worth saving.
“He was extremely kind and sensitive and careful,” Sherline Miller told the seven-woman, five-man jury that convicted Isauro Aguirre, a 37-year- old former security guard, of first-degree murder on Nov. 15.
Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture, making Aguirre eligible for capital punishment for the death of Gabriel Fernandez.
The boy’s 34-year-old mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, is awaiting trial separately for the boy’s killing in May 2013. She, too, could face the death penalty if convicted.
Aguirre was a driver at a Woodland Hills assisted-living facility. Miller, an activities director, worked with him there for a little more than a year.
“He never rushed anyone … he was really, really patient,” Miller told jurors tasked with recommending whether Aguirre should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Aguirre later worked in the same facility as a care provider and then in the medications room, and Miller said she never heard any complaints about his work.
When Miller read about Aguirre’s arrest, she said she was “shocked. I had to read the article several times. I could not believe it.”
Defense attorney John Alan asked Miller if, given all the “terrible acts of abuse” Aguirre had committed against the victim, there was “still some good within him worth saving?”
Miller replied, “Yes I do, because I remember who he was and how he treated people. His compassion.”
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami asked during cross- examination, “Maybe Isauro Aguirre had two faces and you didn’t really know him?”
Miller replied, “I do think I knew him. I don’t think he faked his behavior … Nothing will change my mind.”
Mayra Castillejo, another co-worker from the Woodland Hills care facility who also had a relationship with Aguirre outside of work, recalled him as patient and respectful.
A third co-worker took the stand to testify to Aguirre’s caring and compassionate behavior and then told jurors she had unintentionally gotten pregnant while dating Aguirre.
When she decided to terminate the pregnancy, “he was upset with me,” Andrea Lindsay testified.
“He wanted to have the child?” defense attorney Michael Sklar asked.
“Yes,” Lindsay answered.
Lindsay was unable to hold back tears as she talked about hearing news of Aguirre’s crime.
“That wasn’t the guy I knew,” she said.
Hatami asked during cross-examination whether Lindsay — now pregnant with her second child — ever wondered what would have happened if she had decided to have the first baby, who would have been about the same age as Gabriel.
Lindsay said she had.
“When I found out about (Gabriel), I was home on maternity leave. And I have a 4-year-old,” Lindsay said.
But she insisted of Aguirre, “I think there is good in him” and said her tears were for the man she once knew.
Aguirre’s younger sister, Elizabeth, told jurors about growing up with Aguirre and how good he was to her. She also confirmed an earlier witness’ testimony that Aguirre never graduated from high school.
“He didn’t graduate and he wanted me to graduate,” Elizabeth said, telling jurors she was the first in her family to do so.
She is scheduled to resume her testimony on Tuesday, when his other sister is also expected to take the stand.
The final prosecution witnesses last week included Gabriel’s uncle, Christopher Contreras, who said he still remembers the way his nephew looked in the hospital whenever he thinks about the boy.
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 seen 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 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.
Deputy District Attorney Scott Yang told jurors in his opening statement in the penalty phase that Aguirre deserves “nothing less than death.” He told jurors that Gabriel was “tortured” like a prisoner of war for eight months, during which he was repeatedly beaten by his mother’s boyfriend.
Sklar countered that his client is “simple,” “slow” and “easily led” and that “there are reasons to spare his life.”
Testimony is expected to wrap up Thursday, with jurors expected to hear closing arguments Dec. 11 before being asked to recommend to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli which sentence Aguirre should face for the boy’s killing.
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.
–City News Service
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