Gabriel Fernandez was tortured and murdered by his mother's boyfriend in Palmdale. The former security guard has been convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Fernandez.
Gabriel Fernandez was tortured and murdered by his mother’s boyfriend in Palmdale. The former security guard has been convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Fernandez.

The jury being asked to recommend either execution or life in prison without parole for a Palmdale man convicted of the torture- murder of his girlfriend’s 8-year-old son resumed deliberating Wednesday after re- hearing testimony from a defense expert on California’s prisons.

The seven-woman, five-man panel convicted Isauro Aguirre Nov. 15 of first-degree murder for the May 2013 killing of Gabriel Fernandez. The jury resumed deliberating in the trial’s penalty phase just after 11:30 a.m. after a court reporter read back testimony by William Adams, a consultant who spent more than 26 years working for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was defense’s final witness.

In his testimony last Thursday, Adams told the jury he believed Aguirre was “more likely to be prey than predator” among the state prison population if he was sentenced to life without parole. But he acknowledged under questioning by the prosecutor that it was his personal opinion the defendant had committed an “evil” act.

Jurors have spent about 6 1/2 hours over three days discussing which sentence to recommend for the 37-year-old former security guard.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli told jurors he could not grant their request for a transcript of the attorneys’ closing arguments or for a slide shown by Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami during his closing argument, noting that “nothing that the attorneys say is evidence.”

The judge said jurors could ask that the attorneys offer another 30- minute summation of their cases — an option not immediately requested by the jury.

In a note submitted late Monday, the jury asked what the outcome of the case would be if the panel is unable to reach a unanimous verdict. At a brief hearing Tuesday, the judge told the panel that the question was “a little bit premature,” noting that jurors had not spent very much time discussing the case.

Along with the murder charge, jurors found true the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture, making Aguirre eligible for capital punishment. The boy’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 34, is awaiting trial separately in her son’s killing. She could also face the death penalty if convicted.

In his closing argument Monday, Hatami told jurors the death penalty is the “only appropriate and just punishment,” while one of Aguirre’s attorneys, John Alan, pleaded for mercy for his client.

The prosecutor began his closing argument in the penalty phase by showing the jury autopsy photos of Gabriel’s “head-to-toe” injuries, which a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, a sheriff’s detective and others working with child abuse victims had testified were the worst they had ever seen.

“There is nothing worse in our society than a grown man murdering and torturing an innocent little boy,” Hatami told the panel. Then he set a large photo of the boy, with a small smile on his face, on an easel in front of the jury box.

The prosecutor reminded jurors of testimony that the boy was forced to sleep in a small wooden cabinet with his hands tied behind his back and his ankles handcuffed.

“Stuffed in that box … cold, afraid, lonely, hungry, probably hard to breathe,” the prosecutor said. The boy “defecated and urinated in that box” and “even was force-fed his own vomit. The defendant broke Gabriel’s spirit.”

Aguirre “beat Gabriel to death with his fists and his hands … in front of Gabriel’s own brother and sister. What type of man would do that?” Hatami asked. “Not a man with any goodness in him.”

The prosecutor reminded jurors that Gabriel’s “emaciated little body had nine metal BBs in it … a lacerated liver, a fractured skull, whip marks on his back … unimaginable pain and suffering at the hands of the defendant.

“What type of man would punch a child 10 times in the face? Not a man with any goodness in him,” Hatami said.

“Death was likely a merciful end to Gabriel’s pain and suffering,” the prosecutor said before asking jurors to hold Aguirre accountable.

Aguirre’s attorney told jurors it is up to them to determine if Aguirre will spend his life “behind concrete walls and steel bars in prison until he departs this Earth in God’s time” or dies “prematurely at the hands of man.”

His client had never been convicted of any another crime and had no prior history of violence, Alan said.

“The death penalty is not required for even the most heinous crime,” the defense attorney said, reminding jurors that they were each being asked to make “a personal, moral decision.”

The defense attorney recalled testimony from Aguirre’s co-workers about his “compassion, empathy, gentleness, kindness, respectfulness and patience” in dealing with elderly patients at an assisted-living facility in Woodland Hills.

“I don’t think we’ll ever truly understand how that person … gentle, kind, patient, respectful … came to commit this horrific crime,” Alan said. “I believe that the answer, at least in part, lies where Isauro’s life intersected with Pearl’s.”

Pearl Fernandez was “violent, abusive and neglected her children even before she met Isauro. Even her own family considered her a danger to her children,” the defense attorney said.

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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