LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez was doused with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and locked in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams before he was beaten to death by his own mother, according to court records released this week.
Sworn grand jury testimony released Monday painted a horrific picture of the abuse the Antelope Valley boy suffered before he died in May of 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Gabriel’s mother, 30-year-old Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 34, have both pleaded not guilty to murder charges with special allegations of torture.
Gabriel’s death prompted calls for sweeping reforms in the Los Angeles County foster-care system because child welfare workers failed to remove the boy from the home. Officials have fired two social workers and two supervisors, while others involved in the case received letters of warning or reprimand.
More than 800 pages of testimony reviewed by the newspaper also show how, despite multiple allegations of abuse, Gabriel’s case apparently slipped through the cracks.
Pearl Fernandez called 911 on May 22, 2013 to report that her son was not breathing. According to testimony, she told sheriff’s deputies that Gabriel had fallen and hit his head on a dresser.
When paramedics arrived, they found Gabriel naked in a bedroom, not breathing, with a cracked skull, three broken ribs and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin. Gabriel died two days later.
“It was just like every inch of this child had been abused,” testified James Cermak, a Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedic.
Because of repeated delays in setting a preliminary hearing, prosecutors convened a grand jury, which returned an indictment July 28.
Fernandez and Aguirre deliberately tortured the boy to death, hiding their tracks with forged doctor’s notes and lies to authorities, Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami told the grand jury, according to The Times. “For eight straight months, he was abused, beaten and tortured more severely than many prisoners of war.”
The abuse worsened in the months leading up to Gabriel’s death, according to testimony from two of his siblings, both minors, the newspaper reported. They said Gabriel was forced to eat cat feces, rotten spinach and his own vomit. He slept in a locked cabinet and wasn’t let out to go to the bathroom.
Fernandez and Aguirre reportedly called Gabriel gay, punished him when he played with dolls and forced him to wear girls’ clothes to school, the siblings said.
Mom, Boyfriend Plead Not Guilty In Palmdale Boy’s Death
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)