LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A prosecutor told jurors Monday that the death penalty was the “only appropriate and just punishment” for a Palmdale man convicted of the torture-murder of his girlfriend’s 8-year-old son, while a defense attorney pleaded for mercy and warned the panel about dehumanizing his client.
The seven-woman, five-man panel found Isauro Aguirre, a 37-year-old former security guard, guilty of first-degree murder for the May 2013 killing of Gabriel Fernandez. Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture, making him 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.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami began his closing argument for the penalty phase of trial by showing the jury panel autopsy photos of Gabriel’s “head-to-toe” injuries, which a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, a sheriff’s deputy 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 Gabriel, with a small smile on his face, on an easel in front of the jury box.
“Always remember what this case is about,” Hatami said. “This case is not about the defendant’s excuses. You are here because of this little boy and all the horrible and unimaginable things the defendant did to him.”
Hatami imagined the “helplessness and hopelessness” Gabriel must have felt, reminding 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 recalled all the abuse Gabriel suffered, reminding jurors “his 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 that jurors hold Aguirre accountable. “Gabriel will not be forgotten.”
He objected to any characterization of Aguirre as a victim, calling him “a bully and a coward” and argued that the “severity of the injuries, the enormity of the crime” outweighed any mitigating factors.
Hatami also discounted any sway the boy’s mother had over Aguirre.
“At any time when the defendant was alone with Gabriel, he could have fed him. He knew better,” the prosecutor said. “He wanted to starve Gabriel. He hated Gabriel.”
After silently showing two minutes of photos of Gabriel in happier times, Hatami closed with an empty screen.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s left of Gabriel … he’ll never graduate from elementary school or junior high or high school …. he’ll never know the feeling of a first crush … or be a father,” Hatami said. “Show the defendant the exact same mercy he showed Gabriel. Remember, we are not asking for revenge, we are asking for justice.”
Defense attorney John Alan told jurors that it was up to them whether Aguirre would 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.”