Anthony Avalos’ mother and her boyfriend were convicted of murder in the death of the 10-year-old, whose short and tragic life exposed huge flaws in the county’s child welfare system.
The defendants, Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva, chose to have their case heard by a judge rather than a jury. Los Angeles County Supreme Court Justice Sam Ohta delivered the verdict after spending just over two weeks reviewing evidence.
Ohta also found the pair guilty of the special circumstance of torture; they will both receive life without parole if convicted.
Prosecutors alleged that Barron had abused Anthony and two of his siblings for years, but the situation became even more dangerous and deadly after she began dating Leiva. Leiva, an alleged gang member, would routinely beat the kids with belts, prosecutors said, pour hot sauce into their mouths and make Anthony and his siblings fight each other. The losers of the impromptu brawls would then receive corporal punishment at Leiva’s hands, prosecutors claimed.
The children were also forced to kneel on uncovered floors, nails or uncooked rice for long periods of time or to assume a crouching position known as the “Captain’s Chair” until they collapsed in pain.
In June 2018, paramedics arrived at the family’s Lancaster home to find Anthony brain dead and without a pulse, Deputy Dist said. Attention. Saeed Teymouri. During his opening statement, Teymouri spoke as he showed pictures of a withered Avalos in an emergency room. He said the boy was “so malnourished and dehydrated that his veins had collapsed”.
Barron’s sister-in-law, Maria, reported abuse allegations to the LA County Department of Children and Family Services in 2015, one of 13 times the agency received reports of violence against Anthony from teachers, counselors, relatives or police between 2013 and 2017.
Still, the boy stayed at Leiva and Barron’s house. The agency never made an attempt to remove the children from Barron’s custody, and no DCFS employees were disciplined in connection with the case.
Several DCFS staff took the stand during the five-week trial, but they did not explain why they did not take additional steps out of concern for the children’s safety. A DCFS employee could be heard laughing and telling jokes as he received a description of the abuse Anthony had suffered through an emergency hotline, according to a recording played during the trial.
While Barron initially told paramedics that Anthony had hurt himself, the boy’s siblings both testified that Leiva repeatedly dropped the 10-year-old on his head.
The kids, Rafael and Destiny, took the stand during one of the most brutal days of the relentlessly emotional trial. Rafael, now 12, told the court that Leiva took his own children and fled when he realized Barron called the police. When Barron’s lawyer asked who he blamed for Anthony’s death, Rafael simply blurted out the name “Kareem”.
After describing how Leiva repeatedly hit Anthony on the head the day before he died, Deputy Dist. Attention. Jonahtan Hatami asked Destiny if the boy was just lying on the carpet and unable to move. She said yes.
“And what did mom do?” asked Hatami.
“Nothing,” replied Destiny, now 13.
Both defendants were charged with murder, torture and two counts of child abuse.
In an interview with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies shortly after his arrest, Leiva admitted to abusing the children, though his attorney has denied dropping Avalos on his head or causing the fatal injuries he suffered. incurred in 2018.
“Maybe I need help,” Leiva said, according to a taped interview played back in court. “I can’t blame anyone but myself because I’m the one, you know. It’s my fault, everything is just my fault.”
Barron has said she was also a victim of Leiva’s abuse and was powerless to stop him.