A jury has recommended that a California man convicted of murdering and torturing a young boy be sentenced to death. The defendant had repeatedly beaten and humiliated his girlfriend's child before fatally assaulting him, leaving his entire body injured. The prosecution asserted that the murderer tortured the boy because he suspected he was gay.
On Dec. 13, the jury considering the case of Isauro Aguirre announced their recommendation in a Los Angeles courtroom.
"We were plucked out of our everyday lives and brought together to serve," the jury forewoman said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We came together to bring justice for Gabriel."
On Nov. 15, Aguirre was convicted of first-degree murder for the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. Aguirre had subject Gabriel to torture for months while living with his mother, Pearl Fernandez.
The jury had the choice between recommending the death penalty or life in prison without parole for Aguirre. The death penalty was an option in the trial because the jury concurred with the prosecutor's argument that the defendant's crime had the special circumstance of torture.
Evidence indicated that Aguirre had, over the course of months, repeatedly beaten Gabriel, stubbed out cigarettes on his body, handcuffed him inside of a box with a sock shoved down into his mouth, shot him with BB pellets and forced him to eat cat feces and his own vomit.
In May 2013, Gabriel was taken to the hospital after he became unresponsive. He was emaciated and had a fractured skull, broken ribs, BB pellets embedded in his body and his penis had been mutilated with bruises and burns. He did two days later.
Arnold Contreras, Gabriel's biological father, testified in court that his son was loving and asserted that Pearl never showed parental love toward him. The father was incarcerated when he learned that his son was on life support,
"I'm sorry," Contreras said. "I'm sorry for not being there."
During closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami of Los Angeles urged the jury to recommend Aguirre be put to death. He argued that the defendant had tortured Gabriel because he believed the boy to be gay.
"The day that the defendant beat Gabriel to death, he was in the bedroom," Hatami said, according to KABC. "He picked Gabriel [up] and carried him like trash and discarded him in the living room. No man with good in him would do that."
Deputy Public Defender John Alan requested that the jury recommend life imprisonment without parole for his client.
"Mercy isn't something that's ever earned," Alan said in court. "It's something that is freely granted."
Aguirre will receive a final sentence on March 8. Meanwhile, Pearl will stand trial for murder on Jan. 16. Prosecutors have asserted that there is evidence that the mother was complicit in Aguirre's torture of her child. Hatami presented text messages during Aguirre's trial that indicated Pearl had helped conceal the abuse, WJW reports.
After the jury announced their recommendation, Contreras approached a sheriff's detective who had investigated Gabriel's murder. He told him, "Thank you."