The boyfriend of Gabriel Fernandez's mother has been found guilty of first-degree murder in connection with the boy's May 2013 death.
A jury found Isauro Aguirre, 37, guilty of intentionally killing the 8-year-old boy, and found true the allegation that the defendant tortured the victim.
The jury began deliberating on Tuesday, after the four-week trial, and announced late Wednesday morning that they had reached a verdict.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami had argued that Aguirre systemically abused and tortured Gabriel because he thought the boy was gay.
The boy was taken to a hospital in May 2013 when he stopped breathing. He had a cracked skull and broken ribs, with B.B. pellets in his lung and groin, the Los Angeles Times reported. He was declared brain dead and died two days later.
Aguirre and the boy’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, worked to keep their treatment of Gabriel hidden by using make up to cover up his bruises, Hatami said. The two exchanged text messages discussing their treatment of the boy, which included putting him in ice water.
Aguirre bit, whipped, bound and gagged Gabriel, as well as fed him cat litter and feces, Hatami said. The prosecutor argued that Aguirre enjoyed abusing and torturing the small boy.
Six-foot-2-inch Aguirre weighed 270 pounds at the time of the death, the prosecutor said, comparing his size to that of Gabriel, who was 59 pounds and 4 feet 1 inch tall.
During the trial, Hatami showed the jury weapons that were found in the couple’s Palmdale home.
He called Aguirre "evil."
The prosecutor wiped tears from his face after the verdict was read.
Hatami said he is a survivor of child abuse and that while he is an attorney, "my number one job is being a dad." He called the verdict "just."
"At least there's a little bit of justice for Gabriel, and there's a little bit of justice for his family," Hatami said.
Aguirre’s defense team argued that while he admitted to hurting the boy, he did not intend to kill him. His attorneys said Aguirre became angry over Gabriel wanting his mother to end her relationship with the man.
Aguirre faces the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole when the penalty phase begins on Nov. 27, according to a statement from the DA's office.
Pearl Fernandez will be tried separately. Four Los Angeles County social workers who were assigned to Gabriel's case also face criminal negligence charges in connection with the death.