A jury has recommended that Isauro Aguirre, the Palmdale man convicted of murdering his girlfriend’s 8-year-old son, be sentenced to death.
Aguirre, 37, had faced the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole after being found guilty of first-degree murder on Nov. 15 in the killing of Gabriel Fernandez, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. The jury also found true a special circumstance allegation that the little boy had been tortured.
Jury deliberations in the penalty phase began Monday afternoon in the downtown L.A. criminal courthouse. On Tuesday, jurors say they were deadlocked, but Superior Court Judge George Lomeli sent them back to continue seeking a decision.
The jury of seven women and five men returned their recommendation for Aguirre’s sentence on Wednesday afternoon.
Aguirre did not appear to react after the recommendation was announced in court. His sentencing was set for March 8.
Deputy DA John Hatami, who prosecuted the case along with Deputy DA Scott Yang, had called the defendant “pure evil.”
“At least there’s a little bit of justice for Gabriel, and there’s a little bit of justice for his family,” he said following Aguirre’s conviction.
Attempting to spare his client from being executed for the killing, defense attorney John Alan had tried to paint Aguirre, who was employed at a senior living facility, as a “kind” and “compassionate” man while appealing to the jury for mercy in closing arguments Monday.
Alan also told jurors that his client had never committed a crime prior to meeting the victim’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, and did not deserve to die.
“If Isauro is sentenced to death, his family will be devastated,” he said.
During the four-week trial, prosecutors argued that Aguirre participated in the systemic and severe abuse of Gabriel for months before the boy’s death in May 2013. They said Aguirre hated Gabriel because he thought the child was gay, and that motivated his treatment of the boy.
Over the course of months, Gabriel had been beaten, burned him with cigarettes, whipped, shot in the face and groin with a B.B. gun, forced to eat cat litter and feces, and locked in a container “box” for days, according to prosecutors and witness testimony.
Aguirre – who was about 2 feet taller and more than 200 pounds heavier than Gabriel at the time of his death –enjoyed abusing and torturing the little boy, prosecutors said.
On May 22, 2013, Pearl Fernandez called 911 after Gabriel became unresponsive after being beaten, the Los Angeles Times reported back in July 2015, citing grand jury testimony.
Responding paramedics found the child naked in a bedroom, suffering from horrific injuries that included a fractured skull, multiple broken ribs and burns.
Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedic James Cermak testified during the trial that Gabriel had an “unbelievable amount of trauma on his body.” He had previously told the grand jury that “it was just like every inch of this child had been abused,” according to the Times.
Gabriel died two days later.
In his closing arguments, Hatami said Aguirre deserved to be executed for his crimes, but acknowledged that “it doesn’t even compare to what he did to Gabriel.”
As the penalty phase for Aguirre reaches its conclusion, the focus shifts to 34-year-old Pearl Fernandez, who has also been charged with one count of murder with a special circumstance allegation of torture.
She stands accused of conspiring with Aguirre to keep their treatment of her son hidden from others. During the trial, Hatami displayed text messages between the mother and her boyfriend, saying they demonstrated the couple tried to conceal the abuse.
A pretrial hearing for Pearl Fernandez is set for Jan. 16.
Additionally, four L.A. County social workers who were assigned to Gabriel’s case will also be tried on charges in connection to the boy’s death.
KTLA’s Melissa Pamer and Cindy Von Quednow contributed to this article.