Each to face life in prison without parole
By City News Service
A Lancaster woman and her boyfriend have been convicted of murdering the woman’s 10-year-old son, Anthony Avalos, who died in 2018.
Wrapping up a non-jury trial, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta found Heather Maxine Barron, 33, and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 37, guilty of first-degree murder for the boy’s June 21, 2018, death.
The judge also found true the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture. Over Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami’s objection, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office dropped its bid for the death penalty against the two after the election of District Attorney George Gascón, who issued a directive that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case.”
Leiva and Barron now face a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The pair are also charged with torture and two counts of child abuse involving the boy’s half-siblings, identified in court as “Destiny O.” and “Rafael O.” Those verdicts were still being announced Tuesday afternoon, with Ohta reading a 50-plus-page ruling.
Hatami told the judge that the prosecution believes the boy died of a combination of starvation and dehydration, blunt force trauma, chronic child abuse and torture and failure to seek medical treatment.
The deputy district attorney said it was the prosecution’s position that “both of these defendants are evil individuals,” and that they were both abusive before meeting each other.
“Together, they were deadly,” Hatami told the judge, explaining that Barron was the one who “came up with many of these torture techniques” and that she chose Leiva to act as the enforcer for the discipline used on the boy and two of his half-siblings.
In October, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors formally approved a $32 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by the boy’s relatives — two of whom testified that they notified the county’s Department of Children and Family Services about the alleged abuse.
The lawsuit cited other high-profile deaths of children who were also being monitored by the DCFS — 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez and 4-year-old Noah Cuatro, both of Palmdale — to allege “systemic failures” in the agency.