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‘Trials of Gabriel Fernandez’ on Netflix examines boy’s murder

On May 22, 2013, paramedics arrived at the Palmdale home of Gabriel Fernandez. They found him naked on the floor with  a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body.

Fernandez was 8 years old and had endured horrific and prolonged abuse and cruelty by his mother and her boyfriend, who thought Fernandez was gay.

Local officials said it was the worst case of child abuse they had ever seen.

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Two days later, Fernandez was declared brain dead and taken off life support.

‘The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez’

“The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez,” a six-part Netflix series, gives an inside look at the high-profile trial and investigates the various government systems that failed to protect Fernandez — despite multiple reports and warnings.

A Los Angeles Times investigation found that, according to court documents, multiple Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies were disciplined after Fernandez’s murder.

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The paper reported that “deputies visited Gabriel’s home multiple times … (but) found no signs of abuse and did not file paperwork that would have led specially trained detectives to do more investigating.”

‘Gabriel could have been saved’

Documentarian Brian Knappenberger, who directed “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez,” says Fernandez’s murder was preventable.

“Gabriel could have been saved about a dozen different ways and that’s what’s so intense and so heartbreaking about his story,” Knappenberger, who also directed the 2017 Netflix documentary “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press,” told People magazine.

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The trial

Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, admitting Gabriel’s death was an intentional murder by torture.

Isauro Aguirre, the mother’s boyfriend, was convicted at trial of first-degree murder, with the jury confirming the special allegation against him of intentional murder by torture.

Sentencing

At the couple’s sentencing, Judge George G. Lomeli told them, “I hope you think about the pain you caused this child and that it tortures you.”

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The judge called the abuse Gabriel suffered “horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil.”

Lomeli sentenced Fernandez to life in prison and ordered Aguirre be put to death.

Chaotic home

Gabriel came from a chaotic home environment and was shuffled between relatives before being sent back to his mother and Aguirre.

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“At one point he was with his uncle and his partner and during that period of time, there’s no question, he seems happy,” Knappenberger said. “He seems like a young, curious kid. You see that in a lot of the pictures of Gabriel.

“If you look at him,” Knappenberger said, “it’s easy to understand the kind of warmth and potential he had.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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