LOS ANGELES - Gabriel Fernandez’s mother was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Thursday, while her boyfriend was sentenced to death in the torture killing of the 8-year-old Palmdale boy.
During the sentencing, the judge said the killing was "worse than animalistic," because "even animals know how to take care of their young," KTLA reported.
"In my almost 20 years on the bench in this court, this case is without a doubt the most aggravated and egregious case this court has ever witnessed," the judge said.
The boy's mother, Pearl Fernandez, 34, pleaded guilty in connection with the boy's 2013 death in February. Fernandez's boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, was convicted of first-degree murder on Nov. 15 and a jury found true the allegation that the defendant tortured the victim.
The prosecutor in Aguirre's case, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, argued that Aguirre systematically abused and tortured Gabriel because he thought the boy was gay.
Gabriel 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. He was declared brain dead and died two days later.
Hatami argued that Aguirre and Fernandez worked to keep their treatment of Gabriel hidden by using make up to cover up his bruises. They exchanged text messages where they discussed how they put him in ice water.
The prosecutor called Aguirre "evil."
The case led to child welfare reforms in Los Angeles County as four social workers who were assigned to Gabriel's case were accused of negligence in connection with the boy's death.
In an impact statement delivered before the sentencing, Gabriel's family member told Fernandez that her actions changed her and her family's life forever.
"After five long, heartbreaking years it’s finally over," the family member said. "Your sentence will be handed down as you hear your jail cell slam."
One of Gabriel's teachers said that she still lives with guilt after Gabriel's death and wishes she could have done more to prevent it.
"I go back and forth between sadness and guilt and anger, and no matter what I can't bring him back," the teacher said. She said she understands the defendants are the ones to blame for Gabriel's death.
"I hope they face same abuse in their life time or worse... They are evil people," the teacher said, referring to Fernandez and Aguirre.
Fernandez herself spoke briefly before the sentencing. In a prepared statement she said she was sorry.
“Everyday I wish I made better choices. I wish I could have saved Gabriel," Fernandez said.