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Couple sentenced to life in prison for torturing and killing 10-year-old boy

 April 27, 2023

A California couple has been sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison after being found guilty last month of torturing and murdering the woman's 10-year-old son in 2018.

The Los Angeles judge handed down sentences of life imprisonment without parole for Heather Maxine Barron, 33, and her boyfriend Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 37, in relation to the tragic death of Anthony Avalos, 10, the Daily Mail reported.

The young boy was reportedly subjected to nearly a week of brutal torture before his eventual death at the hands of Leiva and with the approval of Barron after he allegedly told other family members that he believed he might be gay.

Life in Prison

NBC News reported that Barron and Leiva had initially faced a possible death sentence when they were first arrested and charged for the 2018 killing of Avalos, but that the maximum possible sentence had been foreclosed and reduced to life imprisonment after Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced in 2020 that he wouldn't seek the death penalty in any cases in his jurisdiction.

Thus, following their convictions in March on first-degree murder and other charges, both Barron and Leiva were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or probation and were ordered to each pay $7,500 to a victims' compensation fund.

The couple had waived their right to a jury trial and instead placed their fate in the hands of Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta, but he had little sympathy for them and flatly rejected their claims that the substantial injuries sustained by the boy had been self-inflicted or caused by a fall.

Avalos had died in a hospital one day after being transported there in an unresponsive condition and was determined to have perished from cardiac arrest and traumatic brain injury, and one of the paramedics who transported him testified in court that the case still haunts her to this day.

During the sentencing hearing, according to both NBC and the Daily Mail, numerous family members spoke out with statements to the court against Barron, who was called a "monster" by multiple relatives, and Leiva for his violent abuse of the boy as well as his siblings.

County Sued for Failing to Respond to Abuse Reports

CBS News reported that investigators had immediately been suspicious following Avalos' death at a hospital in 2018 and soon learned that he had been subjected to severe torture and physical abuse for years, but particularly during the final five days of his life.

Other family members, including Avalos' father, had filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County which alleged that social workers, who had made multiple visits to the home over the course of several years, had failed to identify and address the ongoing abuse. The county settled that suit last year with a payment of $32 million to Avalos' family.

Indeed, the report indicated that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services had received numerous complaints between 2013 and 2018 of serious physical abuse of Avalos and six other siblings that included the denial of food and water, being locked in small rooms with no access to a bathroom, forced to eat trash, forced to fight each other, forced to endure hours of physical punishments, and subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

Per the Daily Mail, social workers had received at least a dozen referrals of alleged child abuse and had even removed Avalos from the home for a period of a few months at one point before he was returned to the abusive situation.

Evidence Points to an "Intent to Kill"

According to L.A.'s KABC, Judge Ohta said during the sentencing hearing, "Anthony was a helpless child who was dependent (on the defendants) ... for his basic physical needs and emotional support. Instead Anthony was tortured and killed."

During the non-jury trial in March, the judge declared that "It is clear to this court beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant targeted Anthony as a scapegoat for extreme cruelty" and also accused them of attempting to "deceive authorities" and cover up their abuse with false claims that the boy had injured himself.

Judge Ohta determined that Barron and Leiva "worked together to deprive Anthony access to liquids for a substantial length of time causing severe dehydration" and, with regard to the boy's condition at the time of his death, "which shows multiple bruises, cuts, possible burn marks all over his body show the extreme torture caused by the combined treatment of Anthony by both defendants manifesting an intent to kill by each defendant."

"Defendant Barron waited to call 911 until Anthony was literally deceased on the afternoon of June 20, 2018. This flagrant lack of care for Anthony's life all points to intent to kill by both defendant Barron and defendant Leiva," he added at another point in his verdict.

KABC further noted that the two defendants were also convicted on two counts each of child abuse involving two of Avalos' half-siblings. NBC News noted that attorneys for the convicted couple have filed a notice that they intend to appeal the judge's verdict.