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2 convicted in torture-murder of 10-year-old California boy

Posted at 9:09 AM, Mar 08, 2023

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The mother of a 10-year-old boy and her boyfriend were found guilty Tuesday of torturing and murdering the Southern California child, who was beaten, brutalized and starved.

Heather Barron, 33, and Kareem Leiva, 37, were convicted by the judge in a non-jury trial of first-degree murder involving torture. They also were convicted of child abuse of two other children in their Lancaster home.

They now face sentences of life in prison without chance of parole.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies went to the high-desert home of the boy, Anthony Avalos, in response to a 911 call from the mother on June 20, 2018. They were told that he had been injured in a fall.

He died in a hospital the next day. Doctors said he was severely malnourished and dehydrated.

Prosecutors alleged that the boy was intentionally killed by torture. They said that for years the boy was routinely beaten and whipped with a belt along with the other children, repeatedly dropped on his head, smashed into the floor or furniture, burned with cigarettes and denied water and food at times or force-fed.

Prosecutors said Leiva sprayed hot sauce in the children’s faces; forced them to fight one another, with the loser being punished by him; and made the youngsters kneel for lengthy periods on concrete floors, nails or uncooked rice or squat until they fell over.

County District Attorney George Gascón said the couple “tortured the boy every day for two weeks leading up to his death.”

“The brutality that was meted out on this young child was unimaginable,” Gascón said in a statement after the verdicts.

The other two children testified about the abuse at the trial, where the prosecution described Barron and Leiva as “monsters” who collaborated on the torture.

Barron’s defense attorney argued that she was herself abused by Leiva and couldn’t stop him from hurting the children.

After his arrest, Leiva told sheriff’s deputies that he had abused the children, adding: “everything is just my fault.”

Leiva’s attorney had argued against finding him guilty of first-degree murder, telling the judge that there was reasonable doubt that the violence was intended to kill the child.

Last year, Los Angeles County agreed to pay $32 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the boy’s father and three siblings over his death. A home counseling contractor also was sued and previously reached a $3 million deal with the boy’s family.

The lawsuit alleged that the county Department of Children and Family Services disregarded 13 reports of abuse allegations involving Anthony from relatives, teachers, counselors and even law enforcement.

The agency never tried to remove the boy from the home.

In the wake of the settlement, the department said it had taken “significant steps to mitigate the risk of harm to children” and was committed to continuing reform.