The last four years of Anthony Avalos’ life have been almost non-stop torture.
The Antelope Valley boy spent hours locked in a room with no access to food, water or a toilet. His body was covered with welts from being lashed with belts and electric cables. Wounds on his knees caked and reopened after he was forced to kneel on uncooked rice and concrete. His blood spattered the room where he slept.
Anthony’s mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, sat stoically in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on Tuesday as prosecutors opened the trial against them by detailing the horrific abuses the couple inflicted on the boy who eventually died from head trauma in 2018. They have pleaded not guilty to torturing and murdering Anthony and molesting two of Barron’s other children. They face life imprisonment if convicted on all charges.
At the time, Anthony’s death exposed the failure of the Los Angeles County social services system to protect the 10-year-old and his siblings, despite more than a dozen reports from relatives claiming that Leiva and Barron had been abusive. Now, four and a half years later, the beginning of the trial has turned the focus on the tragedy of the boy’s short, painful life and the people accused of ending it so violently.
“She tortured her children over a long period of time,” Deputy Dist said. atty Saeed Teymouri said of Barron on Tuesday. “When the accused Leiva came into the picture, it became deadly.”
While Leiva admitted to severely abusing the boy in a taped interview with sheriff’s department investigators played in court Tuesday, his attorney Dan Chambers argued that Leiva did not cause Anthony’s death and should be acquitted of his murder .
Barron’s attorney, Nancy Sperber, declined to make an opening statement. During the trial, Sperber is said to try to blame Leiva. Barron has claimed in interviews with police that Leiva also abused her.
In lieu of a jury trial, both defendants elected Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta to rule in the case.
A 2019 investigation by The Times provided a timeline of Anthony’s devastated life. When he was 4 years old, his mother told relatives that her son had been sexually abused by a family member. Two years later, the boy’s aunt, Crystal Diuguid, told a therapist that Barron beat Anthony and locked him in a room.
Reports of violence against the boy became increasingly violent. One day he showed up at the school with wounds believed to be inflicted by BB gun bullets, according to the Times report. He told an assistant principal that his mother’s abuses included forcing him into a crouched position with his arms outstretched for long periods of time, which she dubbed “the captain’s chair.” A relative called an abuse hotline and claimed Leiva dangled the children over a balcony and threatened to drop them, sometimes picking Anthony up by the armpits before throwing him upside down on the floor.
Amid the abuse, Anthony wrote a suicide note, according to records previously verified by the Times.
During his opening speech on Tuesday, Teymouri listed the burns, cuts and malnutrition the boy had suffered and repeatedly showed pictures of his battered body taken at the hospital before his death. Every few minutes, sobs erupted from the gallery as relatives passed around a box of tissues.
Switching between an image of a younger, healthier and smiling Anthony and an image of the boy lying in a hospital bed with sunken, bloody eyes and a body covered with cuts and bruises, Teymouri looked at the defendants and said: “You became so beautiful 10 year old boy from here to here.”
According to Teymouri, Anthony was brain dead and without a pulse when paramedics arrived at his family’s home in Lancaster in June 2018. Barron told paramedics the boy threw himself on the ground and injured his head, but Teymouri said some of the other children in the home later told police he had been unconscious for almost two days. During that time, Teymouri said, Leiva fled the home and handed over guardianship of his own five children to relatives, fearing he would be arrested.
At the trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks, several doctors and paramedics are said to testify that Barron did not look distressed and at other times feigned tears while her son lay unconscious and dying. Other witnesses are expected to portray Leiva as a violent gang member who starved and beat the children whenever they were out of Barron’s sight.
In addition to determining the guilt or innocence of the accused, the trial also serves as a referendum on the county’s Department of Children and Family Services.
Barron’s sister-in-law, Maria Barron, took the witness stand on Tuesday and wept after prosecutors repeated a call her husband made to a county hotline in 2015 detailing the abuse Anthony and the other children allegedly suffered at the hands of Leiva . After the report was filed, Maria Barron said the agency allowed her sister-in-law to have an unsupervised visit with the children, during which she recorded them denying the abuse allegations. Agency clerks later returned the children to Leiva and Barron, who cut ties with their sister-in-law.
“We weren’t allowed to see the children anymore… we couldn’t save them,” Maria Barron said.
It was the first of many failures. The agency, which monitored Anthony for most of a four-year period from 2013 to 2017, received at least 13 reports about him from relatives, teachers, counselors and the police during that time, but the boy remained at Leiva and Barron’s home. According to the agency, no DCFS employees were disciplined in connection with the case.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Det. Chris Wyatt also took a report alleging that Leiva molested another of Barron’s children. Wyatt saw wounds on the child’s ear but made no attempt to locate Leiva or conduct an investigation, according to the detective’s grand jury testimony. Although the family was investigated for three years, DCFS staff never interviewed Leiva, according to case notes previously reviewed by The Times.
The case has often been compared to the torture and murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, whose case also highlighted major flaws within DCFS. Prosecutors tried to charge four social workers for failing to properly report the abuse Gabriel suffered, but an appeals court dismissed the case.
Prosecutors did not seek to press charges against DCFS staffers in connection with Anthony’s death, although counselor Barbara Dixon was placed on probation by a state agency for failing to report alleged abuse of both boys prior to her death.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-01-25/prosecutors-detail-disturbing-allegations-of-abuse-in-anthony-avalos-murder-trial Abuse allegations detailed in Anthony Avalos murder trial