At Anthony Avalos murder trial, siblings testify about alleged family torture

Anthony Avalos’ siblings say everything has changed after their mother’s new boyfriend Kareem Leiva moved in with them.

Suddenly there were bizarre punishments, grueling workouts, and strange eating rules. One cruelty often led to another.

The boy’s sister, Destiny, said she remembered being forced to kneel on uncooked rice over a piece of carpet that had been torn. Nails stuck out of the shabby floor of her Lancaster home, she said, old but still sharp enough to draw blood from her knees.

Anthony’s brother Rafael described being forced to squat for hours or hold weights high above his head. At one point, Rafael said, he became so weak that he fell and hit his head on a metal chair, creating a wound that had to be closed with staples.

Sometimes, Destiny said, the children were forced to fight each other in gladiatorial combat, with the winner spared from Leiva’s supposedly sadistic punishments. But when she was up against her older brother Anthony, Destiny said the 10-year-old always let her win to save her from Leiva.

The two children, who say they were tortured along with Anthony, took a stand in the murder trial of Leiva and her mother, Heather Barron, on Wednesday. Leiva and Barron are accused of killing Anthony through years of torment that ended in his death in 2018 and of abusing both Rafael and Destiny. If they are convicted on all charges after a trial that is expected to last several weeks, they face life imprisonment.

The children, identified only by their first names, spoke slowly and deliberately about the agony they had allegedly endured, each clutching a stress ball and contorting their tiny bodies under Deputy Dist’s gentle questioning. atty Jonathan Hatami.

Barron sat stone-faced as Hatami guided the kids through the questions. He asked Rafael if Barron was a good mother. He said no. When asked if he loved his mother, the child said, “I used to, but my feelings have changed.”

“I started to understand all the bad things she did to me,” the boy continued.

Leiva has admitted to abusing each child, but his defense attorneys have argued he did not inflict the fatal head injuries that caused the 10-year-old boy’s death. Barron’s defense is expected to focus on claims that Leiva also abused her and that she failed to protect her children out of fear of him.

The case also exposed massive flaws in LA County’s child care system. Officials with the Department of Child and Family Services were aware of at least 13 reports of abuse involving Anthony, but the boy was allowed to stay at Leiva and Barron’s home. According to the agency, no DCFS employees were disciplined in connection with the case. Multiple DCFS officials are expected to testify later in the trial.

With no other witnesses to almost all of the alleged abuse, prosecutors reached out to the children on Wednesday for first-hand accounts of the days leading up to Anthony’s death. Prosecutors said Anthony was brain dead and had no pulse when paramedics arrived at the family home. They claim that Barron waited to call for help long after the boy’s head was severely injured, to give Leiva time to escape. Before his arrest, according to prosecutors, Leiva transferred guardianship of his other children to a relative.

On Wednesday, both Rafael and Destiny said Leiva picked Anthony up by his ankles and dropped him on his head up to 20 times the day before contacting police.

“Mom told Kareem she was going to call the police and when Kareem heard that,” he grabbed his own children and drove off in Barron’s car, Rafael testified. When Barron’s attorney asked who he held responsible for Anthony’s death, Rafael simply blurted out the name “Kareem.”

Both children painted Leiva as their primary tormentor. With Leiva’s presence came the grueling workouts, the forced fights, the meals that consisted only of peanut butter and a cold tortilla that they had to eat within three minutes or be made to drink hot sauce. Fate said when one child was punished, the others had to watch. When they burst into tears, she said, Leiva’s anger only seemed to get worse.

While neither called Barron physically abusive, both said her mother stood by idly while her boyfriend terrified them.

After Hatami described Leiva repeatedly hitting Anthony on the head the day before he died, Hatami asked Destiny if the boy was just lying on the carpet and couldn’t move. She said yes.

“And what did Mommy do?” Hatami asked.

“Nothing,” Destiny replied. At Anthony Avalos murder trial, siblings testify about alleged family torture

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