Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the mother of Anthony Avalos and her boyfriend, who are accused of torturing the 10-year-old boy for days before his death last year.
A grand jury indicted Heather Maxine Barron, 29, and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 33, in October on charges that they murdered the boy and abused two other children in the household. The boy’s relatives praised the district attorney’s office’s decision to pursue the death penalty, which was announced in court Wednesday.
“I know the death penalty will not bring Anthony back, but this is one of the worst kind of crimes you could commit so it deserves the worst kind of punishment,” David Barron, Anthony’s uncle, told reporters after the hearing.
Prosecutors have said that Heather Barron and Leiva poured hot sauce on Anthony’s face and mouth, whipped the boy with a looped cord and belt, held him upside down and dropped him on his head repeatedly. They also alleged that the couple alternately withheld food and force-fed him, slammed him into furniture and the floor, denied access to the bathroom and enlisted other children in the home to inflict pain.
Anthony’s wounds stretched from head to toe as bruises, abrasions, red dots, scabs, cuts and a traumatic brain injury, prosecutors have said. In addition to the injuries suffered by Anthony that resulted in his June 21 death, prosecutors have said that Leiva previously struck one of his brothers so hard that the boy required a trip to the hospital and staples on his head.
In a filing Wednesday, prosecutors said the couple watched pornographic videos and performed sexual acts with each other in front of Anthony and another child in the household. The filing also alleges that in July, Leiva assaulted another inmate in jail.
Barron and Leiva are being held without bail. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Anthony’s family members showed up for the hearing, some wearing shirts that read, "#Justice4Anthony.” Maria Barron, Anthony’s aunt, wept as she held up a photograph of Anthony while addressing reporters in the courthouse.
If the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services had “done their job when we called and told them what was going on we wouldn’t be here today,” Maria Barron said. “We would be at school right now, he would probably be trying out for band, starting the sixth grade with his cousin.”
She said she hasn’t been allowed to see Anthony’s siblings in four years.
Both the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and DCFS have come under criticism by some of Anthony’s family members and community protesters for not permanently removing the boy from the home and not arresting Heather Barron and Leiva on suspicion of child abuse.
Both agencies received calls about abuse in the household, beginning with a referral in April 2014 alleging that Leiva hit Anthony and three siblings with various objects, including a hose. The caller alleged that Barron screamed at the children and locked them in their rooms for hours.
In October 2014, a caller alleged that Barron screamed at the children, dragged one of Anthony’s brothers across the room by his arm, showed no affection and “seemed completely detached.”
California has not had an execution since 2006. In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a controversial moratorium on death row executions in the state, which has the largest death row in the nation.