‘Nothing short of monsters’: Prosecutors sum up torture allegations in Anthony Avalos’ death
On June 7, 2018, Anthony Avalos had just completed fourth grade. The 10-year-old straight-A student was on the school’s honor roll.
Two weeks later, with no one to monitor his well-being, he was dead, his battered body covered with bruises, lesions and bloody scrapes from the lashes of belts and electrical cables. He ultimately died of head trauma.
His death was the result of repeated beatings at the hands of his mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, prosecutors alleged during closing arguments at the couple’s murder trial in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday.
“They’re nothing short of monsters for what they did,” L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan Hatami said as Barron stared blankly ahead, not looking up. “Both of these defendants are evil individuals.”
Hatami cited the couple’s inherent cruelty as the motive behind the alleged killing of Anthony, whose injuries and abuse were detailed over the nearly monthlong trial. The couple have pleaded not guilty to murder charges, and to abusing two of Barron’s other children.
The defendants opted for Judge Sam Ohta to render a verdict in the case rather than face a jury.
Anthony, along with his siblings, had survived four years of abuse documented in numerous reports to law enforcement and the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services. He was malnourished, suffered from cuts and burns and was repeatedly hit with belts. At times, he was forced on wounded knees to kneel on uncooked rice, nails and concrete. Still, neither he nor his siblings were removed from the home.
Despite 13 separate reports of abuse of Anthony filed with county officials, the boy was allowed to remain in the home. No DCFS employees have been disciplined in connection with the case, the agency has said.
In the midst of the abuse, Anthony wrote a suicide note, according to records previously reviewed by The Times.
“Nobody believed the children and nobody in authority did anything,” Hatami said during his closing argument. “The children were terrified that they would be next.”
Two of Anthony’s siblings testified at the trial, clutching a stress ball as they described the ways they and Anthony were tortured by Barron and Leiva.
The children, who were identified by their first names, Destiny and Rafael, both testified that Leiva picked Anthony up by the ankles and dropped him on his head 20 times the day before police were called to the home on June 20, 2018. Anthony was brain-dead and had no pulse when paramedics arrived at his family’s Lancaster home, prosecutors said.
Leiva’s attorney questioned “the accuracy of their memory” during closing arguments, suggesting the children’s stories had changed and that his client had not held Anthony by his ankles, but by his armpits.
“It shows a grossly misguided attempt to discipline a child. … But that’s not murder,” said Dan Chambers, Leiva’s attorney.
Anthony’s mother asserted her innocence, claiming she was also the victim of Leiva’s abuse.
“Every single man in her life was an abuser in one form or another beginning with her stepfather. This is all she has ever known,” said Barron’s attorney, Nancy Sperber. “She didn’t have the power to prevent this. She didn’t have the power to say no.”
But prosecutors insisted that Barron was the “mastermind” behind the murder of Anthony, while Leiva was the physical “enforcer.”
“This wasn’t about Barron being a victim of domestic violence. And this wasn’t Anthony’s fault. This was four years of abuse and 14 straight days of torture, starvation, dehydration and then murder. This was not an accident or sudden rage,” Hatami said.
Hatami noted that allegations of child abuse dated back before Leiva came into Barron’s life.
A 2019 investigation by The Times traced the tragic arc of Anthony’s short life, from sexual abuse allegations when he was just 4 to his aunt telling a therapist that he was being beaten by his mother two years later.
The investigation detailed how DCFS missed clear signals and failed to follow protocol in Anthony’s case, leaving him in the custody of Barron and Leiva. Prosecutors did not try to bring charges against DCFS employees in Anthony’s death.
After closing arguments, Judge Ohta said he would take the case under deliberation. He did not give a timeline of when he might deliver a verdict.
If convicted of all charges, Barron and Leiva face life in prison.
Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.
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