Boyfriend and Mother Convicted of Torture-Murder of 10-Year-Old Anthony Avalos
Heather Maxine Barron and Kareem Ernesto Leiva were found guilty of first-degree murder and torture in the death of Barron's 10-year-old son, Anthony Avalos, according to a judge's announcement on Tuesday. The verdicts were read in a non-jury trial after both sides waived their right to a jury. Barron and Leiva also faced two counts of child abuse for Anthony's half-siblings, but the verdicts on those counts are yet to be announced. The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation of murder involving torture. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office dropped a bid for the death penalty against the two. Both defendants now face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted as charged. Details about a sentencing date were not immediately available.
During the trial, the prosecutor described the defendants as "evil'' and "monsters" and argued that the boy died of a combination of starvation and dehydration, blunt force trauma, chronic child abuse and torture, and failure to seek medical treatment. The prosecutor claimed that Barron came up with many torture techniques, while Leiva acted as the enforcer for discipline used on the boy and his half-siblings. The defense argued that Barron should be acquitted of murder and torture due to her being a victim of battered woman syndrome. Leiva's defense argued that the case was one of extreme, unjustified, out-of-bounds behavior, but did not rise to the level of intent to kill. The defendants remain jailed without bail.
The lawsuit filed by Anthony's relatives against the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was settled last October for $32 million. The lawsuit alleged that multiple social workers failed to properly respond to reports of abuse of Anthony and his siblings and cited other high-profile deaths of children being monitored by the DCFS to allege systemic failures in the agency.