The latest true crime documentary that has people glued to their TVs in utter horror is the heartbreaking story of Gabriel Fernandez. The six-part Netflix series, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, sheds light on the horrific child abuse case of the 8-year-old boy by his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. The documentary also investigates how the city of Los Angeles failed the child despite several red flags. Scroll below for all the details on the true crime thriller.

What Happened to Gabriel Fernandez?

Fernandez was shuffled between homes and family members for most of his childhood, according to Time.  He was a typical happy boy until he moved in with his mother and her boyfriend in 2012. The two allegedly took him in to acquire welfare benefits.

After his move and starting a new school, his teacher, Jennifer Garcia, noticed some odd behavior from Fernandez. According to Garcia, he would ask questions like, “Is it normal for moms to hit their kids?” Garcia reported her suspicions to the Los Angeles Country child abuse hotline where the case fell into the hands of Stefanie Rodriguez. According to the documentary, she didn’t take the necessary precautions to determine the safety of Fernandez’s home life. Although social workers visited the home, they never found signs of abuse.

The abuse inflicted by his mother and her boyfriend worsened in the following months. According to his sibling’s testimony, he was forced to eat cat litter and was locked in a cabinet. He was often beaten and punished for exhibiting “gay” behavior such as playing with dolls.

Sheer Horror The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

How Did Gabriel Fernandez Die?

On May 22, 2013, Fernandez’s mother called 911 and reported he was not breathing. When paramedics arrived on the scene, he was found naked and beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend after he didn’t clean up his toys, the Los Angeles Times reported. He suffered brutal injuries including a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body. Two days later, he was declared brain dead and taken off life support.

Following his death,  an investigation was launched into the social works who had worked with the family. “We need to know where the breakdown was in the services recommended and why this child was not removed from those living conditions,” county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said at the time.

What Was the Outcome of Gabriel Fernandez’s Trial?

Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre were arrested for the torture of Gabriel Fernandez on May 23, 2013. They were charged with capital murder in connection to his death on May 28 of that year. The trial for the murder of Fernandez began in August 2013. Both his mother and Aguirre pleaded not guilty on July 1, 2015.

Prosecutors had announced they would seek the death penalty for murder and special circumstances of torture. Aguirre was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death on November 15, 2017. In an effort to avoid another trial, Pearl pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on February 24, 2018. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

What Happened to Gabriel Fernandez’s Social Workers?

Los Angeles County social workers Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt, were charged with one felony count of child abuse and one felony count of falsifying public records in connection to the death of Fernandez on April 7, 2016. The case against the four social workers was separate from the trial of Fernandez and Aguirre. The prosecution argued the county Department of Children and Family Services employees minimized “the significance of the physical, mental and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered … [and] allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused.”

On September 13, 2018, a motion to dismiss the charges against the social workers was denied. Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli said the government employees exhibited “improper regard for human life” and “a lack of vigilance” by failing to efficiently document the abuse.

In 2020, the appeals court threw out the case against the four social workers. “Although there may be consequences to social workers who fail to fulfill” their duties, the court stated, “the consequences do not include criminal liability for child abuse.”

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