Anthony Avalos’ Mother and Boyfriend Sentenced to Life in Prison Without Parole
This story is currently being updated further details as verdict is read.
Following weeks of graphic and heartbreaking testimony, Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva are now facing life in prison after the presiding judge in the non-jury trial convicted them both of murder in the first degree.
Barron and Leiva are facing one count each of murder and torture of their 10-year-old son Anthony Avalos in 2018. The two face life in prison without parole.
Update: Barron and Leiva sentenced to life without parole
Weeks after a judge convicted Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva of first-degree murder, both defendants will spend the rest of their lives in prison. Although the state decided against using the death penalty, both Barron and Leiva will pay $7,500 in victim’s compensation and do not have the option for parole.
One of Avalos’ siblings read a statement at their sentencing. She said, “I’m finally free of all the torture and abuse.” She later added, “If I’d known that this would end with me losing a brother, I’d do it all over again with just one difference. That it would be me, not Anthony.”
Anthony’s biological father, Victor, also appeared at the sentencing. According to him, he offered to take full custody of Anthony after he moved to Mexico, but Barron denied him that opportunity. “I feel some type of guilt by not being able to help him when he most needed me,” he told the court.
Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva tortured and killed Anthony Avalos
Avalos’ mother and stepfather regularly tortured Avalos along with the seven other children living inside the home. In addition to physically abusing Avalos, he and his siblings endured cruel and unusual punishments. This included gladiator-style battles and eating competitions where the loser would have to drink hot sauce.
Additionally, prosecutors believe homophobia played a role in Avalos’ death. Although his parents abused him for years, the punishments became more severe after Avalos told his parents he liked boys and girls. Leiva admitted to disliking and fearing gay people during his initial interrogation.
Witnesses testified for weeks to the extent of their abuse
When he arrived at the hospital, Avalos was already brain dead and completely unresponsive to visual and physical stimulation. Doctors at Mattel Children’s Hospital testified to Avalos’ condition. The pediatrician who treated Avalos said he was “skin and bones” when he got to the hospital. There were also bruises all over the boy’s body.
Additionally, hospital staff including the boy’s nurses and pediatrician confirmed Barron’s total lack of emotion toward her son’s condition. She even left the room minutes before Avalos died alone in his hospital room. “To me it looked like she was forcing herself to have some type of emotions,” said a nurse named Priscilla Cabunoc.
Two of Avalos’ siblings, identified as Destiny and Rafael, testified to the alleged abuse, giving detailed accounts of what they endured day after day under Barron and Leiva’s supervision. They said they watched Leiva drop Avalos on his head multiple times. Avalos then laid, nearly dead, on the floor for at least a day before they called the police.
Family members say DCFS failed Avalos when he needed them most
Also, two of Barron’s siblings railed against DCFS, which they notified multiple times of the abuse while Avalos was still alive. Between 2013 and 2017, there were a total of 13 calls to DCFS made by family members, police officers, and teachers.
Following his death, Avalos’ family sought $50 million in a lawsuit and recently settled for $32 million in collaboration with Los Angeles county. Additionally, a licensing agency in California handed down a four-year probation to a counselor named Barbara Dixon for staying silent about the abuse Avalos endured.
Avalos’ teacher also took the stand at one point to share a note he left her on the last day of fourth grade. This would be the last year he was in school. A fellow student testified that he would often try and get extra snacks whenever possible. However, they said he was also very generous and loved his classmates.
Barron and Leiva’s attorneys tried to push alternative narratives
Prosecutors ultimately decided against pursuing the death penalty when building a case against Barron and Leiva. Both defendants were represented by different attorneys. They each attempted to pit the couple against each other with conflicting narratives on who was responsible for the lion’s share of the abuse.
Barron’s attorney, Nancy Sperber, claimed Barron acted out previously established patterns of abuse. Sperber said that “every single man in [Barron’s] life was an abuser” and that it was all she knew. Leiva’s attorney, on the other hand, conceded that what Leiva did was undeniably abuse. However, it did not rise to the level of murder, he said.