Prosecutor in Anthony Avalos Case Calls Parents ‘Monsters’ in Closing Argument
The prosecution made its closing arguments this week in the ongoing trial against Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva, both charged with torturing and murdering 10-year-old Anthony Avalos. Following weeks of disturbing testimony, the verdict leveled against the couple may have them behind bars for the rest of their lives.
Barron and Leiva await their verdict after weeks of testimony
Authorities originally charged Barron and Leiva with first-degree murder, torture, and child abuse. Since the trial began a few weeks ago, multiple witnesses have come forward to testify against Barron and Leiva. Everyone from Avalos’ own siblings to his fourth-grade teacher took the stand at one point or another.
Avalos’ siblings told a number of horrifying stories about life under the supervision of Barron and Leiva. They endured starvation, regular beatings, and cruel torture methods that included kneeling on rice until they began to bleed. Elsewhere, Avalos’ teacher shared a heartbreaking note he wrote her on the last day of school.
The doctors and nurses that cared for Avalos before he died explained in graphic detail the irreversible damage done to his body and brain. Prior to the prosecution’s closing arguments, those inside the court watched the last known video of Anthony Avalos before his doctors took him off life support in 2018.
Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami makes his closing argument
The video reportedly shows Avalos’ bruises and cuts in detail, as well as the degree of malnutrition he endured during the last weeks of his life. Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, the lead prosecutor on the case, said, “No one deserves this. This was intentional murder by torture.”
Hatami reiterated an earlier story told by the team at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital regarding Barron’s final moments with Anthony. “Anthony was removed from all the machines and passed away in his hospital room alone,” Hatami said. “His mom wasn’t even there, think about that.”
Multiple witnesses agreed that Barron never showed any emotion regarding Avalos’ injuries or even his death. The team at Mattel Children’s made mention of Barron’s attempts to feign emotion upon hearing of Avalos’ passing. Hatami hammered this point home, saying, “Based on the evidence, this clearly was sadistic.”
Hatami then detailed the arrangement between Barron and Leiva. He broke it down as a two-man job: “Kareem was the enforcer, Heather was the mastermind.” He then added, “Heather came up with the torture techniques and she got Leiva to do them.”
Hatami did not mince words when it came to describing Avalos’ parents
The Deputy District Attorney did not hold back in his characterizations of Barron and Leiva, hoping to make as much of an impact as possible in his closing argument. He noted that the abuse began before Barron and Leiva began dating. However, the abuse became increasingly severe once Leiva entered the home.
“They are bad, evil people – and I use the word ‘people’ lightly because they are nothing short of monsters,” he said. “They fed off what they were doing and committed these acts against four children over a period of years.” However, the witnesses who were inside the home agreed Avalos’ endured the most abuse of anyone.
It may have something to do with Avalos’ decision to tell his parents he “liked boys and girls” weeks before his death. Leiva admitted he did not like gay people, leading the prosecution to believe homophobia played a role in the severity of the abuse Avalos endured.
Hatami mentioned, on multiple occasions, the “Captain’s Chair” method of abuse. The parents forced the children to sit against the wall, knees bent and arms out, for hours at a time. Additionally, the prosecution displayed images from the home, revealing the bed of rice and nails where Barron and Leiva forced the children to kneel.
“Think about a 10-year-old child kneeling down on rice and nails,” Hatami said. “Anthony hadn’t been given food or water, he had Leiva smash his head into a corner, he put his weight on top of Anthony, pushing his knees down onto the rice and nails.”
The defense argues they abused Avalos but did not murder him
For the defense, their aim was not to argue their clients never abused Avalos, but that what they did does not constitute first-degree murder. Barron and Leiva had separate defense attorneys, who essentially pitted the couple against each other.
Barron’s attorney, Nancy Sperber, insisted Barron was acting out familiar patterns of abuse. “Every single man in her life was an abuser of one form or another, including her stepfather,” she said. “This is all she has ever known.” Sperber added Barron felt overwhelmed by the stress of having seven children in eight years.
Sperber then agreed with Hatami on one point, that Leiva is an evil person. “He admitted to brutalizing Anthony, he confessed to every single act of violence and torture, and he runs away from every bit of damage that he creates,” she said.
Leiva also tried to kill himself shortly after Avalos’ death with a boxcutter. On this point, Sperber made an especially theatrical statement. “I would never think anyone could survive that injury, but he did. He is so evil the devil didn’t even want him,” she said.
Leiva’s attorney says he did not intend to kill Avalos
As Leiva’s defense attorney, Dan Chambers told the court the case cannot rest on emotion, but on the facts. “Close examination of the evidence will show reasonable doubt on the issue of intent to kill,” he said. “This case is one of extreme, unjustified, out of bounds, abusive behavior… but it does not rise to the level of intent to kill.”
Chambers also noted the changing stories of Avalos’ siblings who initially told investigators that he threw himself on the ground. However, while on the stand, they testified that Barron and Leiva told them to lie to police. Chambers also split hairs on the nature of Avalos’ injuries, saying he did not die from severe head trauma.
Ultimately, Chambers characterized Leiva as a flawed man who did his best. “He admits to doing some bad things, but he didn’t do them in a vacuum,” he said. “All this shows is a misguided attempt to discipline a child, behavior that no one else would engage in… but that’s not murder.”
Since the prosecution and defense agreed to a non-jury trial, Judge Samuel Ohta will issue a verdict.
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