LOS ANGELES — A judge sentenced a California mother to life in prison Thursday and gave her boyfriend the death penalty in the "beyond animalistic" killing of the woman's 8-year-old son, who prosecutors say was punished because the couple believed he was gay.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli told the couple that he hopes they wake up in the middle of the night and think of the injuries they inflicted on 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale.
"I can only wish ... that it tortures you," the judge said.
Gabriel was repeatedly beaten, starved, tied up, locked in a cabinet, shot with a BB gun and once had his teeth knocked out with a bat, the judge said.
The boy also had a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns across his body.
"It goes without saying that the conduct was horrendous and inhumane and nothing short of evil," Lomeli said. "It's beyond animalistic because animals know how to take care of their young."
Gabriel's mother, 34-year-old Pearl Fernandez, pleaded guilty to murder in February in the death of her son. A jury found her boyfriend, 37-year-old Isauro Aguirre, guilty of murder last year and found that he intentionally tortured the boy.
Fernandez called 911 on May 22, 2013, to report that her son wasn't breathing. She told responding deputies that he had fallen and hit his head on a dresser.
He died two days later of blunt-force trauma and neglect, the coroner's office found.
Gabriel's siblings testified that Fernandez and Aguirre would call the boy gay, punish him if he played with dolls and forced him to wear girls' clothes to school.
Gabriel's first-grade teacher, Jennifer Garcia, tearfully addressed the court ahead of Thursday's sentencing, saying she thinks of him every day and how he just wanted to be loved.
"I find comfort in believing he is now at peace," Garcia said. "And I know that unlike him, his abusers will never have peace. They will have a lifetime of suffering to endure, and I know I'm not alone in hoping they experience the same abuse in their lifetime and worse."
An expressionless Fernandez spoke briefly during the court hearing, saying she was sorry and wished Gabriel was alive. She also criticized family members who have spoken of their grief over Gabriel, saying they just want fame.
A jail chaplain who has met with Fernandez told the court that she loved her son and is a different woman today than when she walked into jail.
Several agencies investigated abuse allegations leading up to Gabriel's death. On several occasions, investigators concluded there was no evidence of abuse.
Prosecutors have since filed charges of child abuse and falsifying records against four county social workers in Gabriel's death.