Prosecutors outline disturbing allegations of abuse in Anthony Avalos murder trial

ByChristiane Cordero and ABC7.com staff KABC logo
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Disturbing abuse alleged in opening of Anthony Avalos murder case
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In gruesome detail, prosecutors spelled out allegations of torture and child abuse they say led to the death of Anthony Avalos. WARNING: This video contains graphic descriptions of child abuse which may be disturbing to some.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- In gruesome detail, prosecutors on Wednesday spelled out a series of allegations of torture and child abuse that they say led to the death of Anthony Avalos at the hands of his own mother and her boyfriend.

Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva are facing charges that include torture and murder of the Lancaster boy, as well as abuse of two other children. Both have been held without bail since their arrests in 2018.

Prosecutors gave their opening arguments in a Los Angeles courtroom on Wednesday.

They spelled out in disturbing fashion how the two allegedly tortured Anthony, beat him, and withheld food and water to the point where he was severely dehydrated and his kidneys had completely shut down.

Doctors and nurses are expected to testify that Barron displayed surprisingly little emotion when told of her son's dire condition and ultimate death, instead seeming to fake emotion and forcing herself to cry. One doctor said Anthony's mother seemed to blame the boy for his condition.

WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions of child abuse which may be disturbing to some.

Allegations of torture and abuse

In opening statements Wednesday prosecutors alleged:

Anthony was forced to kneel on uncooked dry rice on a concrete floor every day, for so long that he would often bleed on the rice. One child abuse expert said the damage to his knees was the worst she'd ever seen.

While he was kneeling, a vacuum cord was used to strike him repeatedly all over his body.

He was forced to hold weights, books or bricks over his head for extended periods of time.

Food and water were often withheld from him. At other times, he would be force fed peanut butter and hot sauce.

He would be locked in his room with no bathroom access.

His face was rubbed in a urine-soaked carpet.

Between them, Barron and Leiva had 12 children, though not all of them lived in the household. Prosecutors say some of the children in the house were forced to fight each other, including chokeholds that left them gasping for breath.

After Anthony graduated from fourth grade on June 7, 2018, he was subjected to abuse and torture every single day for two consecutive weeks.

On June 18, one of the children reported seeing Leiva pinning Anthony by the neck against the wall. He let go and Anthony's body, appearing lifeless, fell to the floor, with the impact making a loud noise.

They tried to revive him but he remained unconscious.

The prosecutor said Anthony was left unmoving on the floor for two days before anyone called police.

The day before Anthony died on June 20, 2018, Barron called 911 from their Lancaster home. In audio from the 911 call, you can hear the operator answer the phone, saying "911, what's your emergency?"

You then hear Barron respond, "My son's not breathing ... my son's not breathing!"

An EMT who then responded to the home described the boy's condition. He had no pulse and was not breathing. He had multiple abrasions, cigarette burns and was so malnourished that his ribs were visible through his skin.

He was rushed to a hospital in full cardiac arrest and doctors were able to restore a pulse. He was then airlifted to UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital and pronounced dead there on June 21.

An emergency-room doctor said Anthony was so severely dehydrated that his kidneys had shut down. He had no chance of recovery, but even if he had somehow, he would have to be on dialysis for the rest of his life.

Defense team opening arguments

The defense attorney for Leiva also gave an opening statement on Wednesday, while Barron's attorney deferred on giving an opening for now.

Leiva's attorney, Dan Chambers, said evidence will demonstrate reasonable doubt that his client intended to kill Anthony.

He said he will also raise inconsistencies about the medical evidence and the actual cause of death, as well as inconsistencies in the expected testimony of children in the household.

He acknowledged it was a case involving severe child abuse, but argued that Leiva is not guilty of murder.

What's next

Witnesses, including Anthony's family members, are expected to testify Wednesday afternoon.

The case is a bench trial, to be decided by the judge, not a jury.

READ MORE: LA County approves $32M settlement over death of Anthony Avalos