Anthony Avalos death: Prosecutor calls defendants 'nothing short of monsters' in closing arguments

ByLisa Bartley KABC logo
Friday, February 24, 2023
Anthony Avalos: Prosecutor calls defendants 'evil' as judge gets case
The mother of Anthony Avalos and her ex-boyfriend now await verdicts in the murder and torture trial that could send them to prison for the rest of their lives

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The final video taken of Anthony Avalos is haunting. The camera travels from his sunken, bloodshot eyes, down along his bruised torso -- and finally to the still open wounds on both of his tiny knees.

A detective and nurse took the footage to document the 10-year-old's severe injuries shortly before he was taken off life support in June of 2018.

"No one deserves this," Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami told the court in closing arguments Thursday. "This was intentional murder by torture."

According to prosecutors, Anthony's mother, Heather Barron, refused to go into the hospital room as the last signs of life from Anthony faded away.

"Anthony was removed from all the machines and passed away in his hospital room alone," Hatami told the court. "His mom wasn't even there, think about that."

Heather Barron and her ex-boyfriend Kareem Leiva are now waiting for verdicts that could send them both to prison for the rest of their lives. Both pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, torture and the abuse of two of Anthony's half-siblings.

Prosecutor Hatami told the judge that Anthony died of a combination of things - severe dehydration, starvation, two weeks of torture, not being taken to the hospital and blunt force trauma to his head.

"All of those things were committed by both defendants," Hatami told the judge. "Based on the evidence, this clearly was sadistic."

Judge Samuel Ohta will deliberate and render a verdict as both the prosecution and defense agreed to have the case tried without a jury.

Hatami told the court the abuse began years ago before Anthony's mom began dating Kareem Leiva, but it escalated once the pair became a couple and Leiva moved into the family's apartment in Lancaster.

"Kareem was the enforcer, Heather was the mastermind," Hatami said. "Heather came up with the torture techniques and she got Leiva to do them."

"They are bad, evil people - and I use the word 'people' lightly because they are nothing short of monsters," Hatami said of the defendants, calling their abuse intentional and systematic.

"They fed off what they were doing and committed these acts against four children over a period of years."

The judge heard from dozens of witnesses over the course of this trial, including Anthony's half siblings and Leiva's older biological children. The children testified that Anthony got the worst of the abuse. In his final days, they said he was locked in his room, deprived of food and water, and dropped on his head ten to 20 times by Leiva.

It's alleged that Anthony was whipped with a belt and vacuum cord, slapped in the face, had dirty diapers thrown at him, force fed hot sauce, his face was pushed into his own urine in the carpet when he wasn't allowed to use the bathroom -- and at times a sock was stuffed into his mouth to quiet his cries.

And then there was the "Captain's Chair" - the children were forced to prop themselves up against a wall with their knees bent and hold a brick or heavy books out in their hands for hours at a time.

In a recorded interview with detectives, Leiva admitted to forcing Anthony, Destiny and Rafael to kneel on uncooked rice as punishment. Prosecutors showed crime scene photos of a corner where the carpet was pulled up to expose the cement. Grains of rice and metal nails could still be seen where the kids were forced 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."

Heather Barron's defense attorney argued that Leiva is responsible for Anthony's death and that Barron suffered from battered woman's syndrome, living in fear of Leiva.

"Every single man in her life was an abuser of one form or another, including her stepfather," said attorney Nancy Sperber. "This is all she has ever known," adding that Barron was overwhelmed by having seven babies in eight years.

Sperber agreed with Hatami's characterization of Leiva as "evil."

"Kareem Leiva is evil," Sperber told the court. "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."

Sperber noted that Leiva tried to kill himself shortly after Anthony's death. At trial, a photograph was shown of a gaping wound in Leiva's neck - apparently from a box cutter.

"I would never think anyone could survive that injury, but he did," Sperber said. "He is so evil the devil didn't even want him."

Leiva's defense attorney Dan Chambers told the judge this case "can't be decided on emotion."

"Close examination of the evidence will show reasonable doubt on the issue of intent to kill," said Chambers. "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 pointed out that testimony from the surviving children has changed over time. They initially said that Anthony threw himself to the ground and and that he refused to eat, but later testified that they were told to lie to authorities by Barron and Leiva.

"I'm not saying these children are lying," said Chambers. "It's a matter of developmental age, how they interpret or process things around them," arguing that the children may have been manipulated or coached.

Defense attorney Chambers also told the judge to consider whether Anthony died of the severe dehydration or the blunt force trauma to his brain. He argued that the lack of severe external head injuries flies in the face of allegations that Leiva is responsible for the boy's death.

"He admits to doing some bad things, but he didn't do them in a vacuum," Chambers 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."

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