LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The mother of Anthony Avalos and her boyfriend have been found guilty in the torture-murder of the 10-year-old Lancaster boy.
Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta announced his verdict Tuesday after hearing the trial of Heather Maxine Barron and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, with closing arguments wrapping up Feb. 22. Both sides had waived their right to having the case heard by a jury.
The ruling came after horrific testimony detailing extensive torture and abuse that Leiva and Barron were accused of carrying out on the boy.
That included depriving him of food and water, beating him repeatedly, forcing him to kneel on rice on a concrete floor for hours at a time, spraying hot sauce in his face, whipping him all over his body and stuffing a sock in his mouth if he complained or cried.
When he died, doctors found Anthony to be severely dehydrated and suffering from blunt-force trauma.
The defendants did not immediately react when Ohta announced the first verdict, on the count of murder, but there were audible reactions in the courtroom that led the judge to chide those present and tell them they would be removed upon further outbursts.
Barron, 33, and Leiva, 37, were charged with one count each of murder and torture involving Anthony's death on June 21, 2018, along with two counts of child abuse involving the boy's half-siblings, identified in court as Destiny and Rafael.
They were found guilty on all four counts.
In detailing Barron's apparent lack of affection for her own son, Ohta noted that she failed to seek medical attention for Anthony in his final days, when he was left unconscious on the floor in the family home after being abused by Leiva the evening of June 18, 2018.
"The defendant Barron waited to call 911 until Anthony was literally deceased on the afternoon of June 20, 2018," the judge said.
He added: "This flagrant lack of care for Anthony's life all point to intent to kill by both defendant Baron and defendant Leiva."
The murder count includes the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture. Over Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami's objection, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office dropped its bid for the death penalty against the two after the election of District Attorney George Gascón, who issued a directive that "a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case."
Leiva and Barron now face a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Sentencing is scheduled for April 25.
After the verdict, family members of Anthony described the devastation they felt upon his death.
"This pain in our heart, because nobody will ever take the pain away of losing Anthony," said Maria Barron, the boy's aunt. "I always told myself that once he was an adult he would look for Auntie Maria and Uncle David because he know how much we loved him. He was like a son to us. I watched him take his first steps, help him write his name, how to read. Nobody can take that away from me. But now I will never get to see what an amazing young man he will become."
In his closing argument, the prosecutor told the judge that the two defendants are "evil" and "monsters" who should be held accountable for her 10-year-old son's torture and murder. Attorneys for the two defendants countered that Barron and Leiva should be acquitted of the most serious charges.
"I do believe that you will see this was intentional murder by torture," Hatami told the judge.
The prosecutor noted that the defendants "blamed Anthony" for his injuries by claiming that he had thrown himself on the ground and that he had starved himself.
Hatami told the judge that the prosecution believes the boy died of a combination of starvation and dehydration, blunt force trauma, chronic child abuse and torture and failure to seek medical treatment.
The deputy district attorney said it was the prosecution's position that "both of these defendants are evil individuals," and that they were both abusive before meeting each other.
"Together, they were deadly," Hatami told the judge, explaining that Barron was the one who "came up with many of these torture techniques" and that she chose Leiva to act as the enforcer for the discipline used on the boy and two of his half-siblings.
One of Barron's attorneys, Nancy Sperber, urged the judge to acquit Barron of murder and torture, but did not directly address the two child abuse counts.
The defense lawyer contended that her client is a victim of battered woman syndrome, and said Leiva had taken "full and complete responsibility for every act of violence" against Anthony.
Leiva's attorney urged the judge to acquit his client of first-degree murder and the special circumstance allegation, along with the torture charge.
Upon reading his verdict, the judge dismissed this argument, saying there was no evidence that Barron was beaten by Leiva. Instead, the judge said, Barron seemed more interested in protecting Leiva and working with him to deceive the investigation.
"Common sense indicates parents usually consider their children's lives more precious than their own," the judge said. "And many would risk their own lives to save the life of their child."
He cited instances in which Barron could have taken steps to protect Anthony or save his life, especially when he was on the verge of death in the hospital and she continued to lie about what happened.
"Most if not all reasonable parents under those circumstances would choose the life of the child as paramount and would have told the medical staff the truth to try and save her child. This did not happen."
Instead, as the judge noted, one of the doctors who treated Anthony testified "She was more concerned about herself and went out of her way to protect the defendant Leiva by shielding him."
City News Service contributed to this report.