Exclusive: Los Angeles prosecutor Jon Hatami reveals trauma of abuse, kidnapping

ByVania Stuelp via KABC logo
Friday, March 15, 2019
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The life and death of Gabriel Fernandez, tortured by those who were supposed to care for him, touched many people but maybe no one more than the man who prosecuted the crimes.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The life and death of Palmdale boy Gabriel Fernandez, tortured by those who were supposed to care for him, touched many people but maybe no one more than the man who prosecuted the crimes.

Staggering details of child abuse were revealed in the case of 8-year old Gabriel. Questions persist about why he and other victims protect abusive parents.

Now, the Los Angeles deputy district attorney who prosecuted the boy's killers is speaking out with rare insight.

As prosecutor Jon Hatami was presenting the case, it recalled his own turbulent childhood of abuse, abduction and confusion.

"I don't think you ever forget your childhood," Hatami shared. "I don't think you ever outlive your childhood."

Hatami said children don't want their parents arrested. They just want the abuse to stop. In his case, the abuser was his father.

"There were times he would grab me by the hair and throw me," he recalls.

Yet, his heart's desire was to be closer to his father.

"Even though he was abusive, he was my dad," Hatami said. "I just wanted him to love me. I still probably think I want him to love me."

And so it made sense that Gabriel would write a letter to his mother, setting aside the fact she had shot him in the face with a BB gun and let her boyfriend beat him. The note said, "I love you Mom and Gabriel is a good boy."

"The letters he wrote, they break me because, you know, I feel that. So you see it and you're like...No matter what they did to him, he wanted them to love him," Hatami said as he held back tears.

Hatami said the strife in his own home led his mother to a desperate move. She kidnapped him and his little brother. They hid out for eight years. Hatami's father called the police and the FBI longing to find his sons.

Then came a publication in the Ladies Home Journal, with pictures of Hatami and his brother as missing children. They were soon located. Then came the confounding questions in a courtroom.

"I remember the judge asking who I wanted to be with and the court was so big and I was so small," Hatami described. "I didn't say anything. I always look back and I wish I would have said something. So when kids testify in my cases, I understand that."

Hatami said now he must speak out because the cases keep coming. The torture and murder of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos is heading to trial. And then there's the case of a baby, Jacsun Manson, only 6 months old whose body has still not been found in a Corona landfill.

Meantime, four social welfare workers face charges for alleged failures to protect Gabriel.

At a recent trip to Gabriel's school, first graders sang for Hatami and the jury that convicted Gabriel's killer. Hatami was moved to tears. He makes no apology for his emotion.

"I think everybody has to do their part," Hatami urged. "And it seems like some people aren't doing their part."