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Prosecutors will no longer seek death penalty in the Anthony Avalos torture case

Alex Wigglesworth and Alene Tchekmedyian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

In the same filing, however, Gascon also ordered prosecutors to read a statement that notes the district attorney “does not believe the death penalty is an appropriate punishment in any case,” and asks the judge to consider his opposition to capital punishment before he sentences Gargiulo later this year.

An adviser to the district attorney said at the time that the move did not represent a change in policy but rather a rare exception necessitated by a complicated legal situation. Gargiulo was convicted while Lacey was still in office, but his sentencing hearing was delayed by a number of post-conviction hearings and the courthouse backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anthony’s case struck many people as having similarities to the 2013 death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, whose mother and her boyfriend were convicted of his torture murder.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services have come under criticism by some of Anthony’s family members and community protesters for not permanently removing the boy from the home and not arresting Barron and Leiva on suspicion of child abuse.

Both agencies received calls about abuse in the household, with school administrators, a teacher, a counselor, family members and others contacting law enforcement or the county child abuse hotline more than a dozen times.

They included a referral in April 2014 alleging that Leiva hit Anthony and three siblings with various objects, including a hose. The caller alleged that Barron screamed at the children and locked them in their rooms for hours.

 

In September 2015, a caller said Anthony and his siblings were being hit by Leiva and a brother was dangled upside down from the staircase. Another caller the same month said Leiva and Barron made the children squat for long periods. Yet another caller that month said Leiva slammed Anthony and one of his brothers onto the floor and locked the children in a room where he threw dirty diapers at them.

In April 2016, another caller said Leiva was again physically abusing the children and withholding food from them.

After his death, Anthony’s biological father and siblings filed a lawsuit against the county, the DCFS and one of its contractors, alleging that social workers willfully disregarded concerns about abuse and failed to protect Anthony.

(Staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.)

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