A judge this week rejected a resentencing request by a Palmdale woman who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of her 8-year-old-son, who died after months of beatings, starvation and torture, including being forced to eat cat feces and sleep handcuffed in a small wooden drawer.
Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 37, was sentenced to life in prison without parole three years ago for her role in Gabriel Fernandez’s 2013 murder. Her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 40, was sentenced to death. His automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court is pending.
As part of her February 2018 plea, Fernandez gave up her right to appeal. But in a petition filed April 1, she asked the judge to review her sentence in light of recent changes to state law that affects some people convicted of murder under theories that do not require intent to kill, including felony murder or a natural and probable consequences theory.
Fernandez indicated in the petition that she was not her son’s actual killer and did not act with intention to kill or assist in his killing. She also checked a box stating she was not a major participant in the crime or did not act with reckless disregard to human life during the course of the crime.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli, who presided over the murder trial, said at a hearing Tuesday that he reviewed the petition and concluded Fernandez was “not entitled to resentencing relief.”
“It has been established by her own admission during her guilty plea that the murder was intentional and involved the infliction of torture over a period of several months,” Lomeli said, adding that the record supports the theory that Fernandez was a “major participant in the murder of a child victim.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan Hatami, who prosecuted the case, opposed Fernandez’s request, saying evidence and the law weighed against her.
Gabriel died from blunt force trauma and child abuse over a long period, Hatami said, citing the medical examiner’s report.
“So clearly Pearl was involved in that child abuse, starving Gabriel, keeping him in the box for eight months, not taking him for medical aid, pepper-spraying him in the face, hitting him with a baseball bat — so many things were brought out in the trial,” Hatami said Wednesday.
“Evidence-wise, Pearl Fernandez tortured and killed Gabriel,” he said. “Both her and Isauro Aguirre did that. They were equally culpable for that.”
When a child is murdered, the family is still tied to that child. It doesn’t matter the age when the child is murdered. It doesn’t matter how long ago the crime happened. Their souls are tied forever. That’s the love of family.
— jonathanhatami (@jonathanhatami) June 1, 2021
Cherie Kiyomura, a family friend who helped organize a rally that attracted dozens outside the courtroom, said she’s endured an emotional roller coaster.
Unsure of what would happen, Kiyomura entered the courtroom with a “sickening feeling.”
“Walking out of there, with finally some justice for Gabriel, was the best feeling that we’ve had in such a long time,” she said.
Criminal defense attorney Dmitry Gorin, who was not involved in the case, said that his law firm fields calls almost daily concerning resentencing, but that most seeking relief don’t qualify for it under state law.
“I think people in the community read news stories about laws changing and defendants having their sentences reduced. So they naturally believe their family members are eligible to be released from prison,” he said. “In reality, very few people are actually entitled to relief under the new California statutes.”
According to Gorin, most murder convictions, which represent a relatively small number of cases in Los Angeles criminal courts, are secured with theories for criminal culpability that are not covered by the statute for release. He added that Fernandez’s case did not appear to rely on evidence of felony murder conduct or natural and probable consequence liability.
City News Service contributed to this report.