Netflix’s latest true crime documentary, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, tells the horrifying story of an eight year old boy in Los Angeles who was tortured to death over a series of months by his mother and her boyfriend.
The six part mini series aims to establish how, in spite of numerous reports from the boy’s teachers, he was still left in the care of a couple who were physically abusing him. Through interviews with journalists, attorneys, nurses and others involved with the case, it tries to make sense of the unthinkable.
Here’s everything you need to know about The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.
Who was Gabriel Fernandez?
Gabriel spent his earliest years being moved between the homes of various relatives – living with his grandparents for a spell, and with his uncles for another period.
During this time, all accounts show that he was a happy, healthy kid, much like any other.
In 2012, his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, claimed custody of Gabriel – prompting concern from family members who felt that Pearl was already neglecting the other children in her care. It has been suggested that she took Gabriel in to gain welfare benefits.
She put Gabriel in a new school, where his teachers quickly became concerned about his home life.
What happened to Gabriel?
In the documentary, one of Gabriel’s teachers recounts how he would ask them questions about whether it was normal for parents to beat their children. He soon began appearing in class covered in bruises, cuts and scabs.
His teacher contacted the child abuse hotline and Gabriel’s case was handed to a social worker named Stefanie Rodriguez. While she and other social workers visited Gabriel’s home multiple times, they reportedly never found enough evidence to justify removing him from the environment. More recent investigations have shown that Rodriguez was never informed of Pearl Fernandez’s history of child abuse and neglect.
Over a period of eight months, Gabriel’s injuries continued to get worse and worse.
On May 22 2013, Pearl Fernandez called 911 to report that her son was not breathing, claiming that he fell. The paramedics found Gabriel with multiple injuries, all at different stages of healing, which included broken ribs, a cracked skull and the pellets from a BB gun lodged in his body.
Gabriel was taken to hospital in an ambulance, unaccompanied by any member of his family. He was declared brain dead and died two days later.
What happened to Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre?
Isauro Aguirre was sentenced to death in 2018, having been convicted of intentional murder by torture. At the time of writing, he resides on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Pearl Fernandez was given life in jail without parole after taking a deal which saw her plead guilty to first degree murder in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. She is serving her sentence in Chowchilla State Women’s Prison.
Meanwhile, Stefanie Rodriguez and three other social workers involved with Gabriel’s case were also later charged in connection with it – accused of falsifying documents about it his case to downplay the seriousness of the abuse he was suffering.
In a brief statement about the case, Rodriguez argued that she was also dealing with numerous cases which appeared to be much more severe than Gabriel’s. This situation make’s Gabriel’s case exceptionally rare – case workers are seldom prosecuted for failing to spot abuse.
However, at the beginning of 2020 they were found innocent of the charges. The District Attorney’s office has confirmed that it is reviewing the possibility of launching an appeal.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, The i.