On Tuesday, the news broke that Heather Maxine Barron, 33, and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 37, were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the torture and murder of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos in Lancaster. The sentencing hearing included nearly two hours of emotional and sometimes tearful victim impact statements from Anthony’s family members and others, where speakers expressed their sorrow, grief, and anger towards the defendants.
Anthony’s 8-year-old cousin Matthew, who was very close to him, reminisced about the good times they had together, saying, “He always played with me and made me laugh. We will never get to see Anthony grow up. I will never get to play again with my older cousin.” Another cousin, Dana, expressed her devastation and anger towards Barron, whom she used to call “aunt” but now refers to as a “monster.”
The paramedic and first responder of nine years who testified at the trial, Diane Ravago, expressed her own emotions towards the defendants, saying, “Of all the trauma, tragedy, and death I’ve ever seen or heard of, this surpasses them all.” She wished for the defendants to feel every horrible emotion that they inflicted on Anthony and more, stating that “Death would only end those feelings for you.”
During the trial, the judge described years of cruel and calculated abuse that Anthony suffered before his death, which included denying him liquids to cause severe dehydration. When Anthony was found unresponsive on the floor of the couple’s townhouse, he had suffered cardiac arrest and a traumatic brain injury. The judge rejected the defense’s claim that Barron’s son self-inflicted the injuries by throwing himself on the ground, stating that the couple showed an intent to kill by delaying a 911 call the day before Anthony died, then engaging in an attempted cover-up.
The sentencing hearing was emotional, with Anthony’s half-sister, Destiny, breaking down in tears and expressing her pain and anger towards the defendants. The two half-siblings and one of Leiva’s daughters testified that they saw Leiva repeatedly drop Anthony on the bedroom floor. Anthony died from head injuries.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office had dropped its bid for the death penalty against the two adults 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.” The decision was objected to by Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, who announced plans to run for the job as the county’s top prosecutor. David Barron, Heather Barron’s brother, said that his nephew would never get the justice he deserved, and that the death penalty would have been the closest thing to justice.
This was a tragic case that touched the hearts of many, and the emotions expressed during the sentencing hearing reflected the deep sorrow and pain felt by Anthony’s family members and others impacted by his death.