LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A 10-year-old Lancaster boy looked dead when authorities were called to his home in 2018, but his mother didn't appear to be very upset, witnesses testified Monday in the murder trial of the woman and her boyfriend.
Kenney Kinsner, a firefighter/paramedic with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, told Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta that Anthony Avalos "looked very sick" and "malnourished," and had cuts, scrapes and bruises from head to toe as paramedics tried to revive the boy while he was in full cardiac arrest June 20, 2018.
The testimony came during the non-jury trial of Heather Maxine Barron and her boyfriend, Kareem Ernesto Leiva, who are charged with one count each of murder and torture involving Anthony's death, along with two counts of child abuse involving two of the boy's half-siblings.
The murder count includes the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture. Over the objection of Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office dropped its bid for the death penalty against the two 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."
Barron, 33, and Leiva, 37, now face a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole if they are convicted as charged.
When asked about Barron's demeanor that day, Kinsner said. "It didn't fit. Personally, I would have been a bit more hysterical."
The firefighter-paramedic said the woman "just didn't seem very upset that her child was on the floor (and) we were doing CPR on him."
"Was she crying at all?" Deputy District Attorney Saeed Teymouri asked.
"No," the firefighter responded.
"I recall her saying, `Come on, Anthony, come on, Anthony," he said, noting that he didn't believe her statement was genuine.
Under cross-examination by one of Barron's attorneys, Kinsner acknowledged that he had never met the boy's mother before and doesn't know how she reacts.
Now-retired Los Angeles County firefighter Ronald Watts grew emotional when asked to describe the boy's condition that day.
"He looked dead. His eyes were sunken. You could count his ribs," he said. "His knees had sores on them. He looked dead."
"Does it still trouble you today?" the prosecutor asked.
"If I think of it," Watts said.
He said he was "skeptical" when he overheard an explanation about the boy's injuries, saying somebody said the youngster had been outside playing the day before.
"Something wasn't right about his appearance, like maybe he had been sick a while," the retired firefighter testified.
Veteran Los Angeles County firefighter Neal Eggers testified that the boy appeared "very skinny, like malnourished" and had bruises in different stages of healing. He said paramedics unsuccessfully tried to revive the boy, who was never able to resume breathing on his own, noting that he had never seen a child before in that condition.
Diane Ravago, an emergency medical technician at the time, said Barron's demeanor was "kind of calm."
"Was she crying?" Teymouri asked.
"No," the emergency medical technician responded.
"Was she screaming?" the deputy district attorney asked.
"No," Ravago again responded.
She said she heard Barron initially say that her son hit his head the day before while playing basketball and then say that he had a tantrum and was throwing his head back.
"The answers were not straight-forward," she said.
The emergency medical technician, who is now a paramedic, testified that the boy had numerous abrasions, scratches and bruising and looked "emaciated," "malnourished" and "like a cancer patient."
"Did he look alive to you?" the prosecutor asked.
"Not at all," Ravago responded.
The emergency medical technician said she stayed at the hospital for about two hours because she "wanted to see it through."
"This was horrific," she said.
The judge is expected to hear testimony Tuesday from four employees of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, with three of the boy's half- siblings expected to be called to the stand later this week.
In his opening statement last week, Teymouri told the judge that Barron and Leiva tortured and abused Anthony for two weeks before his death, while an attorney for Leiva countered that his client should be acquitted of murder.
"Anthony Avalos graduated the fourth grade on June 7th, 2018, and for two consecutive weeks he was abused and tortured every single day culminating to when the first responders found his lifeless body on June 20th," Teymouri said.
The boy died early the next morning.
Teymouri told the judge that there had been multiple contacts with the county's Department of Children and Family Services dating back to 2014.
"She's been torturing her kids for a long period of time, and once defendant Leiva came into the picture it turned deadly," he said.
The prosecutor said the boy was "already brain dead" and had been lying on the floor in the family's townhouse "for at least a day, possibly more" when Barron called 911 to seek assistance for the boy, and that the two "concocted a story that Anthony Avalos had injured himself."
The boy had "new and old injuries -- literally from head to toe," the deputy district attorney said, showing a photo of the boy while he was alive and then in a video from the hospital in which some of his injuries were depicted.
The prosecutor played an audio recording of an interview with Barron, in which she told investigators, "I promise I did not hurt my son. I did not let nobody hurt my son ... I swear he was just acting up and he threw himself because he didn't want to eat."
She told investigators that the boy said he might be gay and that she responded that she would love him no matter what because he was her "baby."
Leiva subsequently acknowledged that he had the boy kneel on uncooked rice and admitted that he had rendered him unconscious for about five minutes just days earlier, according to the prosecutor.
Leiva's attorney countered that the evidence would demonstrate that there is "reasonable doubt" involving the murder charge against his client.
Dan Chambers said the two major issues will be "a lack of intent to kill" and the issues of "causation."
The defense lawyer questioned the accounts of the boy's half-siblings, whose testimony he said has changed over time.
Chambers told the judge that many of the statements by the children are "inconsistent," saying that their initial statements "showed a lack of any actions on behalf of Mr. Leiva with respect to the treatment of Anthony" and that "Mr. Leiva's conduct allegedly grew worse" as the children underwent further questioning.
"Those inconsistencies in the evidence will be apparent and once we demonstrate that it will show that what the children claim they say Mr. Leiva doing is inconsistent with the medical evidence," the defense attorney said.
"This case is a case of severe abuse, but as to Mr. Leiva, it is not a murder," the defense lawyer told the judge.
Barron's attorneys reserved their right to make an opening statement when the defense begins its portion of the case.
Barron and Leiva were charged in June 2018 with the boy's killing and were subsequently indicted by a Los Angeles County grand jury in October 2018. They remain jailed without bail.
Last October, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors formally approved a $32 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by the boy's relatives -- two of whom testified last week that they notified the county's Department of Children and Family Services about the alleged abuse. The lawsuit contended that multiple social workers failed to properly respond to reports of abuse of Anthony and his siblings.
The other remaining defendant in the lawsuit, Pasadena-based Hathaway- Sycamores Child and Family Services, settled its portion of the case for an undisclosed amount.
The lawsuit cited other high-profile deaths of children who were also being monitored by the DCFS -- 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez and 4-year-old Noah Cuatro, both of Palmdale -- to allege "systemic failures" in the agency.