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Mother and boyfriend convicted in ‘truly revolting’ torture killing of 10-year-old boy

Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva in court (via KABC-TV screenshot)

Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva in court (via KABC-TV screenshot)

A 33-year-old mother in California and her 37-year-old boyfriend will likely spend the rest of their lives behind bars for brutally abusing and killing the woman’s 10-year-old son.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta on Tuesday found Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva guilty on one count each of first-degree intentional murder and torture in the 2018 death of Barron’s 10-year-old son Anthony Avalos. Ohta also upheld a special circumstance allegation that Anthony was tortured during the commission of a murder.

“The brutality that was meted out on this young child was unimaginable. No child should endure this kind of violence and torture at the hands of the people who are supposed to love and protect him from harm,” said LA County District Attorney George Gascón in a statement after the verdict. “The actions taken by the defendants were truly revolting, and I am thankful that they will be held accountable.”

The couple waived their right to a jury trial in favor of a bench trial. They were also convicted on two counts of child abuse for treating two of the boy’s siblings. They face a possible life sentence in prison without the chance for parole when they appear for their sentencing hearing on April 25.

According to a press release from the DA’s Office, deputies found an unresponsive Avalos during a 911 call on June 20, 2018, at a home in Lancaster. He died at a hospital the next day.

The boy was severely dehydrated and had suffered extreme physical abuse in the weeks before his death, officials said. The manner of death was determined to be a homicide, and the cause of death was determined to be dehydration and blunt force trauma injuries.

During the trial, prosecutors said Avalos was “so malnourished and dehydrated that his veins were collapsed,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Ohta castigated the defendants, saying they “derived pleasure from seeing Anthony suffer,” Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC-TV reported.

“The acts of knowingly preventing Anthony from access to liquids involve each defendant actively keeping Anthony’s bedroom door locked for the substantial duration of the period required to cause the severe dehydration, or when Anthony was not locked in his room. For each, to vigilantly watch him or prevent him from access to liquids,” Ohta said. “Evidence adduced at trial shows both defendant Leiva and Barron at separate times independently went into Anthony’s room. This meant each had to lock his door when each exited. This was clearly a purposeful and coordinated action by both the parents meeting the requirement of willfully.”

Barron and Leiva were accused of abusing Avalos and his siblings for years. It became increasingly severe in the summer of 2018 when the couple “tortured the boy every day for two weeks” before he died, officials said.

According to The Times, the torture included reportedly forcing the children to kneel on nails or uncooked rice for extended periods, making them squat until they collapsed, force-feeding them hot sauce, withholding food and water, and locking them in their rooms for days. If the children urinated or defecated in their rooms, their faces would reportedly be shoved into their waste.

They also reportedly forced them to fight each other, with the losers typically suffering an additional beating at the hands of Leiva.

Avalos’ siblings reportedly testified that Leiva had picked him up and dropped him on his head several times before Anthony died. Barron and Leiva left him on the floor unconscious until the following day, when Barron finally called 911.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.