A prosecutor with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is blasting DA George Gascón’s Thursday decision to drop the office’s bid for the death penalty in the case of a woman and her boyfriend accused of torturing and killing her 10-year-old son.
“This is not based upon new evidence,” Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami said, according to the City News Service. “This is not based upon new mitigation or new law. I stand by the special-circumstances committee decision that I announced to the court on the record two years ago.”
In 2019, then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office announced it would seek the death penalty for defendants Heather Maxine Barron, 31, and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 35.
The two have been charged with torture and murder with the special circumstance of murder involving torture in the June 2018 killing of Barron’s son, Anthony Avalos.
The decision was announced Thursday and means the maximum Barron and Leiva could face is life without parole.
Hamami has criticized several of the newly elected Gascón’s progressive policies that swept him into office during last year’s racial injustice protests, including that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case,” the News Service reported.
The boy allegedly was whipped, dropped on his head repeatedly and had hot sauce poured into his mouth, court documents said, according to KCAL-TV of Los Angeles.
In a separate case, Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron claimed he and another prosecutor were “ordered to remove the death penalty as punishment consideration” in the case of Michael Christopher Mejia, who has been charged in the deaths of a police officer and his cousin.
“Over the objection of Mr. Lewin and I and despite our attempts to prevent this from happening, we’ve been ordered to remove the death penalty as punishment consideration in this case,” Dameron said during a February hearing, the News Service reported. The district attorney’s office had announced in 2018 it would seek the death penalty for Mejia.
Anthony Avalos’ father and other family members are suing the county, claiming social workers were negligent over reports of child abuse in the house, including two other kids who lived in the home.
“At any given time, the Department of Children and Family Services serves more than 34,000 families and vulnerable children in Los Angeles County with an unwavering commitment to pursue child safety every day in our communities,” DCFS said in a statement, the News Service reported. “Our 9,000 employees do not take this commitment lightly and look to do everything possible to safeguard the children in our care. All DCFS employees are held the highest standards to ensure that the public trust in our service is honored and maintained.”