A man has been found guilty of torturing his girlfriend's 8-year-old son to death after prosecutors argued he inflicted the horrific campaign of abuse on the boy because he believed him to be gay.
Isauro Aguirre, 37, was convicted by a jury on Wednesday (November 16) of the first-degree murder of Gabriel Fernandez, who was found unresponsive at his home in Palmdale, California in 2013 and died two days later.
Aguirre was also convicted of a special circumstance charge of torture, meaning a jury must now decided whether he should receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole, CBS reports.
Over the course of the five-week trial, jurors heard how Aguirre and his partner Pearl Fernandez subjected Ferndandez's son Gabriel to a barbaric and sustained campaign of abuse and torture, motivated in part the prosecution said by the elementary school student's perceived sexuality.
The court heard how Gabriel was found with a catalogue of terrible injuries when he was hospitalised on May 22, 2013.
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami explained that Aguirre and Fernandez beat and bit Gabriel, burned him with cigarettes, shot him with a B.B. gun, whipped him, starved him, fed him cat litter, and kept him gagged and bound at the family home.
Hatami argued at trial that Aguirre had abused Gabriel "because he didn’t like him … he believed Gabriel was gay, and to him, that was a bad thing."
He added that Aguirre's actions "had nothing to do with drugs [or] mental health issues," and was simply "intentional murder by torture."
"[Gabriel] was belittled, bullied and called gay," Hatami said. "His teeth were knocked out. He was tied up every night in a box."
The next phase of the trial to decide Aguirre's penalty will begin on November 27.
Gabriel's mother Pearl will be tried separately next year. She has pleaded not guilty to murder.
Four social workers who were assigned to Gabriel’s case also face charges in connection with the death.