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Pearl Fernandez was supposed to care for her son Gabriel — but she ended up taking part in the boy's horrific, repeated, and ultimately fatal torture.
“The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez,” a six-part docu-series which hits Netflix on Wednesday, shows how both Gabriel's family and the justice system alike failed an 8-year-old boy named Gabriel Fernandez.
The California child died in 2013 after exhibiting consistent signs of long term, repeated abuse. While his first grade teacher and a security guard went out on a limb attempting to save him after recognizing his injuries as abuse, they both felt like they hit a wall. The good Samaritans became frustrated after services specifically put in place to help children didn't help Fernandez.
As the docu-series shows, the four social workers who were assigned to look out for the boy’s safety were themselves indicted in connection with the child’s death.
But at the epicenter of the abuse was Pearl and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, whose direct and shocking actions resulted in Gabriel’s death.
Pearl was 30 years old on May 22, 2013 when she called 911 to report that Gabriel had stopped breathing. The woman at first claimed that the boy had fallen and hit his head on a dresser, according to a 2014 CBS News story. Later, it was revealed that Gabriel had been beaten to death.
During the eight months that Gabriel was in his mother's care, he was subjected to constant and nearly unspeakable abuse. Cigarettes were put out on him, he was shot in the face with a BB gun, and he was made to eat cat litter and feces. Gabriel was forced to sleep in a locked cabinet, often while gagged and bound. This cabinet was also the only place he was allowed to go to the bathroom. While Aguirre admitted to administering the final, fatal blows to the child, both he and Pearl participated in the abuse together.
Who is Pearl Fernandez?
Deborah S. Miora, a clinical psychologist who interviewed Pearl for the defense following her arrest, claimed she has very limited intellectual capacity as well as an eighth grade education. She began drinking and using methamphetamine at age 9, the Los Angeles Times cited of the psychologist’s report.
“By the time that brain development is taking place she may have sustained, you know, some damage from the drugs she was using,” Wendy Smith, a distinguished scholar at University of Southern California’s school of social work stated in the docu-series.
Pearl’s life was excessively turbulent as a child. While her dad went in and out of jail, her mother beat her, according to the report. Pearl told Miora that she felt like her mom hated her and she ran away from home at age 11.
“Pearl, herself a victim, does not see that child [Gabriel] as someone to be protected but rather is in contact, with the part of herself that didn't' get protection and you know is probably enraged. and she's at the mercy of her own aggressive feelings. like her son she probably had no one to turn to,” Smith theorized.
Smith noted that Pearl had been diagnosed during her life with depressive disorder, developmental disability, possible personality disorder, and possible post traumatic stress disorder.
“She obviously struggles with a lot, every day, all day,” Smith told producers of “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.”
However, others were not as convinced.
While Miora claimed that Pearl struggled and had a low IQ, prosecutors claimed she was smart and sharp enough to fool child services, ABC 7 in Los Angeles reported. The docu-series points out various circumstances in which Pearl lied or attempted to instruct both her children and Aguirre to lie.
Elizabeth Carranza, Gabriel's great-aunt, said that while some people perceive Pearl as a possible victim following her 2013 arrest, “if you knew Pearl, Pearl was never the victim.”
Carranza claimed that when Pearl and Aguirre would fight, “Pearl was the abusive one to him.”
Carranza and her husband George told producers of the docu-series that they’ve witnessed Pearl punch and scratch him.
“My niece was always controlling with her boyfriends,” George Carranza said. “They would do what she says. If not, she would leave them.”
Her ex-boyfriend — referred to only as Luis in the docu-series — said Pearl had a temper. He described her as “broken and lost.” Pearl also had a troubled history with Arnold Contreras, the father of three of her children including Gabriel. She even once allegedly threatened to stab Contreras and faced a domestic violence charge in connection with the threat, docu-series producer and former Los Angeles Times reporter Garrett Therolf told Oxygen.com.
Pearl was 23 years old when she became pregnant with Gabriel. At this point, she already had two older children, Ezequiel and Virginia. Arnold Contreras was the father of all three children.
The docu-series shows how distraught Contreras was to learn about his son's death, which happened while he was incarcerated. He ended up testifying at Aguirre's trial for the prosecution.
“Pearl didn't want the pregnancy. She didn't want to continue it,” Elizabeth Carranza said after Pearl became pregnant with Gabriel. “And when she had him, she left the hospital and left him there.”
The docu-series illustrates that while Pearl may have neglected her other children at some points in their lives, and even possibly hit Virginia once, Gabriel was the one that she chose to direct the majority of her anger towards. The series revealed that she may have never wanted him at all in a stunning interview.
Three days after Gabriel was born, she gave him to his great uncle Michael Lemos Carranza and his partner David Martinez.
“She didn’t want him and the family didn't want her to have him,” Martinez said in the series. “We convinced her to have Gabriel and for her to give it to us so we will raise it.”
He claimed that after Gabriel was born, Pearl called Michael and said, “come and get your kid, he's getting on my nerves already.”
Where is Pearl now?
Pearl Fernandez pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and to the special circumstance allegation of murder involving torture in 2018. She took a plea deal to get a life prison term without the possibility of parole. If she went to trial, she could have faced the death penalty. Her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre did go to trial and the end result of that was a death sentence. He was convicted the same year of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of intentional murder by torture, the Los Angeles Times reported. He is currently on death row at San Quentin.
At her sentencing hearing, Fernandez read an apology letter.
"I want to say I'm sorry for what happened,” she said. “I wish Gabriel was alive. Every day I wish that I'd made better choices. I'm sorry to my children, and I want them to know that I love them.”
She is serving out her sentence at Chowchilla State Women’s Prison in Central California.
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