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Arnold Contreras couldn’t save his eight-year-old son Gabriel Fernandez. When the young boy was being beaten and eventually tortured to death by his mother Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, Contreras was behind bars.
He only learned that his young son was being taken off life support when told by a chaplain while in custody at the Riverside County Jail, according to the new Netflix docu-series “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez,” which documents both the horrific crime that took Gabriel's life and the failures of the legal system that was supposed to protect the boy.
The news of his son's death Contreras devastated.
“I can tell you that he [Contreras] loved Gabriel and he still loves him,” prosecutor Jon Hatami said in the series. “I can tell you that he is heartbroken. I can tell you that he feels it’s his fault and if he was out of custody, he would have saved Gabriel.”
After being born and quickly given up by his mother, Gabriel Fernandez had been raised by various family members — first by his uncle and his uncle’s partner and then by his grandparents — before Pearl Fernandez decided the young boy should live with her.
Contreras testified that he had always been opposed to Gabriel living with Pearl, according to local station KABC. The two reportedly have a troubled history, which included allegations that Pearl once threatened to stab Contreras.
“The family won’t ever be the same,” Contreras said on the stand of Gabriel’s death. “Everyone, everyone was affected.”
The young boy endured horrific torture while living in his mother’s home — he was forced to eat cat feces, was often locked in a small cabinet, burned with cigarettes and repeatedly beaten, authorities noted during Aguirre and Pearl's trials.
Pearl and Contreras' other two children, Ezequiel and Virginia, may have also been neglected during their time with their mother, but Pearl and Aguirre directed most of the abuse at Gabriel.
When Hatami asked Contreras on the stand during Aguirre’s trial what he would say to his son if he the opportunity, his message was simple:
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Sorry for not being there.”
Where is Arnold Contreras now?
Today Contreras is once again behind bars, serving time in the Calipatria State Prison after being convicted on two separate charges of acquiring and retaining personal identification information with a prior, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Terry Thornton, the deputy press secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told Oxygen.com that Contreras was convicted in May 2018 in Los Angeles County on a first charge of acquiring and retaining personal identification information and was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.
He was convicted on a second charge on Jan. 25, 2019 and given a one-year and four-month sentence to be served consecutively with his 2018 sentence.
The convictions are just the latest on the 38-year-old’s rap sheet, which also includes prior convictions for evading a peace officer while driving recklessly, using a controlled substance while in possession of a loaded firearm, second-degree robbery, possessing paraphernalia, drugs or alcohol in prison and assaulting a fellow inmate with a “deadly weapon or force likely to produce great bodily injury,” according to information provided by the Department of Corrections.
Contreras' protracted history with law enforcement had initially made him wary of the legal system when it came to getting justice for his young son, who was killed in May 2013.
But after he was released on parole in 2016, he reached out to Hatami and the two men were able to establish a bond with one another.
Contreras took the stand to describe his young son as a “normal kid” who loved playing games like “cops and robbers.”
“He was always smiling,” KABC reported him saying at the time.
He told jurors after Gabriel was killed he still has sleepless nights and remains devastated by the death, local station KNBC reported during the trial.
During his testimony, Contreras never made eye contact with Aguirre.
“I don’t think I’d be as strong as him,” Hatami said in the docu-series. “I couldn’t sit in that courtroom. I couldn’t do it because, because I would attack somebody.”
After Aguirre was found guilty of murder and torture in 2018, Hatami found Contreras in the courtroom and the two men embraced as Hatami broke down in tears.
“I was so happy for Arnold,” Hatami said in the docu-series. “He was so upset at what happened to Gabriel. He felt so guilty and also just didn’t believe in the system, not only because of what happened to Gabriel because of things that happened to him. And you know, a lot of people who have been in custody, the system really hasn’t been kind to them.”
Hatami told Oxygen.com that he still remains in contact with Contreras as well as Gabriel’s siblings, cousins, uncles and other relatives.
Aguirre was sentenced to death and is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison. Pearl Fernandez agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Gina Tron contributed to this story.
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