The true story behind The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez – what actually happened

Your main questions answered after you've watched Netflix's latest harrowing crime series The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

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Netflix’s new docuseries, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, has got everyone talking.

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The latest addition to the streaming site – which explores the devastating case of Gabriel Fernandez, an eight-year-old boy who was murdered by his mother Pearl and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre – has shocked viewers worldwide.

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is a true-crime docu-series, which deals with the horrific death of a young boy, while also shedding light on the ongoing effect on the judicial system in LA County.

Based on in-depth reporting by LA Times journalist Garrett Therolf, it chronicles how over eight months Gabriel was subjected to horrific torture, which included regular beatings, being shot in the face with a BB gun, forced to eat cat litter, locked in a cupboard for hours, and pepper sprayed.

The cruel nightmare ultimately ended when his mother and her boyfriend beat him to death.

So, how did it happen? And where is his mother now?

Here’s everything you need to know about the harrowing crime series.

The Trials of Grabriel Fernandez (Netflix)

What happened to Gabriel Fernandez?

In 2013, 911 received a call from Gabriel’s mother, Pearl, saying her son had stopped breathing after hitting his head.

However, when paramedics arrived at the scene in Los Angeles, they discovered the child had not only suffered severe burns and a fractured skull, but he also had shattered ribs and BB gun pellets embedded in his lung and groin.

Gabriel was pronounced brain dead, before tragically dying in hospital two days later.

Timeline of events

  • May 24, 2013 – Gabriel Fernandez dies
  • May 29, 2013 – Gabriel’s death triggers LA County probe and four social workers are placed on desk duty pending possible disciplinary action.
  • May 30, 2013 – Signs of Gabriel’s abuse missed by LA Country social workers.
  • June 25, 2013 – Citizens commission to investigate Dept. of Family Services.
  • July 30, 2013 – Social workers involved in Gabriel’s case fired.
  • Aug 13, 2013 – Accused couple Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre due in court.
  • Aug 18, 2014 – Gabriel’s alleged abuse described in graphic grand jury testimony.
  • July 21, 2015 – Prosecutors seek death penalty against Pearl and Aguirre for torture and killing of her son. Couple plead not guilty.
  • April 7, 2016 – Social workers charged with child abuse in case involving Gabriel Fernandez.
  • Jan 1, 2017 – LA Sheriff’s deputies disciplined after horrific torture of Gabriel.
  • Nov 15, 2017 – Isauro Aguirre convicted of first-degree murder.
  • Dec 13, 2017 – Juror’s vote for death penalty for Isauro Agirre.
  • Feb 24, 2018 – Pearl pleads guilty to first-degree murder and avoids trial where prosecutors were expected to seek the death penalty. Fernandez’s defense team had said capital punishment wasn’t appropriate given Fernandez’s low IQ.
  • June 7, 2018 – Judge sentences mother to life in prison and her boyfriend to death in Gabriel Fernandez murder case.
  • Sep 30, 2018 – A motion to dismiss child abuse and other charges against four social workers in the case involving Gabriel Fernandez is denied.
  • Mar 3, 2019 – Counselor testifies that she didn’t report suspected abuse to authorities before Gabriel Fernandez was killed.
  • May 22, 2019 – After 2 suspected homophobic killings, audit finds broader issues with L.A. child welfare
  • Dec 11, 2019 – Deputy Dist. Atty. Jon Hatami, who successfully convicted Gabriel’s mother and boyfriend opens up about how his own experience of child abuse shaped his handling of Gabriel’s case.
  • Jan 8, 2020 – Appeals court throws out case against four social workers in Gabriel Fernandez case

Where are Gabriel’s mum and her boyfriend Isauro now?

Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre (Netflix)

Pearl plead guilty to first-degree murder, with the special circumstance of murder by torture to avoid a death sentence.

In exchange for her guilty plea, Gabriel’s mother received life without parole meaning she’ll remain in prison for the rest of her life.

She is serving her sentence in Chowchilla State Women’s Prison in California.

At her sentencing hearing, she said:  “I want to say I’m sorry to my family for what I did. 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.”

Isauro Aguirre denied the charges, however, he was convicted at trial and sentenced on the same day as Pearl.

He is currently on death row in San Quentin – which is a place in prison that houses inmates awaiting execution.

Isauro Aguirre (Netflix)

What happened to the four social workers?

Four social workers accused of being involved in Gabriel’s case were charged with child abuse and falsifying records.

Stefanie Rodriguez, then 34, and Patricia Clement, 69, and their supervisors, Kevin Bom, 40, and Gregory Merritt, 64, were accused of failing to protect the vulnerable minor.

However, the charges against the social workers were subsequently dropped in January 2020 by a panel of three justices at the 2nd district Court of Appeal in Los Angeles.

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez (Netflix)

What happened to Gabriel’s brother and sister?

Gabriel had two siblings – a brother and sister – who were very important threads of the Netflix documentary.

They were introduced to court simply as Ezequiel C. and Virginia C. At the time of appearing, Ezequiel was 16, with Gabriel being the youngest of the three.

Though their testimonies were not recorded (as they were minors at the time), transcripts prove the harrowing tale they had to say about Gabriel.

Ezequiel recounted how Gabriel was kept in the “box” most of the time.

Pearl Fernandez, 29, made an appearance in Lancaster Superior Court. (Getty Images)

The kids would have to lie when social workers came to visit and Ezequiel also recalled how Aguirre would beat him with a metal hanger, the metal part of a belt, a baseball bat, and a wooden club.

Virginia confirmed much of Ezequiel’s testimony – particularly on the night of Gabriel’s death – and revealed that both her and her brother were struck by their mother when trying to help Gabriel.

Ezequiel and Virginia’s faces are not shown in the documentary either when offering testimony or talking to the police, and they have chosen not to come forward and make themselves public – which naturally, must be respected.

It’s thought that they could be staying with their grandparents.

Where to watch The Trial of Gabriel Fernandez

The six-part documentary is available to watch on Netflix now.

Episodes are roughly 50 minutes to an hour long and start from Gabriel’s death in the first episode, entitled “A Shock to the System,” to looking at the part his mother played, with one of Gabriel’s teachers recounting a series of calls to child services in “Failures at All Levels”.

It ends with  “Gabriel’s Voice” – in which the LA county “assesses the cracks of a broken system, the jury reaches a verdict in Isauro’s case, and Pearl Fernandez has her date in court.”

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The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is available to stream on Netflix now.