LA woman locked her malnourished son in closet for three years before 10-year-old was found dead weighing just 34 pounds
An illegal immigrant from Mexico reportedly kept her malnourished 10-year-old son locked in a closet for three years before authorities discovered his dead body, a court in Los Angeles heard on Monday.
According to a testimony by an LAPD officer, a "very gaunt, frail-looking" Yonatan Daniel Aguilar was found dead in the closet of his Echo Park, LA residence on August 22, 2016. He weighed only 34 pounds at the time of his discovery, Daily Mail reports.
Meanwhile, 42-year-old Veronica Aguilar, the boy's mother, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and child abuse.
The special needs child was pale, stiff, and curled into a fetal position with cuts on his face when officers found him dead, wrapped inside a blanket. According to police, the mother fed him an alcohol-based cold medicine to keep him drowsy.
"I saw a very gaunt, frail-looking child," LAPD officer Abel Munoz told a preliminary court hearing in LA.
According to KNBC-TV, the boy did not look older than 6 years of age, the officer said.
Munoz responded to the scene after a 911 call from Yonatan’s stepfather, Jose Pinzon Avila, who went to a nearby 7-Eleven store to make the phone call and told authorities the youngster was dead.
Avila "was hysterical, he was panting, he was hyperventilating, he was panicked," per Munoz.
It is still a mystery how Avila and Aguilar's three other children had no idea Yonatan was locked in a closet for a staggering three years. In court, Avila testified his wife told him she had sent the child back to Mexico to treat his behavioral problems, adding that she routinely complained to him about the same.
He also said Aguilar believed she wasn't getting sufficient help from the school or the government because both she and Yonatan were living in the country illegally.
"She would cry a lot because she would say she didn't know what to do," he said.
According to Avila, Yonatan was "short, chubby (and) he was playful."
That said, Veronica Aguilar is accused of neglecting her son and leaving him severely malnourished unto his death. Each charge she faces carries with it 15 years to life in prison.
Prosecutors have said that if the case goes to trial, they will try to add a special circumstance allegation of torture -- thereby making Aguilar eligible for the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
According to the Los Angeles Times, while Yonatan was on the Department of Children and Family Services ‘high risk’ radar for abuse from 2009 until 2012, authorities never launched an investigation into the same.
The department first raised an alarm in October 2009, when Yonatan came to school with scratches on his face. At the time, the 4-year-old told police his mother had slapped and scratched him.
When police brought Aguilar in for questioning, she denied it and said he may have sustained the injuries from sleeping on the floor. Furthermore, social workers didn't open a case despite Yonatan being flagged four times, saying they did not have conclusive evidence proving said claims of physical abuse.
The county child abuse hotline received a call about Yonatan in December 2011 about how he and another sibling were being neglected. The caller added the boy was born premature in Mexico. It came to light Yonatan's mother was advised to keep him in hospital for a couple of months after he was born, but she got herself discharged just three days after his birth.
According to the unidentified caller, Yonatan was unable to control his bowel and bladder movements, and also had a learning disability.
On December 18, 2011, Aguilar found Yonatan trying to wash his clothes after urinating on himself. She subsequently called 911 and responding medics diagnosed him with hypothermia, before rushing him to the hospital immediately. However, social workers once again failed to open a case saying the accusations of neglect were "unfounded."
Then, in March 2012, the embattled child came to school with a black eye. When asked what happened, he gave conflicting accounts about how he got it.
The school official then proceeded to call the DCFS, which failed to open a case this time as well.
Just days later, Yonatan's teacher called the department to report how he often came to school dirty and was always hungry. According to her, he would gather as much food as he could from the cafeteria and bring his plate to the classroom to eat.
Yet again, the DCFS ignored the reports. Yonatan eventually fell off their radar after 2012.
When officers found his body, they saw his three siblings -- now aged 17 to 21 -- living with his mother and stepfather in a one-bedroom home.
Responding officers found Avila, the stepfather, crying in the parking lot of a nearby convenience store. Meanwhile, Aguilar was found walking a dog outside the home.