A mother and her boyfriend may face the death penalty in California over the alleged torture and murder of her 10-year-old son Anthony Avalos earlier this year.

Heather Maxine Barron and her boyfriend Kareem Ernesto Leiva pleaded not guilty to the murder of Anthony Avalos last week, PinkNews reported.

Because the charges include the infliction of torture, prosecutors may elect to seek the death penalty in sentencing.

Avalos had said that he “liked girls and boys” prior to his death on June 21 this year, according to a child protection official.

The 10-year-old had been burned by cigarettes all over his body and suffered serious head injuries.

The household had been subject to 18 investigations from 2013 onwards, including 88 allegations of child abuse, neglect and sexual abuse.

Avalos had even been removed from the home for a period of several months before being returned following family members’ receiving counselling.

The child abuse charges levied at Barron and Leiva allegedly include other victims.

Prosecutors say the alleged torture of Avalos included starvation, beatings, being whipped with a belt and other objects, and not being allowed to use the bathroom.

The couple allegedly forced Avalos and his siblings – eight brothers and sisters all under 12 years old – to fight each other, and that the other children were made to watch Avalos to force him to stay standing or kneeling for long periods of time.

Court documents allege that “at one point, Anthony could not walk, was unconscious lying on his bedroom floor for hours, was not provided medical attention, and could not eat on his own.

“During the five or six days mentioned above, all nine children were residing in the Lancaster apartment where the crimes took place.”

The prosecutor in the case previously handled the murder of Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured and killed by his mother’s boyfriend who thought Fernandez was gay.

When Avalos was brought to hospital he was in cardiac arrest, had to be intubated to enable him to breathe and had bleeding on the brain from a traumatic head injury.

The couple said that Avalos had died as the result of an accidental fall. They are due back in court next month.

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