THE TRIALS OF GABRIEL FERNANDEZ is a new Netflix true-crime docu-series. If you’re familiar with the case, you know it won’t be easy to watch. It’s about horrific child abuse and torture. Read our The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez review here!

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is a new Netflix true-crime documentary. It’s a docu-series in six episodes and those six episodes are not easy to watch. 

Netflix is releasing quite a lot of these true crime documentaries. Some good and others not really up to par. Still, each docu-series covers something different and these cases of neglect (from many sides) are also important to shine a light on.

Recommended reading: Check out our list of the best Netflix true crime documentaries here >

Continue reading our The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez review below.

A system that fails

The story featured in The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is truly tragic which makes this Netflix documentary hard to watch at times. However, I believe it’s important to get these stories out so we can (hopefully) avoid – or at least reduce – similar cases in the future. That’s the power of good documentaries, in my opinion.

This is a documentary series that investigates the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez from California. He was abused and tortured for years before he died. All at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. Another huge aspect of the docu-series is a focus on the system that failed to protect and save his life.

This is an important part of the The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez docu-series. As it should be. We can all agree that his mother and her boyfriend are monsters for what they did. But we also know that such monsters exist which is exactly why systems are in place to protect children from them.

Or so we think. But what happens when those systems fail? Well, in the case of Gabriel Fernandez, it means years of abuse and ultimately death!

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez – Netflix Review

You cannot close your eyes to this!

We watch many documentaries. Often they’re about murder and serial killers, but The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez feels different. Not necessarily better, but definitely more rough. There are many images and facts that you won’t be able to let go of after having watched this Netflix documentary.

And yes, you will (and should) get angry while watching The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez. There are systems in place that should have helped him. Unfortunately, they all failed in various ways.

In that sense, this docu-series is somewhat familiar to the Netflix documentary Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. At first, we were told that he was a great guy and everything was just perfect. Then the truth comes out and things have happened which should have raised many red flags.

You might like: Our review of Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez here >

Something else these two documentaries have in common is the use of brain scans. In both cases, these brain scans are used to explain why someone would do something so horrific. In the case of this new documentary, it’s meant to show why Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, acted in various strange ways.

Episode 5 of The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

Episode 5 of The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is particularly harrowing. This is when we hear the transcripts of Gabriel’s older brother and sister testifying about the abuse at the trial.

It all becomes very direct and concrete in a way I didn’t expect.

Also, the kids were not shown on camera nor do you hear their voices. They are protected from this, as they should be. Instead, someone else is reading the official transcripts out loud.

We do, however, see them being interviewed by police officers right after Gabriel has been admitted to the hospital. In those cases, their faces are (of course) blurred out. Also, it’s good to see that the detectives go to great lengths to try and convince these poor kids that they are not to be blamed. In any way, shape or form!

Watch The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez on Netflix now!

The filmmaker behind The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is Brian Knappenberger. He has directed quite a lot of documentary movies and TV series. These include the documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014) and the Netflix documentary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017).

In other words, Brian Knappenberger knows what he’s doing and has been nominated (and won) several awards already. With The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, he has tackled a very dark and brutal true crime story. One that also feels intense in a different way since it’s about the abuse and murder of a child.

If you like documentaries – and you believe in shining the light on things that need to be fixed – then this is definitely for you. My only real critic is that episode one doesn’t give much of an idea as to when this is being filmed. However, by episode 2, we get more information on this timeline.

All episodes of The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez are out on Netflix from February 26, 2020.


In 2013, 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez died as a result of horrific and prolonged abuse by his mother and her boyfriend. In the wake of the tragedy, a demand for justice and accountability exploded in Los Angeles County. This six-part documentary series from award-winning documentarian Brian Knappenberger (Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press) offers an inside look at the trial as well as an eye-opening investigation into the government systems that failed to protect Gabriel, despite multiple reports and warning signs. Along with shedding light on an important story, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez serves as a wake-up call to reexamine the structures designed to protect children in need.

I write reviews and recaps on Heaven of Horror. And yes, it does happen that I find myself screaming, when watching a good horror movie. I love psychological horror, survival horror and kick-ass women. Also, I have a huge soft spot for a good horror-comedy. Oh yeah, and I absolutely HATE when animals are harmed in movies, so I will immediately think less of any movie, where animals are harmed for entertainment (even if the animals are just really good actors). Fortunately, horror doesn't use this nearly as much as comedy. And people assume horror lovers are the messed up ones. Go figure!
Karina "ScreamQueen" Adelgaard
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