Aracely Meza, above, pastor at a Texas church called Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey, was jailed last Friday for 99 years for starving a child she believed was possessed by the devil.
According to this report, Benjamin Aparicio died on March 22, 2015. Weeks before his death, Meza, 52, had ordered that food be withheld from him for 21 days to rid him of evil spirits.
Meza’s trial offered a glimpse into the control she had over congregants of her church.
Her Balch Springs home, where the boy lived with his parents, served as a commune.
Meza separated parents from their children, including Benjamin while he was still being breastfed. Though his mother and father lived in the same home, they weren’t allowed to hold their child.
Many turned to the pastor of the evangelical nondenominational church because she claimed to be a prophet. She performed exorcisms and ordered people to fast.
Nazareth Zurita described feeling like she was in a “trance” when she lived in Meza’s house. She admitted she didn’t intervene while Benjamin was being starved.
Anytime someone questioned Meza, the pastor would say:
The devil is speaking through you. You’re the devil.
Zurita said she now realizes that Meza would use “distorted Scripture” to control the members of her church. Zurita called it “brainwashing.”
Meza testified that God showed her what he wanted her to do, including who should fast.
She said God told her Benjamin should start eating again. He was taken off his fast on February 13, 2015.
The spirit was telling me that Benjamin should start eating.
But Meza would still keep food from the toddler. When he didn’t say “amen” after a prayer or didn’t use the restroom properly, she would take his food away.
Dr Suzanne Daikil, a child abuse pediatrician, analysed the videos which showed Benjamin as “a severely emaciated child” who could have been saved if he had been taken to a doctor.
Zurita testified that Benjamin’s parents were afraid to report what was happening to their son because they were unauthorised immigrants from Mexico.
Liliana and Zenon Aparicio are now believed to be living in Mexico and have not been arrested, though they face charges. The Aparicios and Meza took Benjamin’s body to Mexico to be buried.
Zurita, 38, was also charged with felony injury to a child. She reached an agreement with prosecutors for a reduced charge. A guilty plea has not been finalised.
Prosecutor Rachel Burris told jurors:
The state of Texas made a deal with a demon to get a bigger one. Meza allowed him to suffer, to waste away and die.
Defence attorney Charles Humphreys called Meza:
A prisoner of her faith.
But prosecutor Patrick Capetillo argued that Benjamin’s death was not about faith.
This case is not about religion. This case is about control.