Prosecutors in Dallas County, Texas, asked a jury to sentence a pastor to 99 years in prison after she starved a toddler to death to rid him of the “demon of manipulation.” The jury agreed and added a $10,000 fine.
Pastor Aracely Meza, 52, received a sentence of 99 years in prison for starving Benjamin Aparicio to death just weeks before his third birthday. A video shown to jurors showed Meza cradling Benjamin’s limp body as she prayed for God to bring the toddler back to life, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Meza operated the Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey church in her Balch Springs home. Balch Springs is located a few miles southeast of Dallas. She exerted powerful control over her congregants to the point that she stripped Benjamin from her mother while she was breastfeeding the child. The parents lived in Meza’s home but did not allow them to hold their own son, the Dallas newspaper reported.
A series of videos like the one above illustrated the power and control she exercised over her congregants.
Believing that Benjamin was possessed by the “demon of manipulation.” She ordered that the young boy not be allowed to eat for 21 days in order to rid him of the demon.
Prosecutors presented the jury with videos of Benjamin being starved and abused by Meza. In one video, Meza propped up a limp Benjamin who had fallen on the kitchen floor. She picked him up, put him across her knee, pulled down his pants and repeatedly spanked him until he cried. The boy died later that day.
The series of videos showed the once chubby-faced child wasting away from starvation. Eventually, his collarbones jutted from his chest, his eyes became sunken and his ears became disproportionate to his face. His eyes would dart about the room but he would not look directly at anyone, the news outlet reported.
She removed Benjamin from the forced fast on February 13, 2015. He never recovered from the starvation treatment and died on March 22, 2015.
“The spirit was telling me that Benjamin should start eating,” Meza told the court. After Benjamin died, Meza said she wished she had helped him. “I thought that God would wake him up,” the pastor testified. She said she was “praying, thinking God would make a miracle.”
One witness, Nazareth Zurita, testified that the parents, Liliana and Zenon Aparicio, were afraid to report the abuse and their son’s death because they were in the U.S. illegally. The parents returned to Mexico after his death and have not been arrested. Charges against the couple are pending. They took their son’s body back to Mexico after he died.
Zurita, who testified that she witnessed the abuse and also failed to report it. Prosecutors charged her with felony injury to a child. She agreed to testify against Meza in exchange for a reduced charge. The plea agreement is not yet complete.
Meza was a “prisoner of her faith,” attorney Charles Humphreys stated. Prosecutors disagreed.
Assistant District Attorney said the case was “not about religion. This case is about control.”