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Citing new evidence, judge angrily denies bail for leader of La Luz del Mundo church

Leila Miller, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

LOS ANGELES -- The leader of La Luz del Mundo church remained impassive in a Los Angeles courtroom as a witness for prosecutors described a video that he alleged showed Naason Joaquin Garcia participating in a sexual threesome involving a minor.

State law enforcement officer and forensic examiner Steven Stover testified during a Superior Court hearing on Monday that the video, which he said was found on an iPad that officials had seized from Garcia, depicts the defendant having intercourse with a woman while she performs oral sex on an underage male.

Stover also said that he had found child pornography on an iPhone that had been taken from Garcia -- a man church followers call the "apostle" of Jesus Christ. One video, he said, depicted four females "of a very young age" lying nude on a bed performing oral sex on each other.

On Tuesday, that was enough for Superior Court Judge David Fields to grant prosecutors' request to deny the possibility of bail to Garcia. The religious leader had faced a $50 million bail, believed to be the highest ever imposed in Los Angeles County. He has pleaded not guilty to rape of a minor, among other sexual offenses.

An amended criminal complaint against Garcia and his co-defendants -- who are charged with crimes alleged to have occurred in L.A. County between 2015 and 2019 -- describes how women allegedly helped procure and prepare young girls for his pleasure. Prosecutors have claimed that Garcia leveraged his status as the head of a church where girls are taught that they must do anything to please the apostle. Garcia's defense team disputes that account.

In a visibly angry voice, Fields said that he believed there is enough evidence to sustain a conviction and that Garcia would pose a risk to the community if he were released on bail.

 

"This is a man who preyed on young girls," he said. "Religion was used against these girls. They were told that if they didn't comply (sexually), they were sinning."

Referring to claims by Garcia's defense attorneys that a witness for prosecutors had been working to frame the apostle, the judge said, "These images are not planted on his phone by a conspiracy against him."

In a news conference, Garcia's lead attorney Ken Rosenfeld said his team would be appealing the decision. He said that Stover had inadequately relied on a Jane Doe witness to identify one of the people in the alleged threesome -- who wore a mask -- as an underage male.

"(It's) a piece of evidence that may or may not be authentic ... digital evidence is easy to fake," said Rosenfeld. "The person is wearing a mask. It would take verification of knowing someone's genitalia."

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