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Agent details child rape, pornography case against La Luz Del Mundo church leader

Matthew Ormseth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

LOS ANGELES -- Since the day he stepped off a private jet at Los Angeles International Airport and was arrested last June, Naason Joaquin Garcia, the leader of an international church headquartered in Mexico, has been held on charges of raping children and possessing child pornography, among other felonies.

The case against Garcia, whose followers consider him an apostle of Jesus Christ, is sweeping. It encompasses multiple underage victims, implicates several employees of his church, La Luz del Mundo, and is buttressed by photographs and videos seized from Garcia's phones and other devices.

It had also been, to this point, untested in court.

On Tuesday, prosecutors from the California attorney general's office began a preliminary hearing, by the end of which they must convince L.A. Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen that their case is strong enough to proceed. They expect the hearing to last seven to 10 days.

The prosecution's first witness, Troy Holmes, a special agent from the California Department of Justice, testified that he oversaw the investigation from shortly after the time Garcia was reported through an online child sex abuse hotline and culminating in his arrest on a private airstrip at Los Angeles International Airport.

When Garcia disembarked, he was carrying an iPhone and an iPad, Holmes said. The agent spent much of Tuesday testifying alongside videos and photographs retrieved from the devices.

 

Holmes described one video found on the iPad that showed a "young male" wearing a suit and a black mask that covered his eyes. A woman entered the frame, undressed him and performed oral sex on him, Holmes testified. A witness has identified the woman as the boy's aunt, the agent said.

A pair of FBI agents traveled to Texas and interviewed the boy at his high school, Holmes testified. The boy, whom he called "John Doe 2," was born in 2003, he said.

Garcia's attorney, Alan Jackson, protested that prosecutors were refusing to identify his client's accusers, as well as many of the case's witnesses, depriving him of the opportunity to cross-examine them or establish any motives or biases. "The prosecution wants to conduct this entire hearing basically in secret," he told the judge.

Diana Callaghan, a deputy attorney general, said they were keeping victims and some witnesses nameless because they'd been subjected to "threats and intimidation." Coen ruled that, because this was a preliminary hearing and not a trial, Garcia didn't have a right to confront his accusers.

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