DALLAS — An evangelical pastor who held a cult-like sway over her followers was sentenced to 99 years in prison for letting a 2-year-old boy starve to death in an effort to drive demons from his body.
Prosecutors say pastor Aracely Meza, 52, had convinced the parents of the toddler, Benjamin Aparicio, that he was possessed by a demon and he could only be cured by extensive fasting.
Prosecutors say the boy was denied food for three weeks and starved to death on March 22, 2015.
An unnerving video shown in court, depicted a resurrection ceremony in which Meza and others try to bring the boy’s frail and limp body back to life after he had died, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Jurors were shown another video of Meza spanking the toddler, after he fell onto the kitchen floor with weakness and appeared unable to support his own head.
Meza testified that she’d been acting on God’s orders.
Testimony by congregants of Meza’s Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey in Balch Springs, Texas revealed that she claimed to be a prophet and maintained astringent religious order over her followers, many who lived at her home in a commune-like setting.
Followers testified that members were often forced to fast for extensive periods and that Meza rejected any criticism by accusing her accusers of being possessed by the devil.
The boy’s parents also face charges, but are believed to have fled to Mexico with the child’s remains, the newspaper reported.