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Aracely Meza, pastor of Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey in Balch Springs, Texas, was convicted of starving a child to death and sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison on Friday.
Aracely Meza cradles the limp body of a 2-year-old boy, praying for God to bring the starved toddler back to life.
The moment was captured on videos that a Dallas County jury watched this week before finding the Balch Springs pastor guilty Friday of felony injury to a child causing serious bodily injury.
The 52-year-old will serve 99 years in prison for Benjamin Aparicio’s starvation death, one month before his third birthday. Jurors also ordered Meza to pay a $10,000 fine.
Videos captured the hours-long resurrection ceremony Meza led after Benjamin died on March 22, 2015. In the video, the boy is frail, nothing but skin and bones. His clothes hang from his lifeless body.
Weeks before his death, Meza had ordered that food be withheld from Benjamin for 21 days because she believed he was possessed by the “demon of manipulation.”
The 52-year-old woman’s trial offered a glimpse into the control she had over congregants of her church, Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey.
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 testified.
Those who questioned Meza were questioning God.
Zurita said she now realizes that Meza would use “distorted Scripture” to control the members of her church. Zurita called it “brainwashing.”
Jurors watched videos of a starving Benjamin being held up and prayed over by Meza. They were also shown the video showing Meza trying to revive the dead child.
A video shot the day he died shows Meza propping up the child, who had fallen on the kitchen floor. She then puts him over her knee, pulls down his pants and spanks him over and over. The boy cries.
Defense 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,” he said. [Sorry, it’s about both. It’s the religion that birthed the control.]