In a landmark prosecution of the leader of a church that claims millions of members in the United States and Mexico, Naasón Joaquín García, 53, has pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual abuse involving young girls in his Light of the World church.
The self-proclaimed “Apostle” faces sentencing this week, but the five “Jane Does” who were set to testify against him at trial are disappointed in the outcome, according to their lawyer Jonati Yedidsion.
“I think they wanted an opportunity to really make the world understand what they had gone through,” she told Law&Crime. “As one could imagine, they were upset, but they’re happy at least there was a guilty plea.”
“It’s noteworthy in terms of the assessment of the validity of this case, the legal decisions weren’t all necessarily done on the merits, it was more procedural issues.” Yedidsion said. “We plan to file a civil case where there will be an opportunity to bring forward all the evidence.”
Under the terms of his deal with the California Attorney General’s office, Garcia was allowed to plead guilty to just three of the 36 counts he originally faced: two counts of forcible copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act upon a child who was 15.
Attorney General Rob Bonta said Garcia abused his authority as a religious leader to “take advantage of children” while using his underling “to groom congregants for the purposes of sexual assault.”
A former church member who helped to spur the criminal investigation, Sochil Martin, said she was “furious” at the outcome.
“It’s a slap in the face to the victims. Society needs to hear from them, not just Naason. He needed to be fully prosecuted in open court so the victims could tell their story,” she said.
Garcia was arrested three years ago and his trial was set to begin today.
To his followers, Garcia can do no wrong and represents Jesus on Earth as the self-proclaimed “Apostle.”
His church continues to support Garcia, calling the outcome an “injustice,” in a statement from the church’s press spokesperson Silem Garcia posted on Twitter. “They publicly defamed him and the anticipated sentence was obvious, there could not be a fair trial.”
“We will wait for you,” the statement added.
Fue evidente la injusticia que se cometió desde su detención.
Lo difamaron públicamente y era obvia la sentencia anticipada que se tenia, no podía haber un juicio justo, pues le negaron presentar sus pruebas y testigos.
Seguiremos juntos en la adversidad.
— Silem Garcia Peña (@Silemgarcia) June 4, 2022
While the “Jane Does” will not testify, they will be allowed to present victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
Garcia and the church will still face a trial in the civil suits brought against him by women who say they were his victims.
In addition to serving a prison sentence, Garcia will be permanently registered in California as a sex offender.
[image via AL SEIB/AFP via Getty Images]
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