SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — After three family members were accused of performing a horrifying church exorcism on a young girl, prosecutors say they want to put all three on trial together.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen filed court documents Monday asking a judge to merge the three cases into one trial because each defendant played an egregious role in torturing the girl for 14 hours.
Arely, 3, died on Sept. 24, 2021 inside a small Pentecostal church, Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas, after her mother, uncle, and grandfather attempted to cast a demon out, according to prosecutors.
The mother told police that she believed Arely was “possessed” by a demon because her daughter would periodically wake up at night crying or screaming in their Mountain View home.
Arely woke up crying the night of Sept. 23, 2021. Her mother and uncle prayed for her in the bedroom before deciding to drive her to a San Jose church where the girl’s grandfather, Rene Trigueros Hernandez, was a pastor.
San Jose police arrested the mother, 25-year-old Claudia Hernandez-Santos, first. Police did not arrest the uncle and grandfather until just last month. Investigators said it took several months to determine that the uncle and grandfather played equal roles alongside the mother in causing the girl’s death.
“Each defendant committed acts of physical abuse against Arely Doe during a fourteen-hour time frame prior to her death. At times, all three defendants were holding Arely at different parts of her body. It is alleged that one defendant held Arely at the neck, one at the abdomen, and one was holding her legs, as they tried to induce her to vomit,” Rosen wrote in court documents.
A coroner determined that Arely’s death was a homicide caused by suffocation and smothering. She suffered injuries to her face and neck, as well as blunt force injuries across her chest and back. “Arely also had internal bleeding,” prosecutors wrote.
“The defendants committed this act of violence toward Arely Doe together, and as a result, their cases should be consolidated,” Rosen wrote. “It is not possible to determine what defendant caused what specific injury.”
Prosecutors filed child abuse charges against all three family members, including assault on a child with force likely to cause great bodily injury resulting in death.
Pastor Rene Trigueros Hernandez
The self-proclaimed pastor was the victim’s grandfather. He was interviewed by police on Sept. 24, Sept. 25, and May 11. Between September and May, he changed his story about how Arely died, court documents state.
According to San Jose Police Department Sgt. JJ Vallejo, the 59-year-old pastor told police in September: “He was called by (the victim’s mother) and she asked him to come to the church. He arrived at 12:30 p.m. He stood over the victim and prayed over her while she cried. (The pastor) remembered victim vomiting and said it occurred about 4:30 p.m. (He) said he moved victim’s body to the south end of the church around 7 p.m. and she was not moving or breathing.”
Vallejo interviewed the pastor again in May, and the story changed to the following: “He described two ‘prayer sessions’ they conducted on the victim. He described holding victim tightly by her torso while (the mother) held her arms and (the uncle) held her feet. He stated victim was fighting back. (The pastor) said the victim had unusual strength and attempted to bite his arms. (The pastor) stated he then walked outside of the room to take a phone call and when he returned, the victim was dead.”
Rene Aaron Hernandez Santos
Vallejo said the girl’s uncle also “substantially” changed his story about what happened during the exorcism.
Vallejo first interviewed the girl’s uncle, 19-year-old Rene Aaron Hernandez Santos, on Sept. 25, 2021.
Vallejo said the uncle told him the following: “(He) stated that the night of Sept. 23, 2021, he believed the victim was possessed, as she would cry and scream, and he believed she was in pain. At one point during the night, while the victim was standing, he placed his hands on the chest and back of the victim and applied pressure. In the early morning hours of Sept. 24, 2021, (Rene Aaron Hernandez Santos) and (the victim’s mother) took the victim to the church located at 1094 South 2nd St. While at Church, the victim was placed on the ground in front of the altar. In the afternoon, (the pastor) arrived. All three continued praying. During prayer, the victim would be picked up and held by each of the three defendants. Around 7 p.m., (Rene Aaron Hernandez Santos) knelt down beside the victim who was lying on the floor, and he placed one hand on the victim’s chest and one hand on her back. He applied pressure to the victim and maintained pressure for 10 minutes. He stated the victim was alive at the beginning of this and he closed his eyes to pray. Upon opening his eyes, he believed the victim had died. They continued to pray and did not perform any lifesaving measure for the victim.”
According to Vallejo, the uncle backtracked on his previous story during later interviews with police.
“In a subsequent interview, (Rene Aaron Hernandez Santos) substantially revised his previous statements. He stated he never placed his hands on the check and back of the victim and applied pressure. He also explained that after they believed the victim had died, he attempted breath to breath (mouth to mouth) with the victim,” court documents state.
Claudia Hernandez-Santos uploaded YouTube videos of herself talking about her daughter’s death. One video uploaded on Jan. 27 is titled with the girl’s full name, Arely Naomi Proctor Hernandez.
“Everyone wants to know what happened to her, you know, her cause of death. A lot of people turned on me after my daughter passed away,” she said in the video.
The mother never blames herself or the alleged exorcism for her daughter’s death. Instead, she says, “God took her.”
“It’s many reasons why God took her. At least she’s not suffering. In this world we suffer so much, especially nowadays. Everything is so bad. Everything is going downhill. That’s what I’m thankful for. That she’s not going to grow up in a world we live in. She’s in a better place. God knows why He allowed these things,” she said.
The victim’s mother, uncle, and grandfather currently remain behind bars in a Santa Clara County jail without bail.