The leader of a prominent Christian megachurch was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to multiple counts of child sexual assault late last week.
During the hearing, the defendant — and many others — were sharply upbraided by the judge.
“I never cease to be amazed at what people do in the name of religion,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen angrily mused. “And how people’s lives are ruined in the guise of serving a supreme being.”
After years of proclaiming his innocence and pledging to fight the charges against him, Naasón Joaquín García, 53 — known to his flock as the “apostle” of the Church of the Living God, Pillar and Ground of the Truth, The Light of the World, which claims over 5 million members worldwide — admitted last week to being legally culpable for two counts of forcible oral copulation involving minors and one count of a lewd act upon a child who was 15 at the time.
“As to the defendant, I say, you are a sexual predator,” Coen told García as several pronounced sobs could be heard in the background during the sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors have alleged that García and several other co-defendants used religion and the church’s traditional power hierarchy in order to groom at least five children into a web and cycle of sexual abuse – at times forcing the children to abuse one another.
Before the sentencing occurred, the court had heard victim impact statements from survivors of the pastor’s apparent reign of religious and sexual terror.
Last week, García’s victims begged the judge to reject a plea deal that allowed the defendant avoid a trial on 19 separate counts just days before proceedings were scheduled to start. Failing that, they asked for García to be sentenced to a much longer prison term.
The judge said his hands were “tied” because of “lawyers.”
“I further want to tell all the Jane Does that the world has heard you, I promise you that,” he continued, intoning slowly and methodically. “As to those family members that have abandoned the Jane Does: Shame! Shame on you.”
In October 2020, Alondra Ocampo, one of at least four co-defendants in the case, pleaded guilty to four felony counts involving the sexual abuse of minors. She has yet to be sentenced for her “handmaiden” role in obtaining, grooming and abusing young girls for the pastor.
Her plea deal, however, was a major blow to García’s defense, as the church, and many congregants therein, had for years officially and adamantly maintained his innocence.
“Today’s sentence for Naasón Joaquín García is a critical step forward for justice,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement after Wednesday’s sentencing. “While it will never undo the harm and trauma he caused as the leader of La Luz del Mundo, this sentence makes it crystal clear that abusers — no matter who they are — will be held accountable. Sexual assault is never acceptable. My heart goes out to all those affected by the horrific actions brought to light during this case. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to stand up for survivors and fight back against abuse.”
In addition to his prison term, García must also register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Susana Medina Oaxaca also pleaded guilty last week.
Azalea Rangel Melendez, the fourth co-defendant indicted in the case, remains at large.
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