The Court of Appeals of the State of California dismissed multiple sex crime charges against Naason Joaquin Garcia, who leads La Luz del Mundo, a megachurch headquartered in Mexico that boasts five million followers around the world, because his right to a speedy trial was violated.
Garcia’s attorney, Alan Jackson, said in a statement shared with The Christian Post: “The Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of justice today, as it has ordered the dismissal of a case that should not have been processed. This is a recognition of the constitutional rights of Mr. Naason Joaquin Garcia, to have a speedy trial, and a reasonable bail; In their zeal to secure a conviction at any cost, the [authorities] have sought to strip Mr. Garcia of his freedom without due process by locking him up without bail on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations by unnamed accusers and by denying him his day in court.
“I am excited because the Court of Appeals saw and corrected this injustice, which is why this is a good day for justice.”
Garcia, 50, who is considered by his church to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, was arrested last summer at Los Angeles International Airport, the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said. In a release which also highlighted the criminal complaint against Garcia, other individuals associated with the church were also named as co-defendants. They were noted as: Alondra Ocampo, 36, Azalea Rangel Melendez, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, both 24.
Garcia and his co-defendants were charged with human trafficking, production of child pornography, forcible rape of a minor, and other felonies committed between 2015 and 2018.
Garcia pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and had been facing a $50 million bail, believed to be the highest ever imposed in L.A. County, last July when Superior Court Judge David Fields denied him after hearing a witness describe video evidence that allegedly showed the pastor in a sexual threesome involving a minor.
“This is a man who preyed on young girls,” Fields declared at the time. “Religion was used against these girls. They were told that if they didn’t comply [sexually], they were sinning.”
According to the criminal complaint against Garcia, children were allegedly told to perform “flirty” dances for the megachurch leader while wearing “as little clothing as possible.”
The appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the Los Angeles County Superior Court must dismiss the 29 counts of felony charges against Garcia, the Associated Press reported, because his preliminary hearing was not held in a timely manner.
As the megachurch leader did not waive his right to a speedy trial, the appeals court said the case against him would have to be dismissed.
His hearing was reportedly postponed several times — in some instances because prosecutors had not turned over evidence to the defense — while he was held without bail. The situation forced Garcia’s attorneys to file an appeal.
The ruling only mentioned the dismissal of García’s case and not those of his co-defendants, Oaxaca and Ocampo.
Alma M. Schutt, a member of the church who lives in San Antonio, praised the ruling, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“That’s wonderful news. It just seemed so unfair for him to be there. He was being punished — it was a great injustice. I’m so happy. It makes me want to cry.”
A federal lawsuit filed against Garcia and his church by a Southern California woman in February still remains in play.
In that case, the woman claims Garcia and his father sexually abused her for 18 years starting when she was 12, all the while justifying the abuse with Bible passages as a gift from God.