Lay Preacher in Prison for Burning Naked Woman Alive in Exorcism Claims 'Spirit Lifted Her' Into Fire

(Photo: REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga)Exorcism ritual in Colombia on July 7, 2012.

A media investigation into the exorcism and death of a young Nicaraguan woman in 2017, where she was burned alive to rid her of "demons," has found that the local Assemblies of God denomination is disputing some of the allegations in the controversial case that has gripped the nation.

Vilma Trujillo was found by her own father, López Trujillo, lying naked with burns covering 80 percent of her body last year, but emergency treatment at a hospital was unable to save her.

Family members had initially handed her over for spiritual healing after she had started talking to herself and talking about the devil.

What ended up happening, however, was that she was held for several days without food and water, with members of the church reciting prayers, before eventually beginning the fire ritual aimed at ridding her of demons that led to her death.

A man identified as Juan Gregorio Rocha Romero, initially described as a "pastor" at a local AG church, along with four of his helpers were sentenced to 30 years in prison for their role in the death of the 25-year-old woman.

BBC News on Wednesday released its investigative report on El Cortezal, the remote Nicaraguan village where the incident took place, which said that "misogyny, belief in the devil and poor education" led to the woman's murder.

Rafael Arista, the superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Nicaragua, explained in the interview that it was the press that started calling Romero a pastor, when he was in fact only a lay preacher, and the supposed ministry he was running was "not what we would call an organized church."

Arista blamed the media for focusing solely on the woman's death, and for refusing to recognize that Assemblies of God churches have been involved in many community projects, such as building houses and running schools for the deaf.

He added that the church does not practice violent exorcisms, and said that the details behind the case remain unclear.

"In my opinion, this young person might have thrown herself into the fire," he argued. "Because I don't believe that five people who are praying are going to all agree to throw someone into a fire."

Saba Calderón Tobares, the pastor at the AG church in Rosita, which was the subject of much anger following Trujillo's death, said that the convicted men bear responsibility for the murder.

"How did not one of them step back and say, 'This is not right'?" he asked.

What is more, Tobares said that it's likely Trujillo was mentally ill, rather than being controlled by the devil.

The BBC report shared further details of Romero's denial of the crime, with the 23-year-old insisting that he did not burn the victim.

"The spirit lifted her up, she fell into the fire," he reportedly told reporters.

The investigation also went in-depth regarding unproven accusations by some in the community that Trujillo might have been raped, or alternatively involved in an extramarital affair, pointing out that the line is blurred for some there, who accuse raped women of committing adultery.

Psychiatrist José Miguel Salmerón argued that the case is an example of "a dangerous understanding of the world that dates back to the Middle Ages."

Salmerón said that many people in the country believe in the influence of the devil, rather than mental issues.

"The majority of the Nicaraguan population is not interested in mental health. People prefer supernatural explanations," he said.

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