Bay Area family charged in 'exorcism' death of 3-year-old girl will stand trial

Three family members charged in the killing of a 3-year-old girl during an "exorcism" ritual at a San Jose church in 2021 have been ordered to stand trial in the case, authorities said.

Santa Clara County Judge Hanley Chew ruled on May 13 that there is enough evidence against the deceased girl's mother, Claudia Hernandez-Santos, 26; her uncle, Rene "Aaron" Hernandez-Santos, 20; and her grandfather, Rene Trigueros Hernandez, 60, to proceed with a trial, according to court records.

The trio pleaded not guilty Monday to one felony count of child abuse resulting in the death of toddler Arely Naomi Proctor, according to court records obtained by The Mercury News. Their next trial setting hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14; all three are being held without bail, the outlet reported. If convicted, they each face 25 years to life in prison.

Proctor died Sept. 24, 2021, inside Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas, a Pentecostal church run by Trigueros Hernandez, authorities said. The family members were trying to perform a ritual to exorcise a "demon," during which prosecutors say they squeezed and choked the young girl and tried to get her to vomit.

A coroner's report determined that Arely died from asphyxiation and had blood in her lungs, brain swelling and injuries on her neck and inside her mouth, according to KRON4.

“During this assault, Arely Doe fought for her life as three trusted adults forcibly grabbed her by her neck, torso, back, and legs, smothered her by repeatedly attempting to pry open her mouth to make her vomit, and held her with so much force that she had internal bleeding and injuries,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Rebekah Wise wrote in a previous filing.

During a previous preliminary hearing, police detectives testified about interviews they had with the family members after the girl's death.

Claudia Hernandez-Santos told police that she believed her daughter was "possessed."

“Arely looked different. Her eyes were different. They looked empty and it ‘wasn’t her,'” she said, according to court records.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.