Court drops rape, other charges against megachurch leader

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California appeals court ordered the dismissal of a criminal case Tuesday against a Mexican megachurch leader on charges of child rape and human trafficking on procedural grounds.

Naasón Joaquín García, the self-proclaimed apostle of La Luz del Mundo, has been in custody since June following his arrest on accusations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Additional allegations of the possession of child pornography in 2019 were later added. He has denied wrongdoing.

While being held without bail in Los Angeles, García has remained the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, which is Spanish for “The Light Of The World.” The Guadalajara, Mexico-based evangelical Christian church was founded by his grandfather and claims 5 million followers worldwide.

It was not clear when he would be released.

The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the court’s ruling and did not answer additional questions.

García’s attorney, Alan Jackson, said he and his client are “thrilled” by the decision.

“In their zeal to secure a conviction at any cost, the Attorney General has 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,” Jackson said in a statement.

La Luz del Mundo officials in a statement urged their followers to remain respectful and pray for authorities.

“(W)e are not to point fingers or accuse anyone, we must practice the Christian values that identify us, such as patience, prudence, respect and love of God,” they said.

The appeals court ruling states that the Los Angeles County Superior Court must dismiss the 29 counts of felony charges that range from human trafficking and production of child pornography to forcible rape of a minor.

The appeals court ruled that because García’s preliminary hearing was not held in a timely manner and he did not waive his right to one, the complaint filed against him must be dismissed.

In June, García was arraigned on 26 counts and waived his right to a speedy preliminary hearing — a common move. The following month, he was arraigned on an amended complaint that included three additional charges of possession of child pornography. That time, he did not waive the time limits for ....

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