A Nicaraguan woman who was burned to death in an exorcism that caused worldwide shock was starved and beaten in the week before her killing, witnesses told a court on Wednesday.
Evangelical pastor Juan Rocha and four followers are accused of murdering Vilma Trujillo, a 25-year-old mother of two, because they believed she was possessed by the devil.
On the second day of their trial, which is being carried live on Nicaraguan television, Trujillo’s relatives told the court how Rocha had his followers bound her, beat her, and refused her food, water and visitors.
“He told us not to feel any love for her, because that was just the devil, that she had to be burned until only her head was left,” the victim’s cousin Roberto Trujillo told the court in the capital, Managua.
“They wouldn’t let me near her. Pastor Juan Rocha told us not to pay any attention to her because she was possessed by a demon,” said her sister Marlene, who told the court of seeing Trujillo tied to a hammock.
Trujillo was killed in a grisly week-long rite from February 15 to 21 in the isolated village of El Cortezal in northeastern Nicaragua.
Witnesses said she was stripped naked and thrown on a pile of wood that was set alight.
Rocha has reportedly denied that version, saying the woman herself leaped at the fire and was suspended aloft by a malign spirit in her.
Trujillo’s father said Rocha had forbidden him to see his daughter during the ritual.
When he and her cousin went to get her in the small chapel where she was kept, they found her naked and horribly burned after five hours over the fire, they said.
Trujillo died of her burns in a Managua hospital on February 28.
Forensics expert Ricardo Larios told the court she had been subjected to temperatures of 400 degrees Celsius (752 Fahrenheit).
A pastor associated with the Assemblies of God church, Rocha apparently holds huge sway in the small village where he preached. Residents have been reluctant to discuss the case.
Rocha is accused alongside two brothers and two other suspects. The trial is set to resume on May 2.