LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A new defense attorney representing the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical church accused of rape and other criminal charges told a judge Monday he believes media coverage would impair his client’s ability to get a fair trial.
Naason Joaquin Garcia, 50, is charged with one count each of forcible rape of a minor, committing a lewd act on a child, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, unlawful sexual intercourse and extortion, along with two counts of forcible rape, oral copulation of a person under 18 and conspiracy and three counts of forcible oral copulation.
Garcia, along with Alondra Ocampo, 36, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, appeared in a secured holding area in Los Angeles Superior Court as Judge Francis Bennett heard arguments about a request for cameras to cover the hearing and a protective order requested by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Garcia’s new lawyer, Allen Sawyer, argued that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra “blasted the presumption of innocence” during an “unprecedented press conference” last week in which Becerra called Garcia “sick” and “demented”.
Speaking to reporters, Sawyer also indicated members of La Luz del Mundo – which has about 40 locations in Southern California and was
founded by the defendant’s grandfather – saw an “uptick in hate crimes”, including some who were asked to either leave the church or quit their job following Becerra’s news conference.
Bennett ultimately allowed the cameras in a narrow ruling which applied only to Monday’s hearing. He also denied a request for the defendants to appear in civilian rather than jail clothes, an option typically granted at trial.
Deputy Attorney General Amanda Plisner then asked the court to rule on a protective order requiring the defense teams not to disclose facts
relayed as part of discovery materials to anyone associated or affiliated with La Luz del Mundo, since the case “involves the sexual abuse of multiple young women (who have an) ultimate right to privacy,” Plisner told the court.
She argued the protective order was necessary because the defense team includes people the attorney general’s office believes are
witnesses in the case and might play a role in deterring other witnesses. She said individuals had told her office that church members would do “just about anything to protect or please defendant Garcia” based on a “spiritual oath” allegedly taken with Garcia.
Sawyer still disagreed.
“This is a preemptive, broad attempt to target a faith,” the defense attorney told the court.
According to state prosecutors, Garcia and his co-defendants coerced their victims into performing sexual acts by warning them that defying “the Apostle” is akin to defying God.
A church member told reporters he questions the charges.
“I have known him (Garcia) for a long time,” the man said. “I have only seen him act decent and clean with a lot of respect.”
Garcia and two of his three co-defendants — the other remains at large — were ordered to return for arraignment and a bail review hearing on June 21.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)