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California court dismisses case against Mexico megachurch leader

Members of Light of the World congregate at its headquarters of Guadalajara, Mexico, on June 5. File Photo by Francisco Guasco/EPA-EFE
Members of Light of the World congregate at its headquarters of Guadalajara, Mexico, on June 5. File Photo by Francisco Guasco/EPA-EFE

April 8 (UPI) -- A California appeals court has dismissed the human-trafficking and child rape case against the leader of a Mexico-based megachurch.

California's 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomeli to dismiss the charges against Naason Joaquin Garcia on Wednesday.

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The appellate court said the case had to be dismissed because Garcia's preliminary hearing wasn't held in a timely manner.

His lawyer, Alan Jackson, said the court "struck a major blow for justice."

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"This is a long-overdue recognition that the government has violated Mr. Garcia's constitutional right to a speedy trial and reasonable bond," Jackson said in an email to UPI.

"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.

"This is a good day for justice."

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Authorities arrested Garcia and two co-defendants in June for alleged crimes committed between 2015 and 2018. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office charged him with 17 counts, including human trafficking, possession of child porn, child rape, forcible oral copulation, extortion and conspiracy.

Garcia, also known as Joaquin Garcia, leads the La Luz Del Mundo (Light of the World) evangelical church in Guadalajara, Mexico, which has many members in Los Angeles and 1 million members worldwide.

Prosecutors said in the complaint that GarcĂ­a and his co-defendants coerced victims into performing sex acts by telling them that if they refused, it would be going against God.

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The church considers Garcia to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.

Three of the four alleged victims were children. An adult and child were raped, according to the complaint. The accusations include human trafficking and forcing children to perform oral sex.

According to the complaint, Garcia in September 2017 allegedly coerced a group of minors to perform "flirty" dances while in "as little clothing as possible" and gave them speeches about kings having mistresses and said an apostle cannot be judged for his actions.

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