Pastor who starved toddler to death to exorcise demon gets 99 years in prison
Aracely Meza cradles the limp body of a 2-year-old boy, praying for God to bring the starved toddler back to life.
The moment was captured on videos that a Dallas County jury watched this week before finding the Balch Springs pastor guilty Friday of felony injury to a child causing serious bodily injury.
The 52-year-old will serve 99 years in prison for Benjamin Aparicio’s starvation death, one month before his third birthday. Jurors also ordered Meza to pay a $10,000 fine.
Videos captured the hours-long resurrection ceremony Meza led after Benjamin died on March 22, 2015. In the video, the boy is frail, nothing but skin and bones. His clothes hang from his lifeless body.
Weeks before his death, Meza had ordered that food be withheld from Benjamin for 21 days because she believed he was possessed by the “demon of manipulation.”
The 52-year-old woman’s trial offered a glimpse into the control she had over congregants of her church, Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey.
Her Balch Springs home, where the boy lived with his parents, served as a commune.
Meza separated parents from their children, including Benjamin while he was still being breastfed. Though his mother and father lived in the same home, they weren’t allowed to hold their child.
Many turned to the pastor of the evangelical nondenominational church because she claimed to be a prophet.
She performed exorcisms and ordered people to fast.
Nazareth Zurita described feeling like she was in a “trance” when she lived in Meza’s house. She admitted she didn’t intervene while Benjamin was being starved.
Anytime someone questioned Meza, the pastor would say, “The devil is speaking through you. You’re the devil,” Zurita testified.
Those who questioned Meza were questioning God.
Zurita said she now realizes that Meza would use “distorted Scripture” to control the members of her church. Zurita called it “brainwashing.”
Jurors watched videos of a starving Benjamin being held up and prayed over by Meza. They were also shown the video showing Meza trying to revive the dead child.
A video shot the day he died shows Meza propping up the child, who had fallen on the kitchen floor. She then puts him over her knee, pulls down his pants and spanks him over and over. The boy cries.
Each video shows Benjamin unable to hold up his head. His collarbones jut out. His cheeks are sunken. His ears look too big for his head. His eyes dart around but never look directly at anyone or anything.
A photo of a healthy Benjamin shows the baby had chubby cheeks and a cute grin.
Meza testified that God showed her what he wanted her to do, including who should fast.
“It’s like inside yourself,” she explained through a translator.
She said God told her Benjamin should start eating again. He was taken off his fast Feb. 13, 2015.
“The spirit was telling me that Benjamin should start eating,” she said.
But Meza would still keep food from the toddler. When he didn’t say “amen” after a prayer or didn’t use the restroom properly, she would take his food away.
Dr. Suzanne Daikil, a child abuse pediatrician, analyzed the videos showing Benjamin, a “severely emaciated child.”
“The child’s limp, like a rag doll,” she said. “I need him in my hospital.”
Daikil said that if Benjamin had been taken to a doctor, he could’ve been saved.
A handwritten note on the refrigerator designated which days each person was expected to abstain from food.
But Benjamin was the only one kept from food for so long.
Prosecutor Rachel Burris asked Meza why she focused solely on Benjamin.
Meza just mumbled and looked down. She said that she realized after he died that she should’ve helped him.
“I thought that God would wake him up,” she said, adding that she was “praying, thinking God would make a miracle.”
Zurita testified that Benjamin’s parents were afraid to report what was happening to their son or that he had died because they were unauthorized immigrants from Mexico.
Liliana and Zenon Aparicio are believed to still be living in Mexico and have not been arrested, though they face charges. The Aparicios and Meza took Benjamin’s body to Mexico to be buried.
Zurita, 38, was also charged with felony injury to a child. She has reached an agreement with prosecutors for a reduced charge. A guilty plea has not been finalized.
“The state of Texas made a deal with a demon to get a bigger one,” Burris told jurors. Meza “allowed him to suffer, to waste away and die.”
Defense attorney Charles Humphreys called Meza “a prisoner of her faith.” But prosecutor Patrick Capetillo argued that Benjamin’s death was not about faith.
“This case is not about religion. This case is about control,” he said.