By Lizbeth Diaz
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Several of the alleged victims of the leader of a Mexico-based church are speaking out ahead of his sentencing, asking for him to receive maximum prison time.
Naason Joaquin, head of the evangelical La Luz del Mundo group, pleaded guilty on Friday to felony counts of sexually abusing three children. He was arrested in Los Angeles in 2019.
“I was abused in every way a person can be abused by him (…) He deserves the maximum penalty possible,” said Sochil Martin, a 36-year-old activist who told Reuters the abuse occurred over 17 years in Mexico and in the United States, where she now lives.
The sentencing hearing for Joaquin, a 53-year-old Mexican citizen, will begin on Wednesday.
The self-styled apostle of the La Luz del Mundo church, based in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, faces a maximum sentence of 16 years and eight months in prison, frustrating alleged victims demanding life imprisonment.
Neither the California prosecutor’s office nor the defendant’s attorney responded to requests for comment. A spokesperson for La Luz del Mundo in Mexico also declined.
Along with Joaquin, two more from his church were arrested in 2019. Together they faced 36 felonies, including charges of rape, child pornography and human trafficking.
Most of those charges were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea, avoiding life in prison.
“At first I did not file a complaint, no one was going to believe me,” said Francisco Espinoza, who claimed to have been abused by Joaquin in the United States, when Espinoza was 24.
“I kept quiet for many years and when I decided to speak they said that the devil had gotten into me, even my parents,” said Espinoza, who is now 36.
In a statement in May, the church maintained that its leader was innocent and said it had “full confidence” that his “innocence and honorability https://www.instagram.com/p/CdEoPSTPZVf/?hl=es-la” would be proven.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Matthew Lewis)