In the heart of an Orthodox convent in Romania's impoverished northeast, doctors say, Maricica Irina Cornici believed she heard the devil talking to her, telling her she was sinful.
She was treated for schizophrenia, but when she relapsed, a monk and four nuns tried a different method: exorcism.
Last week, Cornici was bound to a cross, gagged with a towel and left in a dank room at the convent for three days without food where she died of suffocation and dehydration.
The case has stunned this impoverished nation where rural youths, many raised in orphanages like Cornici, have flocked to Orthodox monasteries and convents for spiritual help or food and shelter. Polls show the Orthodox Church to be the nation's most trusted institution.
In April, Cornici was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in the northeast city of Vaslui.
"She thought the devil was talking to her and told her that she was a sinful person," said Dr. Gheorghe Silvestrovici, a psychiatrist who treated her. "It's a symptom of schizophrenia, and she was probably having her first episode."
The nun was given medication and released on April 20 to the care of the Holy Trinity convent in the nearby village of Tanacu, an isolated community of about 1,000 people in a hilly area cultivated with vineyards and corn.
She was supposed to return in 10 days, but never did.
Daniel Petru Corogeanu, a 29-year-old red-bearded monk who served as the convent's priest and allegedly led the exorcism, told the media he was trying to take devils out of the nun. He said she had to be restrained because she was violent and that she refused to drink holy water.
Corogeanu and the four nuns were charged with aggravated murder on Wednesday in Cornici's death after testifying for 11 hours to prosecutors. If found guilty, they could face up to 25 years in prison.
The monk said Friday outside the courtroom that he and the nuns were innocent and blamed media pressure for their arrests.
His lawyer has asked for the case to be moved to a different location, citing the intense media and public scrutiny in the area. Romania's Supreme Court is expected to rule on a location for the trial.
"I am scared that if I went to the monastery they would crucify me, too," said Ioan Hristea, a 52-year-old former welder who suffers from epilepsy and said he was hospitalized with Cornici.
Others said the prosecutors were swayed by the public pressure and went too far by charging the suspects with aggravated murder, and that a lesser charge of manslaughter would have been more appropriate.