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Young girl who died during 2021 San Jose "exorcism" by family members fought for her life, court documents say

3 family members charged in toddler's 'exorcism' death
3 family members charged in toddler's 'exorcism' death 02:23

Court documents in the case of three San Jose family members charged in the alleged child-abuse death of a three-year-old girl during a brutal 2021 exorcism ritual at a makeshift church reveal the child fought to escape even as she declared her love for her mother, who was one of her assailants.

The court documents detail the testimony given during the preliminary hearing for defendants Claudia Hernandez, Rene Aaron Hernandez Santos, and Rene Trigueros Hernandez between March 18-25 in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

The defendants are the mother, uncle and grandfather of three-year-old Arely Doe, the young girl who was found dead at the makeshift church housed on private residential property in San Jose on September 24, 2021. 

The documents filed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office noted in the opening summary that the young girl "fought for her life as three trusted adults forcibly grabbed her by her neck, torso, back, and legs." In addition to smothering "her by repeatedly attempting to pry open her mouth to make her vomit" -- which the family members told officers would make the child expel the spirit that possessed her -- her mother, uncle and grandfather repeatedly rendered her unconsciousness with pressure to her neck and torso and "held her with so much force that she had internal bleeding and injuries." 

The DA's office noted that even as "she was fighting for her life" at the hands of her immediate family, "she told her mother, 'I love you.'" 

The documents also provided information from statements that Claudia Hernandez and her brother Rene provided to police. Hernandez told officers that the she believed Arley to be under possession of a demon insider her because she was screaming and crying and "her eyes were different" the night before she and Rene brought the child to the makeshift church where her father was a pastor. They continued to try to hold her still, struggling to grip her around the neck and torso with Hernandez telling officers "Arely would say "I love you" in Spanish" as they tried to hold her.

It was after hours of holding the young girl down and trying to force her to vomit to expel the demon that she eventually succumbed to the injuries she suffered during the attempted "exorcism" early the evening of September 24.

Hernandez told police that night "God made her understand that Arely was not coming back and was gone." A day after the child's death while they were still in custody, Hernandez told her brother that "God...told her that God had taken Arely on Thursday, and it was because of demons" and that he also said "they were not going to be guilty."

The documents also included details from the testimony of Dr. Michelle Jorden, the Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner and Neuropathologist for Santa Clara County. Jorden discussed the autopsy she performed on the child and said "Arely died of asphyxia due to combined mechanical asphyxia and smothering."

The judge in the case was schedule to rule on whether the three defendants would face a trial by jury Tuesday, but according to a report by the San Jose Mercury News, the judge pushed the date of his decision back to May 13 in order to allow all the attorneys involved in the case to submit briefs arguing whether he has seen sufficient evidence to uphold the charges.

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