An evangelical pastor from Nicaragua, along with four members of the congregation, was found guilty of homicide after he threw a woman in the fire and left her to burn for five hours to cast out the "demon" controlling her.
Pastor Juan Gregorio Rocha Romero, who leads a church in the remote village of El Cortezal in northeastern Nicaragua, was convicted of homicide in the death of 25-year-old Vilma Trujillo Garcia, Fox News reported.
The victim was found lying naked on a riverbank near a ravine, her body tied up and badly burned. According to local media outlet La Prensa, she was brought to a hospital but died a few days later because of severe burns and infection.
Trujillo Garcia, mother of two, was believed to be demon possessed because she reportedly attacked people with a machete. The pastor and other members of the congregation took her from her home on Feb. 15, supposedly for healing prayer, and kept her locked away until Feb. 21.
Her relatives revealed during the trial that she was bound and beaten and was not given food or water. They and other people were also forbidden from visiting her. The pastor also reportedly advised them to not feel love for her because she had an evil spirit.
"He told us not to feel any love for her, because that was just the devil, that she had to be burned until only her head was left," Roberto Trujillo, the victim's cousin, told the court, according to the Telegraph.
Trujillo Garcia's sister Marlene recalled seeing her tied to a hammock, but the pastor would not allow her to go near because her sister was "possessed by a demon." Police investigation revealed that the pastor and his four followers tied up the victim.
Esneyda del Socorro Orozco Tellez, one of the leaders in the church, said God gave them a "revelation" that the "demon" in Trujillo Garcia would be expelled by fire.
"God has made me a revelation, that they should make a campfire in the courtyard of the church and that a group of brothers should take the sick woman and tie her up near the fire and perform a prayer so that the demon will leave the body of the sick and go into the fire," Orozco said, according to another report from La Prensa.
They proceeded to burn her by stripping her of her clothes and throwing her on top of a pile of wood that was set ablaze. A forensics expert told the court during the trial that Trujillo Garcia's body was exposed to temperatures of up to 400 degrees Celsius.
After five hours, they took her body from the fire and threw it in the ravine.
Rocha Romero denied the report and gave a different version of the story. He said they did not intend to burn her, but the demon threw her into the fire.
"She hung up and fell into the fire," the pastor said. "And when we were praying, we saw that she was on fire."
Rocha Romero claimed to be a part of the Assemblies of God, but the church denied any association with him. Orozco and the three others involved in the crime were also convicted of homicide. The sentence hearing for all five is scheduled on May 9.
Prosecutors want sentences of up to 36 years in prison. Nicaragua has a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.