LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A judge refused today to dismiss sex-related charges against the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical megachurch who is awaiting trial in connection with crimes allegedly committed in Southern California.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus agreed that the California Attorney General's Office should have turned over some evidence to Naason Joaquin Garcia's attorneys before an August 2020 hearing in which he was ordered to stand trial, but found that the defense had ``not met the materiality requirement'' for the case to be dismissed.
Garcia -- the 52-year-old leader of La Luz del Mundo or Light of the World -- has been behind bars since June 2019.
He is awaiting trial June 6 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the church said it has ``complete confidence that the time will come when the innocence'' of Garcia ``will be proven in a court of law.''
``Truth shines in the darkness and lies can never extinguish it,'' the church said in the statement, in which it indicated that it was ``surprised that the judge did not dismiss the case today.''
Garcia's attorneys have indicated that they plan to appeal the ruling, according to the statement.
Garcia was ordered in August 2020 to stand trial on 23 felony counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, unlawful sexual intercourse, lewd act on a child, extortion, conspiracy and possession of child pornography.
Co-defendant Susana Oaxaca, 27, is charged with one felony count each of forcible oral copulation of a person under 18 and oral copulation of a person under 18. She is free on bond.
A third defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 39, pleaded guilty to four counts and is awaiting sentencing.
The three were initially charged in June 2019, but a state appeals court panel ordered the case to be dismissed in April 2020.
The appellate court panel found that Garcia did not waive his right to a timely hearing to determine if there was sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial and that the hearing was not held within that time.
The Attorney General's Office subsequently refiled the case, which alleges that the crimes occurred in Southern California between June 2015 and June 2019.
Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen found sufficient evidence in August 2020 to allow the case against Garcia and Oaxaca to proceed to trial.
State prosecutors alleged in the complaint that Ocampo told a group of minor girls that they were going against God if they went against any desires or wishes of ``the Apostle'' -- Garcia.
The Guadalajara-based Pentecostal sect has branches in 50 nations and claims more than a million members worldwide.