Pastor gets 99 years' prison for starving toddler to death

Aracely Meza ordered that a two-year-old be denied food for three weeks.
Aracely Meza ordered that a two-year-old be denied food for three weeks. Photo credit: Dallas County Jail

A US pastor who denied a toddler food for three weeks has been sentenced to 99 years in prison for his death.

Aracely Meza, 52, ran a religious commune out of her Texas home for the congregants of her church, Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey.

Meza claimed to be a prophet and said that God spoke to her. She performed exorcisms and would often order people in the house to fast for periods of time.

Among the inhabitants were two-year-old Benjamin Aparicio and his mother and father. Meza separated the parents from their son, not allowing them to hold him.

In 2015, Meza came to believe that Benjamin had been possessed by a demon and ordered that he not be given food for 21 days. His parents were too afraid to go to the police about their son's starvation because they had illegally immigrated from Mexico. 

Videos taken at the time show the toddler was emaciated and frail. On February 13, Meza allowed him to be fed again, but would frequently deny him food if he failed to say 'amen' after praying.

Benjamin died on March 22, 2015 - after which Meza held a lengthy 'resurrection ceremony' to try to bring him back to life.

"I thought that God would wake him up," she told a Dallas County court.

The ceremony was captured on video, showing Benjamin's skeletal, lifeless body. Meza said she realised she had made a mistake after the toddler died.

The jury found Meza guilty of felony injury to a child causing serious bodily injury on Friday (local time). She was sentenced to 99 years in prison and was also ordered to pay a US$10,000 ($13,800) fine.