3-year-old ‘fought for her life’ during fatal ‘exorcism’ involving mom, grandpa: Prosecutors

The exorcism of a 3-year-old girl in San Jose, California led to charges being filed against her mother, uncle and grandfather, but now recently released court documents are shedding new light on what happened during that deadly night in 2021.

Claudia Hernandez, her brother Rene Aaron Hernandez Santos, and her father Rene Trigueros Hernandez, has been charged with causing great bodily injury to a girl identified as Arely Doe, resulting in her death, according to a 50-page memorandum filed last week by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

Arely was found dead in a “church” on private property on Sept. 24, 2021, with her mother, uncle and grandfather who are accused of assaulting her for 20 hours, according to the memorandum, which was obtained by CBS News this week. USA TODAY is working to obtain the document.

Arely “fought for her life as three trusted adults forcibly grabbed her by her neck, torso, back, and legs, smothered her by repeatedly attempting to pry open her mouth to make her vomit, and held her with so much force that she had internal bleeding and injuries,” prosecutors wrote in the memorandum explain why the three family members should go to trial.

All three have pleaded not guilty, and the county court is in the process of setting a trial date. They are being represented by public defenders. USA TODAY contacted Santa Clara County’s public defender’s office but did not get an immediate response Wednesday.

Here’s what you need to know about the case and whether it’s heading to trial.

Arely Doe told mom ‘I love you’ during abuse, court docs say

Arely “struggled to escape from her abusers,” including clamping her mouth to stop the adults who were trying to pry it open, prosecutors said in the memorandum.

As Arely was “fighting for her life,” she also told her mother, “I love you,” they wrote.

“When pressure was applied to her neck and torso, she was repeatedly rendered unconscious for moments at a time,” according to the memorandum. “This ongoing assault resulted in the tragic death of Arely.”

How did Claudia Hernandez know her daughter was ‘possessed?’

When a San Jose police officer spoke to Claudia Hernandez, she said, “they were praying for Arely,” prosecutors wrote. Although Arely had no medical issues, the young girl was “possessed,” her mother told the officer, prosecutors said.

The night before the exorcism, Arely was screaming and crying, she told the officer, they said. The mother said she “knew it was not her baby because Arely was always happy,” they said in the memorandum.

Hernadez said Arely was saying “no, no, no” in her sleep while moving her arms out, but she still put the girl to bed because the “possession” was “not really bad,” according to the memorandum. The next day when the mother came back to Arely’s room after grabbing her some milk, she said she saw her daughter “screaming, crying, and stretching her arms out,” prosecutors wrote.

When a paramedic asked Hernandez why Arely had blood on her face, the mother said: “Because she was forcibly trying to open Arely’s mouth and Arely was biting down hard in response,” prosecutors wrote.

Arely Doe’s mom, uncle stuck fingers down her throat, court doc says

On the day of the “exorcism,” Claudia Hernandez told Arely’s uncle to pray for her daughter, according to the court record. After Arely went to sleep briefly, she woke up and started screaming again, the mother told the officer, the memorandum said.

Claudia Hernandez and Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos then got a trash bucket and tried opening Arely’s mouth to get her to throw up, prosecutors said.

“(Claudia Hernandez) then explained that she has seen movies that show objects can get possessed,” the mother told the police officer, according to prosecutors. “She told (Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos) that they had to remove everything from the room. They moved all the furniture from the room except the bed.”

Arely would bite her mother’s and uncle’s fingers when they again tried to open her mouth and stick their fingers down her throat, prosecutors said. The two ultimately stopped because the girl calmed down, they said in the memorandum.

Arely Doe’s mom, uncle and grandfather tried to make her vomit, court docs say

The two then took Arely to their “dad’s church” around 7 a.m. that day, and that’s when Claudia Hernandez said she noticed red marks on her daughter’s face, court records show. They then held Arely up over the trash can and her mother put her hand on the girl’s throat to control her head as her daughter was struggling and saying “No,” according to prosecutors.

Arely’s grandfather, Rene Trigueros Hernandez, arrived at the church around noon, according to the court record. Arely’s mom, uncle and grandfather prayed before taking turns grabbing the girl’s neck and trying to make her throw up in the trash can, it says.

“Claudia described Arely as being very strong and described Arely’s resistance to their force as her flailing,” prosecutors wrote. “Claudia said she was holding around her jaw.”

Once Claudia Hernandez saw “blood vessels burst on Arely’s face,” the three laid the girl down and “then repeated their previous actions to try to make her vomit,” they said.

“Claudia grabbed Arely by her torso and Rene (Aaron Hernandez-Santos) grabbed her neck,” prosecutors said. “Arely finally vomited in the trashcan.”

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‘God had taken Arely,’ Claudia Hernandez told her brother after the exorcism

Arely was “cold to the touch” around 6 p.m., the court documents say.

“Claudia said she thought maybe she was dead but that she had never seen a dead body,” according to the court filings. “They continued to pray. She moved her onto the floor and then kept praying. Claudia called her mom, sister, best friend, husband, and boss before she called 911.”

Claudia Hernandez spoke to her crying brother after detectives interviewed the two of them.

“Claudia told Rene Jr. that while she was in the other interview room God came to her and told her that God had taken Arely on Thursday, and it was because of demons,” according to the memorandum. “Claudia told Rene Jr. that God gave her the solution, and everything was going to be okay. Claudia also said that God told her they were not going to be guilty.”

Claudia Hernandez saw visions of ‘men in white,’ court docs say

Claudia Hernandez said she did not want to kill her daughter, and that San Jose police detectives would not understand because “they did not believe in God,” prosecutors wrote. The mother then said her daughter was “possessed because she was asleep, she continued to twitch and her stare was different,” they wrote.

Claudia Hernandez also spoke to her brother about visions of “men in white” and how they and God took Arely from her hands, the filing says. Arely’s grandfather told his daughter not to tell the police anything, according to the document.

More: Tennessee grandmother Amy Brasher charged in 3-year-old’s death the day after Christmas

Arely Doe’s grandfather spoke to San Jose police about what happened in the church

When police asked Rene Trigueros Hernandez, a self-proclaimed “elder of the church,” about the term “exorcism,” he said: “That was something they did not practice in their religion,” prosecutors wrote.

“(Rene Trigueros Hernandez) said an exorcism is when they put holy water and they pass alcohol,” according to the memorandum. “He said Arely was possessed and when that occurs they just pray.”

Police brought Arely’s grandfather a doll so he could show them what they did to her.

“He described grabbing her firmly for an hour and a half while she was either sleeping or making noises and screaming,” prosecutors wrote. “Rene Sr. said when the demon comes out people have to vomit it up and the vomit will be green or foamy.”

The judge’s decision on whether to have a jury trial for the three family members was pushed back to May 13 to allow attorneys to submit briefs arguing whether there was sufficient evidence to uphold charges, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Prosecutors: 3-year-old California girl killed during family ‘exorcism’

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