Santa Clara County prosecutors say in court documents that the girl, named Arely, was strangled by her mother, uncle, and grandfather on 24 September at a small church in San Jose.
They “believed the child was possessed by a demon and were at the church praying for her,” deputy district attorney Rebekah Wise wrote in court documents, KRON reports.
“The victim’s grandfather was identified as the leader of the church and claimed he was a certified pastor,” Ms Wise wrote.
In a separate incident in April, police swarmed the church, located inside a purple house, while searching for a kidnapped baby.
Arely’s mother, Claudia Elisa Hernandez, 25, of Mountain View, was charged on 2 February with felony assault on a child with force likely to produce great bodily injury. Ms Hernandez has been detained with no bail.
The horrifying crime was not made public by the San Jose Police Department nor the District Attorney’s Office, but court documents describe what they believe happened to Arely at the hands of her family.
When interviewed by police on 24 and 25 September, Ms Hernandez said she came to believe Arely was “possessed” on 23 September, because the three-year-old would periodically wake up in the middle of the night crying or screaming.
At 6.30am on 24 September, Ms Hernandez and Arely’s uncle drove her to the church. Joined by her grandfather, they are alleged to have held Arely down by her neck, torso, and legs for several hours.
They also attempted to make her vomit by sticking fingers and hands down her throat. Eventually, Arely lost consciousness.
Ms Wise wrote in her report that Arely suffered “multiple injuries around her eyes, face, neck, and chest”. Court documents state that Arely died at around 6.30pm after 12 hours of torture.
Ms Hernandez told police that no one gave the girl any medical assistance before or after she died. The family called 911 almost two hours later at 8.12pm.
When paramedics arrived, they found Arely’s lifeless body on the church’s floor. A coroner determined that her death was a homicide, caused by suffocation and smothering.
Ms Hernandez was the only person arrested in connection to the case. Prosecutors urged Judge Luis Ramos to deny bail because she posed a risk to public safety and is considered a flight risk.
A video uploaded to YouTube in January, four months after Arely died, appears to show Ms Hernandez talking about her daughter’s death and bears her full name: Arely Naomi Proctor Hernandez.
The woman in the 40-minute long video says, “Everyone wants to know what happened to her, you know, her cause of death. A lot of people turned on me after my daughter passed away; a lot of people thought a lot of things because of how that situation looked. If you weren’t there, you don’t know what happened. I know what happened.”
“When she passed away she was with me. Of course, I’m her mom, why would she not be with me?” the woman says.
“I could sit here and be negative. But there’s no point in me doing that. I cannot change what is. It is what it is,” she says.
“It’s many reasons why God took her. At least she’s not suffering. In this world, we suffer so much, especially nowadays. Everything is so bad. Everything is going downhill. That’s what I’m thankful for. That she’s not going to grow up in a world we live in,” the woman continues.
“It’s hard to think that I’m not going to see her grow up. But you know, it’s OK. It’s OK because I know she’s in a better place. God knows why he allowed these things. My baby was such a happy baby. Being a mom, it’s one of the best things. Of course, when I think of her I get sad and I cry and miss her.”
Ms Hernandez was charged six days after the video was uploaded on YouTube and faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
The incident in April involving the disappearance of a baby boy, Brandon Cuellar, saw Yesenia Guadalupe Ramirez, a member of the same church, charged with kidnapping.
She had plotted with a second kidnapper, Jose Ramon Portillo, to take the boy from his grandmother with whom she had befriended.
The three-month-old was hidden at Mr Portillo’s home in San Jose for 20 hours before being rescued by police. It is unclear what the motive was for the bizarre daylight kidnapping.