Trial starts in Louisiana occult church child rape

LOUISIANA - A trial has started for a man accused of having sex with children as part of occult rituals alleged among members of a now-defunct Louisiana church.

Austin "Trey" Bernard III, 39, faces three counts of aggravated rape involving children, including a 2-year-old girl.

Bernard is the first of seven members of Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula to go on trial since the allegations broke in 2005.

The crimes allegedly occurred in 2001 and 2002, amid reports that occult rituals and the killing of dogs and cats were involved. But Don Wall, an assistant district attorney in Tangipahoa Parish, told potential jurors there would be little mention of that at trial because devil worship is not against the law.

"It is against the law to have sex with a child under 12," he said.

Wall also noted that there would be little or no physical evidence because so much time passed between the alleged crimes and the reporting of them.

"This is not CSI. There is no DNA, not a lot of physical evidence. Sometimes it is just people telling you what happened," Wall said.

Bernard faced three counts of aggravated rape, including two counts involving a 2-year-old girl and one involving a juvenile boy. Conviction would mean life in prison. Prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty.

- AP

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