AMITE, La. – Tales of devil worship will not play a major role in the trial of a man accused of having sex with children during alleged occult rituals at a now-defunct church, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Jury selection started Tuesday for the trial of Austin "Trey" Bernard III, 39, a member of Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula, who is accused of one count of aggravated rape of a 2-year-old girl in 2002. Conviction would mean life in prison since prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty.
Bernard is the first of seven members of the southern Louisiana church to go on trial since the allegations broke in 2005. The others are free on bail, awaiting trial.
There have been reports of satanic rituals and the killing of dogs and cats at the church.
However, there will be little mention of that at trial because devil worship is not against the law, Don Wall, an assistant district attorney in Tangipahoa Parish, told potential jurors.
"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 before alleged crimes were reported.
"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.
Three jurors had been seated as of early afternoon from a pool of about 80 potential jurors.
Allegations that two boys and one girl were abused were at the center of the 2005 investigation, but Bernard faces charges only for allegedly abusing the girl.
The girl is not expected to testify.
State District Judge Doug Hughes said he expects the trial to last four or five days, but Bernard's lawyer, public defender Al Bensabat, said it will be difficult to get a jury in Tangipahoa Parish, where the case has drawn extensive publicity. "It's been tried in the press for two years," Bensabat said.