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Louisiana church member faces charges for allegedly abusing girl in occult ritual

A member of a former church in Louisiana was charged with sexual abuse of children as part of occult rituals.

Austin "Trey" Bernard III, 39, who was a member of Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula, 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.

About 80 potential jurors showed up at the courthouse.

Bernard, of Hammond, is one of seven Hosanna members indicted in 2005 on charges of having sex with children. The case also includes allegations of the ritual killings of dogs and cats.

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.

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.

The other six defendants are free on bail and awaiting trial dates.

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