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Man killed mom on satanic holiday as human sacrifice, D.A. says

A man who killed his mother, then skinned, filleted and dismembered her body as part of a satanic ritual was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years to life in prison in what the judge called one of the most disgusting cases in his career.

Moises Meraz-Espinoza walked into the Huntington Park Police Department two years ago and confessed to killing his mother, Amelia Espinoza, 42.

Officers who entered the Maywood apartment that the then-18-year-old factory worker shared with his mother found a gruesome scene. A trail of blood led to the bathroom, where plastic covered the walls and floor. There, they found an electrical circular saw with pieces of bone, blood and flesh stuck to the blade. Nearby, in a freezer, police found skin and muscles stored in plastic bags. The woman's skull, with all her teeth plucked out, her eyes removed and two upside-down crosses carved into the bone, was stashed in a backpack.

Prosecutors say that Meraz-Espinoza strangled his mother and then dismembered her body as part of a satanic ritual. A Norwalk jury convicted him of first-degree murder in June.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas I. McKnew Jr. said the slaying "certainly ranks up there at the top" of "the most disgusting, hideous and vulgar" cases he has seen during his 50 years in the legal profession.

"I don't know what I can say to turn your life around, but you'll have a lot of time to think about it," McKnew told Meraz-Espinosa.

With the side of his head shaved and nearly foot-long braids extending from his scalp, Meraz-Espinoza, 21, turned periodically to look at his father and relatives in the courtroom.

According to court records, Meraz-Espinoza admitted to his cousin that he killed his mother, saying that he stabbed her and cut her up. He sought his cousin's help in disposing of the body, but she persuaded him to turn himself into the police.

Initial reports speculated that Meraz-Espinoza was depressed over his girlfriend's recent death when he killed his mother. But Deputy Dist. Atty. Heba Matta, who prosecuted the case, said Meraz-Espinoza was more motivated by satanic beliefs, which he was "heavily entrenched in."

Matta said Meraz-Espinoza has numerous tattoos that draw on satanic imagery, such as inverted crosses and "666" behind his right ear. Authorities recovered his copy of a satanic bible near the crime scene. The date he chose to strangle and dismember his mother, Feb. 2, 2011, also fell on a day in the satanic calendar that calls for ritual human or animal sacrifice.

His defense attorney, Jonathan Roberts, said prosecutors overstated Meraz-Espinoza's involvement in satanic worship and relied on dated interpretations of the church.

"The contemporary church of Satan doesn't believe in human sacrifice," Roberts said outside the courtroom. "I never bought that an [18-year-old] kid would adopt the principles of an organization from 50 years ago."

Roberts added that his client lacked the expertise to skin and dismember a person on his own and he referred to Meraz-Espinoza's later statements to police that two other people were also involved. Meraz-Espinoza's only role was helping cut up his mother after she was strangled, Roberts said.

The woman's internal organs were never recovered, Matta said.

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matt.hamilton@latimes.com

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