An Arizona man has been charged with first-degree murder after the authorities said he killed his 6-year-old son by forcing hot running water into his mouth for several minutes as part of an attempted exorcism.
The man, Pablo Martinez, 31, told responding police officers that the child had a demon inside of him and needed to be saved, according to the criminal complaint.
He was arrested on Thursday at the family’s home on the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Reservation, located about 10 miles southwest of downtown Tucson. He was detained after a hearing on Tuesday morning, prosecutors said.
Mr. Martinez told federal officials that he had noticed a “demon” inside of his son during the previous week, according to court documents. He said when he was giving his son a bath, along with another child, his son started to have “an unnatural fit of rage,” the documents said. Mr. Martinez said he saw something evil and had to cast it out by holding his son’s head under the bathtub faucet.
He held the boy under hot water, which was pouring into his mouth, for five to 10 minutes, according to court documents. The other child in the bathtub left at some point crying, the documents said.
Romelia Martinez, the boy’s adoptive mother, told federal officials that she had heard gurgling sounds coming from the bathroom but found the door locked. When she got it unlocked, she said she saw Mr. Martinez holding the child under the water and screamed multiple times for him to stop.
Mr. Martinez told her he “had to do it,” the documents said. Ms. Martinez then called 911 and watched Mr. Martinez attempt C.P.R. on the child and pour cold water on his body.
Mr. Martinez is not a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, but Ms. Martinez and Gema Garcia, the child’s biological mother, are enrolled members of the reservation, the documents said.
Officials from the tribe’s police and fire departments arrived at the family home around 4:30 p.m. for a reported child burn, the documents said. When police got there, Mr. Martinez and Ms. Martinez were standing outside of their house. Mr. Martinez placed his hands in the air and said, “I did it,” but told the police that he did not think they had the right mind-set to understand. Ms. Martinez also told the officers that the child had been “acting demonic,” according to court documents.
Police found the 6-year-old lying on a bed in a back room, naked and propped up on a pillow. He did not appear to be breathing. The police wrapped the child in a towel and put him in an ambulance headed for Banner University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
At the hospital, the Federal Bureau of Investigation found burns on the child’s forearms, elbows and head. The medical staff said more than 15 percent of his body had been burned, according to the documents.
Michael Areinoff, Mr. Martinez’s lawyer, did not respond to calls or emails on Tuesday requesting comment. Prosecutors declined to comment on the case.
The Pascua Yaqui Tribe has about 19,000 members, with 4,000 to 5,000 living on the 2,200-acre reservation, according to the National Congress of American Indians. A vast majority of criminal cases filed in the tribal court are domestic violence-related offenses, according to the congress.
Federal authorities investigate homicides on Native American reservations when suspects, victims or both are members of federally recognized tribes. The Phoenix division of the F.B.I. investigated more than 600 violent crimes in 2017, according to a United States Department of Justice report on investigations and prosecutions on Native American reservations.
The F.B.I. is “dedicated to working alongside tribal and federal partners to protect all of our communities,” Jill McCabe, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said on Tuesday.
Abbie Fink, a spokeswoman for the tribe, said in a statement that the Pascua Yaqui Police Department and the F.B.I are continuing to investigate, and counseling services are being provided to support the community.
“The Pascua Yaqui Community suffered the loss of a child,” Ms. Fink said. “As a close-knit community this loss weighs heavy on all of our hearts.”