The Devil and Mr. Hernandez

A man possessed, plumber turned amateur exorcist Paul Hernandez wants to get the Hell out of Phoenix.

In the ensuing months, however, he says Hurtado's friends confirmed that the priest was working on three exorcisms at the time of his death. At that point, Hernandez decided that, in order to protect his family from evil, he had to carry on any exorcism work that Hurtado had begun.

Nonetheless, he says his family spent the next several years under attack from Satan. He says some of his children were molested in their sleep, and occasionally saw ghosts floating around the house. He also says his son Paul Michael often spoke in tongues in his sleep.

Paul Michael, now a 22-year-old apprentice pipefitter, says he knows nothing about his siblings being attacked in their sleep, or about his own bouts of speaking in tongues. And, although he remembers having strange visions as a child, he's not convinced that it was anything paranormal.

Paolo Vescia
Cage Keller (left) is a former juvenile delinquent who says Hernandez rescued him from demonic voices that urged him to commit violent acts.
Paolo Vescia
Cage Keller (left) is a former juvenile delinquent who says Hernandez rescued him from demonic voices that urged him to commit violent acts.

"We used to see things going from room to room at night," he says. "It looked like an illuminated figure, but it was so faint that when it vanished, you weren't sure if you'd seen it."

As a member of the Immaculate Heart parish council, Hernandez gathered a group of council members together in 1983 to meet with a representative for Bishop Thomas O'Brien. They told him they were facing problems that they considered paranormal in nature. They suggested the need for a diocesan exorcist.

Hernandez says O'Brien's representative was visibly uncomfortable during the meeting, impatiently gazing at the ceiling and drumming his fingers on the table while they spoke. When they finished, Hernandez says, the priest merely said, "Thank you very much," and ushered them out.

Diocese communications director Marge Injasoulian declined to answer New Times' questions about the diocese's policy on exorcism, but Hernandez says the diocese has long chosen to avoid the issue.

For that reason, Hernandez decided that if he wanted to take the devil by the horns, he'd have to do it himself. He began reading books about exorcism and learned the basics: You find out if aberrant behavior is happening. You check to see if this behavior is inherent to that person's psyche, or something that appears to come from an outside source.

Then, you make intercessory prayers on that person's behalf, and wait for evil to respond. At that point, you bombard the demons with holiness, showering the room with holy water, reciting Latin prayers ("For some reason, Latin works better than English," he says) and invoking the holy name of Jesus Christ.

He also learned that not all exorcisms are created equal. Some are simple affairs, he says, rituals that take less than 30 minutes, while others drag on persistently for a period of years, with no resolution in sight.

Hernandez says word started to get out about his exorcism work, and complete strangers began approaching him for help. In one case, Hernandez received a call from a parole officer. The PO was handling the case of a brawny, sandy-haired Tolleson kid named Cage Keller, and didn't know where else to turn.

Keller had built a long rap sheet by this point, getting busted repeatedly for robbery and drug possession. At the age of 16, he was sent to Adobe Mountain Juvenile Institution.

For years, Keller says, he had been hounded by voices that tried to control his actions. He says when he was 13, the voices led him to pull out a knife and cut himself. The problem persisted while he was at Adobe Mountain, and reached the breaking point at age 18, when he was sent to Prehab of Arizona, a Mesa group home which he shared with three other juveniles.

"The voices were telling me to hurt myself, and hurt other people," Keller recalls. "It would tell me to cut someone's throat, or to mutilate myself. It was demonic, I know that for sure. I didn't hurt myself, but I came close to it."

Keller says the guards knew he was being terrorized by something, so they agreed to slip Hernandez into the group home -- without approval from their superiors -- to perform an exorcism.

"He was there for about an hour," Keller recalls. "He sat down and talked to me for a while. He blessed me and the room, prayed for me and sprinkled holy water. After that, the voices went away."

Typical of Hernandez, his version of the Keller case is a bit more spectacular than his subject's. He says invisible forces pounded Keller in his sleep, to the point where blood covered the walls of his room. Keller says he remembers no such incidents.

But Hernandez believes that he turned Keller's life around, and regards this exorcism as his greatest achievement. Keller, 20, has spent the last several months working as a diesel mechanic and living with relatives. Hernandez checks in with him periodically, like a proud teacher keeping up with a prized pupil.

Another person who swears by Hernandez is Perla Beltran, assistant manager of Monterey Lodge, a low-cost south Phoenix motel. Beltran says from 1997 to 1999 she lived in utter agony, terrorized by a demon that refused to let her sleep at night.

"When I tried to sleep, it would sit on me," she says. "I couldn't breathe. I'd be up until four or five in the morning. It would talk to me real ugly, say things like: 'Ha, ha, we're back.'"

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