The Devil and Mr. Hernandez

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

"In most cases, when you get a request for an exorcism, it's really a mental disturbance," Pfeiffer says. "Many people who want exorcisms are really suffering from psychological disorders, and they want attention. It's like a child's subconscious telling them to do bad things, to get their parents' attention."

Hernandez blames his own unreliable, erratic behavior for his 1992 divorce. For instance, his sense that hellhounds are on his trail often persuades him not to drive, for fear that Satan will steer him into a collision. He knows that such obsessive behavior made him hard to live with, but also suggests that his ex-wife has been influenced by the same demonic forces that he believes killed Father Hurtado. Although she has remarried, Hernandez continues to insist that when he purges all the demons from his family's life, she will come back to him.

His ex-wife could not be reached for this story, because both Hernandez and his children -- who are almost uniformly supportive of him -- were adamantly opposed to her speaking with New Times. Hernandez says an interview with Hurtado would create unbearable hostility within his family.

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.

Hernandez's troubles in the '90s even extended to his pipefitting work, an area where his credentials were previously beyond reproach. For three years in the mid-'90s, he was expelled from the union. The reason remains shrouded in mystery. Dutch Price, vice president of the union's executive board, says he can't remember why Hernandez was expelled.

Hernandez says, "One of the agents accused me of not being ethically or morally fit for membership." But the only further explanation he offers for such an accusation is that his union enemies were "on the side of evil."

Before successfully reapplying for union membership, Hernandez talked to Price about his exorcism work. It's a subject that makes the ordinarily easygoing Price uneasy. "It's a little above me," Price says tersely. "It doesn't pertain to his work."

Even after rejoining the union, Hernandez has taken extended breaks from work whenever he's been particularly consumed by an exorcism project. For the past two months, for instance, he's been on hiatus, working on a case that he describes as a blockbuster, involving "members of the Hurtado family and various government agencies."

Without a solid income to rely on, in recent years he's taken to living for short periods of time with friends, or whoever he's helping to exorcise at the moment.

His behavior can appear puzzling even to those closest to him. His son Paul Michael, the only child who chose to live with his father after his parents divorced, says he didn't know his father was an exorcist until a couple of years ago.

"My dad has a lot going on that he doesn't talk about," Paul Michael says. "I know him, so I can tell what's going on. But it's taken time for even me to figure out where he's coming from."

Paul Michael was in and out of trouble as a teenager, and in 1997 he was arrested for possession of methamphetamines and a concealed .380 handgun. He later failed to appear for presentence interviews and for his sentencing. In 1999, he ran a red light and was chased by police officers. After he was stopped, police discovered 67 grams of methamphetamines, numerous rounds of ammunition and a semiautomatic handgun. He was found guilty of possession of drug paraphernalia, and sentenced to three months in jail and three months probation.

Hernandez fretted about his son, and even made calls to Paul Michael's probation officer to explain his son's absences. In 1999, he told Paul Michael about his exorcism work, and offered to provide him spiritual help. Now free of legal hurdles, Paul Michael is working steadily as a pipefitter and recently became a father for the second time.

"Me and my dad have prayed together, and he's prayed for me," Paul Michael says. "Every time I see him, he blesses me with holy water. It probably doesn't seem like anything to anybody else, but if you're experiencing stuff, after you see my dad, you don't have any stress or worries anymore. That's just the way I felt."

Hernandez himself hasn't been immune to legal problems. In 1995, he fathered a son with a woman named Diane Murillo. In 1997, Murillo filed a complaint against him, suing for child support and an "appropriate portion of the expense" she incurred during her confinement for the birth of the child, as well as medical expenses and past support. Four years later, the case remains unresolved.

Hernandez says he and Murillo are now working to iron out these financial issues, and says the complaint was driven by her family, not her.

"I try to have a normal life," he says. "But every time I try to have a normal life, something new comes after me."

In truth, Hernandez's ongoing war against evil precludes any chance for a normal life. Inevitably, he sees most events through the prism of an obsessive exorcist.

For example, in 1996, when Maricopa County jail inmate Scott Norberg died in a struggle with detention officers, Hernandez was so convinced that Norberg was under Satanic influence that he walked into the local FBI office and offered to give a deposition. Unsurprisingly, the offer was rejected.

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