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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
10:12 AM Tue, Sept. 18th

Teenager takes the stand in sexual exploitation trial

In a calm and matter-of-fact voice, a 15-year-old girl told a jury Wednesday that Joe Cervantes sexually assaulted her in his Prescott Valley house.

Cervantes, 52, who is being tried on 25 counts pertaining to two girls, told the victim, then 7 or 8 years old, to lie down on the couch beside him, she said. As they watched a movie on TV, he allegedly subjected her to a sexual act, she said.

"I was really scared," she said. "All I could do was watch TV." Afterward, "He apologized a lot," the girl said.

When Deputy County Attorney Dana Owens asked that teenager, who now lives in a neighboring state, why she didn't tell anyone about the incident until she spoke to Prescott Valley Detective Jennifer Miller in 2008, the girl said, "I was afraid I'd get in trouble."

Police arrested Cervantes in November 2008 after his girlfriend, Jonice Hampton Stewart, turned over a DVD she made of a videocassette that she found in a box while she and Cervantes were moving to another house.

"She picked up a storage bin," Deputy County Attorney Jeffrey Paupore said. "He grabbed her forcibly and said, 'Do not pick up that box. What's in there can put me away for a long time.'"

That piqued Stewart's curiosity and she found the tape that allegedly shows molestation of two young girls, Paupore said.

The mother of the other victim (whose name is being withheld by The Courier to protect her daughter) also testified Wednesday. The Prescott woman, who broke into tears several times while on the witness stand, identified Cervantes' voice on the videotape and identified an image of her daughter on the tape. The girl was 8 or 9 years old when Cervantes allegedly filmed her.

"She had really chubby cheeks," her mother said.

Another woman testified that she recognized his voice, his profile and his genitals on the tape.

David Shapiro, Cervantes' lawyer, questioned that woman about talking to other witnesses about the allegations against his client before they'd given statements to police. Shapiro kept trying to get the woman to answer his questions with a "yes" or "no" and reminded her she'd sworn to tell the truth.

"I agreed to tell the truth, not the way you're twisting it," she retorted. "Of course I was upset. I thought my kids were on that tape." She learned later they were not.

The defense will present its case when the trial, before Superior Court Judge William T. Kiger, continues Thursday.