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12:19 AM Mon, Nov. 19th

Jury deliberating in sex crimes case

Joe Cervantes Jr.

Joe Cervantes Jr.

A jury began deliberating late Thursday afternoon in the trial for a man accused of molesting two young girls.

Joe Cervantes Jr. of Prescott Valley faces 21 counts of sexual misconduct with a minor, two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of sexual assault, said Deputy County Attorney Jeffrey Paupore. Paupore showed the jury parts of a videotape that Cervantes allegedly made of himself with the girls. Paupore said the tape matches each charge lodged against Cervantes.

In his closing argument Thursday, Paupore went through the testimony of the two girls' mothers and the one girl, now 15, who testified. The other girl has no memory of the incidents but her mother identified her on the tape. The children, who were known to Cervantes, were between 7 and 9 years old during the alleged molestation that reportedly occurred between Jan. 1, 2004, and April 2005, Paupore said.

Cervantes' former girlfriend gave police a copy of a videotape she found in November 2008, leading to Cervantes' arrest. She became curious when Cervantes pulled her away from a box while they were moving and ordered her not to look into it. He locked the box in the truck of his car, but she obtained a key and opened it up. When she played a homemade videotape labeled "Sweet," she saw a man alleged to be Cervantes performing sexual acts on the two young girls, Paupore said.

Paupore asked the jury to "give the evidence the weight it deserves and find Mr. Cervantes guilty."

Defense lawyer David Shapiro called into question the veracity of the witnesses, saying they'd been "tainted." One of the women who Prescott Valley Police Detective Jennifer Miller initially spoke to when investigating the tape talked to several other witnesses before Miller did, Shapiro said, giving rise to his charge of taint. Those witnesses who identified his client as appearing on the videotape had been "compromised" by the woman's remarks, he contended.

"Why were the people told it was Joe Cervantes?" he asked. "Imagine the passions that were aroused."

After the closing arguments when the jury left the courtroom, Shapiro argued for a mistrial, claiming Paupore improperly showed the jurors the videotape during his closing statement and also improperly "vouched" for witnesses.

"It amounts to a legal ambush," Shapiro said. "I had a prosecutor who laid in wait. It was subterfuge."

Superior Court Judge William T. Kiger denied that motion.

Cervantes, who did not testify in his own defense, remains in custody with no bond permitted.