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3:21 PM Fri, Nov. 16th

Jury convicts accused molester Cervantes

Joe Cervantes Jr.

Joe Cervantes Jr.

PRESCOTT - A Superior Court jury convicted accused child molester Joe Cervantes Jr. Friday of 25 felony counts, a verdict that could send him to prison for the remainder of his life.

The 10 women and two men serving on the jury notified Judge William Kiger's office at about 10:20 a.m. Friday that they had reached a verdict. Jurors began deliberating Thursday afternoon, seven days after the trial began.

Jurors convicted Cervantes, 52, of Prescott Valley of 21 counts of sexual misconduct with a minor, and two counts apiece of sexual exploitation of a minor and sexual assault. The two girls were between 7 and 9 years old when Cervantes molested them between Jan. 1, 2004, and April 2005, Deputy County Attorney Jeffrey Paupore said during the trial.

Cervantes sat quietly when a court clerk read the brief but graphic descriptions involving each count. The families of the two victims sat in the back row of the courtroom, and wept occasionally.

"Justice has been served," one family member said after Kiger dismissed the jury. Kiger scheduled sentencing for Cervantes for 4 p.m. Sept. 20.

Both the prosecution and defense attorneys said after the proceedings they did not know at this time what kind of prison term he faced, but it could be for the remainder of Cervantes' life.

The jury's verdict will be appealed automatically, his attorney, David Shapiro, said after the proceeding.

"There are matters of law that occurred and issues that arose during the trial," Shapiro said without elaborating. He added he will file an appeal after Kiger sentences Cervantes.

The Cervantes verdict drew praise from one of the deputy county attorneys who prosecuted him - Dana Owens - and Jennifer Miller, the case officer with the Prescott Valley Police Department.

"It is what it is," said Miller, who recently was promoted from detective to administrative corporal. "I am just grateful for the prosecution team, the victims and their families, and justice was served in a court of law."

Owens, who prosecuted the case with Paupore, said, "I am pleased with the outcome. It was a difficult trial. It was a difficult trial for everyone."

During his closing argument Thursday, Paupore discussed the testimony of the mothers of the two girls and one of the girls, who is now 15. The other girl has no memory of the incidents, but her mother identified her on a videotape Cervantes made of himself with the two girls.

Cervantes' former girlfriend, Jonice Hampton Stewart, gave police a copy of a videotape she found in November 2008.

Stewart reportedly found the tape in a box while she and Cervantes were moving to another house.

Police subsequently arrested Cervantes.