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6:02 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

Child molester gets 12 life terms

<b>Joe Cervantes</b>

<b>Joe Cervantes</b>

While Joe Cervantes apologized for molesting two young girls, his words failed to move a Superior Court judge who sentenced the Prescott Valley man to 12 life terms Monday.

Superior Court Judge William T. Kiger also sentenced Cervantes, 52, who was convicted by a jury of 25 felony counts in August, to shorter consecutive terms on various counts. His defense lawyer, David Shapiro, said his client faces a minimum of 679 years in custody.

"When people commit crimes of this nature, there's going to be severe punishment," Shapiro said. "So it's fair warning to people who touch children that they'll never see the light of day if they get caught." However, Shapiro said his client would appeal.

Several of the jurors attended the sentencing hearing and expressed approval, some hugging each other.

"I think it's very appropriate," said a woman juror said.

Cervantes told the judge that he is remorseful for his acts but wanted to protect himself by going to trial.

"I have cried a thousand tears," he said. "I am so deeply sorry about what happened. I made a big mistake but I still had to defend myself."

Evidence against Cervantes included a videotape that he made of himself with the two child victims. The tape led to the charges against Cervantes when his girlfriend, Jonice Hampton Stewart, found it, made a DVD of it and turned it over to the police in November 2008.

That videotape disturbed even the long-time judge, who said that he needed to "set aside personal feelings" before handing down the sentence.

The mothers of both girls, who were younger than 12 years old between January 2004 and July 2006 when Cervantes sexually molested them, spoke to Kiger, asking the judge to impose a lengthy prison term.

"Not only did he perpetrate the crimes, he videotaped the crimes for further viewing," one mother said. "His behavior was not only illegal but monstrous."

The other mother said, "This is something these girls will have to live with the rest of their lives...I'll never be able to express the pain we've all gone through."

Deputy County Prosecutor Jeffrey Paupore called the crimes that Cervantes committed "extremely serious," and added that the law requires long, consecutive sentences for each count.

"It isn't going to make a difference to the victims if it's 100 years or 1,000," Paupore said. "They're never going to get over this horrendous event."