MERCED — A 59-year-old man is facing 40 years to life in prison after being convicted by a Merced County jury on multiple counts for sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl.
Jurors found Donald Michael Hernandez guilty last week on seven felony counts, including sodomy with a child 10 years of age or younger, lewd or lascivious acts with a child 14 years of age or younger, and sexual penetration by foreign object of a child under 14.
Deputy District Attorney Monika Saini, the prosecutor in the case, said the abuse happened when the victim was 9 and 10 years old. Saini estimated the abuse happened from summer 2011 until July 2012.
Hernandez knew the victim's family. The Merced County Sheriff's Department began investigating in August last year after the victim told a relative Hernandez had touched her inappropriately, according to a sheriff's report.
Saini said law enforcement set up a phone call between the victim and Hernandez, during which he admitted touching the girl inappropriately.
During interviews with detectives, Hernandez admitted to inappropriately touching the girl, although he denied having sexual intercourse with her, authorities said.
The victim testified during the trial.
Saini said the girl showed courage for being able to come forward in court and talk about the abuse. "It was very difficult, but she did a great job of conveying what happened," Saini said.
The prosecutor commended Detective Dwayne Pavelski, the primary investigator in the case.
Hernandez was represented in court by Chief Public Defender Eric Dumars. He said there was no physical evidence in the case, arguing that the case was based solely on the girl's allegations.
Dumars maintained that some of the conduct the victim talked about couldn't have happened as she described it.
He said that while he feels badly for the child, she was mistaken in some of the allegations that were made. "Mr. Hernandez feels he was wrongly convicted," Dumars said.
Still, Dumars said his client does feel "a great deal of remorse" for the conduct he admitted to.
Hernandez is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Marc Garcia on Aug. 28. He remains at the Merced County Jail without bail.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar. com.