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Vargas found guilty of molestation

Ignacio Vargas, 41, has been found guilty of 37 counts of felony child abuse. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 5, when Merced County Superior Court Judge Carol Ash could send him to prison for as many as 588 years.

Vargas was accused of molesting an 8-year-old girl over two years. He was charged with felony aggravated sexual assault of a child, sexual intercourse with a child 10 years or younger, penetration with a foreign object and forced oral copulation.

Prosecutor David Sandhaus said the alleged crimes occurred from July 2005 until 2007.

Sandhaus said during his closing arguments that there is no shortage of evidence pointing to Vargas' guilt, ranging from DNA evidence, testimony from witnesses and the victim's own testimony. In addition, Sandhaus said Vargas himself admitted molesting the girl -- but later changed his story.

Sandhaus also played audio excerpts of interviews with the girl, who said she "felt like dying" because of the alleged abuse. The girl also said during the interview that Vargas threatened to sodomize her 3-year-old brother if she did not comply with his demands.

Vargas was arrested last year after a sheriff's deputy on patrol allegedly saw Vargas and the victim in a car on a canal bank off Highway 140 east of Moomjean Avenue, said sheriff's Detective Alex Barba.

Investigators said they believe the alleged abuse occurred in several remote areas of the county, near canals and rural areas.

The case was heard by Merced County Superior Court Judge Carol Ash.

Keep checking MercedSunStar.com for updates.

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