A man found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman inside a stash house for undocumented immigrants in Nogales was sentenced to a lengthy prison term Monday morning at Santa Cruz County Superior Court.
Sergio Alfredo Bernal, 45, is to serve a total of 140 years in prison for one count of sexual abuse, a Class 5 felony, and five counts of sexual assault, Class 2 felonies.
Judge Thomas Fink ordered that Bernal serve the prison terms for each sexual assault conviction consecutively, rather than at the same time.
“Each of these sexual assaults occurred at separate times,” Fink said as he delivered Bernal’s sentence. “They were multiple offenses that… were experienced by the victim in different ways at different times.”
In addition, the judge sentenced Bernal to another 2.5 years in prison for violating his probation at the time of the assaults – a probation sentence he had been serving for a 2017 conviction for third-degree burglary. He was given credit for 413 days served in that case.
Bernal’s sentencing for the six sex-related charges came a year after the victim, a Mexican national, reported the crimes to local law enforcement after she was detained at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 19.
Evidence introduced at trial showed that the victim illegally entered the United States on Dec. 15, 2018 with the help of human-smugglers, who then took her to a stash house in the Preston Hill neighborhood in Nogales before transporting her further north.
Bernal, a caretaker of the stash house, sexually assaulted the woman on multiple occasions after the two were left alone during the course of two days, according to the evidence.
When the human-smugglers took the victim north on Dec. 17, 2018, she was quick to report to Border Patrol agents at the checkpoint that she was present in the country illegally, and upon further questioning, stated that she had been raped at a stash house in Nogales.
The case was then transferred to the Nogales Police Department, which led to the victim identifying Bernal as her assailant during a ride-along through Preston Hill with one of the detectives.
On Nov. 13, a 12-member jury found Bernal guilty on all six charges after a week-long trial.
On Monday morning, County Prosecutor Kimberly Hunley asked Fink to consider Bernal’s attitude throughout the case, insisting that he had “expressed no remorse and still has not accepted responsibility for the crime.”
Taking her chance to speak in court prior to the sentencing, the victim expressed that any sentence imposed on Bernal would be the “one that God wants him to receive.”
“I want to tell you that Mr. Bernal is a person who destroyed my life in every aspect,” the victim said in court Monday morning before the sentencing. “And although I know he doesn’t care, in the name of God, I’ve forgiven him.”
When it was his turn to address Fink before his sentencing, Bernal insisted that he had been treated unfairly and was wronged by the court throughout the judicial process.
“I didn’t think I had a fair trial. That lady changed the story like twice… You didn’t even give me a speedy trial and I had a right to,” Bernal said, complaining that it had been unfair for the judge to grant prosecutors an extension to gather more evidence against him, prolonging the case.
“You saw me like I was not even here, like you’re just playing with my emotions and stuff. I’m a human being, too, man,” Bernal said.
After Fink announced Bernal’s 142.5-year sentence, defense attorney Mark Larkin indicated that his client plans to appeal the decision.