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Man sentenced to 158 years in prison for molesting three nieces

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Daniel Cortez Bernal (Photo: San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office)

Daniel Cortez Bernal (Photo: San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — A Southern California man was sentenced to more than 158 years in prison for molesting his three nieces, one of whom was sexually assaulted by her uncle at least twice a week for seven years, prosecutors in San Bernardino said.

Daniel Cortez Bernal, 56, of Hesperia, was convicted in June of 12 felony counts, according to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.

It ended a four-year legal battle that began in 2011 when one of Bernal’s nieces told school authorities about the abuse, prosecutors said.

“The victims expressed to me they are very happy with the verdict and the sentence,” Deputy District Attorney David Foy said. “This case really tore the family apart. I’m glad this case is over for them, but I’m sure they will carry the emotional scars from the abuse for the rest of their lives.”

A sheriff’s deputy tried to apprehend Bernal while he drove his SUV on U.S. 395 in Hesperia, but the defendant refused to stop, sparking a high-speed chase that lasted some 40 miles. Bernal tried to jump off a freeway overpass in Ontaria but was captured by another sheriff’s deputy before he could make the leap, prosecutors said.

After Bernal’s arrest, two more victims came forward.

Testimony from a seven-day jury trial revealed the 56-year-old sexually assaulted one niece two to three times a week from 2002 to 2007, starting when she was 6 years old. It was during that time that the victim was living with Bernal, prosecutors said. When the girl moved with her family in 2007, the sexual assaults continued until 2009 when she turned 13, she testified, according to the DA’s office.

Bernal was found guilty of molesting two more nieces. He was convicted of two counts of forcible oral copulation and seven counts of lewd act with a child for attacks on one niece, prosecutors said.

He was convicted of one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child in connection with another niece, and one count of lewd act with a child for fondling a third niece. He was also found guilty of felony evading police.