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Former Berkeley Firefighter Sentenced For Child Molestation


Former Berkeley Firefighter Sentenced For Child Molestation

POSTED: 11:20 am PDT July 10, 2007

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Former Berkeley firefighter Luis Ponce was sentenced Tuesday to 63 years to life in state prison for his conviction on 16 felony counts of molesting two young girls at his home in Grass Valley in Nevada County.

Ponce, 50, was a paramedic supervisor who worked for the Berkeley Fire Department for 17 years before resigning in February 2006 after charges were filed against him both in Nevada County and Alameda County.

The charges against Ponce were based on videotapes found in his home in Grass Valley and in his locker at the Berkeley Fire Department, which showed him molesting two young girls.

Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Charles O'Rourke said he sought a term of 135 years to life for Ponce, but Judge Ersel Edwards sentenced him to a lesser term.

However, O'Rourke said, "I won't complain" about Ponce's sentence because he thinks it's still unlikely that Ponce will ever be released from prison since he will have to serve at least 45 years and won't be eligible for parole until he's more than 100 years old.

According to O'Rourke, one of the victims in the trial in his county was only 18 to 20 months old when she was molested and the other victim was between 2 or 3 years old. The offenses occurred between 1998 and 2003, he said.

Jurors deliberated for less than six hours before delivering their verdict on May 23.

Ponce and his ex-wife, who is a nurse, ran a facility for foster children at their home.

Ponce's ex-wife filed a restraining order against him in February 2006 and filed for divorce in March 2006.

In Alameda County, Ponce faces 57 misdemeanor counts based on 30,000 images found in his Berkeley Fire Department locker of pornography involving very young children.

Authorities chose to prosecute Ponce first in Nevada County because the charges he faces there are more serious.

Alameda County District Attorney officials have said they probably would drop the charges against Ponce in their county if he got a life term in Nevada County.

According to O'Rourke, Ponce was convicted of eight counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child involving oral copulation; one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child; one count of a forcible lewd act on a child; three counts of a lewd or lascivious act upon a child; and three counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object when the victim is unconscious of the nature of the act.

Ponce came under suspicion when a female colleague at the Berkeley Fire Department's training center at 997 Cedar St. was cleaning out her office, where she worked with him, and found items that she thought contained training material.

Instead, the colleague found compact discs with sexually explicit images of minors, according to Alameda County court records.

As part of their investigation, authorities searched Ponce's locker at the fire station as well as his home on Rattlesnake Road in Grass Valley and allegedly found more evidence of child pornography, including more than 100 computer discs and four videotapes.

Berkeley police Detective Angela Hawk testified in the Nevada County trial about the evidence that was found in Ponce's locker in Berkeley.

Ponce's attorney, David Billingsley, of Hayward, couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

O'Rourke said Ponce filed an appeal of his convictions Tuesday.

2007 Jul 10