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A Casper man on Tuesday accepted a plea deal that would send him to prison for three to seven years for two child abuse convictions.

Hugo Mendoza-Cota, whose name has also appeared with a different spelling in court documents, entered an Alford plea to two felony counts of child abuse resulting in mental injury related to an alleged sexual assault. Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but admits that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him.

Mendoza-Cota, who was not born in the United States, will be deported as a result of his conviction, Judge Catherine Wilking said during the Natrona County District Court hearing.

Prosecutor Kevin Taheri said after the hearing that Mendoza-Cota will serve his prison sentence and then be deported once he is paroled. Taheri said much of the deportation process is opaque to him, and it is possible that Mendoza-Cota’s deportation may come sooner than that.

Wilking will have to accept the plea agreement for Mendoza-Cota’s conviction to become final. If she decides not to accept the deal, he would have the opportunity to withdraw his pleas and face trial instead.

Mendoza-Cota was initially charged with two counts of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor after a child told investigators he touched her genitals and made her touch his. The girl said Mendoza-Cota would come into her room at night and that sometimes she wore pajamas with a zipper to make it more difficult for him to assault her, according to court documents.

In an interview with police, Mendoza-Cota said he was unsure why there were allegations of sexual abuse and said he never hurt or touched the girl.

After Mendoza-Cota was initially charged, another adolescent girl told an Children’s Advocacy Project staff that Mendoza-Cota had ripped her pajamas in the course of molesting her, according to court documents.

The girl told an investigator that Mendoza-Cota had threatened to hit her if she told her mother, the documents allege.

The sexual abuse charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

Taheri said after Tuesday’s hearing that the District Attorney’s office had decided to strike the deal with Public Defender Joseph Cole because he did not want to make the two victims testify during a jury trial. The prosecutor said giving such testimony would be “tough on the victims.” Cole declined to comment after the hearing.

The two girls are related to Mendoza-Cota and both are younger than 13.

Mendoza-Cota remained in custody Tuesday afternoon.

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Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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