EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A three-judge panel on Thursday upheld the sentence for a Juarez Catholic priest convicted of sexually abusing an altar girl when she was 8 years old.

The Rev. Aristeo Baca was convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of aggravated sexual abuse in February 2021.

In early March, the same three-judge panel sentenced Baca to 34 years in prison. He had appealed, but the judges upheld the sentence on Thursday.

The abuse took place inside the Santa Maria de la Montana parish in South Juarez between December 2015 and January 2018, the state Attorney General’s Office said.

The investigation began when the girl’s parents called the police after their daughter refused to go back to the church in early 2019. Police psychologists and medical personnel determined the girl had suffered sexual assault, the AG’s Office said in a statement.

Baca denied the charges, although prosecutors alleged he once asked forgiveness from the girl’s father.

“The evidence presented during the trial shows the accused broke the trust and took advantage of the access he had to the victim,” the AG’s Office said.

Several supporters of Baca showed up outside the courtroom throughout the trial with signs proclaiming he was innocent. However, women’s rights groups such as Red Mesa de Mujeres celebrated his conviction.

The priest has been on house arrest. A judge must determine whether the priest will serve his sentence under house arrest or in a Juarez prison.