German Acosta, 34, convicted in September of lewd acts and aggravated sexual assault against his 12-year-old niece, was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years to life in prison by Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Brian Hill.

“The thing that makes this really big is that there was no physical evidence — only the witness’ word against the defendant’s,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley told Noozhawk.

According to the victim — the daughter of Acosta’s elder brother — Acosta regularly slept on her father’s couch at their home in Goleta. She said that one night in 2008, he came into her bedroom while she was sleeping and attempted to sodomize her. He then left and returned later, this time penetrating her vagina.

After leaving a second time, he returned a short time later and masturbated on her. She also testified that after the assault, Acosta left $20 on her bed.

Acosta said he had not sexual contact with the girl at all, but merely touched her thigh to wake her up to say goodbye.

The assault was reported by a Girls Inc. counselor, who Acosta’s niece told the jury was the only person she had told what happened. Although the investigation included testing for DNA evidence, none was found.

“Before we had DNA evidence, testimony was how we prosecuted cases,” said Dudley, who has been a prosecutor for the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office since 1990. “As I tell the juries, they have to reach the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. If they reach that standard, then they should find the defendant guilty. If they don’t, then he should be acquitted.”

Dudley said she wasn’t concerned about a testimony-only case setting a bad precedent, maintaining that the system functioned that way long before DNA evidence was a factor.

As for the length of Acosta’s prison term, it will be determined by the state parole board after he has served 15 years.

“Based upon my experience with these types of aggravated child molestation cases, I doubt that he will ever be released from prison,” Dudley said. “But that’s up to the parole board.”

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at