Three girls who looked to Lee Dunbar as a father were, instead, sexually assaulted by him.

A jury decided as much in January.

On Friday, Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk sentenced Dunbar, a 67-year-old retired Omaha fire captain, to the minimum sentence of 15 years on each of the five first-degree sexual assault counts he had been convicted of.

Instead of ordering that the sentences be served one after the other, however, Polk ordered that they be served at the same time.

That decision, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine argued afterward, effectively wiped out four of the convictions.

“In effect, the judge turned it into one case,” said Kleine, who said he plans to appeal the sentence. “These are separate and distinct acts, particularly when we’re talking about three victims. I don’t think that’s an appropriate sentence.”

Dunbar, who was a foster parent to the girls, has maintained his innocence. He did not say anything during the Friday sentencing hearing.

The girls, who were 8 or 9 when they were assaulted, testified that Dunbar made them watch scary movies with him in bed while his wife slept on the living room couch because of her back problems. Then, Dunbar digitally and orally penetrated the girls, or made the girls perform sex acts on him.

Two of the girls were sisters. A woman who said she was their biological mother said Friday that no girl should be molested.

“The system failed my kids and failed me,” the mother said, acknowledging the mistakes she had made in getting her kids taken away from her. Dunbar, she said, needs to spend the rest of his life in prison. “How can you touch, how can you do that to kids?” she said. “That’s not right.”

The mother said she spoke to one of her daughters when the girl lived with Dunbar. The girl begged her mother to get her out of the Dunbar home.

Rob Marcuzzo, Dunbar’s public defender, said Dunbar was a well-respected member of society. Dunbar served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, worked for the Omaha Fire Department for 24 years, was a longtime church member and coached youth football, Marcuzzo said. Dunbar, he said, also suffers from diabetes and the effects of chemicals he was exposed to in the war.

But Dunbar committed cruel, horrific acts in the privacy of his home, prosecutor Beth Beninato said.

“He was supposed to be a hero to these children. He was a pillar within his community,” she said to Judge Polk. “He betrayed the community and he betrayed the children. He sentenced the children to a lifetime of having to relive these memories.”

Before issuing the sentence, Polk said it had been difficult for him to determine an appropriate prison term.

“These victims were failed by the system,” Polk said. “They were failed by the adults in your household. I have no idea why anyone would make no attempts to stop what was going on. I’m at a loss for words.”

Kleine didn’t mince words when expressing his disappointment at Polk’s sentence: “The person that failed them the most is Lee Dunbar.” Polk, Kleine said, gave Dunbar “the absolute minimum sentence he could for five rapes of children.”

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Alia Conley covers breaking news, crime, crime trends, the Omaha Police Department and initial court hearings. Follow her on Twitter @aliavalentine. Phone: 402-444-1068.

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