An Iowa father has been sentenced to a total of 75 years in prison for sexually abusing his 12-year-old daughter, who then died in a suspected arson fire in May 2017, before she could testify in court about the molestation.
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A judge on Monday sentenced 47-year-old James Exline to 50 years in prison for a charge of second-degree sexual abuse and 25 years in prison for a charge of third-degree sexual abuse, to be served consecutively.
Exline must serve at least 85 per cent of each sentence before he becomes eligible for parole, which won’t happen until about 2082. He must also register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
District Court Judge James Drew described the defendant during the sentencing as ‘extremely dangerous’ and said he was especially troubled by the fact that he victimized his own daughter, 12-year-old Melanie ‘Paige’ Exline, reported Des Moines Register.
Paige and her cousin, 16-year-old Shakiah Cockerham, were killed on May 15, 2017, in a house fire in Guthrie Center, which also injured their uncle, 54-year-old William Long III, and grandmother, 74-year-old Shirley Exline.
Investigators believe the fire was deliberately set to prevent Paige from testifying in court about sexual abuse in her family perpetrated by both her brother and father.
In August 2017, Paige’s stepbrother, 26-year-old Ryan Thompson, was arrested on two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of arson in connection to the deadly fire. His trial is scheduled to get under way on September 14.
In court on Monday, Judge Drew said Paige’s 19-year-old, Noah Exline, had been sexually abusing her until their father found out about it and put a stop to it, only to begin molesting his daughter himself.
According to court records, Noah had admitted to seven counts of sex abuse involving his younger sister before the fire.
His father James was arrested in August 2017 on molestation charges. In June 2018, after two mistrials, in January and May, a jury found James Exline guilty of the sexual abuse charges.
Shirley Exline, Paige’s grandmother, had been named the girl’s guardian in March 2017. She was in the process of trying to gain full custody of here and was due in family court for a hearing set for four days after the fire.
Speaking to the Des Moines Register a couple of days after the deadly inferno, Shirley recounted how her two granddaughters, Shakiah and Paige, were clinging to her as they tried to escape the burning home before an explosion sent the grandmother flying into the yard.