County attorney defends plea agreement in Exline case

Greene County attorney Thomas Laehn responded Thursday morning to critical emails he’s received and an “uproar on social media” he’s been told about over a plea agreement this week in a high-profile criminal case, saying, “I’m very proud of law enforcement and of what our office has done.”

He said he also reached plea agreements in three cases that resulted in jail or prison time, “so we are getting substantial punishments in this county.”

The high-profile case is that of Noah Exline, who at age 19 was charged with lascivious acts with a child and seven counts of sex abuse- second degree. The victim in the case was his younger sister Paige Exline. The case against him was initiated in April 2017 and was set for trial that July, but the case was delayed due to circumstances surrounding charges against his father, James Exline, of sex abuse- second degree and sex abuse- third degree. The victim in that case was James Exline’s daughter, Noah’s sister Paige.

Shortly after the charges were filed against James Exline, Paige and her cousin Shakiah Cockerham were killed in a fire at their grandmother Shirley Exline’s home in Guthrie Center. Patrick Ryan Thompson, stepson of James and stepbrother of Noah, was convicted in October 2018 and sentenced to life in prison on two counts of murder by arson for the death of the girls . The prosecution in the case alleged the fire was set intentionally to keep Paige from testifying in the sex abuse case against her father.

James Exline was been found guilty in June 2018 of both counts against him and was sentenced in August to 75 years in prison.

Noah Exline was set to go to trial Jan. 29, but a plea agreement was reached Jan. 18. Under the plea agreement Exline would plead guilty to an amended charge of indecent contact with a child, an aggravated misdemeanor. He would be sentenced to two years in prison, but the sentence would be suspended and he would be on probation for three years. A judgment would be entered against him for a $625 fine with a $218.75 surcharge, along with restitution for his court appointed attorney’s fees and court costs. All other charges against him would be dismissed.

A plea hearing is set for Feb. 4.

Leahn explained Thursday that he signed off on the plea agreement for two reasons: 1) the alleged acts were committed when Exline was a minor (the charges weren’t brought against him until years later); and Exline provided key testimony in the case against Patrick Thompson, “without which we probably wouldn’t have gotten a conviction for the murder of Paige Exline,” Lahen said. “He did that when he could have asserted his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.”

Laehn said he would accept criticism from the public for the plea agreement, but that he also wants the public to know three people are going to prison. Their three cases were also set for trial Jan. 29.

Jerry Dean Barker, 55, of Grand Junction was charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and possession of a firearm as a felon. Per the plea agreement, he would plead guilty to a charge of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and the firearms charge would be dismissed. He would be sentenced to 10 years in prison and the minimum fine would be suspended.

Rodney Dean halterman, 18 of Jefferson would plead guilty to charges of distribution of a controlled substance to a person younger than age 18 and theft- fourth degree. He would be sentenced to 25 years in prison on the controlled substance charge, with the sentence suspended, and he would be sentenced to one year in jail on the theft charge. Charges of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver within 1,000 feet of a city-owned public park and failure to affix a tax stamp would be dismissed. Also, the parties involved would recommend the sentence run concurrently with any time served for Story County charges (attempted murder) or while being held on those charges.

Steven Clifford Jones, 29, of Grand Junction has pleaded guilty to one count of indecent contact with a child (as amended) and one count of sex abuse- third degree (as charged). He would be sentenced to 180 days in jail on the first charge. On the second charge he will be sentenced to prison but the prison term will be suspended and he will be placed on probation.

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