Exline’s conviction upheld, will be in prison for 63 years

James Exline, 49, will serve the next 63 years in prison after the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld his conviction on charges of sex abuse- second degree, a class B felony, and sex abuse- third degree, a class C felony. The court issued its decision Feb. 7.

His victim, his daughter Paige, was 12 years old and a Greene County sixth grader at the time of the abuse. She was killed in a house fire after her father was charged with the offense. Her stepbrother, Patrick Thompson, was sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of two counts of murder by arson in connection with the fire. Paige’s cousin Shakiah Cockerham was the other victim in the fire. They were living with their grandmother in Guthrie Center at the time.

Exline’s trial was first set for Mitchell County and then moved to Cerro Gordo County. A mistrial was declared in Cerro Gordo County because of inadmissible testimony by a witness. The case was tried in Bremer County, and it was a Bremer County jury that found him guilty June 6 , 2018. He was sentenced that August by Judge James Drew to 50 years in prison on the class B felony and 25 years in prison on the class C felony, with the terms consecutive. He must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence, or nearly 64 years.

The case was prosecuted by Iowa assistant attorney general Denise Timmins and Greene County attorney Thomas Laehn.

In his appeal, Exline argued that the district court abused its discretion in allowing the jury to hear that Paige had died; was incorrect in admitting hearsay evidence; and abused its discretion in denying a motion to postpone the Bremer County trial.

The Court of appeals found that Exline’s attorney failed to establish Exline was prejudiced by the disclosure of Paige’s death at trial, primarily because the cause of her death was not named.

The court found that what Exline called “hearsay” was admissible because it followed testimony by a nurse who had examined her. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in a previous case that such testimony is admissible. According to the court of appeals, other testimony from Paige’s grandmother and friend was cumulative and allowable.

On the motion for a continuance (postponement), the court of appeals found that Exline’s court-appointed attorney’s argument that he didn’t have sufficient time to prepare for jury selection lacked justification.

County attorney Laehn said Monday that although Exline still has the right to make one final appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, it’s unlikely that court would agree to hear the appeal.

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