James Exline Jr.
James Exline Jr.

May 4, 2018

The trial of a rural Jefferson man accused of sexually abusing his now-deceased daughter abruptly ended Wednesday when the girl’s grandmother testified that the girl was murdered.

James Hubert Exline Jr., 47, faces two felony sex-abuse charges that together are punishable by up to 35 years in prison.

Exline allegedly abused his daughter Paige for about a year when she was 11 and 12. The girl later moved to her grandmother’s house in Guthrie Center where she died in a May 2017 house fire that investigators believe was intentionally set to kill her.

A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in Mason City — one day after jury selection — while the grandmother, Shirley Exline, was testifying.

“She was asked if Paige Exline died in May 2017,” James Exline’s attorney Dan Gonnerman told the Daily Times Herald, “and she responded, ‘Yes, she was murdered.’”

The judge had previously barred any testimony that mentioned the fire because it might prejudice jurors against Exline, court records show.

A new trial date and location have not been set.

Exline’s trial was initially scheduled for October 2017 in Greene County, but a judge decided to move it when the vast majority of potential jurors had read or viewed news reports about the fire and alleged abuse.

The case has received widespread media attention because of the fire. Exline’s stepson, Patrick Ryan Thompson, 27, of Nevada, is suspected of setting fire to the Guthrie Center house to kill Paige Exline because of the sexual abuse allegations against her father and her older brother. Thompson’s trial for murder and arson is set for September.

A sex-abuse trial for the older brother, Noah Exline, 20, is set for October.

James Exline is a registered sex offender who was accused in 2008 of having sexual intercourse with two teenage girls. He pleaded guilty but did not go to prison.