By Shelley Grieshop
WAPAKONETA -- James Thaxton Jr. of St. Marys stared straight ahead and showed little emotion as he was ordered to serve at least the next four decades behind bars for raping four children, including at least one victim under the age of 10.
The 49-year-old man sat motionless in the courtroom chair, flanked by his attorney, and refused to speak on his own behalf when given the chance by Auglaize County Judge Frederick Pepple.
Thursday's hearing was Thaxton's second sentencing hearing in eight weeks. In May, he pleaded guilty to four of the 11 counts of rape filed against him in the original indictment. Following a plea bargain with prosecutors, seven of the first-degree felonies were dismissed.
At the May hearing, Pepple sentenced Thaxton to the mandatory penalty of life in prison for one of the charges -- the rape of the youngest victim.
That sentence initially left Thaxton eligible for parole after 10 years. Pepple then opted to continue sentencing for the remaining three rape charges until this week so he could review victim statements and other case information.
Pepple -- who has a reputation for handing down stiff punishments -- chose the maximum sentences allowed by law when he faced Thaxton again on Thursday. He ordered Thaxton to serve 10 years in prison on each charge, consecutive to each other and to the May sentence -- bringing the total prison time to 40 years before parole eligibility.
Pepple said he hoped the parole board would keep Thaxton incarcerated for the rest of his life.
"The court believes the defendant poses too great a risk to ever be released and encourages that his life sentence be fully implemented," he added.
All of the rapes took place in Thaxton's home between November 2004 and January 2006. The victims all were under the age of 18; two of the children were determined to be mildly retarded.
Auglaize County Prosecutor Ed Pierce asked Pepple for the "stacked" sentence, saying the court had done so in the past in similar cases. But Thaxton's attorney, Mark Weller, argued that statement.
"I don't believe it would be equitable or fair here," he said.
Weller asked for concurrent sentences at the least, citing his client's age and the fact that the first sentence issued in May could keep him in prison for life.
"He's still going to have to earn his way through the system," Weller said.
Pepple, reading from pre-sentence investigation documents, noted Thaxton held a consistent pattern of violence and disregard for the law since 1984. His past criminal record includes a felony escape conviction for trying to avoid sentencing for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
"He was advising a 17-year-old boy how to have sex with a 16-year-old girl," Pepple said, raising his eyebrows as he glanced at Thaxton.
If and when Thaxton is released, he will be placed on a five-year probation term. He also will be required to register his address with the county sheriff following a sexual predator designation issued at the May hearing.
Five people, representing victims in the cases, sat quietly in the courtroom and made no response as the sentence was issued. Although several written statements were given to the judge before sentencing, none of the victims' families spoke during the hearing and all refused to comment to The Daily Standard afterward.