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East Palestine man gets community control for sexual assult of a child

LISBON — A woman sexually assaulted when she was just 6 years old in 1996 faced her attacker Tuesday in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court, saying what he did changed her life for the worse.

“I never want anyone to go through what I did,” she said.

James E. Browne, 64, East Clark Avenue, East Palestine, was sentenced to five years of community control after pleading guilty to gross sexual imposition, a third-degree felony, as part of a plea agreement.

A jury trial for first-degree felony rape and the gross sexual imposition count was supposed to start Tuesday morning. Instead, there was a plea, with the rape charge dismissed.

Judge Megan Bickerton adopted the sentencing recommendation of county Assistant Prosecutors Tammie Riley Jones and Steve Yacovone and ordered that the community control, also known as probation, not begin until May 2025 when Browne finishes his current prison term from a separate case.

Browne has been serving a three-year prison term issued May 23, 2022 on charges of importuning and two counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. The charges involved him soliciting sexual activity from a law enforcement officer he believed to be 12 years old during a sex for hire sting April 10 and 11 in 2019 and sending that person obscene materials.

The indictment for the rape case was issued in December 2022, 26 years after the incident occurred. He was served with the charges in January 2023, with the indictment alleging the rape and sexual contact involved a 6-year-old victim from Oct. 1, 1996 to Dec 31, 1998.

“Innocence taken from a child through sexual abuse can never be repaired,” Bickerton said, adding “this may have happened 28 years ago but it doesn’t change what happened to her.”

Bickerton called the victim very brave. She said the plea gives the victim validation to see justice served, which is what she deserves, no matter how long it took for this day to come.

The maximum penalty Browne could have faced if he had been convicted of the indictment was 10 years to life for the rape and one to five years for the gross sexual imposition.

Bickerton warned Browne, “one slip-up and you will go to prison, there will be no other opportunities.”

She also designated Browne a Tier II sex offender requiring him to register his address with the sheriff’s office once he’s released from prison. The registration will be required every 180 days for 25 years.

Defense attorney Joe King agreed with everything Jones said during her presentation of the plea agreement, saying the case was difficult. Jones said the two sides had extensive and ongoing negotiations in the case. She said the victim was in agreement and had been struggling with the aftermath of what happened to her the last 28 years.

“It was very important to her that he acknowledge his wrongdoing,” Jones said.

The girl who’s now an adult said she blamed herself for letting him get away with it at the time. She’s been in counseling and said the emotional drain put on her relationships makes her sad.

She wonders who she would have been if the sexual assaults had never happened. She told Browne that when he leaves the courtroom, it will be over for him, but when she walks out, this will always be there.

Browne addressed the court very briefly, saying that by making this admission, he hoped the victim could find solace and comfort.

After the hearing when asked about the plea agreement, Jones said “the age of the case presented some unique challenges.”

She acknowledged the investigative efforts of Detective Dan Haueter in helping to finally bring justice.

“It’s our hope this will bring some closure for the victim to a chapter that’s been open far too long,” Jones said.

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