Man given life for sexual abuse



A former Wise County resident was sentenced to life in prison Thursday, a day after being found guilty of continuous sexual assault of a child under 14.

The life sentence verdict was issued by a Wise County jury in 271st District Court in Decatur after about 20 minutes of deliberation, roughly the same amount of time the jury needed to find 67-year-old Audie Lee Butler guilty of the first degree felony offense after a day of testimony from three witnesses Wednesday.

The victim in the case, who went by Jane Doe during the trial to conceal her identity, testified the abuse took place multiple times over the course of several years when she was younger than 14.

The final witness called by Jay Lapham, assistant district attorney, was the victim, who recounted — often through tears — what happened to her over the course of multiple years at Butler’s Wise County home.

She testified that Butler made inappropriate sexual contact.

When asked why it took her several years to make an outcry, she said she spent years trying to convince herself it didn’t happen, but as she got older, she realized just how inappropriate the conduct really was.

“I knew it did happen, no matter how many times I said that it didn’t,” she said.

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Not wanting to put her family through any difficulty, she said she instead decided she would try hard to be perfect so that no one would ever know, but at one point, “it got to be too much.”

“I didn’t want to wake up in the morning anymore,” she said.

It was during a counseling session with a group of other girls that she became extremely angry when another person began recounting that something similar had happened to her.

“This isn’t [explicit] fair that we had to go through this,’” Doe said she told the group.

Not long after making that statement, Doe made an outcry to her mother, who also testified at the trial.

Prosecutors also showed the recorded video of Butler participating in an interview with Rob Pawley, an investigator from the district attorney’s office.

When confronted with the accusations, Butler said, “It was a stupid, bad mistake.” Rather than the more than 100 instances of touching reported by the victim, he said it happened “three or four times” and lasted “maybe a year.”

Pawley later testified that it is common for sexual abusers to try to minimize their actions or frequency of the abuse when confronted with the accusations.

After Butler said he was “truly sorry it got to that point,” he agreed to write a letter of apology to the victim at the end of the interview. That letter was then read out loud on the video by Pawley, who asked Butler to confirm that the “mistakes” he refers to in the letter were indeed the sexual touching of the victim.

“Yes,” Butler responded.

During his closing remarks, Butler’s attorney Bruce Isaacks argued for a lesser included offense because the state had not proven that more than two assaults had taken place for more than 30 days.

“That is a horrible betrayal, but this is not good enough to support continuous sexual abuse of a child,” Isaacks told the jury, asking for a lesser charge of indecency with a child.

Lapham argued that Doe had been completely consistent with her testimony regarding the timeline of the abuse.

“He’s asking for you to give him a break — is that what we want to do as a society? This court is about holding someone accountable for what they did. He violated a sacred trust. He destroyed that,” Lapham said.

After being found guilty of the more serious continuous abuse charge, which carried a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, Butler’s fate was once again put in the hands of the jury during the brief punishment phase of the trial.

Isaacks pointed out Butler’s advanced age and the fact that even a 25-year sentence would likely amount to a life sentence.

“Even with 25 years, he’ll be 92 years old … he’ll die there, and you will have protected everybody,” he said in asking for the minimum.

Lapham asked the jury to send a statement to other would-be abusers that this will not be tolerated in Wise County in requesting a life sentence.

“He richly deserves it, and he’s certainly earned it,” he said.