A 61-year-old man who believed it was consensual when he had sex with a pre-teen girl now could die in prison for repeatedly raping her.
James Robert Wirrell of Benton City was sentenced Friday to a minimum term of 20 years for the sexual abuse that lasted more than six years.
He told the court he was "truly sorry" for his actions.
"There are no do-overs in life, your honor. We must live with the choices we have made," Wirrell said. "I didn't think about the hurt and the pain that my choices did bring."
"As far as remorse, no one knows how my heart feels right now. I can't even explain how I truly feel," he added.
Judge Vic VanderSchoor agreed to the prosecution's request for an exceptional sentence, ordering the 20-year term with a maximum life sentence.
After Wirrell serves that mandatory minimum, he can petition the state's Indeterminate Sentence Review Board for release. The board then decides if he should remain locked up or if he is a good candidate to return to society based on his participation in any treatment programs or other activities in prison.
Wirrell pleaded guilty in December to first-degree rape of a child and two counts of second-degree child rape.
The Benton County Superior Court case included the aggravating circumstances that he used his position of trust with the victim and that the crime was part of an ongoing pattern of sexual abuse.
The abuse started in 2003 in another state with Wirrell inappropriately touching the grade-school girl. He groomed the victim so that it escalated to a sexual relationship when she was a pre-teen, according to court documents.
She is not named under a Herald policy not to identify people who report being sexually assaulted.
The rapes occurred at various homes and motels in Benton County.
Wirrell would show adult pornography on a portable DVD player to the girl and buy her clothes and presents, documents stated.
It ended when the victim was a young teen and started having a steady boyfriend, Wirrell told a corrections official for his presentencing report.
The girl later was encouraged by someone to go to law enforcement.
Wirrell was arrested after his Nov. 10 interview with Richland police. He had no known felony convictions before this case, though he admitted to police that he sexually assaulted another teen girl about 22 to 25 years ago.
His lawyer, Larry Zeigler, said Friday that his client admitted guilt in this case so the victim would not have to testify.
Zeigler asked VanderSchoor to give a sentence in the standard range -- 131/2 years to 18 years. He said "the mathematics aren't there" and it made no sense to add two years on top of that range since Wirrell likely will die behind bars.
Deputy Prosecutor Anita Petra said the only reason she made a plea offer to Wirrell was because of his age and the likelihood that he won't see the outside of prison walls again. But Petra said it was clear all along she would pursue the lengthy sentence for the "most egregious" sexual assault she has come across in her career.
"(The victim) trusted him, and he manipulated their relationship," she told the court. "It is an extremely disturbing case and demands a sentence of 20 years on each count ... (for) the lack of remorse and the audacity to claim that this was a consensual relationship."
In January, Wirrell met with Jon Hudnall, a community corrections officer who was preparing a Department of Corrections presentencing report for the court.
Hudnall noted in his report that during the interview, Wirrell would not discuss specifics of the crime beyond what already was on the record and "displayed low empathy and remorse for his actions."
"Only when specifically asked, did Mr. Wirrell say he felt his actions affected (the victim). But he was unable to offer any insight as to how his actions affected (her)," Hudnall wrote.
It was in that interview that Wirrell described his sexual contact with the girl "as being all consensual," and said there "was no discontent or unwillingness" on the victim's part to have sex with him, the report stated.
Wirrell would not give a statement to Hudnall, referring him to a letter Wirrell wrote to the court in January. In that letter, Wirrell said he wasn't sure "how to put my true feelings into words."
"To just say I'm sorry for my wrongdoings in my past would be an understatement. I stand before the court knowing the seriousness of what I have done with only myself to blame," he said. "I hope my being truthful will help bring a close to those I've hurt.
"I live everyday with my guilt and remorse. In time with my faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ, I will forgive myself."