Judge gives 37-year sentence for toddler's murder, wishes it was more

CHEHALIS, Wash. - A 25-year-old Centralia man was sentenced to a minimum of 37 years in prison Wednesday for the rape and murder of his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter.

In an Alford plea agreement in January, James Reeder did not admit guilt but acknowledged that he would likely be convicted in the death last May of Koralynn Fister.

The judge handling the case said Reeder deserves to spend more time in prison, but he was limited by sentencing rules.

Prosecutors said before Koralynn's death, Reeder repeatedly raped the child and hurt her so badly that patches of skin were missing from her body and her toes, according to court documents.

"I won't go into graphic detail, but suffice it to say that in my entire legal career, this is the worst case of child abuse and neglect I have seen," Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said in an interview in the days following Koralynn's death.

According to prosecutors, Reeder called 911 to report the toddler wasn't breathing, and when medics arrived, they found Reeder performing CPR on Koralynn, who was unconscious. Reeder told police he had been giving the girl a bath when he left the room to grab a towel. He said that when he returned to the bathroom, Koralynn was underwater, facedown and unconscious.

Koralynn was taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead a short time later.

During the sentencing hearing in Lewis County Superior Court, Koralynn's grieving family members had their statements read to Judge James Lawler by a member of a victim's advocacy group.

"You took both precious gifts of God away from me," Koralynn's mother wrote. "You betrayed everyone's trust but most of all my little defenseless baby. Pretending to help me and all the while using my beloved daughter for your own evilness."

Koralynn's father wrote that life has been hard to live without his baby girl.

"I feel that nothing short of life behind bars is enough for James Reeder," his statement read. "He took the life of Kora and ruined the life of many more. I think James Reeder is a sick man, if you can call him a man... Life will never be the same."

Koralynn's grandfather wrote that going from seeing her several times a week to never seeing her again has left a hole in his heart that is impossible to repair:

"There will be no first day of school, no prom, no graduation or college, no wedding or babies for Kora because you, James Reeder, took her life in a way that can only be described as perverted, disgusting and depraved."

In the end, the judge accepted the sentencing request from county prosecutors.

"This case is extraordinarily difficult for everybody. There are a lot of victims in this case -- more than just Koralynn Fister," Lawler said. "The sentence that I am imposing is at the top end of the standard range. This case, if I had discretion, called for a much higher sentence but I don't have that discretion in this case."

Lawler added had the case gone to trial and a jury found Reeder guilty with aggravating factors, he would have imposed a 100-year prison sentence.

"I wish I wasn't limited by this statute. I wish I wasn't limited by these charges," he said.

"The fact that you have not accepted any responsibility for any of these actions tells me that a sentence much longer than you are getting would be appropriate. Those are the reasons I am imposing the sentence that I am. I hope that everybody in this courtroom can eventually find some peace and heal; I know that is going to be a long time coming."
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