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Callender man sentenced to 25 years for sex abuse

Joseph Danniel Hill

A Callender man “dodged a bullet” when it came to being sentenced for abusing — sexually and physically — five children that were in his care prior to May 2022, according to the judge who sentenced him on Friday at the Webster County Courthouse.

Joseph Danniel Hill, 27, was convicted by a Webster County jury on Oct. 24 of two counts of second-degree sexual abuse, Class B felonies; four counts of child endangerment resulting in injury, Class D felonies; and one count of child endangerment, an aggravated misdemeanor.

Hill was accused of repeatedly abusing five children that were in his care. He was arrested in May 2022 after an investigation by the Webster County Sheriff’s Office, which was prompted by a call from the Department of Human Services. According to a press release sent out at the time, interviews with the juvenile victims provided information about “a series of physical and sexual abuse.” The children were removed from Hill’s residence by DHS.

At Friday’s sentencing, Assistant Webster County Attorney Bailey Taylor argued for the maximum sentence of 72 years in prison to be imposed, asking the judge to order the sentences for each individual count to be served consecutively with the others.

“This is one of those cases that will stick with me forever,” she said before sharing how she’s gotten to know the children well over the last two years.

“I described these children’s individual characters just to point out how unique and special each one of them are,” Taylor said. “And then also how horrible it is to think that a person could look at each one of these children and make a choice repeatedly to damage and hurt them…He forced them to live in filth, squalor and subjected them to physical, psychological and sexual abuse for years.”

She praised the “exemplary bravery” that two of the young victims showed in testifying against HIll at trial.

Taylor argued that because there are five separate victims in this case and multiple different occasions that the crimes occurred, the prison sentences should all be served separately.

Nicholas Sarcone, attorney for Hill, argued for the sentences to be served concurrently, or at the same time, noting that Hill has no prior criminal history and that the defendant himself was a child victim of abuse.

“These are things that just generally are known to be contributing factors to these types of crimes,” Sarcone said.

Sarcone also said that while in prison, Hill will receive sex offender treatment and that “the statistics are that individuals who go through sex offender treatment have a very low recidivism risk.”

In handing down the sentence, Chief District Court Judge Adria Kester told Hill that she considered his age, education background, family circumstances, lack of criminal history, substance abuse history, employment history, the nature of the offenses and the harm he brought to his victims as part of her sentencing decision.

“The state is certainly correct in their recommendation,” Kester said.

But instead of sentencing Hill to the maximum, Kester ordered the sentences for each count be served concurrently, for a total of up to 25 years in prison, with 70% mandatory minimum.

“I see you just let out a big sigh of relief,” Kester said to Hill after announcing her decision. “You should not take that ruling from the court that I’m condoning your behavior whatsoever. However, I do believe in these particular circumstances, the fact that you’re going to be there for at least 17 and a half years, you have to go through sex offender treatment, you’re going to be under a lifetime parole, that this is the appropriate sentence in this case and I don’t make that determination lightly.”

When Hill is released from prison, he will be required to register as a sex offender and will be under a lifetime special sentence as if he were on parole for the rest of his life.

“The state made some really good arguments and certainly justified in those arguments,” Kester told Hill. “You did dodge a bullet, let me put it that way, because it certainly could have gone the other way.”

The victims in the case have since been adopted.

“The Webster County Attorney’s Office is satisfied with the outcome of these matters,” Taylor told The Messenger. “I’d like to thank law enforcement and the citizens of Webster County for helping bring justice to those involved. The victims in these matters will forever be impacted by the actions of the defendant, but it is my hope that they find solace in the fact that justice was served.”

In November 2022, Hill’s girlfriend, Michelle McMullen, then 28, pleaded guilty to four counts of child endangerment resulting in bodily injury. Investigators alleged that she knew of the abuse her children received under Hill’s care and failed to report it.

McMullen was sentenced to five years in prison for each count, to be served concurrently with one another. According to the Iowa Department of Corrections website, McMullen was released from prison on supervised release on Oct. 16. She is scheduled to be discharged from supervision on Oct. 16, 2028.

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