Dateline   |  May 04, 2012

While They Were Sleeping, Part 6

Four years after the murder of Ben Oxley, the shooter is sentenced.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> reporter: it's a rare thing to sit in a jailhouse room such as this while a murderer 3 f1 confesses chapter and verse, denial of the more common language here.

>> dawn asked me if i would kill melissa . i just auto mat beingly just said yeah.

>> reporter: there was a bullet there for you. what was it like to hear that?

>> unreal.

>> do you believe that she was in the house that night?

>> i do. which makes me sick. i have a harder time with dawn than i do james . because if it wasn't for her, none of it would happen.

>> reporter: and that's where melissa oxley and james 's attorney kent stover firmly agree. half a measure of justice. since dawn is protected fwha immunity agreement she signed with the da.

>> james is not the type of boy who's going to go out and commit a murder in the hopes that dawn will find it acceptable. he didn't do this as a surprise gift.

>> reporter: dawn herself declined our request for an interview. but her mom, the retired deputy sheriff, has remained in her corner.

>> i know that a lot of people believe that. that it was a blatant conspiracy on her part. but, i don't think dawn really wanted ben dead. i don't think dawn was there.

>> reporter: you're trying to hold it all together.

>> you have to understand. uy. they had their problems. everybody loved him. he didn't deserve to die.

>> reporter: so for the time being , it's a he said, she said story. and the da's deal with dawn, to the dismay of james 's attorney, means she may never face a murder charge.

>> prosecutor made a deal with the devil . now we just need to show him how far in hell she is.

>> deal with the devil ? the da says without dawn's testimony at the preliminary hearing, the murder charge against james would never have stuck. and dawn isn't totally off the hook because there is one possibility still. if the d.a. can find hard evidence that dawn lied when she was given that get out of jail free deal for implicating james .

>> it's still an open book on dawn oxley for murder. if somebody comes in today with credible evidence that shows she did in fact go, we could prosecute her.

>> reporter: for now, dawn is in prison on another offense. last year she pleaded guilty to using her teenage daughter, bra brandy, to sell prescription drugs.

>> was she employing you as her assistant?

>> i was driving, yes.

>> reporter: dawn could be out but not to be the mother of alyssa . the judge terminate herd parental rights both alyssa and brandy live with melissa now. melissa who has offered them the family life they didn't know with their biological mom.

>> it is a family. and that's what i need.

>> reporter: one more thing to do. this march having pleaded guilty to murder, james prepared to be sentenced. is there redemption for a person like you?

>> i don't know. i don't expect anybody that i've harmed or hurt to forgive me to what i've done. looked in the lens as you said that. you're talking to them.

>> i'm talking to melissa . i'm sorry.

>> reporter: in exchange for his guilty plea , the da agreed to recommend that james be eligible for parole some day. he's 24 years from now.

>> all rise.

>> reporter: final decision up to the judge. defense attorney stover made the argument.

>> a life with hope.

>> and then melissa took the stand.

>> emotionally the damage you have caused me is almost unbearable. for alyssa , you crumbled her foundation and everything she knew to be right and true. and as hard as this is to do or believe, i also want you to know i have found it in my heart to forgive you.

>> reporter: and then james got his sentence.

>> the murder charge your sentenced to life in prison .

>> life without parole ever. afterwards, the little girl in the middle of the family drama turned to melissa with a remarkable request. to meet with james and was ushered in to see him before he was whisked away.

>> i told him that i decided to forgive him and that i wanted him to have hope.

>> reporter: and she wept then. tears of forgiveness. lingering grief for her father. and as for melissa ? are you ready to move on?

>> i am. very ready.

>> reporter: you have a relationship now. you're engaged.

>> yeah.

>> reporter: where will you keep ben?

>> he'll always be in my heart. he'll never be forgotten. but we do have to go on. we still have to be here and live day-to-day life.

>> reporter: if he's looking down and watching you, what would he think about his daughter?

>> i think he still loves me and i am doing much better than i was at my other house.

>> reporter: you miss him?

>> yeah, i miss him a lot.

>> reporter: you're a pretty strong kid, aren't you?