COLUMBUS, Ohio –
A man accused of raping and impregnating a 9-year-old Ohio girl who travelled to Indiana for an abortion was ordered held without bond Thursday by a judge who cited overwhelming evidence and the fact that he apparently is living in the U.S. illegally.
Gerson Fuentes, 27, faces two counts of raping the girl, who turned 10 before having the abortion in a case that has become a flashpoint in the national discussion about access to the procedure since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. He has pleaded not guilty.
If convicted, Fuentes, who is from Guatemala, faces the possibility of life in prison with no chance of parole. That penalty and “not having any ties to this community that can be proved legally makes it a substantial flight risk,” Franklin County Judge Julie Lynch said after a 35-minute hearing.
The girl confirmed that Fuentes attacked her, Fuentes confessed to Columbus police detectives, and DNA testing of the aborted fetus confirmed Fuentes was the father, Franklin County Prosecutor Dan Meyer and detective Jeffrey Huhn said in court Thursday.
Huhn said he was unable, when searching multiple databases, to find any evidence that Fuentes was in the country legally.
In denying bond, Lynch cited that evidence, the violence of the crime and the fact that Fuentes had been living in the same home with the girl and her mother.
“To allow him to return to that home, the traumatic and psychological impact would be undeserving to an alleged victim,” Lynch said. She also cited the “physical, and mental and emotional trauma” the girl suffered from enduring the rapes and the abortion, and finding her case at the centre of the country’s abortion debate.
The case gained national attention after an Indianapolis physician, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, said the child had to travel to Indiana due to Ohio banning abortions at the first detectable “fetal heartbeat” after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.
U.S. President Joe Biden cited the case when he signed an order July 8 trying to protect abortion access. Some conservatives and prominent Republicans, including Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, cast doubt on the story initially, then condemned the attack after Fuentes was arrested.
Fuentes’ attorney, Bryan Bowen, argued against a no-bond hearing and unsuccessfully asked Lynch to set a reasonable bond. He said there was no evidence that there was physical abuse outside of the rapes or that the girl had been put under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He also said that Fuentes had family ties in Columbus, that he had a job, and that there was no evidence of a criminal history. Fuentes has lived in the area about seven years.
“We’ve heard evidence about the nature of the offence, but we have not heard any evidence presented about any danger that Mr. Fuentes would pose to any particular person or to the community,” he said. He declined to comment after Lynch’s ruling.
Dan Meyer, an assistant Franklin County prosecutor, said Thursday that Fuentes was providing for the girl’s family, including her mother.
Columbus police learned about the girl’s pregnancy after her mother alerted Franklin County Children Services on June 22. Huhn said Fuentes confessed to raping the girl, who turned 10 on May 28, on two occasions.
The girl saw a Columbus-area doctor in late June with a plan to have an abortion locally, but that wasn’t possible due to the gestational age, determined to be six weeks and four days, Huhn testified.
Ohio’s “heartbeat” abortion ban includes an exception only for an emergency that is life-threatening or involving a “serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
Indiana’s Republican Senate leaders proposed a bill this month that would prohibit abortions from the time an egg is implanted in a uterus, with exceptions in cases of rape and incest and to protect the life of the mother. The proposal followed the controversy over the Ohio girl’s abortion in Indiana.
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