COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A man who confessed to raping and impregnating a 9-year-old Ohio girl has been sentenced to life in prison in a case that became a national flashpoint on abortion rights because the girl had to travel out of state to end the pregnancy.
Gerson Fuentes, 28, was sentenced to life in prison, but his plea deal stipulates that he can seek parole after serving 25 to 30 years. He would then have to register as a sex offender.
Common Pleas Court Judge Julie Lynch, who was not required to approve the plea agreement, said the girl’s family “begged” the judge to back it. Lynch called the deal a “very hard pill for this court to swallow.”
“Anyone who’s ever been in this courtroom for the last 20 years knows how this court feels about these babies, young people, being violated,” Lynch said. “However, today, by the request of the family, this court will be sentencing without comment.”
The maximum sentence would have been life without parole. Settling the case before trial will spare the survivor from having to testify in court.
Zachary Olah, an attorney who represented Fuentes, told The Columbus Dispatch after the hearing that his client has been cooperative since the beginning.
“He was anxious to get this resolved,” Olah said.
The girl, who turned 10 before having the abortion, confirmed that Fuentes attacked her, Franklin County prosecutors have said, and Fuentes confessed to Columbus police detectives. DNA testing of the aborted fetus confirmed Fuentes was the father, prosecutors said.
Fuentes, who is from Guatemala and was living in Columbus, had been held without bond since his arrest. If he eventually wins parole, he would likely be deported given that authorities have said they have not found any evidence he is authorized to live in the U.S. legally.
The case gained national attention after Dr. Caitlin Bernard of Indianapolis said a 10-year-old child had to travel to Indiana to terminate a pregnancy because Ohio banned the procedure at the first detectable fetal heartbeat. Some 25 states have banned or restricted abortion since the Supreme Court struck down Roe, though many of the new laws are still being litigated.
Indiana’s state Medical Licensing Board voted in May to reprimand Bernard, finding that she violated patient privacy laws when she told a newspaper reporter about the case, even without revealing directly protected information like the survivor’s name or address.
The board rejected accusations from Indiana’s Republican attorney general that Bernard violated state law by not reporting the child abuse to Indiana authorities. Board members also rejected a request to suspend the doctor’s medical license. Instead, it fined Bernard $3,000 for the violations, but issued no restrictions on her practicing medicine.