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Man convicted of raping, impregnating 9-year-old Columbus girl sentenced to life in prison

 Gerson Fuentes stands with his lawyers in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas as he agrees to be sentenced for raping a 9-year-old girl last year.
George Shillcock
Gerson Fuentes was sentences to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years for raping and impregnating a 9-year-old girl in 2022. The case gained notoriety after the girl was reported to have fled to Indiana to receive an abortion following the overturn of Roe v. Wade and Ohio instituting restrictions on abortion that year.

A man convicted of raping and impregnating a 9-year-old Columbus girl was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday with the possibility of parole after serving 25 years.

Gerson Fuentes, a 28-year-old undocumented immigrant from Guatemala living in Columbus, changed his plea from not guilty to guilty in court. He was arrested last year and charged with two counts of rape after authorities say he raped the unidentified minor.

The case gained notoriety last year because the child had to travel across state lines to Indiana in order to get an abortion. Ohio instituted a six-week abortion ban almost immediately after Roe vs. Wade was overturned, forcing the child to seek care outside the state.

Fuentes did not speak in court, besides affirming that he understood the implications of changing his plea and Franklin County Judge Julie Lynch did not comment on her ruling. Lynch appeared to hold back frustration as she sentenced Fuentes. She said the unnamed victim's family asked her not to comment, which Lynch said was a "hard pill to swallow."

"The family has agreed to this. And this is a hard pill for this court to swallow to take this joint recommendation. If that family hadn't begged me to take this joint recommendation, this would never be happening," she said.

Lynch said when explaining the sentence that Fuentes had the "possibility" for parole, stressing that word twice. She said she considers this type of offense the worst type, which made it hard for her not to comment.

"Anybody who has ever been in this courtroom for the last 20 years knows how this court feels about babies, young people being violated," Lynch said.

Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor Daniel Lenert explained to the courtroom the facts of the case. He said the victim went to see her primary care doctor on June 22, 2022 and a pregnancy test administered to the victim came back positive. This was mere days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling was handed down overturning Roe vs. Wade.

The girl was taken for a forensic exam at The Center for Family Safety and Healing at Nationwide Children's Hospital, but at that time did not disclose who assaulted her. She was about six weeks and four days into her pregnancy, so she was likely assaulted on or about May 12, 2022, when she was 9 years old, according to officials.

The child saw Dr. Caitlin Bernard in Indianapolis to get an abortion on July 1, 2022 and Columbus police traveled to Indiana to receive the "product of conception" for DNA analysis, Lenert said.

Lenert said a few days later, Columbus police went to the child's home and retrieved DNA samples from all the men living there, including Fuentes. He also said when police brought Fuentes in for another DNA swab and to be interviewed on July 12 of last year, he admitted to raping the child two different times.

Police confirmed DNA results showed Fuentes impregnated the girl.

Bernard, the doctor who performed the abortion, spoke to the Indianapolis Star, who broke the story on July 1, 2022, about the victim crossing state lines to seek an abortion.

Pro-abortion rights advocates and Democratic politicians, including President Joe Biden, pointed to the child's case as a reason to restore the right to an abortion following Roe v. Wade being overturned. Some Republican lawmakers, including Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost publicly doubted the story, calling it fabricated.

Fuentes was arrested later that same month.

Fuentes could be deported if he ever receives parole, and he will have to register as a Tier III sex offender for the rest of his life under the plea bargain.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.