PONCHATOULA- It’s one of the most egregious cases victims’ advocates tell the WBRZ Investigative Unit they have ever seen, after a judge awarded full custody to a woman’s abuser and forced her to pay child support.
This story dates back decades and involves a woman who was raped at the age of 16 by a man almost twice her age.
Crysta Abelseth knows all too well about overcoming adversity. The now 32-year old is a mother of a teenager that WBRZ has made an editorial decision not to identify because she’s a minor. Abelseth’s daughter is the child of a rape.
Abelseth met John Barnes in the City of Hammond back in 2005. She says he offered to take her home after a night out at a local restaurant with friends.
“Instead of bringing me home, he brought me to his house,” Abelseth recalled. “Once inside, he raped me on his living room couch.”
Abelseth did not know Barnes before that night, but came away from it pregnant.
“Everyone assumed it [the pregnancy] was from a boyfriend, and I let them believe that,” Abelseth recalled.
Abelseth had a healthy baby girl, and everything was fine until John Barnes learned sometime in 2011 that he might have a daughter.
“When my daughter was five years old, he found out about her, and once he found out about her, he pursued custody and wanted to take her away from me,” Abelseth said. “They granted him 50/50 custody despite the fact that [the child] was caused by rape.”
A DNA test is part of court documents that proves with 99.97% accuracy, John Barnes is the child’s father. Barnes was 30 years old and Abelseth 16 at the time of conception. The act was illegal at the time, even if it were consensual; Abelseth maintains it never was.
Seven years ago, in July 2015, Abelseth pressed criminal charges against Barnes. A report she filed with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office for simple rape details everything that was done to her. Abelseth said she waited to file the police report because she did not know the law.
“I thought if I didn’t do it the next day, there was nothing I could do about it,” Abelseth said. “I went to a trauma counselor, and he said, ‘No, you have 30 years after you turn 18.'”
From 2015 until now, nothing has happened with the report. The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office says an investigation is still open.
“It was never assigned to a detective, and nothing was ever investigated,” according to Abelseth.
A search of John Barnes shows he owns Gumbeaux Digital Branding, a web company in Ponchatoula. Barnes’ website shows Ponchatoula Police as a client.
Court records in the Tangipahoa Parish courthouse show Barnes admitted he’s the biological father of the child. This year, he was granted custody of that child even though a criminal complaint was filed in 2015. Mysteriously those records are under seal, hidden from public view.
Stacie Triche works for the non-profit organization Save Lives. She’s helping Abelseth through this tangled web that allowed her perpetrator to get custody of the child.
“When I found out she was a rape victim, and this rapist could potentially get full custody, that’s when I stepped in and said something has to be done about this,” Triche said.
Things took a dramatic turn this year when a judge granted Barnes full custody. It happened after Barnes alleged Abelseth gave her daughter a cell phone. Abelseth said she was also ordered to pay Barnes child support.
“She’s been forced to pay her perpetrator,” Triche said. “Forced to pay her rapist child support and legal fees and give up custody of the child that’s a product of the rape. It makes no sense.”
The WBRZ Investigative Unit discussed this case with the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LFASA). Their lawyers said not only is this egregious, but they’ve never seen a case like it.
“It seems pretty straight forward that not only did a crime take place, but as a result of the crime, this person should not have custody of the child,” Attorney Sean Cassidy with LFASA said.
Abelseth said for years she’s tried to go about this the right way through the courts. But having her daughter taken away weeks ago over allegations she gave her a cell phone left her with a lack of confidence that she’ll ever get a fair shake with justice impossible to find for the past 16 years.
“He’s well connected,” Abelseth said. “He’s threatened me multiple times, saying he has connections in the justice system, so I better be careful and he can take her away anytime he wants to. I didn’t believe him until it happened.”
Abelseth said a hearing is scheduled next month to revoke Barnes’ parental rights.
Barnes admitted over the phone Abelseth’s daughter is his, but referred all questions to his lawyer, who never got back to the WBRZ Investigative Unit.
The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office continues to say the case is still open.
WBRZ reached out to Judge Jeffrey Cashe, who made the custody decision. An employee in his office said judicial canons prevent the judge from talking about it.
If you would like to help Crysta Abelseth with her mounting legal expenses, you can do that by clicking here.