Accused rapist's bond set at $150,000

Cary Ashby • Apr 8, 2014 at 9:07 PM

An elderly man accused of raping an 18-year-old mentally impaired Plymouth woman must post a $150,000 bond before being released from jail.

Howard R. Zerkle, 80, of 151 Crestwood Drive, Willard, will stand trial June 24 in Huron County Common Pleas Court. He is charged with one count each of rape, kidnapping and sexual battery. The Willard Police Department arrested the suspect late Saturday morning on a secret indictment without incident at his home.

If convicted of rape or kidnapping, Zerkle faces three to 11 years in prison on each first-degree felony. A rape conviction would mean the defendant would be classified as a Tier III sex offender and include a lifetime address requirement with community notification.

Zerkle entered "not guilty" pleas to each charge Monday. He told Judge Jim Conway he is on probation for a federal conviction, but he didn't say what the charge was.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation assisted police with the investigation. Detective Jeremy Draper has said the case involves a first-time meeting between Zerkle and his accuser, so authorities "couldn't establish how they know each other."

The victim went to MedCentral Health System in Mansfield the night of the suspected incident. She was treated and released.

Huron County Public Defender David Longo said Monday the case has received quite a bit of publicity.

In early February, the victim's father began picketing outside the Willard police station with a sign and expressed his belief that police and prosecutors weren't taking his daughter's suspected attacker off the streets.

Zerkle reportedly got the teenager's name from another Plymouth High School student and followed her school bus to her house. When she got off, Zerkle allegedly lured her to him and said he'd take her to his house, out to eat and to play games, the father earlier told the Reflector. Her brother tried to stop the man's car after she got in, but it was too late.

The father also said his daughter, who is friendly and likes and trusts everybody, probably thought Zerkle was a friend.

Police were called after the victim got scared at the stranger's home and texted her mother.

"They found my daughter's blood in his bed," the victim's father said, adding authorities also found two used condoms in his apartment and blood on a towel.

"I think it's good that he's in custody," the victim's grandfather said recently.

If Zerkle posts bond, he's prohibited from having any association with the girl and can't be on the premises of a Plymouth address.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Reflector Staff Writer Aaron Krause contributed to this story.

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