Mentally challenged teen's father glad rape suspect is in custody

Aaron Krause • Apr 11, 2014 at 11:24 PM

The father of an 18-year-old mentally-impaired daughter said he's glad the person accused of kidnapping and raping her is behind bars. The Willard man, who called the Reflector Tuesday, also apologized to police for being "rude and impatient."

After the alleged incident occurred, Gerald Slagle picketed outside Willard Police Department's headquarters and, at night, stood outside the suspect's home to ensure he wouldn't hurt children living nearby.

Slagle has said he protested with a sign because he believed police and prosecutors weren't taking his daughter's alleged attacker off the streets fast enough.

"I apologize to them and thank them for what they've done. I was impatient," Slagle said. He added he wants to thank "all involved" in getting Howard R. Zerkle, 80, of 151 Crestwood Drive, Willard, off the street.

Slagle, however, said he doesn't regret protesting. He said he believes doing so "pushed the case forward and made (authorities) want to do something."

Zerkle, who must post a $150,000 bond to be released from jail, was arrested at his home Saturday morning without incident on a secret indictment a day after a Huron County grand jury met. He is charged with one count of each of rape, kidnapping and sexual battery.

The three felonies are in connection with an incident involving Slagle's daughter.

Slagle said he stopped protesting a couple months ago, after a Plymouth police officer advised him to stop because it could impede their investigation.

Now that the suspect is in jail, "I feel a lot more at ease," Slagle said. "I don't have to worry about him stalking my daughter or any other child. At least I know he can't get to my daughter any more."

Slagle said his daughter is receiving counseling and children's services representatives are working with her. He added she still has nightmares and is sometimes nervous to attend school, but she's going. Slagle said when he explained to her that she was taken advantage of, she was glad that the suspect is in custody.

Willard's and Plymouth's police chiefs said they're not mad at Slagle.

"If it was my daughter I'd be upset," Plymouth Police Chief Charles Doan said.

Willard Police Chief Mark Holden said he understands what Slagle was going through.

"We tried to explain (to Slagle) that this takes time, there's a lot of things that need to be done," Holden said. "Nobody really faulted (Slagle) for doing what he did."

Holden said police consulted with the Willard law director's office and Huron County Prosecutor's Office to ensure they could present a good case. Holden also noted that a grand jury session was held Friday, and Zerkle was arrested on a secret indictment the next morning. Willard Police Department Detective Jeremy Draper has said Zerkle didn't make any statements about the case when he was arrested.

The alleged incident was reported Jan. 31, first to the Plymouth Police Department since the victim lives there. Willard police started investigating the case soon afterward.

Slagle has said Zerkle got his daughter's name from another Plymouth High School student and followed her school bus to her house. When she got off, Zerkle lured her to him, claiming he'd take her to his house, out to eat and to play games, Slagle said. The father added his daughter, who is friendly and likes and trusts everyone, probably thought Zerkle was a friend.

"They found my daughter's blood in his bed," Slagle earlier told the Reflector, adding authorities also found two used condoms in his apartment and blood on a towel.

Editor's note: Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby contributed to this story.

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