Rape trial could last several days

Cary Ashby • May 21, 2014 at 1:07 PM

A prosecutor said an upcoming rape case could last several days and deal with the defendant's state of mind if it goes to trial.

Howard R. Zerkle, 80, of 151 Crestwood Drive, Willard, is charged with one count each of kidnapping, rape and sexual battery. His Huron County Common Pleas Court trial date is set for June 24.

"It's probably a three- or four-day trial," Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler said.

The prosecutor also said he expects there to be rather extensive testimony about the defendant's state of mind at the time of the suspected Jan. 31 incident.

"It could take a while," Leffler added.

The Willard Police Department arrested Zerkle on a secret indictment without incident at his home April 6. A grand jury issues secret indictments when authorities suspect the person may flee the area.

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, an 18-year-old mentally impaired woman, went to MedCentral Health System in Mansfield the night of the suspected incident. She was treated and released.

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.

Huron County Public Defender David Longo said Monday he and Leffler recently started plea negotiations, but added: "I don't know where we're heading." Longo also said he has received evidence covering more than 100 pages.

"I haven't finished reading it," he added.

Longo requested the judge consider adding a 10-percent provision to Zerkle's $150,000 bond. The public defender cited the defendant's serious medical issues, his age and the fact he has prostate cancer.

"He had a hip replacement right before he was indicted," Longo added.

Leffler argued against reducing the defendant's bond and said there was an allegation Zerkle had contact with students when he was repairing clocks.

"We don't see the necessity of reducing the bond," Leffler told the judge.

Longo said his client has denied repairing clocks. The public defender also argued the $150,000 bond only ensures Zerkle will make his next court hearings, but doesn't give his family a chance to post that much money.

"He doesn't have to go anywhere near a school," Longo added.

Judge Jim Conway said he would consider allowing Zerkle to be released from jail on a furlough for medical appointments, but he believes the defendant's bond "is set at an appropriate level."

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