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Judge temporarily revokes custody in rape paternity case after Nakamoto report; trial set for next month

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AMITE - A judge at the center of a high-profile custody battle where a woman was ordered to pay her alleged abuser child support has temporarily reversed his decision to grant the teen's father full custody. 

Amid swelling international outcry over the case first exposed by The WBRZ Investigative Unit, Judge Jeffrey Cashe decided Tuesday to revoke John Barnes' custody of his 16-year-old daughter. 

Crysta Abelseth said things began happening fast after she went public with the story, and attorney Jarrett Ambeau agreed to represent her pro bono after seeing a WBRZ report.

"People should be held accountable," Ambeau said Tuesday after leaving Tangipahoa Parish courthouse. "The system failed everyone here. The system, when that happens, should be held accountable, and we plan to do that."

Abelseth said the ruling taking custody away from Barnes is the first bit of fairness she's seen in the court system in nearly a decade.

"When I sat down with you [Chris Nakamoto], I thought maybe a few people would have watched it on the news, and say, 'ok that's sad' and move on," Abelseth said. "The fact that we've received so much attention, it's pressed the issue to make these people do what they are supposed to do."

A trial is set for July 15 where it will be decided who gets custody, Barnes or the girl's mother Crysta Abelseth. Until then the girl will be put in the custody of guardians, as agreed upon by her parents. Abelseth and Barnes will alternate custody on weekends for the time being.

Abelseth told WBRZ last week that Barnes picked her up at a bar in 2005, when she was 16 years old, and raped her. Abelseth became pregnant with Barnes' child after the encounter, and Barnes pursued custody of the child in 2011 when he learned about her existence and took a paternity test. 

Though Barnes was initially ordered to pay child support, a split-custody agreement was reached after Judge Cashe took over the case in 2015. Abelseth was then ordered to make child support payments to Barnes. 

That same year, Abelseth submitted a formal complaint to the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office detailing the assault that happened 10 years earlier. 

"I thought if I didn't do it the next day, there was nothing I could do about it," said Abelseth, explaining why she waited years to report what happened. "I went to a trauma counselor, and he said, 'No, you have 30 years after you turn 18.'"

However that complaint went untouched for seven years until the story garnered international attention last week. 

"What I want the public to know is in 2015, we dropped the ball," Sheriff Daniel Edwards told WBRZ. "It was an accident and not some conspiracy. I feel bad for Crysta that happened. But, I want the public to know this was not a willful continuing failure."

In January 2021, the child's school counselor notified the Department of Children and Family Services that the girl alleged Barnes physically and mentally abused her. In February 2022, court documents noted for the first time that their daughter was conceived by rape, and it was alleged that Barnes drugged and sexually assaulted his daughter. 

“She was transported to New Orleans where she was evaluated and the doctor confirmed that there was evidence of forced entry congruent with sexual assault,” the document read.

Despite that, Judge Cashe dismissed Abelseth's claims and said evidence didn't support the teen's allegations of abuse, though it wasn't clear what evidence the judge used to reach that conclusion. 

John Barnes and his lawyer Jenel Secrease exited the courthouse without answering any questions.

Secrease only said, "Mr. Nakamoto, thank you for your interest in this case."


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