In rape paternity dispute, decide awarded baby custody to alleged abusive father regardless of assault complaints

AMITE – Amid a growing wave of public outcry following a WBRZ Investigative Unit story that showed an alleged rapist was paid child support by the victim, unsealed court documents show a judge awarded the perpetrator custody over allegations the mother gave her daughter a phone.

The documents were unsealed in Tangipahoa Parish Wednesday evening and detail a years-long custody process beginning in 2011 when John Barnes found out he had a daughter with Crysta Abelseth.

In April 2013, Barnes began paying Abelseth $428 in child support for the daughter he fathered after a night of drinking. In July 2015, Crysta filed a police report for the 2005 rape that led to her daughter’s birth with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriffs Office. That report sat on their shelf and was not assigned to a detective for seven years.

In August 2015, Judge Jeffrey Cashe was assigned the case.

Six months after Cashe took over the case, a split-custody agreement was reached, and he ordered Abelseth to pay $78.41 to Barnes increasing to $117.72 per month the following year.

Four years went by and nothing happened in the court record. Then, in December 2020, Barnes filed a motion to modify custody alleging his daughter is allowed to be unsupervised with her boyfriend in Abelseth’s home.

In January 2021, the child’s school counselor notified DCFS as a mandatory reporter that the child alleged Barnes physically and mentally abused her. Abelseth requested that Barnes custody be limited. Judge Cashe denied that motion.

By November, Barnes filed motions to have Abelseth held in contempt over a cell phone.

On Feb. 2, 2022, Cashe found Abelseth in contempt over the phone and ordered her to pay $500. Abelseth was instructed not to provide her daughter with a cell phone.

That same month— court records note for the first time that the child was conceived from a rape. It’s also alleged that Barnes drugged and sexually assaulted his daughter on Feb. 21, 2022 and Feb. 22, 2022.

“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 reads.

On March 18, 2022, Judge Cashe dismisses all of Abelseth’s claims saying all criminal charges have not been accepted and the evidence does not support the allegations made by the daughter.

Court records were not clear on what evidence led the judge to make his decision. An abuse advocate for Abelseth tells WBRZ the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office has not cooperated with the family over the location of the daughter’s rape kit. The sheriff’s office, once again, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Sheriff Daniel Edwards is the brother of La. Governor John Bel Edwards.

By March 21, 2022, Barnes files for full custody claiming Abelseth provided the daughter with another phone. Barnes alleged because the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office and DCFS took no action, the allegations made by his daughter were false.

That same day, Judge Cashe granted Barnes sole custody.

Additional documents filed show the daughter continues to maintain her dad abuses her.

Judge Jeffrey Cashe notes in the court filings that April 26, 2022 is the first time anything has been mentioned about alleged felony carnal knowledge or rape — even though records indicate that was brought up two months earlier.

That day, Abelseth’s lawyer filed motions to terminate Barnes’ custody.

Two weeks ago, the detective who investigated the daughter’s alleged abuse asked not to be questioned about it. On June 1, 2022, Lisa Reilly filed a motion for protective order asking that if she participates in a deposition, that the questions be limited to matters not under investigation.

In a rare move, Judge Jeffrey Cashe attached a reason why he ruled. That was filed into the court record late Wednesday night, claiming Abelseth never alleged she was abused until Barnes asked to have her held in contempt.

This is a developing story. Stay with WBRZ for the latest.

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