Former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has defended his pardoning of a convicted child rapist while in office, saying there was no physical proof of abuse.
"There was zero evidence," Mr Bevin told Kentucky radio station WHAS.
Micah Schoettle, 41, convicted for the rape of a 9-year-old girl was among 428 individuals pardoned by Mr Bevin in his final days as governor.
Mr Bevin said he did not believe the child was assaulted because a medical examination had found her hymen intact.
"This is perhaps more specific than people would want," the Republican said. "But trust me, if you have been repeatedly sexually violated as a small child by an adult, there are going to be repercussions of that physically and medically."
Dr George Nichols, who served as Kentucky's chief medical examiner for 20 years, dismissed Mr Bevin's explanation as categorically incorrect.
"Rape is not proved by hymen penetration," Dr Nichols told Kentucky's Courier Journal newspaper.
"He not only doesn't know the law, in my humble opinion, he clearly doesn't know medicine and anatomy," Dr Nichols said.
Dr Nichols' view is supported by a survey of child abuse rape cases by peer-reviewed journal Reproductive Health, which "indicated that only 2.1% of subjects examined had visible lesions on the hymen".
Mr Bevin was defeated by Democrat Andy Beshear in November after a contentious election.
Mr Beshear had served as Kentucky's attorney general during Mr Bevin's term as governor. The two disliked each other, a relationship described as "venomous" by WHAS host Terry Meiners during his interview with Mr Bevin.
The flurry of pardons issued by Mr Bevin in the weeks after his electoral loss raised eyebrows and ignited controversy - particularly in relation to the violent offenders selected by the governor.
Such offenders include Dayton Jones, convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, and Brett Whitaker, convicted of killing a pastor and his wife while drink-driving.
Asked by Mr Meiners about the child rapist he pardoned, Mr Bevin responded, "Which one?"
Mr Meiners had referred to Schoettle, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2018 after being convicted on charges of rape, incest, sodomy and other sexual offenses.
The former governor commuted Schoettle's sentence on 9 December - his final day in office - allowing him to walk free after 19 months behind bars.
Schoettle will also be able to avoid registering as a sex offender, local media report.
The mother of Schoettle's victim, who chose to remain anonymous, told local station WCPO that the pardon felt like a "slap in the face". She added that she was trying to get an emergency protective order and considering a move out of Kentucky.
"We just got to the point where we felt safe leaving the house," she said. "Now that he got away with it, who's to say what he's going to do to another child?"
Her concern has been echoed widely in the state, where lawmakers have now called for an independent investigation into Mr Bevin's spate of pardons.
In the interview on Thursday, Mr Bevin called child rapists "absolute scum of the Earth", and said if he believed these individuals had committed the crimes they were convicted of "they wouldn't be out".
"The reason there is recourse," the father-of-nine said of the pardons, "is to try to rectify things that may be incorrect."
Mr Bevin also pardoned convicted murderer, Patrick Brian Baker, whose brother raised money for Mr Bevin's election campaign.
The former governor said on Thursday that he couldn't "begin to know who was related to who".