What could be remembered as Delaware’s trial of the century is ready to begin.
The bench trial of Lewes pediatrician Earl Bradley will start at 10 a.m., Tuesday, June 7, in Sussex County Superior Court in Georgetown with Judge William C. Carpenter presiding.
Bradley has pleaded not guilty to charges of rape and exploitation involving more than 100 child patients at his BayBees Pediatrics office on Route 1 in Lewes. If convicted, Bradley would face life in prison.
The trial of the last century in Delaware was the Thomas Capano murder trial in 1998, presided over by Judge Bill Lee.
Speaking of Bradley's trial, Lee said Bradley has requested a bench trial instead of a jury trial, but the proceedings would be essentially the same; instead of a jury deciding the facts, Judge Carpenter will decide the facts.
The most damning evidence against Bradley appears to be digital videos collected from Bradley’s computers, which police say show the doctor sexually assaulting patients. Bradley’s defense team – Dean Johnson and Stephanie Tsantes of the state’s Public Defender’s Office – tried to suppress this video evidence, saying Delaware State Police exceeded the authority granted them in a Dec. 15, 2009 search warrant. Carpenter ruled the evidence would be admissible at trial.
Lee said the defense would not argue to suppress the video evidence during the trial because Carpenter has already allowed it. However, that decision could become the basis of an appeal to the Supreme Court. By pleading not guilty to the charges against him, Bradley preserves his right to appeal Carpenter's decision allowing the evidence to be presented.
Lee also said because this is a bench trial, Carpenter could be inclined to clear the courtroom when the video images are shown, something he would not likely do at a jury trial, because the images would be shown to the jury.
“That (video suppression) appears to be the big issue, and the only way you preserve that is to plead not guilty, be found guilty, then appeal,” he said.
If the Supreme Court overrules Carpenter’s decision on the video evidence, the case would undoubtedly be remanded back to Superior Court for a retrial, Lee said. The video evidence, a visual record of the crime, is the state’s best evidence; using the video also frees the prosecution from putting children or parents on the witness stand. Lee said children and parents can be less reliable as witnesses than video.
Because defense attorneys have stated they will not use an insanity defense or plead “guilty but mentally ill,” Lee said he did not know what other lines of defense remain open.
“This is one of those cases where what we’re really working on is sentence and where that sentence is served,” Lee said.
While Bradley could still strike a deal to plead guilty to ensure better conditions in prison, Lee said another reason to go to trial was that the defense believes it could overturn a guilty verdict on appeal using the video suppression argument. If Bradley pleads guilty, there can be no appeal, Lee said.
If found guilty, Bradley could serve his time in a prison out of state, if the defense makes the argument that Bradley’s safety is at risk if he serves his time in Delaware. Lee said Bradley could be moved out of state by the Department of Corrections if his safety is deemed at risk.