Delaware pediatrician waives right to jury trial

May 9, 2011 11:40:09 AM PDT
A judge, not a jury, will decide the fate of a former Delaware pediatrician charged with sexually assaulting scores of young patients over more than a decade.

During a Monday hearing that lasted only about five minutes, a Superior Court judge found that Earl Bradley's request to waive his right to a jury trial was made knowingly and voluntarily, and that he had had the opportunity to discuss the decision with his attorneys.

"I will consent to have the matters decided by a bench trial," said Judge William Carpenter Jr.

Bradley, dressed in a gray prison jumpsuit and appearing thinner than in previous court appearances, stood with his hands clasped behind his back. He answered "yes" to a series of questions from Carpenter, who wanted to make sure that Bradley understood his right to have a jury trial, and that his decision means that the judge will be "the one and only person" to decide his guilt or innocence.

The judge indicated that Bradley's trial may be moved from Wilmington back to Sussex County, where he is alleged to have committed his crimes. The trial, which is set to begin June 1, had been moved to New Castle County amid concerns that it would be difficult to find an impartial jury in Sussex County because of publicity surrounding the case.

"I haven't made the final determination on that," Carpenter said.

Also, after determining that Bradley's public defenders do not intend to pursue a defense of "guilty but mentally ill," the judge said a psychiatric evaluation of Bradley is no longer necessary. Carpenter had previously ordered the evaluation at the request of prosecutors.

Bradley's attorneys declined to comment after the hearing, citing a gag order issued by the judge, but emotions surrounding the case remain high.

One woman, sitting next to a victims services official near the front of the courtroom, began sobbing and trembling even before the hearing began. In response to attempts to comfort her, the woman said in a low voice that she wanted Bradley "to suffer."

Thomas Reed, a professor emeritus at Widener University law school, said Bradley's request for a bench trial may be a tactical decision to avoid an outraged jury and have his fate decided by a judge who might weigh the facts more dispassionately than a jury would.

Last month, Carpenter denied a request by Bradley's attorneys to suppress evidence seized by police who executed a search warrant at Bradley's office in Lewes in December 2009.

That evidence includes what authorities say are homemade videos showing Bradley sexually assaulting patients. The judge concluded that even though police made mistakes in carrying out the search, the circumstances did not merit excluding the evidence that was seized.

Last year, a grand jury returned a 471-count indictment against Bradley. Attorney General Beau Biden, who attended Monday's hearing, said at the time that the alleged victims were caught on more than 13 hours of video recordings that were seized from Bradley's office and home. Some dated to 1998.

A subsequent indictment based on interviews of possible victims at the Delaware Children's Advocacy Center accused Bradley of 58 additional criminal counts.

Bradley was arrested after a 2-year-old girl told her mother that the doctor hurt her in December 2009 when he took her to a basement room of his office after an exam. The arrest followed previous police investigations of Bradley and years of suspicions among parents and questions from colleagues about his behavior.

Reviews that were ordered after Bradley's arrest found that state medical society officials, individual doctors and the Delaware Department of Justice violated state law by not reporting possible unprofessional behavior by Bradley to the medical licensing board.

The licensing board itself was criticized for not conducting its own investigation of Bradley more than 16 years ago after learning that Pennsylvania authorities were told he had fondled a young patient, and for failing to act on a 2005 complaint by Milford police after they were unable to prosecute Bradley on allegations that he improperly touched a 3-year-old patient.