WASHINGTON – Delaware pediatrician Earl Bradley's office looked like a fun place to visit: a merry-go-round and miniature Ferris wheel twirled in the yard, a statue of Buzz Lightyear perched on the roof and a purple hippo swung from a sign. But prosecutors say the office on heavily traveled Route 1 was less like a carnival and more like a house of horrors.
For years, they say, Bradley used his office to sexually abuse scores of mostly female patients, videotaping some of the abuse in exam rooms decorated with images of "Pinocchio" and "The Little Mermaid."
Bradley faces hundreds of charges when he goes on trial Wednesday in Georgetown, Del. So far, however, information about the trial has been sparse. A gag order issued by Judge William Carpenter Jr. has prevented Bradley's attorneys, prosecutors and others involved from talking. So, what is known comes largely from court documents, a state-ordered review of the case and a few hearings.
"Answers are going to come out at the trial. You just don't know if that's going to satisfy all of people's questions," psychologist Joseph Zingaro, who ran a support group for area parents after Bradley was arrested in 2009 but was speaking generally about the case. "I suspect some people are going to be pretty frustrated with the outcome, no matter what it is."
Already, however, Bradley's defense team has suffered a major defeat. His attorneys had argued that graphic videos of Bradley abusing children should not be presented at trial because police obtained the homemade footage during an illegal search. But Carpenter ruled in April in favor of prosecutors, saying the videos, which document instances of rape and oral sex, could be shown.
Following the ruling, Bradley agreed to have the case heard by the judge, not a jury, meaning trial will likely last days rather than weeks. Experts speculated at the time that Bradley's attorneys would consent to a so-called "stipulated trial," essentially conceding the taped evidence in order to conclude the trial quickly and move on to an appeal.
Jules Epstein, who teaches criminal law and evidence courses at Widener University law school in Wilmington, Del., said a stipulated trial could take only hours. But not everyone is sure that's what will happen. Thomas Reed, who also teaches at Widener, believes the trial will last weeks.
Two parents who suspect their children were victims of Bradley's say they hope the trial will likely be short, so as not to prolong their ordeal. One of the two, a father whose daughter developed a sudden aversion to Bradley at age 4, said even if Bradley gets life in prison, it won't be enough.
"I think all of us fathers want five minutes alone with him," said the man, who is not being named to protect his daughter's identity. The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.
According to an independent review ordered by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell after Bradley's arrest in December 2009, the first documented allegation of abuse surfaced against Bradley in June 1994 in Philadelphia, where he began to practice medicine after graduating from medical school at Temple University. That allegation was eventually dismissed, but Bradley moved to Beebe Hospital in Lewes, Del., soon after, and there were new allegations in 1996.
A nurse who worked with Bradley told a supervisor that she believed Bradley was ordering too many catheterizations of female patients to obtain urine samples. He also kissed patients excessively, she said, and she became concerned he was taking patients' pictures without parents' consent. The hospital investigated, but Bradley's catheterizations were not found improper, and it doesn't seem his excessive kissing was ever examined.
Scattered reports of improprieties continued to surface over the years as Bradley moved and eventually opened a private practice, BayBees Pediatrics.
In 2004, his sister, Lynda Barnes, who worked for him as an office manager, contacted officials saying her brother needed medical help. Barnes, who did not respond to a recent telephone message left by The Associated Press, said parents had complained that Bradley inappropriately touched girls he treated. Milford, Del., police interviewed her in 2005 in connection with an abuse investigation, but the attorney general's office decided not to prosecute the case.
Delaware police investigated three other complaints of inappropriate conduct by Bradley in late 2008. However, prosecutors say he abused many other patients by the time he was arrested .
Ann Burgess, a professor at Boston College who has written about sexual exploitation of patients by doctors, said Bradley's case is consistent with others she has studied. It's common for pedophiles to keep photos or videos that often ultimately trap them, she said. And often there are years of innuendo, she said, because it's hard to believe children without proof.
"Nobody suspects a doctor," Burgess said.
Associated Press writer Randall Chase in Dover, Del., contributed to this report.
Follow Jessica Gresko at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko