DOVER, Del. – A lawyer for a former pediatrician serving a life sentence for sexually abusing scores of young patients appealed Wednesday to the Delaware Supreme Court, arguing that a search warrant didn't allow police to seize a flash drive containing videotaped sex crimes against children.
Earl Bradley, 59, was sentenced last year to 14 life sentences without parole for 14 counts of first-degree rape. He also was sentenced to more than 160 years in prison for multiple counts of assault and sexual exploitation of a child in a case that shook this small state.
Bradley was convicted by a judge who viewed more than 13 hours of videos showing sex crimes against more than 80 victims, most of them toddlers. The videos were seized by police who executed a search warrant in 2009 at his Lewes office complex, which was decorated with Disney themes and miniature amusement park rides.
Bradley had waived his right to a jury trial after the trial judge denied a defense motion to suppress the video evidence because it had been illegally seized.
Defense attorneys argued Wednesday that Bradley's convictions should be reversed because the warrant did not allow police to search an outbuilding in which a computer flash drive containing the videos was found. They also said the warrant didn't allow authorities to seize the flash drive.
Defense attorney Robert Goff told a three-judge panel Wednesday that the warrant allowed police to search only for the paper and computer medical files of eight patients. He rejected the prosecution's assertion that the seizure of computers, electronic devices and video and camera equipment was justified because police were looking for "nontraditional" medical files.
"What is a nontraditional medical file?" Goff asked. "There is no such thing. There's no definition in the dictionary, there's no definition in the warrant."
Goff said the flash drive came from a computer in an outbuilding that was not part of Bradley's medical office and was not accessible by office staff. He also noted that neither the flash drive nor any individual files on it contained any label suggestive of patient files.
Deputy attorney general Paul Wallace told the justices that the search of the building in question was justified because it housed Bradley's "work space." He also said a police affidavit accompanying the search warrant application noted that a father of one of Bradley's patients had seen Bradley carry a patient to that building.
Wallace also noted that the flash drive containing the videos of children being assaulted was still plugged into a computer when it was found, suggesting that police acted reasonably in thinking that it might contain patient files.
But Wallace did not mention that the first file viewed by a police investigator who examined the flash drive had been marked as "deleted," which would make the belief that it may have contained patient medical files seem more doubtful.
After opening the deleted file and seeing Bradley removing the diaper of a child positioned so that her genitalia would be in view of the camera, the detective stopped the video and applied for a new search warrant.
"He did exactly the right thing," Wallace said.
The justices are expected to issue a ruling within 90 days.