Bodenweiser trial gets under way

Date Published: 
June 6, 2014

“I didn’t think it was going to happen again. I didn’t know if it was going to happen again… I looked up to him,” testified the man accusing former state senate candidate Eric Bodenweiser of sexually abusing him when he was a child.

The victim’s statement followed defense attorney Joe Hurley’s question as to why he would return to Bodenweiser’s home after the first instance of alleged abuse.

Bodenweiser is currently charged with 14 counts of unlawful sexual intercourse in the first degree, and 14 counts of unlawful sexual contact in the second degree. In the original November 2012 indictment, there were 39 and 74 counts, respectively.

The victim was visibly agitated during his testimony as to how Bodenweiser allegedly assaulted him when he was 10 years old. He testified that the alleged incidents of sexual abuse took place in Bodenweiser’s living room, bedroom and a hallway bathroom, where he alleged he was raped twice.

Hurley, however, questioned why the victim would continue to return to the home of his alleged abuser.

“I was inquisitive,” he said.

The victim said he became acquainted with Bodenweiser while his family resided in Quillen Acres in Frankford. During his testimony, he recalled himself as an average child who liked video games and playing outdoors.

He described his deceased mother as an “angel” and his best friend, who worked at Bodie’s Markets. His father was nicknamed “the drill sergeant,” a Vietnam veteran whom the victim called a mean and vulgar alcoholic at home and who was on permanent disability.

The victim stated that he had become familiar with Bodenweiser after playing with his dogs. Later on, the two would play tennis together, both at Bodenweiser’s house and at the old Indian River High School.

“I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary in the beginning… He was like a mentor, a big brother, if you will.”

The victim said it was only later that it “started getting weird.”

“He started asking me if I had seen pornographic movies. At the time, I had never seen anything like that. I was just learning about myself, basically.”

The victim testified that Bodenweiser would play pornographic VHS tapes in the living room of his home, and have him watch it, while Bodenweiser would do other things around the house.

The first time the victim allegedly watched such a tape at Bodenweiser’s was when the alleged abuse began, he said.

“That was the first time he ever approached me or touched me in an inappropriate way.”

That day, in the spring of 1987, Bodenweiser allegedly invited the boy into his house and turned on a pornographic movie. The victim went to the bathroom, where, he said, Bodenweiser followed and “repeatedly asked what I had there,” regarding the victim’s exposed groin.

Beginning with that day, the victim described five episodes of alleged sexual molestation. He described at least four instances that year of Bodenweiser allegedly touching himself in front of the boy, and four in which Bodenweiser allegedly grabbed the boy’s hand and placed it on Bodenweiser’s privates.

Three times, the victim testified, he allegedly pushed the boy’s head down onto his own privates and twice performed the act on the boy. Twice, the victim said, Bodenweiser allegedly inserted himself into the boy from behind, once with lubrication and once without. Both times, the boy left, painfully bleeding from his rectum, he said. He testified that he would stay away for a few weeks or a few months.

The victim said he had been too scared or embarrassed to tell anyone, concerned that his father would have been enraged, his friends might mock him or his mother would be fired.

At the same time, “I wanted encouragement. I didn’t get that from my father,” said the victim, recalling that his father was unimpressed when he tried out for seventh-grade football. When the victim sought praise from Bodenweiser, the man, he said, told some stories from his own football days, then invited the victim inside, turned on pornography and continued the abuse.

“I was angered, because I trusted him and it continued to happen,” the victim said. “I couldn’t understand why it kept happening and why he wanted to do those things. I thought something was wrong with me.”

Eventually, he testified, he told his parents — at age 17 on Mother’s Day, promising them “not to speak of it” again. The victim said he kept that promise even after their deaths — until he heard of Bodenweiser’s 2012 campaign for the 19th District state senate seat.

“I made the decision then I was done running from this,” said the victim, stating that he hadn’t wanted Bodenweiser to “be in another position of power and do to another kid what he did to me.”

Impatient, he called Delaware news agencies and police to find out what “legal legs” he had to stand upon with the allegations.

He also contacted Bodenweiser’s estranged brother, Paul, who had a website attacking the candidate’s campaign. The victim said he and the brother had spoken a few times, and Paul Bodenweiser had once sent him a $100 bill, although he never asked for money, he said.

Earlier in the trial, Bodenweiser’s pastor, Duane Smith — a senior pastor at Harbeson’s Sussex County Bible Church — testified that he had provided some campaign guidance and encouragement to his friend and parishioner, Bodenweiser, in the 2012 election.

Smith said he had heard about the victim’s September allegations to the media, and that, then, on Oct. 5, 2012, Bodenweiser came to Smith’s church office and allegedly said, “I did it. There is some ‘there’ there, as to what he is saying.”

Smith said Bodenweiser had told him of the incidents when he had lived in Frankford, in which a boy about age 14 would be waiting when Bodenweiser came home, once with a pornographic magazine. Smith said Bodenweiser told him they had watched a pornographic movie together and that “oral sex took place” on that occasion and three or four others.

Hurley suggested there could be a difference between abuse, such as letting a minor watch adult movies, and molestation — touching someone inappropriately. He also questioned the validity of the minister’s interpretation and memory of conversations from 18 months prior.

“I feel confident, but I acknowledge there may be different wording,” said Smith.

Smith said he had told Bodenweiser the church would “walk with him through this process” but that Bodenweiser must make things right and not malign the accuser. Smith said he subsequently threatened to begin official church discipline proceedings against Bodenweiser when the news reported Bodenweiser’s denial of the accusations.

Bodenweiser, Smith said, later suggested that he could fight the charges in court, get acquitted, then confess afterward to the church that he had done what he had confessed to the pastor. Smith said he rejected that proposition.

Amie Errickson, the victim’s close friend in high school, testified that the victim had confided in her that he had been abused.

“I know he was sexually abused, as I was sexually abused as a child,” she said. “When you have something done to you, it affects your life.”

“Are you allowing your personal situation to affect your memory? … Do you hear the word ‘touched’ and translate it to sexual abuse because of what happened to you?” Hurley asked.

“No,” Errickson replied.

Although, she said, they hadn’t discussed the case for quite a while, she acknowledged that she had told the victim two or three weeks prior that she would testify, and they had carpooled to court that morning.

Delaware State Police trooper Lindsay Coleman also briefly took the stand early this week, stating that, in September of 2012, she had answered the victim’s call to DSP Troop 7 in Lewes to report the crime. Because he was an adult — not a child currently in a dangerous situation — she recommended he call Troop 4 detectives in Georgetown.

Radio personality Dan Gaffney also testified earlier this week concerning his interaction with the victim, who called him in September during an on-air discussion of primary election results. Gaffney said that he had asked the victim to leave a message, and that Gaffney had returned the call a day or two later.

Recalling that conversation with the victim, Gaffney told a story similar to the victim’s testimony — that the victim and Bodenweiser had watched pornographic movies, which “progressed to nudity and oral sex” between the two.

“He seemed emotional at that point,” Gaffney said, so Gaffney asked him to stop. “I got the picture. I didn’t want to hear any more.”

The judge allowed Gaffney to leave the witness stand, stating that he might be called back and that he could not discuss his testimony outside the courtroom.

“I do speak on the radio and [deliver] news for a living,” Gaffney retorted. “How am I supposed to do that?”

“Just don’t do it,” said Judge E. Scott Bradley. Gaffney, he said, could discuss the trial, but not his own testimony.

The trial in Georgetown’s Superior Court was expected to last two to three weeks.