Hung jury leads to mistrial ruling in Bodenweiser case

Date Published: 
June 20, 2014

On Monday afternoon, Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley declared a mistrial in the Eric Bodenweiser sexual abuse case.

In 2012, a Sussex County Grand Jury indicted Bodenweiser on 113 total counts, including 39 counts of Unlawful Sexual Intercourse First Degree and 74 counts of Unlawful Sexual Contact Second Degree. At the start of the trial a few weeks ago, those charges were reduced to 14 total counts. However, for Friday’s deliberations, the charges were reduced again.

The jury of eight women and four men were tasked with deciding if Bodenweiser was innocent or guilty of 10 counts of first-degree unlawful sexual intercourse and five counts of second-degree unlawful sexual contact. The jury had the option of convicting Bodenweiser on third-degree unlawful sexual intercourse charges instead of first-degree. The lesser charge carries a two- to 25-year jail sentence instead of 20-years-to-life.

The alleged crimes took place October 1987 and August 1990, starting, the alleged victim said, when he was 10 years old.

Having heard from both the prosecution and defense in the case, the jury deliberated for approximately two hours on Friday, June 13, and approximately seven more hours on Monday, June 16, before telling Bradley at 3:30 p.m. on Monday that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the counts.

During Monday’s deliberations, two closed hearings were held regarding the jury’s difficulty in reaching a verdict, during which Bradley delivered an Allen Charge, used to urge deadlocked juries to reach a unanimous decision, so as to avoid a mistrial. The step was unsuccessful.

With the declaration of a mistrial, the State now has to decide whether it will choose to re-prosecute the case, drop the case by filing a “nolle prosequi” or resolve the case through a plea bargain. Attorneys said the State could make that decision in a few weeks or a few months.

“The ball is in the State’s court,” said Eric Mooney, one of the attorneys that represented Bodenweiser.

Until the charges are resolved in some fashion, Bodenweiser is still under the same bond restrictions, which include a requirement to wear a monitoring ankle bracelet and checking in with his pretrial services officer.

Bodenweiser testifies

Last Thursday, June 12, Bodenweiser took the stand and definitively stated that the alleged victim’s accusations were false. He testified, though, that he had seen the alleged victim in Frankford during the times they resided in the same neighborhood, some 50 yards apart. Bodenweiser did however, admit to showing the alleged victim pornographic movies when he was 14 years old, in the spring of 1991.

Bodenweiser testified that his first encounter with the alleged victim was after he had come home from work, was doing work in his yard and went inside for something.

“There’s this teenager standing in my living room,” he said.

Bodenweiser testified that he told the child to leave and took him out of his home. A week later, according to Bodenweiser, he found the alleged victim in his bedroom, sitting on his bed, looking at a Playboy magazine.

Bodenweiser stated that he asked the boy to return the magazine and the boy refused. In an attempt to retrieve the magazine the two got into a “physical tussle.”

“It got a little funny,” he said.

Bodenweiser said that the alleged victim said he would return the magazine if he agreed to show him the pornographic videos he had in his living room.

“I thought I’d just show it to him… It was a horrible mistake.”

Bodenweiser said that he never watched the pornographic movies with the alleged victim, but admitted to showing them to him three to four times.

“I’d turn it on and let him watch.”

During cross-examination, Deputy Attorney General David Hume IV asked Bodenweiser, who was 32-years-old in 1991, why he didn’t simply call 911 or the boy’s parents to have him removed from the home.

“You’re letting a 14-year-old boy dictate to you what you do in your home?”

“At that time I used bad judgment,” said Bodenweiser, adding that he now believes it is inappropriate to show pornography to anyone younger than 18.

“Were you attracted to young men at that time?” asked Hume.

“No,” responded Bodenweiser.

Bodenweiser also testified that radio personality Dan Gaffney did give him specific details about the allegations following the alleged victim’s call to Gaffney’s show. Gaffney had previously testified that he had called Bodenweiser but didn’t relay any details other than a man of alleging Bodenweiser had done “bad things.”

“[The alleged victim] told him, between the ages of 9 and 12 years old, I had a relationship with this fella and we watched movies together… There’s more to it, but I can’t remember,” recounted Bodenweiser of his 2012 phone conversation with Gaffney. He added that he did respond to Gaffney’s information by saying he “didn’t touch anybody.”

Bodenweiser also testified the following day that, after his phone conversation with Gaffney, he had requested the alleged victim’s contact information from Gaffney, to “confront” the situation and ask “why he was making up a horrible story that Dan Gaffney had relayed to me.”

Bodenweiser said that, in speaking with his pastor, the Rev. Duane Smith, on the phone following his conversation with Gaffney, “I told him I might be in some trouble.”

Bodenweiser testified that Smith had been his very close friend and trusted spiritual advisor in 2012, and met with him on a weekly basis while he was campaigning for State Senate. Bodenweiser signed emails he sent to Smith with, “Love, Eric.”

Smith, who testified and provided notes of his conversations with Bodenweiser, stated that Bodenweiser had said he and the alleged victim had watched an X-rated movie and that oral sex was performed on three to four separate occasions.

“He was mistaken in what he put in his notes,” said Bodenweiser. “I don’t think he was listening to me, and I was trying to get his attention… I don’t think he was understanding… I told my pastor many times, I am not guilty of anything the State alleges.”

Bodenweiser did admit that he had told Smith, “I might be in some trouble,” and later, “I did it. There’s some there, there.”

Hume said Bodenweiser told Smith that while knowing the allegations were about sexual molestation; however, Bodenweiser stated he was referring to showing the boy pornographic movies.

Hume questioned why then Bodenweiser had specifically mentioned oral sex to Smith. Bodenweiser said he was referring to the contents of the pornographic movies.

“I explained the adult video, so that he would know what I was talking about.”

“You mentioned oral sex, because that’s what you had [the victim] perform on you, right?” Hume asked.

Bodenweiser denied the charge, but Hume pointed to testimony from Smith that Bodenweiser had acknowledged to him that oral sex with the boy had occurred.

Addressing details from the alleged victim’s testimony, Bodenweiser also testified last week that he had not purchased a tanning bed before 1990, and that it was never kept in the master bedroom, nor would it fit in the space between the bed and the outside wall.

The alleged victim claimed that one of the incidents of abuse had occurred in Bodenweiser’s bedroom, after Bodenweiser had been using the room’s tanning bed. In the alleged victim’s Oct. 1, 2012, interview with Delaware State Police, he drew an accurate layout of Bodenweiser’s home at the time the alleged incidents occurred, though the tanning bed was depicted as positioned between the front wall of the house and the bed.

During Bodenweiser’s testimony, a bank ledger was also reviewed, showing payments made to a busing service for Bodenweiser’s daughter’s transportation to the Seaford Christian Academy. In the alleged victim’s testimony, he stated that he had first met Bodenweiser after riding the bus to Frankford Elementary School with Bodenweiser’s daughter.

The ledger also showed that Bodenweiser had written a check to Adam & Eve — an adult store — however, he testified that he had no memory of purchasing “sexual supplies” from the store.

Former Frankford Elementary School counselor Thomas Anrhein also testified last week, stating he had seen the alleged victim during his time at the school. He noted that the school and district had a strict policy on suspected abuse: “When in doubt, report.”

Anrhein stated that, during his career, there were more than 20 times when the school reported suspected abuse, with six or seven of those cases being abuse of a sexual nature. He said he was certain the alleged victim did not report sexual abuse to him during any of their sessions. He added that he had always put the alleged victim in his “success” column of students who had positively benefitted from school counseling.

Chad Hall, a former resident of the Frankford development where Bodenweiser and the alleged victim lived, also testified that he had lived next door to Bodenweiser.

Hall said that he recalled the alleged victim as a “childhood friend” who was a few years his junior. He testified that he had never seen Bodenweiser playing with the alleged victim or other neighborhood kids, nor did he recall the alleged victim acknowledging Bodenweiser.

In closing arguments, Deputy Attorney General John Donahue argued that it’s reasonable that the alleged victim’s memory of the incidents were confused at times.

“When that significant event happens over and over and over and over with the same person in the same house… it’s reasonable that those events run together… These are the memories [the alleged victim] has to live with.”

Donahue said that, after keeping the abuse buried for years, then seeing Bodenweiser on the news running for State Senate, “all those memories from 25 years ago came flooding back” to the alleged victim. He emphasized that, though some of the alleged victim’s testimony had contained some conflicting statements, he was able to accurately recall that Bodenweiser had two dogs, a white Mustang, a white Thunderbird and a race car, as well as the layout of his house.

“How could he possibly know all of this? ... He lived it, through the sexual abuse he lived through at the hands of the defendant.”

“What does he get right? What story are you going to pick?” asked Mooney of the jury, regarding what he called “starkly different versions” of the alleged abuse told by the alleged victim.

Hume, however, stated that Bodenweiser’s testimony as to how he ended up showing the alleged victim pornographic videos “defies reality.”

“How did [the alleged victim] know where the magazines were? How did [the alleged victim] know where the pornographic movies were,” Hume asked. “The rest of that story is ridiculous.”

“Apparently, this Playboy magazine was pretty important to Mr. Bodenweiser,” said Donahue. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

During his closing arguments, Mooney continued to point out that the alleged victim had admitted to lying a number of times, including committing perjury in a Florida criminal case so that he could get out of jail to see his son, as well as lying about an alleged incident where he penetrated Bodenweiser and lying to Delaware State Police during the Oct. 1, 2012, interview when asked about never having had contact with or even knowing Paul Bodenweiser, the accused’s estranged brother.

“Why lie? ‘Because Paul Bodenweiser told me to,’” Mooney said.

Mooney also suggested that the alleged victim had conceived the stories of abuse in order to gain a financial benefit.

“What’s [the alleged victim’s] profit so far?” asked Hume. “He had to tell the whole world [about the sexual abuse]. There’s not much profit… you’re not going to make a buck doing that.”

Following the declaration of a mistrial on Monday, the State declined to comment; however, Mooney said that he could understand the jury’s difficulty in reaching a verdict.

“There are multiple different versions told. Then you have Pastor Duane Smith, who’s not really sure what he heard, and that puts the jury in a place where they have to make sense out of it. Obviously, they weren’t able to.”

As for the Court’s ruling of a mistrial, Mooney said Bodenweiser was disappointed and left “in limbo.”

“We were certainly hoping for a ‘not guilty’ and for this to be over. On a continuum from hot to cold, it’s lukewarm. The charges are still there, but it’s not a guilty verdict. That’s how he feels. He was expecting and hoping that a ‘not guilty’ verdict would come down; but, all things being said, he lives to fight another day.”