AUGUSTA — A Sidney man pleaded guilty Wednesday to a host of charges involving a series of sexual assaults on a 4-year-old that he recorded on his cellphone.

The plea by Eric L. Bard, 24, was conditional on several issues being appealed to the Law Court, including the judge’s rulings on suppressing evidence. There is no proposed sentence as yet.

That deal was arranged during a series of negotiations Tuesday afternoon following the start of Bard’s trial in front of a jury in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Defense attorneys Ronald Bourget and Gina Yamartino have maintained that Bard is too intellectually compromised to fully understand what he was doing was wrong.

During the court hearing Wednesday morning, Justice Donald Marden went through the elements of each offense and Bard’s rights to trial and to testify, using simple terms and waiting for Bard’s responses, most of which consisted of one affirmative word, “Yep” or “yeah.”

The judge allowed frequent breaks in the proceeding so Bard’s attorneys could be sure he understood what was happening. The jury that had started to hear evidence in the case on Tuesday was waiting in an adjacent jury room and the trial would have resumed if the plea had been rejected for any reason.

The guilty plea was witnessed only by a few people, including court personnel, attorneys and two detectives with the Maine State Police.

Bard’s mother Jeanne, who is usually in the courtroom any time her son is there and who testified at a pretrial hearing Tuesday, was not present to hear him say “guilty.”

Marden explained that if the rulings by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court indicate he was wrong in pretrial decisions, Bard could withdraw the guilty plea. Otherwise, if Marden’s decisions are affirmed, then Bard could be sentenced to any term of years.

The 11 charges of sexual exploitation of a minor each carry maximum penalties of 30 years in prison. The seven charges of gross sexual assault each carry no upper limits on the penalty since the child was under age 12 when the offenses occurred. The two charges of unlawful sexual contact each carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison. The single charge of assault is listed as a Class D offense, carrying a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail.

Bard had befriended the girl’s mother in 2010 and babysat the girl many times at a series of apartments in Augusta when the sexual abuse occurred. The 21 charges listed in the indictment say the offenses occurred between December 2011 and April 2012.

The investigation began when another mother seeking daycare services for her child in May 2012 came across an ad on Craigslist offering to babysit, photograph and bathe children. She reported it to Maine State Police who learned that Bard had placed the ad.

Initially they looked for child pornography on Bard’s computers, then located a micro SD card used for storing data, which Bard told them contained “personal things,” according to an affidavit filed in court by the chief investigator, Maine State Police Detective Chris Tremblay.

He objected to them viewing items on that device, and that has been the subject of suppression motions by defense attorneys, the latest of which came just before the start of the trial.

The judge denied them all, ruling that discovery of the images and videos on the device was inevitable.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys warned jurors on Tuesday that the images would be disturbing. None were shown although the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Paul Rucha, on Wednesday described the photos and videos that would have come in as evidence, listing the dates and times they were taken and the locations in Augusta, to illustrate to the judge that the state could prove the crimes alleged.

Rucha said some of the photos showed Bard engaging in sexual assaults of the girl. One series of photos covered a 24-hour period Jan. 2-3, 2012, in a bedroom of an apartment on Northern Avenue. In at least one photo, the child was wearing a set of beads that the mother said came from the girl’s toy box of dress-up items. Rucha said Bard is visible in some of the photos and videos and his voice — which the prosecutor said was distinctive — could be heard on some videos.

Rucha said some of the photos and videos showed genital-to-genital contact as well as oral sex.

“We went over these on Monday with the defendant,” Rucha said. “Hopefully he remembers.”

As Rucha went through the evidence, Bard cried, wiping his eyes with tissues handed to him by Yamartino. It was the first emotion Bard has shown in court. Most times he keeps his head bowed and his long hair hides his face.

After Rucha’s presentation, Bourget said he wanted to get the appeal issues on the record:

• The defense has maintained that anything gleaned from the IP address which led to the Bard residence in Sidney should be suppressed since the subpoena used to obtain information was not issued under the correct statutory authority of the State of Maine.

• The defense maintains Bard consented to the police taking the computers, but he did not consent to the search that resulted in the discovery of the SanDisk micro memory card. “At no time did he consent to a sweeping search of his residence in that regard,” Bourget said during Wednesday’s hearing.

• The defense also maintains that the memory card was seized by police despite Bard’s stating that he did not want them to look at it.

There is as yet no timetable for the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to take up those issues, but the questions were certified in the Superior Court on Wednesday.

Marden said he would accept the conditional guilty pleas and that he was satisfied that Bard understood what was happening. “Mr. Bard has limitations, which may or may not result from circumstances of his birth,” Marden said. “The court is aware of his history in public schools as it has been presented. The court understands he has a difficulty in processing information that’s presented to him, and he does better with graphic presentations in pen on paper, and he needs (time) to think about things as they have been presented to him.”

Marden ordered that Bard undergo a psychosexual evaluation through the State Forensic Service. That evaluation, according to the Center for Sex Offender Management of the U.S. Department of Justice, looks at several factors: “level of risk for sexual and non-sexual recidivism; recommended types and intensity of interventions that will be most beneficial, including level of care (e.g., community versus more secure placement),” as well as “amenability to interventions” and the levels of support from family, peers and community. The evaluation includes a detailed sexual history of the individual.

Marden urged Bard to cooperate with doctors and evaluators “so I can know more about you so I can see that justice is served for everybody involved including the young lady.”

Marden also ordered a full presentencing investigation of Bard by the state Office of Probation and Parole.

A series of forensic psychologists has evaluated Bard for issues of competency to enter a plea to the charges and to go to trial. After reading the reports and hearing from some of them, Marden found that Bard was competent.

The judge also ordered the continuation of a gag order in the case which forbids attorneys and court personnel from offering opinions about the case outside the courtroom.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

 

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.