Thursday, 22 January 2009
Jury finds Michael Bradley of Franklin, NC innocent of sex crimes against toddler
By Tony Wheeler
Defense attorney Mark Melrose likened it to the infamous 1989 Little Rascals case, where daycare workers were accused of horrible crimes against children in Edenton. The similarity, he said, was that an entire community became hysterical at the thought of pedophiles running rampant.
On Good Friday, April 6, 2007, Bradley was accused of molesting a three-year-old boy in his care at the Together We Learn day care center on Old Murphy Road.
He and his wife, Connie, owned the center for several years. Michael served as custodian — cleaning, clearing the gutters of leaves, generally helping out as needed. He also filled in as a teacher at least once — a role that got him in trouble. Melrose said it was Bradley’s first day as a teacher, while Assistant District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch, prosecuting for the state, countered that he had taught for at least a month based on attendance records at the center.
The daycare center was closed amid the allegations on Monday, April 9, 2007, and a private meeting for parents was held within days by the Department of Social Services. No other charges of abuse have surfaced, and the center never reopened.
The uncle of the three-year-old male victim was the first to report the alleged crime to the authorities through a phone call to Detective Judy Bradford, where the uncle advised the officer to call the parents because there may be problems with their son.
According to Bradford, an aunt said that the victim had shown strange sexual behavior when his diaper was being changed. When asked why he was doing that, the child responded, “Michael does this.”
The parents later told Detective Bradford that the only Michael the child knew was Michael Bradley at the daycare center. The alleged incident was said to have occurred on Thursday, April 5.
In finding Bradley not guilty, the jury had listened (with rapt attention, Melrose said afterward) to two days of testimony in which five key elements emerged in the case for the defense:
The father of the boy said the child was exhibiting the disturbing behavior on Wednesday night, prior to the alleged incident. Bradley wasn’t at the daycare center on Wednesday.
The daycare center had an “open door” policy where people were in and out of the building all day long.
“There should have been many witnesses,” Melrose said, accusing Detective Bradford of not doing a thorough job as the lead investigator on the case. “She said she turned over every rock, when she barely got her feet wet.”
During his closing argument to the jury on Friday morning, Melrose called the investigation a disaster and said that a male teacher disappeared the day before the alleged event and was never questioned. “They would have questioned more people at the daycare had a purse been stolen,” he said.
To believe Bradley did molest the child, you would have to believe he left his class of four-year-olds on his first day filling in as a teacher, went to the three-year-old class and molested the boy, then returned to teaching, Melrose said. The classrooms weren’t separated by walls, but dividers, and the classes were visible to others, Melrose said.
No physical evidence was presented. Dr. Jennifer Brown, a private pediatrician working with KIDS Place, determined at the time that the child had extremely strange behavior consistent with the allegations of sexual abuse. The examination revealed redness, similar to a diaper rash, which neither proved nor disproved abuse. KIDS Place is a nonprofit organization that provides help to child abuse victims.
During the trial, Melrose, of Sylva, said the confession to Special Agent Chris Smith in Asheville was coerced.
Bradley took a voluntary polygraph test at the S.B.I. office in Asheville on Saturday, April 7, and failed the test. According to Bradford’s testimony, Bradley was free to go at any time and no threats were made toward him.
Bradley then signed a written confession of having sexually penetrated the child while changing his diaper. Bradford said that Bradley was shaky and unable to write his own statement, so Bradford wrote the statement out for him and he signed it.
“Michael was no match for Agent Smith. A psychological makeup on him revealed that he is timid, meek and soft-spoken. He is easily intimidated and doesn’t do well with confrontation. This is the perfect example of a false confession. He is the perfect example of this sort of thing,” Melrose said.
“Agent Smith thinks he is infallible and can tell whether or not you’re guilty by talking to you for 15 minutes. He bullied and pressured Michael until he heard what he wanted to hear,” he said. “They didn't arrest him after the interview, they let him return home to Franklin and arrested him the next day. What changed between Saturday and Sunday? Nothing. It was a ploy to keep from reading Michael his Miranda rights. As long as they didn’t have him in physical custody, they didn’t have to tell him his right to an attorney,” he said.
After the arrest, Bradley posted a bond of $120,000 and was released from custody. He has been free since.
Melrose said the boy could’ve been saying “my school” instead of “Michael” when he was asked about the behavior. The lawyer also said the boy was speech-delayed and difficult to understand. He said the boy’s aunt may have jumped to conclusions when she asked “Did somebody touch you there?” instead of “What are you doing?”
It was left to the jury to determine what the boy was saying. A video-taped interview conducted by investigators was entered into evidence. Those investigators were prevented from testifying about their interpretation of that interview. Presiding Superior Court Judge James U. Downs wanted the jurors to listen to the interview and decide for themselves.
After hearing closing arguments and shortly before lunch on Friday, jurors were sent into the jury room to pick a foreman. After a recess until 1:30 p.m., they deliberated and reached their verdict.
Bradley was found not guilty of three counts relating to the incident: first degree sexual offense, feloniously engaging in a sexual act with a person over whom his employer assumed custody and taking indecent liberties with a child.
“Michael never did anything and was never around the boy. The jury appeared riveted at the testimony, and their combined intelligence prevailed. You cannot convict a man without evidence,” Melrose said.
|False Child Abuse