April 24, 2019
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Lawyers for man whose sex abuse convictions were overturned seek new prosecutor, change of venue

Judy Harrison | BDN
Judy Harrison | BDN
The Capital Judicial Center in Augusta

Attorneys for a Sidney man, whose convictions on child sexual abuse charges were overturned last month by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, have asked that a new prosecutor be appointed and that the case be moved out of Kennebec County.

Eric Bard, 25, of Sidney, who is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl he was babysitting and recording it with his cellphone, pleaded guilty in 2014 to 21 charges, including sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a minor. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

The justices unanimously ruled on March 15 that Superior Court Justice Donald Marden and Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney held an improper meeting in the original case without Bard’s attorneys being present, which violated the defendant’s due process rights.

The court ordered that new hearings be held on Bard’s competency and on previously filed motions to dismiss the charges and to suppress evidence.

Bard is scheduled to undergo a competency exam on May 2 at Riverview Psychiatric Center, according to court documents.

His attorneys also filed motions Wednesday at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta seeking a change of venue due to extensive media coverage of the case, asking for a new bail hearing for their client and a motion to suppress Bard’s statements to police and all evidence seized in the case.

The motion to disqualify Maloney’s office may be moot, as the case is being handled by the Maine attorney general’s office, according to the district attorney. Paul Rucha, who used to work for Maloney, now works in the criminal division of the attorney general’s office.

“I have asked him to continue,” Maloney said Friday in an email. “I fully support having the case handled by the attorney general’s office and I am grateful for their continued representation.”

Marden recused himself from Bard’s case after the sentencing. Superior Court Justice Arthur Brennan is presiding over it going forward, the clerk’s office said.

The motion for a new bail hearing said that Bard has been incarcerated since late July 2012 when bail originally was set at $100,000 cash. Mullen agreed to lower Bard’s bail to $10,000 unsecured if Maine Pretrial Services, an independent agency that oversee qualifying defendants on bail, was unable to make arrangements for treatment, the motion said.

Two service providers who work with Maine Pretrial Services declined to work with Bard after Maloney spoke with them, the motion for bail alleged. He was held at the Kennebec County Jail prior to his sentencing in July 2015. Bard was incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center until a few days after his convictions were overturned, when he was moved back to the jail in Augusta.

The motion to move the case out of Kennebec County said that extensive coverage of the case had “poisoned the jury pool” should Bard decide to go to trial rather than plead guilty again.

“The publicity in this case has been extensive and pervasive,” the motion said. “The pretrial publicity has had the immediacy, the intensity, and the invidiousness sufficient to arouse general ill will and vindictiveness against the defendant.”

The motion to suppress argued that the state has not proven that Bard gave his statements to the police voluntarily, as required by law. It also said that police told Bard they wanted to search his computer but instead took an SD card to his cell phone over his objection. The motion also said that the search warrant for the SD card, on which incriminating photos allegedly were found, was filed 10 days after it was seized.

A date for hearings on the new motions has not been set, according to the clerk’s office.

Rucha and defense attorneys, Ronald Bourget and Darrick Banda, both of Augusta, and Gina Yamartino of Portland, were unable to comment on the case due to a 2014 gag order Marden put in place after Maloney allegedly gave details about Bard’s alleged crimes to the media before he entered his guilty pleas.

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