GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) — A former candidate for Delaware's state Senate accused of molesting a young neighbor more than 25 years ago has pleaded no contest Wednesday to unlawful sexual contact.
The misdemeanor charges to which Eric Bodenweiser, 56, pleaded no contest are punishable by up to one year each in prison, with a presumptive sentence of probation.
Bodenweiser's plea comes nine months after a judge declared a mistrial in the case when jurors could not agree on a verdict. Bodenweiser had been charged with multiple felony counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and unlawful sexual contact and could have spent the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
In a no-contest plea, a defendant agrees to accept the punishment for a crime without admitting or denying his guilt.
"Are you sure this is how you wish to resolve the charges against you?" Sussex County Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley asked Bodenweiser.
"I am sure," Bodenweiser replied.
Bodenweiser, with the support of tea party activists, won a 2012 GOP primary for a state Senate seat, defeating an incumbent lawmaker. He dropped out of the race a few days before being indicted.
Bodenweiser's sentencing is set for May 22. His attorney, Joe Hurley, plans to argue that Bodenweiser is not a threat to public safety and should not have to register as a sex offender.
"Why take the deal? ... Potential of life imprisonment," Hurley said after the 15-minute hearing.
"Put yourself in that place," he added. "Hey, this goes the wrong way, I'm spending the rest of my life in prison."
Hurley said he is not aware of any previous case in which a defendant sought to avoid the registration requirement. He plans to submit an expert report, to which prosecutors will be allowed to respond, to bolster the argument that Bodenweiser is not a threat to others.
Prosecutor John Donahue said had the case gone to trial, the alleged victim, who was younger than 16 at the time, would have testified that Bodenweiser touched his genitalia without his consent on at least two occasions between October 1987 and May 1991.
"I'm glad that this has finally come to an end and I can finally move forward and get on with my life," the alleged victim said in a statement released by the Delaware attorney general's office.
Two month after the mistrial, the alleged victim — a convicted felon prohibited from possessing firearms — was arrested on charges of having a shotgun. He pleaded guilty last month and was sentenced to probation.