Warning: This article contains graphic depictions of sexual abuse.
In 2010, just five years before his death this weekend, the time was never better for Beau Biden to make a run for the U.S. Senate. He was performing well as Delaware’s attorney general; his father, Joe Biden, had left Capitol Hill in 2008 to join President Obama in the White House; a family friend had been keeping the seat warm for the young man.
But Biden declined.
“I have a duty to fulfill as attorney general, and the immediate need to focus on a case of great consequence,” Biden, then 40, said in a statement at the time. “And that is what I must do … Therefore I cannot and will not run for the United States Senate.”
It was easy to read this as politics. In 2010, the Democrats were still struggling to regain their footing after the hard fight to pass the Affordable Care Act; in Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown had just won the seat Ted Kennedy occupied for decades. Maybe Biden would be better off running for governor in 2012. And it turned out his health problems weren’t far away.
But “the case of great consequence” Biden stuck around to prosecute involved Earl Bradley — a pediatrician who perpetrated what some called “one of the worst cases of child sexual abuse” by sexually assaulting dozens, if not hundreds, of his young patients.
The numbers were staggering. More than 1,400 patients filed claims against Bradley, who was convicted in 2011 of raping or abusing 86 patients over 11 years. The average age of the victims was just three years old, and one alleged victim was just three months old.
The details were stomach-churning. Bradley was described as a physically imposing man — six feet tall, 225 pounds. His office was Disney-themed, and abuse occurred in a “Pinocchio room” and a “Little Mermaid” room. Bradley taped the crimes — the footage ran to 13 hours. As the Associated Press explained in 2010: “Bradley allegedly had a ‘violently enraged expression on his face’ as he yelled to a 2-year-old patient to perform sexual acts on him. That particular video was described by the investigating officer in court documents as ‘one of the most violent and brutal attacks on a child of any age’ that he had ever seen.”
A judge sentenced Bradley, then 58, to 14 life sentences without parole for 14 counts of first-degree rape plus more than 160 years for multiple counts of assault and sexual exploitation of a child.
“You will never be in a position to harm a child again,” Judge William Carpenter Jr. told Bradley. Children, families and the state of Delaware had trusted the pediatrician, the judge said. But: “You have severely violated that trust, and you have shamed your profession.”
“I cannot say certain things that I am feeling, and I am feeling a great deal,” Beau Biden said in a statement following the indictment — just a month after he passed on a Senate run. “I am determined to see that this defendant will never, ever be in a position again to hurt another child.”
In the years left to him after Bradley’s conviction, Biden never managed to run for political office again. He passed on a third term as attorney general, and didn’t live to run for governor. But he did continue to speak out against child sex abuse.
“We have seen the progress that can be made when society commits to shining a bright light on a crime like domestic violence, and we are seeing the beginning of what can be accomplished if we continue shining that bright light on child abuse,” Biden wrote in an opinion piece last year. “As adults, we have a legal and moral obligation to stand up and speak out for children who are being abused – they cannot speak for themselves.”
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Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Scott Brown.