Bracke’s testimony fails to sway jury
by Tom Chillemi
On Wednesday, August 6, a Middlesex Circuit Court jury recommended sentences totaling 34 years and a $10,000 fine for convicted child molester Arthur R. Bracke of Middlesex.
Earlier that day, the same jury of eight women and four men found Bracke guilty of sex-related felonies involving an 11-year-old boy in November, 2007.
Bracke was a child abuse investigator with the Middlesex Department of Social Services for 21 years. He retired July 31, 2007—before the crimes were committed.
The jury’s most serious sentence recommendation was for two counts of aggravated sexual battery. The jury recommended Bracke be sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine on each count—a total of 20 years and a $10,000 fine. The maximum sentence for one conviction of aggravated sexual battery is 20 years and a $100,000 fine.
The jury also recommended Bracke be sentenced to a total of 14 years on four other sexual-related crimes. The jury recommended four years each on two counts of sexual abuse of a child with whom he maintained a custodial or supervisory relationship (a total of eight years); three years for attempted aggravated sexual battery; and three years for sexual abuse of a child with whom he maintained a custodial or supervisory relationship.
Bracke, 62, will be sentenced on November 5 by Judge William H. Shaw III. The judge can rule that the sentences will run “consecutively,” which equals 34 years; or the sentences can run “concurrently,” meaning a lesser amount of time.
During the sentencing phase of Bracke’s trial, the jury came back into the courtroom to ask Judge Shaw if the sentences would be served consecutively or concurrently. Judge Shaw told them he was not permitted to answer that question.
Middlesex Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Hurd said judges usually follow the sentence that a jury recommends. Inmates in the state prison system must serve 85 percent of the sentence, said Hurd.
Hurd portrayed Bracke as a deceitful man who lied to investigators and continued to deny the charges in court.
Bracke took the witness stand in his own defense and repeatedly denied the charges as he explained his version of what had happened with the victim.
Bracke, looking toward the jury, recalled how he was born in Germany in 1946 and he had never had a father and always wanted “a surrogate father.” That never happened and he ended up searching for a son.
Bracke directed boys homes from 1975 to 1979 in Newport News and then from 1979 to 1985 in Middlesex. The homes had staffs of 13 and served 293 boys while it was open, said Bracke under questioning by his court-appointed attorney, Joey Caprio of West Point.
Bracke testified he had been a foster parent to an estimated 12 boys and had adopted three 13-year-old boys, separately, about 10 years apart.
After his boys home closed in 1985, Bracke became a child protective service (CPS) investigator with the Middlesex Department of Social Services from 1986 to 2007. In that position he investigated charges of child abuse and neglect.
Also in his CPS capacity, Bracke had worked with the mother of the 11-year-old victim, supervising her as a foster parent for about a year in 1999 and also with a custody issue.
The mother and her son, who accused Bracke of the six sexual abuse felonies, lived near Bracke.
Bracke said he thought the boy (victim) was the same age as another boy who stayed with him often. This other boy was “like a foster grandchild to me,” said Bracke.
Bracke often took this other boy to a nearby beach and there the other boy met the eventual 11-year-old victim and they played together.
(For clarification purposes, the 11-year-old boy will be referred to as the “victim” in the remainder of this article. The second youth, who Bracke considered “a grandson,” will be referred to as “the other boy.”)
On September 6, 2007, after spending several days at Bracke’s house, the other boy took a handgun from the house to Middlesex Elementary School, Bracke testified.
The evening of September 6, after a meeting at Middlesex Elementary School on the gun incident, Bracke called the mother of the other boy three or four times asking if her son was coming back to his house.
Bracke testified the mother kept putting him off, making excuses and finally saying her son was not going to spend the night. Bracke asked if her son could come to his house on weekends. “I actually believed he (the other boy) was coming the following weekend,” Bracke said.
After that day, the other boy never came to Bracke’s house, and the two boys never were together at his house, Bracke testified.
Hurd asked Bracke sarcastically if he really thought the other boy’s mother would allow her son to come to Bracke’s house after the boy had taken Bracke’s gun to school.
Bracke answered “yes.”
During his summation, Hurd called this conclusion by Bracke “delusional.”
Hurd noted that Bracke was “adamant” in one phone call to the mother about the other boy coming back to his house.
“I had dinner ready,” testified Bracke.
Hurd pointed out that the gun incident occurred in the first part of September and the victim was abused in November, two months later; and the victim expected the other boy to be at Bracke’s house.
Spending the night
The first time the victim stayed the entire night at Bracke’s house his mother wanted to bring food, but Bracke said he had snacks and there was no need for her to come over.
“You were trying to disassociate the mother from the child,” Hurd told Bracke.
Bracke responded, “That’s one viewpoint. May I state mine?”
Hurd asked, “That’s one of the things a child abuser will do, isn’t it?”
Bracke replied, “There are lots of things child abusers will do that other people do just as well.”
Bracke testified that he “never” abused the victim who brought the six felony charges against him.
The victim came to Bracke’s house other times and wanted to spend the night, but changed his mind after a few hours.
Bracke said he played a game with the boys called “build a road.” The boy would lie on his stomach with his shirt off and Bracke pretended to build a road on his back. With massaging motions, he would smooth out the bumps, clear trees, put in guard rail, and act like he was painting a line down the spine.
Under questioning by Hurd, Bracke agreed the “road massage” is a way of making a game of massaging.
When asked if he had made up the game, Bracke answered, “That was something the Boy Scouts taught me.”
Bracke admitted he was abusing alcohol during this period of his life and said he “absolutely” did not touch the victim inappropriately, but admitted to wrestling, playing and tickling.
Caprio asked Bracke if the victim “ever grabbed your hand and told you to stop?”
Bracke responded, “I recall one time when he said ‘stop’ and I didn’t stop right away, and he said, ‘Stop, my mother says this is S.E.X.’ I then said, ‘Excuse me?’ ”
Bracke said the victim replied, “My mother thinks this is S.E.X.”
Bracke said he was playing with the victim at the time. “We were playing and wrestling, grabbing arms and hands. There was never any defensive thing that he did.”
Why did Bracke feel the need to play, wrestle and tickle? Caprio asked.
“The camaraderie thing,” responded Bracke. “It’s a manly thing. He’s a mama’s boy and he doesn’t get the most masculine attention.”
There had been testimony that Bracke walked around in boxer underwear in front of the victim. Bracke contended what he was wearing was “camouflage shorts with underwear underneath.”
Bracke denied that he ever told the victim to take off his pants.
Bracke said the night the victim stayed at Bracke’s house, the victim was too “scared” to stay in a loft at the house, and Bracke told him he could not stay in the bed of his adopted son, Josh Bracke. “I didn’t think Josh would like that.”
Bracke said he offered the top bunk of Josh’s bed to the victim.
Caprio asked Bracke if he had ever slept in the bed with the victim.
“No, never,” Bracke replied.
Had the victim ever slept in Bracke’s bed? Caprio asked.
Bracke responded, “I think he did fall asleep in the bed and I couldn’t get him up, so I slept in the recliner.”
However, Josh Bracke, Art Bracke’s adopted 20-year-old son, testified on the first day of the trial that he came home and found the victim—not Bracke—asleep in the recliner.
After the victim took his sleeping medication, he would become drowsy. His mother testified on the first day of the trial that once her son had fallen asleep on his medications, he was very difficult to awaken.
Bracke explained they had watched TV on the twin size Craft-matic Adjustable Bed “having a good time” before the victim fell asleep.
Bracke recalled that the victim stayed overnight twice.
The victim claimed during the first day of the trial that Bracke had touched his privates under his pants during the night, and again in the morning.
Bracke said he woke up before the victim and “got on the bed with him and turned on the TV to wait for him to wake up. He was under the covers; I wasn’t.”
Bracke repeatedly denied any inappropriate touching and said the victim never complained to him about inappropriate touching.
Bracke also noted he had used the term “foster” grandson instead of “honorary” grandson as his mother had testified in reference to the other boy.
Under cross-examination by Hurd, Bracke said he had training in identifying child abusers.
Hurd said child abusers hide behind a “facade of credibility.” Hurd noted Bracke had been found guilty of a $40 bad check charge, after pleading not guilty.
“I didn’t sign that check,” said Bracke.
Regarding the “road massage,” Hurd asked Bracke, “Do you think that’s appropriate to touch young boys in that manner, boys that are visiting you? Where in the Boy Scout manual is this road massage?”
Bracke replied, “I don’t have my Boy Scout manual with me but my best guess would be that it’s not in there.”
Hurd asked Bracke if he wrestled with the victim in his underwear.
Bracke said whether he wrestled with the victim in his underwear wasn’t something that “stuck” in his mind, and noted that he and Josh would walk around in their underwear at home.
Hurd showed Bracke a page from a training manual for foster parents, which Bracke said he was familiar with. Hurd pointed out the guidelines for the foster home’s atmosphere for children with sexual behavior problems, which state, “Children should sleep in their own room.”
Hurd said the guidelines state if the child is afraid, a light can be left on.
Bracke said he slept in a reclining chair in the same room with the victim.
“You were considering yourself a foster grandfather, right?” asked Hurd.
Hurd had Bracke read the section of the foster parent manual regarding horseplay. The guideline said, “Reduce or eliminate horseplay such as tickling or wrestling.”
“Okay, reduce, from what?” asked Bracke. “It doesn’t say you shouldn’t engage in it. It just says do a little less.”
Hurd asked Bracke if he was doing as much horseplay as he wanted.
Bracke replied, “Yeah. This kid’s a mama’s boy, okay? He got a little depressed because he couldn’t have his mommy and needed reassurance. So I am trying to brighten him up a little bit.”
Bracke admitted he probably told the victim’s mother that he would “make a man out of him,” and playing was part of the process.
Hurd referred to an interview by Sara Trump, a child protective social worker from Chesterfield who investigated the victim’s allegations. On January 17, 2008 Trump interviewed Bracke and it was recorded on video. This is when Bracke, in jail on arson and attempted first-degree murder charges, first learned about the sexual abuse allegations.
Bracke admitted to Trump to tickling and wrestling with the victim on his bed and pool table. Bracke indicated he didn’t wrestle with the victim on the floor because he had trouble “getting off the floor.”
Bracke explained the “road massage” to Trump. “I let him (Bracke) know that I didn’t think of that as a normal behavior after knowing the child for a short time,” she said, “and that I thought it was inappropriate.”
Trump testified that Bracke replied that the road massage was “normal” and there were no sexual overtones, and he added that the massage was “a way of seeing how much the boys can take.”
Trump, a social worker with six years experience, said she had never heard of a “road massage” before this case.
Bracke told her he would wrestle with the victim and he would tickle him under the arms and knees.
Trump testified that when Bracke was asked if he possibly could have touched the boy’s private area by accident, he responded, “If I did that, it was not intentional.”
Trump said she asked Bracke during the interview if he might have touched the victim inappropriately when he (Bracke) was under the influence of alcohol.
Bracke replied to Trump in the interview, “I don’t know, you got me there,” she said.
From the witness stand last week Bracke said, “I made that statement.”
Hurd responded, “So, you were admitting that there is a possibility that under the influence this could have happened.”
Bracke replied, “No, ‘You got me there’ means I just flat don’t know. There is nothing else I can say. You got me. I don’t know where else to go with that. It doesn’t open any possibilities.”
Bracke said he was familiar with the “grooming process” used by child abusers to get the victims relaxed around them.
Trump testified that child abusers will start by making an atmosphere that is appealing to a child. Then, with small touches, abusers get children used to having hands on them.
Hurd said to Bracke, “You had the perfect setting, the pool table, guns, wrestling.”
Bracke replied, “I had the perfect setting for a lot of things.”
Hurd pointed out that when Trump told Bracke, “You could be the perfect abuser,” Bracke’s reply was “I know.”
Also during Trump’s interview, she asked Bracke, “Is it possible that you were not like yourself on the day you touched” the victim?
Bracke replied, “I told her I hadn’t been myself lately.”
Bracke admitted to drinking a gallon of gin a week. He also had been self-medicating for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) since he had lost his medical insurance when he retired on July 31, but was no longer taking the medication for PTSD.
Hurd told the jury during closing statements that Bracke had “hidden behind a facade of credibility.”
The victim’s mother “trusted Mr. Bracke and he used that trust” to get her son to his house, said Hurd. “She finds Mr. Bracke and her son in boxers and it’s a guy thing, and where does he get that from? Mr. Bracke, of course.”
Hurd said Bracke had lied to the victim’s mother and to the social worker.
In defense, Caprio said that Bracke had mentored young boys for 40 years and no one had ever brought charges. “Don’t you think it’s a little late to start? It flies in the face of reason that he’s waited 40 years to molest a child. I don’t think so,” said Caprio.
“Suspicion” is not enough to prove guilt, Caprio argued.
A date has not been set for Bracke’s sex-related trial involving four felony sex charges alleged by the other boy, which allegedly occurred in September, 2007.
Bracke also is charged with arson and attempted first degree murder for allegedly setting on fire the house where he was living on November 17, 2007, while his then 19-year-old adopted son was asleep inside the house. This bench trial is set for September 3 at 1 p.m.