It's a stunning fall from grace that will send him to prison. The man once respected as a former Catholic priest and host of a show called "God Talk" has admitted he downloaded and emailed child pornography.
Bernie Ward admitted guilt, but did not utter the word "guilty" in court Thursday. Technically, it's a deferred plea which will allow him to remain out of prison for three months until formal sentencing.
As Ward left the federal courthouse, it was like a version of The Bernie Ward Show that ran completely counter to character. As a radio host, Ward would never run out of words, but this time his lawyer did the talking.
"Bernie's an honest man, he's a good man. He's not a sexual predator. I think that he sat down and realized that he had made a serious mistake," says Ward's attorney, Doron Weinberg.
Ward's public downfall began last December after a federal prosecutor charged him with three counts of receiving and distributing child pornography, almost three years earlier. Originally, Ward pleaded not guilty. His attorney claimed it was journalistic research for a book. Now, a change in strategy.
"Our conclusion was that the argument would not prevail," says Weinberg.
Ward's journalistic defense lost plausability after police reports came out. They revealed transcripts of online chats between Ward and an Internet mistress who turned him in when he sent photographs of naked children and adults touching sexually.
Thursday in court, Ward admitted sending between 15 and 150 such photographs for which there is no legal defense.
"Possession of child pornography is a possessory crime. If you possess it, you are committing a crime. It doesn't matter why you possess it," explains ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson.
Ward will formally enter his plea and face sentencing next August. He faces a minimum of five years in prison, or as many as 20.
"We can't have a hope lower than five years because that's the mandatory minimum. It's incredibly harsh. It's totally inappropriate to his conduct. I have to tell you this is one of the least happy days of my practice," says Weinberg.
Ward's lawyer argued Thursday that the online chats were nothing more than role playing in order to gain information for a book he was writing. In arguing to defer the plea, he noted that those conversations took place during a short period of time between December of 2004 and January of 2005.
Weinberg says Bernie Ward is not a threat and that he never committed a crime before or after.
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