A plea of not guilty on charges of rape of a child under the age of 14 was entered in Baxter County Circuit Court Thursday on behalf of William Leon Bardin of Cotter, who is well known in the area as an adoptive parent, advocate for children either adopted or in foster care, and the operator of an ice cream truck.
Bardin's attorney, David Ethredge of Mountain Home, filed a legal document which waived a personal appearance by Bardin and entered the not guilty plea.
Bardin remains in the Baxter County Detention Center on $50,000 bond.
The 62-year-old Bardin was arrested Monday at his home located on County Road 174 in Cotter after a young female contacted the Arkansas State Police and alleged she had been molested by Bardin since she was five or six years of age. The victim, who is now a woman over 18 years old, alleged the abuse continued for a period of years and conduct occurred at his home and in the ice cream truck Bardin drives in neighborhoods throughout the area.
After the allegation was made, an investigation was launched by the Arkansas State Police and the Baxter County Sheriff's office. As part of the investigation, the victim agreed to wear a recording device and meet with Bardin. During that meeting, which took place September 20, according to investigative reports, Bardin allegedly admitted to sexual activity with his accuser when she was a child and promised it would never happen again. Parts of the recorded conversation are contained in the charging information. At one point, the victim asks Bardin "was I the only one?" and Bardin replied in the affirmative. In another part of the tape, the victim asks Bardin to promise her that he would not abuse other children and he replied "I swear to God, I swear to God, I swear to God, strike me dead if I'm lying. Never again, never ever, I swear to God."
Both Bardin and his wife have been active in a non-profit organization known as Forever Families Families of Baxter County since it was formed in 2007. The mission of the organization, according to this website, is to offer support, resources and services to families providing a home for children through kinship or adoption.
Bardin and his wife, Robin, had 10 children living in their home at the time of his arrest. The Bardin's were featured on a Springfield television station in April 2010. At the time, the couple had five children by birth and 16 by adoption. At the time, eighteen of the 21 children lived at home.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services said agency policy prohibited comment on the status of the children remaining in the Bardin home.
According to investigative reports, Robin Bardin admitted the victim had come to her with the abuse allegations approximately two years ago but stated she did not believe the victim and did not report the allegations to law enforcement or to the Child Abuse Hot Line.
Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery said the investigation continues.
Bardin's trial is tentatively set for March 10-11,2014. He is scheduled to reappear in Circuit Court December 12.
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