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Murder trial underway in water plant shooting

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Posted: February 21, 2012 - 9:30am  |  Updated: February 21, 2012 - 6:54pm
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Thomas Eugene Bradford, 43, turns toward the courtroom as the jury leaves for a lunch break in his trial for the shooting death of Raymond V. Lee, an employee at the Reed Creek Water Pollution Control  Plant on Stevens Creek Road.  Jim Blaylock
Jim Blaylock
Thomas Eugene Bradford, 43, turns toward the courtroom as the jury leaves for a lunch break in his trial for the shooting death of Raymond V. Lee, an employee at the Reed Creek Water Pollution Control Plant on Stevens Creek Road.

Twitter @ValerieRowell

Testimony resumed this afternoon in the murder trial of Thomas Eugene Bradford, accused in the fatal shooting of Columbia County Water Utility worker Raymond V. Lee on April 1, 2011.

Following up on dramatic testimony from Andrew Lasure, another water plant worker who witnessed the shooting - Reed Creek Water Pollution Control plant head operator Richard Haygood - denied comparing stories with Lasure and changing details to get them to conform.

"I saw what I saw," Haygood said.

What he saw was an altercation between Bradford, a truck driver for Hudson's Grassing Co., and Lee, the assistant manager over the county's wastewater treatment plants.

Bradford was at the plant to pick up a trailer loaded with sludge from the plant, and argued with Lee that it was overloaded and the tarp was torn, Haygood testified.

He became emotional as he recalled seeing the two men struggle, before Lee broke free and Bradford shot him. Haygood said he saw Lee back away, with his hands in front of him before Bradford pointed his pistol and shot Lee once in the chest.

Haygood's testimony was similar to that of Lasure, who said he had been on the job only a week the day of the shooting.

Lasure testified Tuesday morning that he saw Lee and Bradford argue, and then saw Bradford walk to his truck and return with a pistol, which he pointed at Lee. The two briefly struggled over the weapon before Lee let go, Lasure said.

"Raymond took a step back and put his hands in the air," Lasure said. "Bradford fired one shot."

Bradford's defense attorney, Victor Hawk, cross-examined both Haygood and Lasure and contended that the two shared their stories about the shooting and changed details to get them to conform.

Hawk had Lasure read to jurors the statement he gave to investigators on the day of the shooting, and Lasure denied Hawk's contention that, at 137 yards, Lasure was too far away to be a reliable witness.

Earlier in the day, as the case entered Day 2, a packed courtroom greeted the newly seated jury as Superior Court Judge David Roper warned spectators that outbursts would not be tolerated.

Hawk announced that Bradford will testify in his own defense, despite warnings from Roper Monday that Bradford then will be open to cross-examination from Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus.

"I can assure you, Mr. Bradford is going to testify," Hawk said.

As opening arguments began, the prosecution stipulated that Bradford was licensed for concealed carry of his pistol.

Fogus described Bradford to the jury as a "hothead," and emphatically denied the weapon was used in self-defense.

"It was not self-defense." Fogus said during his opening argument. "It was not an accident. It was anger and having a gun."

Fogus told jurors about a comment Bradford made to the Georgia State Patrol trooper who was first at the scene of the shooting that day.

"This got out of hand," Bradford told the trooper, according to Fogus. "I didn't want this to happen today."

In Hawk's opening statment, he told jurors that Lee brought on the confrontation with Bradford by intentionally overloading Bradford's trailer with sludge from the treatment plant.

Because drivers are responsible for any spills on roadways, Bradford was concerned that the load was too big for him to seal it down with his tarp, Hawk said, sparking the argument with Lee.

"Mr. Lee set up a dangerous confrontation and he was accidentally killed," Hawk said.

As the trial began, jurors first heard a recording of Bradford's 911 call.

"There was an altercation," Bradford told the 911 dispatcher. "It got out of hand."

State Trooper Ben Rollins, the first witness to take the stand for the prosecution, reiterated Bradford's comment, telling jurors that when he arrived he found Bradford kneeling in the water plant's parking lot with his hands in the air.

 

DAY 1 RECAP

A jury chosen Monday will hear opening statements Tuesday in the case of a Hephzibah man accused of shooting a Columbia County wastewater treatment plant employee last April.
Thomas Eugene Bradford, 43, is accused of fatally shooting 38-year-old Raymond V. Lee, of Grovetown, at a Martinez wastewater treatment plant on April 1.
Prosecutor Geoffrey Fogus asked Superior Court Judge J. David Roper for permission to take the jury to the wastewater treatment plant to show jurors where the shooting occurred and where witnesses saw it from.
"I intend to permit a scene visit," Roper said. Court proceedings were closed Monday, citing security issues, to discuss the details of a potential visit.
Fogus and Bradford's attorney, Victor Hawk, questioned potential jurors for about three hours Monday morning in the Columbia County courthouse in Evans. After returning from lunch, they selected a 12-member jury and two alternates.
Opening statements are expected to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The trial is expected to last four to five days.
Authorities say Bradford, a driver for Thomson-based Hudsons Grassing Co. Inc., and Lee argued at the Reed Creek Water Pollution Control Plant on Stevens Creek Road in Martinez on April 1. Witnesses said during the argument and physical fight between the men, Bradford brandished a pistol and shot Lee.
Bradford called 911 and waited at the scene until he was arrested.
In May, Bradford was indicted for murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. He pled not guilty to those charges in June.
Attorneys also discussed several pre-trial motions, taken up after the jury was excused, including Hawk's intention to present an expert witness specializing in visual perception and factors affecting it.
"The time it takes for sound to travel certain distances and visual acuity at that distance," Hawk explained. Judge Roper said he'd wait to hear the background of the witness before deeming him an expert.
Fogus also opposed Hawk's intention to bring up information about guns at the treatment plant other than Bradford's and Bradford's belief that Lee knew martial arts.
"It is relevant to what he though the was facing when he decided to defend himself," Hawk said.
Hawk insinuated that Bradford would testify in his own defense. Bradford didn't have to make the decision Monday, but was warned that he couldn't invoke his Fifth Amendment right once on the stand and would be subject to Fogus' cross examination.
"It's either all of nothing if you take the stand," Roper said.
Bradford is being held in the Columbia County Detention Center without bond, according to jail records.

 

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Comments (4)

Little Lamb

Plea Bargain

This sounds like a good set of circumstances for a plea bargain. It does not sound like malice aforethought. I hope the prosecution will consider a lesser sentence.

Bobby Hill

Nothing to bargain for...

Evidently the victim's plea was denied and he lost his life, this guy should lose his! Why incarcerate him only to release him to kill again? The picture from the courtroom appears to indicate little remorse, what is there to be grinning about?

Dixieman

Not much of a defense...case cries out for a plea bargain.

Not much of a defense...case cries out for a plea bargain.

Tudor

Your mistaken view that my brother shows no remorse is hurtful.

This photo was taken the ONE time my brother was allowed to look at his dear grieving mother in the Gallery. Otherwise he was forced to NOT look at her or his family and friends supporting him. He is deeply remorseful and grievously saddened by what happened and what is still happening to further traumatize the community, as we who love him live in this community, too. I have many fellow church members on BOTH sides of this entanglement. We believe Mr Lee was a fine man who made some deadly decisions that day, and his life was taken by providence, not by the intentions of my brother. My brother was telling the truth, but it was difficult for people who do not know him to believe him when the DA was making such a melodramatic and grandstanding show rather theatrically in court twisting my brother's words. This was not the path to "Truth", which the DA hypocritically declares in one of his many sophist tyrades. This amateurish presentation by the DA made a wound in the flesh of our community fester and confused the jury. Using deceitful antics only incited a wrongheaded lusts for a revenge verdict.

Debbie Tudor, Evans, GA

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