A man accused of killing a Columbia County Water Utility worker in April testified in his own defense Thursday, saying he never intended to shoot the employee and that it was a “horrible accident.”
Authorities say Thomas Eugene Bradford Jr., 43, of Hephzibah, fatally shot Raymond V. Lee, 38, a supervisor at the Reed Creek Water Pollution Control Plant on April 1 after the two argued.
When he took the stand Thursday, the last day of testimony in his trial, Bradford alleged that Lee, of Grovetown, repeatedly overfilled sludge in his Hudson Grassing Co. trailers. He said he’d called Lee’s supervisors on several occasions, and Lee wasn’t happy about it.
On that afternoon, the two argued after Bradford dumped part of the sludge load in the overfilled trailer on a pad, angering Lee. Bradford said he again tried to call the supervisors, but an argument ensued.
“He (Lee) went ballistic,” Bradford testified. “That’s when he started chest-bumping me. ... I was freaked out by then that it had escalated to this point.”
Bradford contends Lee slapped him twice then grabbed his neck. He was worried because he knew Lee’s colleagues called him “Jet Li” or “Bruce Lee.” and he said Lee had shown him martial arts moves in 2007.
Bradford admitted he pulled the pistol, but only to stop the argument. He contended he never pointed the gun at Lee and that the gun went off as he shoved Lee away from him.
“My actions that day were reactions to his assault,” Bradford said. “I was motivated by fear that day. I never intended to shoot him. ... I did not consciously pull the trigger. It was a horrible accident.”
Prosecutor Geoffrey Fogus, on cross-examination, pointed out that in numerous conversations and interviews after the shooting, Bradford never said the shooting was an accident or in self-defense.
Bradford said he didn’t mention those things because he had “so much going through my mind in that interview room.”
Fogus contended that Bradford used the time since the shooting to embellish his story. After a string of rebuttal witnesses, who testified Lee did not know martial arts, the defense rested its case. The prosecution rested Wednesday.