A Hephzibah man was sentenced to life in prison Friday night for the murder of a Columbia County utility worker.
After six hours of deliberation, Thomas Eugene Bradford Jr., 43, was found guilty of felony murder and possession of a firearm during commission of a crime in the death of Raymond V. Lee, 38, a supervisor at the Reed Creek Water Pollution Control Plant.
Bradford was found not guilty of malice murder.
Superior Court Judge J. David Roper then sentenced Bradford to life in prison for murder, a sentence that will require him to serve at least 30 years in prison before he is eligible for parole. He also received five years prison on the weapons charge.
“This was a needless, needless incident,” Roper said before imposing the sentence, capping a five-day trial.
Bradford testified Thursday that he didn’t intend to shoot Lee, that the gunshot was an accident following an April 1 argument about overfilled sludge trailers. Bradford, a driver with Hudson’s Grassing Co., picked up trailers regularly from the plant.
Bradford said Lee provoked the argument by intentionally and repeatedly overfilling trailers, throwing a shovel at him and spitting at him.
Lee’s family opted not to speak at the sentencing hearing following the verdict, but two colleagues and friends testified on their behalf.
“He always had a smile on his face,” Columbia County Water Utility Treatment Operations Manager John Maldonado testified at the hearing. “Professionally and personally, Raymond will never be replaced.”
Jurors started the day Friday with a site visit to the Stevens Creek Road plant in Martinez where the shooting took place. The visit allowed jurors to see from the vantage point of two witnesses who saw Bradford shoot Lee.
During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus called Bradford a “hothead” who pulled out a gun after he and Lee argued.
Victor Hawk, Bradford’s lawyer, told jurors that Bradford was acting in self defense from Lee’s physical attacks.
“Thomas Bradford was defending himself when the gun accidentally went off,” Hawk said to jurors.
Fogus said that Bradford changed his story since the shooting and that he never mentioned the shooting was an accident or in self defense at the time.