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San Antonio

Driver In Deadly Human Smuggling Case Sentenced To Life In Prison

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
U.S. Attorney John Bash and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Playton speak to the press shortly after Judge Ezra's decision

James Matthew Bradley Jr., the 61-year-old driver involved in a fatal human smuggling incident at a Walmart on the Southwest side of San Antonio last year, has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Ten undocumented immigrants died after travelling at least 150 miles with Bradley at the wheel of an unventilated and unrefrigerated trailer. Bradley pled guilty to two charges, including transporting aliens resulting in death last October. His public defenders attempted to get a reduced sentence of five to six years on Friday.

In recorded testimony to the court, Bradley said not a day goes by that he doesn’t relive that scene last July. “I am so sorry,” he said in the video. Bradley was present in court for his sentencing but he declined to speak on his own behalf.

Bradley’s public defenders Kim Stevens and Alfredo Villarreal said Bradley’s IQ of 69 left him incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions did not mean to intentionally harm people.

Stevens said because if mismanaged illnesses including like diabetes, Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseand kidney disease, Bradley’s life expectancy is short and asked the judge to consider allowing Bradley to not spend his final years in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Playton called two witnesses for the prosecution: San Antonio Police Officer Hector Ibarra and Cory Downs, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.

Ibarra is a three year SAPD veteran and was one of the first officers to respond to the trailer in the Walmart parking lot. Video from his body cam was played as evidence.

It showed a horrifying scene of 39 people lying on the floor of the trailer. Many were moaning and gasping for air. Ibarra is carrying a jug of water, asking if anyone needed to drink. None responded. He began pouring water on some of the victims in attempts to help them cool off.

He said the trailer had human feces, blood and urine. Some of those still alive were foaming at the mouth. Ibarra said he threw up twice during the incident.

Downs, who choked up during his testimony, said blood on the walls made it appear people inside the trailer tried to claw their way out. One victim said he drank his own urine in an attempt to stay hydrated.

Eight people in the trailer were already dead. The survivors were rushed to hospitals. Two more would die in the following days.

Before delivering his life sentence, Judge David Ezra called the incident torture.

When weighing the defense’s claims of life expectancy, he said it should not be forgotten the victims who suffered and died have no more time.

U.S. Attorney John Bash says the life sentence is just.

“We had 10 people die. That’s 10 real human beings. They’re not just stats,” he said. “They’re not just numbers in the illegal immigration debate.”

The decision drew a response from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Smuggling illegal aliens into this country disregards both our laws and their safety,” Sessions said. “The defendant's actions in this case led to the agonizing deaths of 10 people. Were it not for his actions, they might still be alive today. This case is a reminder of why the Trump administration and this Department of Justice have renewed our commitment to enforcing our criminal immigration laws and why we are going to continue to work to secure our borders.”

A Mexican citizen living in Laredo, 47-year-old Pedro Silva Segura, was arrested in September and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in death last month. The government says Silva was operating a stash house in Laredo for undocumented immigrants, with at least five immigrants in the trailer. His sentencing is scheduled for June.

Joey Palacios can be reached at joey@tpr.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules