Brandon Bradley: Guilty as charged

Published April 1, 2014 by Florida Today

At the moment a court clerk read a guilty verdict Tuesday in the trial of the man accused of killing Brevard County Sheriff’s Deputy Barbara Pill, her partner was just getting off duty.

“Been a long time coming,” Deputy Jim Troup said. Brandon Bradley’s conviction came two years, 26 days, 4 hours and 40 minutes after Pill was shot. Troup said her death was like losing a second wife.

“She was a great woman,” Troup said. “So I’m glad to see justice was finally served.”

It took the jury about an hour and 10 minutes to decide Bradley was guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, fleeing from police and resisting an officer with violence. As state prosecutors put it in their closing argument, the evidence was overwhelming: witnesses who saw Bradley and co-defendant Andria Kerchner leaving from the Econo Lodge on U.S. 192 with stolen furniture, Pill’s death recorded on her patrol car’s dash camera after she pulled Bradley over, Bradley’s DNA on the gun. After taking a plea deal for a 12-year sentence, Kerchner testified against Bradley in the trial, saying he would kill the deputy because he didn’t want to go back to jail.

For Steve Pill, Barbara’s husband, the verdict lifted some worries and concerns.

“The family is relieved, in part,” he said. “Until it’s done all the way, the sentencing is final, then we’ll have closure. The door is halfway shut.”

Bradley’s mother expressed condolences.

“It’s just unfortunate for both families,” Tiffany Taylor said. “Because we both lost.”

During the trial, Bradley’s attorneys argued that their client was a long-time drug user who was high on Xanax and marijuana at the time of the shooting and when he waived his Miranda rights and spoke to police. The state closed by saying drug use isn’t a defense, but could be considered when deciding whether Bradley willingly waived his rights.

In his closing argument, Assistant State Attorney Tom Brown held up a still image taken from Pill’s patrol car video, just before she was shot. He showed jurors a close-up photo of Pill after she was shot. He asked jurors to hold Bradley responsible.

Assistant State Attorney Jim McMaster said in his final words to jurors that three minutes and 52 seconds passed between the beginning of Pill’s video and the time the shots were fired. That’s how long Bradley had to consider what he was going to do.

Three minutes and 52 seconds, McMaster told them.

“Starting now.”

Then silence. The courtroom was still.

He let them sit for the duration, occasionally glancing up at a clock, letting them feel just how long it took.

“Deputy Pill just died.”

He sat down without another word.

Troup recalls that moment. He had gone to the Econo Lodge in response to a call about the robbery. He headed toward Pill when he heard she saw the suspect car — a white Ford SUV. She stopped the car. He heard on the radio the driver of the car kept opening and closing the door, the car rolling forward. He ran “10-18,” lights and sirens on, racing as fast as he could get to her.

He pulled up about 40 seconds after she was shot. He arrived to find his partner on the ground — a woman he had chatted with that morning, like many mornings, about their kids. A woman he planned to travel with after retiring. A woman he worked with for 8 years of his 33 year career.

She was laying with her hands outward. Blood everywhere. Troup could tell the wound was bad. He knelt next to her. He touched her vest, her leg. He tried to comfort her until the ambulance arrived, before training kicked in and he put up crime scene tape.

“You get there, you look down, you see her and you see what happened and you start blaming yourself in a way,” he said. “Should I have left sooner?”

Troup once described their relationship as almost “good cop, bad cop.” He stands 6-foot-2, weighing 250, with a shaved head and a thick white mustache. He would tell her some people are just bad, but she always thought there was something good in everybody. Troup said she often approached people the way she approached Bradley when she asked him to get out of the car: Come on now, we can talk about this.

When he was called to testify in court, he watched the video of her death. At moments, he closed his eyes to look away. At moments, he wiped away tears.

“Everybody looks at you like you’re superman almost,” he said. “But you’re not. You’re just a human being. You don’t want to show that weak spot in you, but sometimes you do.”

There was some good in Bradley. Troup said his step son used to coach him in football.

“What happened over the years to make him change, I have no idea.”

Troup, 69, had planned to retire this year or next. But now he thinks he’ll just keep working. After Pill’s death, he doesn’t like his job any less. He likes it maybe a little more. Maybe he’ll change some young kid’s life so they won’t get in a situation like Bradley.

“They say when you retire from work you only live five years,” he said. “I figure if you never retire you just live forever.”