Steven Bradley

Steven Bradley is accused of taking part in the killing of a Reserve couple found floating in the Intracoastal Waterway in 2014. (OPSO)

OPSO

A New Orleans jury handed down a mixed verdict Wednesday for a rapper accused of a role in the grisly killing of a husband and wife who were tossed off an Interstate 510 bridge to their deaths in 2014.

Jurors acquitted Steven “Future” Bradley on two counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Kenneth and Lakeitha Joseph. However, the Criminal District Court jury of 10 women and two men convicted Bradley of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Bradley, 32, was the second defendant to go to trial in the case. Horatio Johnson was convicted on all charges, including murder, in August.

The split verdict suggests that jurors believed Bradley knew what had happened to the Josephs when he asked a friend to dispose of a minivan used in the killings but that he did not take part in the murders himself.

The decision appeared to come as a relief to Bradley, who shook hands with his attorney Leon Roché when the verdicts were announced after about five hours of deliberation. He then walked back to jail with a Bible in his hands.

However, Bradley still faces a possible 40-year sentence on the obstruction counts. Prosecutors could further ratchet up his potential punishment by invoking his status as a habitual offender.

Judge Benedict Willard, who oversaw the seven-day trial, set a Monday sentencing date.

During closing statements, jurors heard heated arguments from both sides about whether Bradley should share in the blame for a brutal double slaying.

Prosecutors said that Johnson teamed up with Bradley and Amir “Blue” Ybarra, the owner of a Metairie recording studio, to first attack the Josephs at the studio in February 2014, then to toss their bodies off the I-510 bridge between New Orleans East and Chalmette.

Authorities have never established a clear motive for the crime.

The Josephs’ bloated bodies surfaced days later. Authorities said they were tied to 30-pound kettlebells by nylon rope. Both were alive when they hit the water, according to forensic examiners who testified for the state.

“He deserves to be strapped on a gurney and injected with three different needles until his heart stops,” Assistant District Attorney Kevin Guillory said of Bradley.

One of the major breaks in the investigation came when detectives traced the kettlebells to a purchase made at a Walmart in Kenner on the night of the killings. Investigators obtained video of Johnson and his former girlfriend, Brittany Martin, buying the rope and heavy exercise weights.

Police also found the Josephs’ Dodge Caravan — which had been missing since their disappearance — in Atlanta. A man named Frank Mike admitted to driving the minivan to Atlanta in an effort to dispose of it.

Mike claimed that Bradley, his protégé, had told him that he had pulled off a “move” involving the van and that he had hit a woman in the head with a weight.

That testimony lined up with Martin’s, who said she saw Bradley inside the studio with the Josephs on the night of their deaths. She also claimed that she saw Bradley and Ybarra loading two heavy objects — presumably the Josephs — into the back of the van.

However, defense attorneys repeatedly pointed out that, unlike with Johnson, there was no video or physical evidence tying Bradley to the crime. They also cast doubt on whether jurors could trust Mike and Martin, who cut plea deals for themselves.

“They decided to get up here and lie. To craft a story to save themselves,” Roché said. “Mr. Bradley said, 'I’m not going to do that. I cannot get up there on the stand and lie to save my tail.' ”

In an unusual maneuver, Bradley’s lawyers also called Martin’s defense attorney, David Belfied, to the stand in an effort to prove that he fed her the story she repeated on the stand during Bradley’s trial.

“She was trained, and she was taught, and she was coached by her attorney,” Roché said.

Calling them a “modern-day Bonnie and Clyde,” Roché suggested that Johnson and Martin killed the Josephs without his client’s involvement.

Attorneys debated the meaning of a statement Bradley gave to police before his arrest, in which he admitted asking Mike to dispose of the van but denied any knowledge of other crimes.

In his closing statement, Roché said Bradley was guilty of being at most an accessory after the fact to the murders.

Martin has yet to be sentenced on the count of obstruction of justice to which she pleaded guilty. Ybarra remains at large.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432