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)

A rapper had no idea he was destroying evidence in the brutal slaying of a Reserve couple when he got rid of a minivan for a friend in the music business, his defense attorney said Tuesday.

The lawyer said that Steven “Future” Bradley was innocent of the killing of Kenneth and Lakeitha Joseph, who were tossed off an Interstate 510 bridge to their deaths in 2014. Bradley and two other men tied the Josephs to heavy kettlebells to ensure they drowned, police said.

Bradley faces life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder and other counts in a trial that began with opening statements Tuesday.

“Mr. Bradley made mistakes by not being more skeptical, but he is no murderer,” said his attorney, Mariah Holder, of the Orleans Public Defenders. “He had nothing to do with the cover-up. He didn’t even know what was being covered up, until it ended up on the news.”

Bradley is the second defendant in the case to go to trial. Horatio Johnson was sentenced to life in prison plus 60 years in September.

Criminal District Court Judge Benedict Willard called Johnson the “mastermind” of the killings at his sentencing hearing. As the trial of his alleged co-conspirator Bradley began, the question was whether he was a cold-blooded killer or a hapless patsy.

“Steven Bradley is a murderer. He goes by the stage name ‘Future,’ ” Assistant District Attorney Arthur Mitchell IV said. “The reason why he goes by that name is because he says his time is coming.”

Mitchell said that for the Josephs, “their time is never coming … they have no future.”

Holder said that Bradley’s friend Johnson was his introduction to the owner of a Metairie music studio, Amir “Blue” Ybarra, who is also accused in the killings. Ybarra remains at large.

“He thought that these were people who could help him. That this was a hard business to get into, and that these people had connections,” Holder said.

The Josephs were last seen alive on Feb. 18, 2014. Holder said that soon afterward, Johnson went to her client and asked him to get rid of a Dodge Caravan that belonged to Kenneth Joseph’s sister.

Bradley had no idea two people had just been thrown to their deaths in the Intracoastal Waterway, his lawyer said. At worst, he thought the van was involved in an insurance scam, she claimed. He handed the vehicle off to another man, Frank Mike, who drove it to Atlanta and left it in a motel parking lot.

Yet prosecutors have presented an entirely different picture of Bradley’s role in the killing. Mike, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for a nine-year sentence, said Bradley gave him a hint of the violence behind his request to get rid of the van. Bradley told him that he had “pulled off a little move in that van,” Mike said.

Johnson’s former girlfriend, Brittany Martin, said that she saw Bradley in the van along with Ybarra and two large objects on the night of the killings. When she arrived later on the I-510 bridge between New Orleans and Chalmette, those objects were gone, Martin said.

Holder said Bradley’s only mistake was giving the van to Mike, an admitted small-time hustler. She also assailed the credibility of Martin, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice under a deal with prosecutors. She has yet to be sentenced.

Prosecutors had key corroborating evidence at Johnson's trial in the form of a video showing him and Martin buying kettlebells at a Kenner Wal-Mart on the night of the killing. But Bradley does not appear in the surveillance footage, making prosecutors' task more difficult.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

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