General Crime

* Nicole Esther Bradley pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of James Edward Strickler Jr. in 1996

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A Santa Rosa woman was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison this morning for the shotgun slaying of a 19-year-old man in 1996.Nicole Esther Bradley, 33, pleaded guilty in February to the second-degree murder of James Edward Strickler Jr. just as her third trial for the killing was set to begin in Sonoma County Superior Court.Strickler, an aspiring rap artist, agreed to drive Bradley, who was 18 at the time, and two juveniles ages 16 and 14 from southwest Santa Rosa to Windsor in his Honda Accord on Jan. 17, 1996.

Bradley, who was concealing a sawed-off shotgun under her wool poncho, intended to carjack Strickler and told him to drive to a remote location in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said.When the car stopped at a house on Butler Avenue in Santa Rosa, Bradley shot Strickler in the back of the head, and Bradley and the minors fled, Ravitch said.Strickler was found dead in his car early the next morning. His foot was still on the gas pedal and the engine was running.

Bradley has claimed the gun went off by accident when the car stopped suddenly.She was convicted in 1999 of first-degree murder during an attempted carjacking and was sentenced to 35 years to life in prison.The juveniles pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and served two years in a youth rehabilitation program. In 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Bradley’s conviction, ruling that she had been denied the right to an attorney of her choice.

Bradley was retried last year and testified that her confession to the murder was coerced, that she didn’t intend to carjack Strickler and that the shooting was an accident.The jury deadlocked 9-3 on the murder and attempted carjacking charges but convicted her of possessing a sawed-off shotgun. The district attorney’s office decided to try her a third time but agreed with the defense on a guilty plea to second-degree murder in February.

Bradley has been in custody since the murder and has more than 16 years’ credit for time served.Her attorney, Kristine Burk, said she hopes Bradley will have a parole hearing within the next year and will be released from prison.Burk and Deputy District Attorney Traci Carrillo both said, however, that Bradley has had disciplinary problems in prison.Citing state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records, Sonoma County Probation Department officials said Bradley was involved in 29 serious incidents over eight years in prison that resulted in the forfeiture of her credits or confinement to her quarters.

Eleven of the incidents were violence-related, including mutual combat, battery on an inmate or mutual combat resulting in the use of force by an officer, according to the probation report. Bradley also has argued with other inmates and with staff at the Sonoma County Jail since she returned there in September 2008, the report states.Speaking barely louder that a whisper, Bradley apologized to Strickler’s family in court this morning. None of Strickler’s family members were present.

Carrillo said Strickler’s family spoke when Bradley pleaded guilty in February and they agreed with the 15 years-to-life prison term imposed by Judge Gary Medvigy today.According to Ravitch, Strickler’s mother said Bradley’s plea allowed her to let go of a “poison” that had plagued her for 15 years. Medvigy noted that Bradley had been sexually assaulted three times and had become estranged from her family, which led to the “turmoil in her life.”But he said the nature of the crime “smacked of a defective mental process.””None of you could drive, yet you decided to steal a car,” Medvigy said.

The judge noted that Bradley admitted in a letter to the court that she tried to steal Strickler’s car and threatened him with a gun.Medvigy said the plea agreement and sentence were in the interest of justice.”I think the district attorney acted with mercy to allow you to plead to a lesser crime,” Medvigy said.”I hope this brings closure to all the parties involved in this tragic case,” he said.

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