BISMARCK, N.D. - A psychologist considered a man who killed an acquaintance in the back of his van to be the most psychopathic and dangerous person she had evaluated.
South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland didn’t disagree with that assessment of John Bridges, 42, sentencing him to life in prison without parole for the murder of Lee Clay, plus an additional 20 years for Class A felony kidnapping.
Both sentences are the maximum for the crimes under North Dakota law.
The judge told Bridges he was a “cold and calculating individual” who had taken lives and irreparably damaged others without remorse.
Bridges was involved in a crash on Interstate 94 near the 80th Street overpass, about three miles east of Bismarck, on July 6. The vehicle had gone into the ditch shortly before a North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper came upon it at 2:38 p.m. Clay was dead in the back of the van, and officers said his injuries did not match the severity of the crash.
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Bridges eventually told investigators he had a dream about Clay, who was from Georgia, and another man while staying in Fargo on July 5. Bridges met the men while working in Bismarck. The dream made him suspicious of the men, so he drove back to Bismarck to kill them, he said.
In a later court filing, Bridges elaborated that he had injected Clay with something after they worked together. Clay believed the substance to be something to build muscle, but Bridges, annoyed at a perceived slight directed at him by Clay, wrote in the court document that he actually injected Clay with a substance that would cause infection and eventual death.
Bridges wrote that the dream he had was that Clay and the other man had videotaped him on cellphones injecting Clay. He returned to Bismarck and purchased supplies to murder the two men.
Bridges decided to murder the men separately, since he was not sure he could control them together. He also had a plan to dispose of their bodies.
Between that exit and the scene of the crash, Clay found a hatchet in the van and began to fight with Bridges, court documents said. Bridges told investigators he left the driver’s seat to fight off Clay, eventually taking the hatchet from Clay and killing him with it. Bridges also said he stabbed Clay with a knife.
In court, Burleigh County Assistant State’s Attorney Lloyd Suhr said Bridges adamantly denied killing Lee until confronted with evidence of a video from a Highway Patrol trooper’s squad car showing Bridges burying zip ties that had been used to bind Lee’s wrists, along with other evidence.
Suhr advocated a life sentence for Bridges, saying the crime was a “particularly violent homicide” that had been meticulously planned without provocation.
“Here, Lee Clay did nothing. He was up here looking for work and met the wrong person at the wrong time,” Suhr said.
Suhr said Bridges would not respond well to rehabilitation and pointed out a psychologist’s opinion in an evaluation that he was psychopathic and dangerous.
“This is quite simply somebody who needs to be locked up for the rest of his life,” Suhr said.
Bridges told Feland he had no statements to make regarding sentencing. At an earlier hearing, he had conceded he would be locked up for life.
Feland questioned Bridges about several statements he made to law enforcement, in court documents and to the psychologist evaluating him. The judge seemed to be trying to understand Bridges’ way of thinking, but time and again, Feland ended the questioning shaking her head and looking off into the distance of the Burleigh County courtroom.
Feland specifically questioned Bridges about saying people were animals, that he had intended to infect and cause the slow death of Clay in the beginning, and about Bridges’ disappointment in himself for leaving a hatchet in the back of the van, allowing Clay to fight him. In each question, Bridges nodded and did not back away from his previous comments.
Bridges was convicted in adult court in Illinois as a juvenile of voluntary manslaughter, along with other charges related to a shooting. He later was convicted of aggravated battery on multiple occasions. His father once told police Bridges had told him he wanted to kill someone just to see what it felt like.
Reach Jenny Michael at 701-250-8225 or email@example.com.