April 20, 2018 / 9:52 PM / a month ago

Trucker in deadly Texas migrant case given life sentences

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The driver of a truck packed with migrants, 10 of whom died due to sweltering Texas heat in July, was sentenced on Friday to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty in October to federal human smuggling charges.

FILE PHOTO: Police officers work on a crime scene after eight people believed to be illegal migrants being smuggled into the United States were found dead inside a sweltering 18-wheeler trailer parked behind a Walmart store in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., July 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ray Whitehouse/File Photo

James Bradley, 61, could have faced the death penalty in the case, considered one of the deadliest human smuggling incidents in modern U.S. history.

“This was the equivalent of torture,” U.S. District Judge David Ezra told Bradley when he handed out two concurrent life sentences at a court in San Antonio.

In July 2017, federal investigators say Bradley picked up as many as 200 immigrants from a smuggler in Laredo, and took cash to haul them to San Antonio, where associates of the smuggler would take them to their destinations.

Bradley stopped the tractor-trailer rig packed with people in a San Antonio Walmart parking lot in the mid-summer Texas heat.

Many of those aboard ran after he opened the doors, but police found 39 people in and around the trailer, many suffering from dehydration and heat stroke.

Eight people were pronounced dead on the scene and two others died at hospitals. Those who died were from Mexico and Guatemala and included four people between the ages of 14 and 17, officials said.

Prosecutors presented police body camera footage to the court that showed dead bodies stacked on top of each other in Bradley’s trailer, some foaming at the mouth.

Bradley did not testify at the hearing, but a video was played to the judge in which he apologised for his actions.

“There is not a day or night that goes by that I don’t relive this scene,” he said in the video. “The images of their dead bodies haunt my nightmares.”

In March, Bradley’s co-defendant, Pedro Silva Segura, 47, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in death and faces up to life in prison, prosecutors said.

The case brought fresh attention to the dangers of human trafficking and came as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration pledged to crack down on illegal immigration.

In what is considered the worst migrant smuggling case in modern U.S. history, 19 people died after travelling in an 18-wheeler truck through Victoria, Texas, in 2003.

Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown

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