Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
UM clinic works to free prison inmate
While serving life sentences in the Okaloosa Correctional Institution, two felons from Orange County struck up a conversation.
James Bedsole and Justin Sarsfield wondered if they knew any of the same people. They did — Chad Brickey. He’s the man Bedsole was in prison for killing in 2009 at an Apopka gas station, though Bedsole insisted to Sarsfield that he was wrongfully accused.
Sarsfield believed Bedsole because, as Sarsfield later confessed in a sworn
statement, he was Brickey’s killer.
“I did not know that I hit Brickey with the shot that I fired until I met Bedsole…” Sarsfield wrote. “I am coming forward with this information because I cannot allow Bedsole to be wrongfully convicted for a crime I committed myself.”
Sarsfield’s confession after the chance prison encounter is the basis of a recent motion by the University of Miami’s Innocence Clinic to exonerate Bedsole of his first-degree murder conviction. A judge will decide whether to throw out the motion, hold a hearing on it or vacate Bedsole’s conviction and sentence.
The Innocence Clinic took on Bedsole’s case in 2012, three years before the confession, because of questionable eyewitness testimony and police procedures, said Craig Trocino, director of the university law school’s project.
Trocino recalled the hairs on his arms standing up as Sarsfield recounted to him by phone minor details mentioned by witnesses at the trial.
Acknowledging that the circumstances of the confession are unusual, even suspicious, Trocino said the new evidence must be heard.
Sarsfield, Trocino said, is “coming to grips with being responsible for what he did, and the guy he’s sitting right next to is serving a life sentence for it. Just because someone is a criminal doesn’t mean they are automatically a liar. There’s a certain code of prison justice …”
The victim’s family and the original prosecutor in the case are skeptical.
Former Assistant State Attorney Les Hess said the evidence against Bedsole was solid, and that his motive for killing Brickey in September 2009 remains clear.
“I don’t buy it at all,” Brickey’s mother, Ginger Hammachi, 57, said of the new confession. “The case was tried by a very good prosecutor, we had a very intelligent and attentive jury. ... It’s just common sense — he met him in a prison and they made a deal.”
A fight, a chase
It was a Friday evening in 2009 when Brickey stormed out of Sharky’s Sports Bar.
The 29-year-old had gotten into a fight with other patrons over “bad drugs” and was kicked out.
Based on police reports, court documents and news articles about his killing, here’s what happened next:
Brickey, an Edgewater High School graduate, jumped in his red Chevrolet pickup and hit a parked Honda motorcycle on his way out.
Bedsole, now 44, was also at Sharky’s that night. As a “probate” member of the Warlocks Motorcycle Club, he was watching other members’ bikes outside. He saw Brickey run over one, though it wasn’t a Harley-Davidson belonging to the Warlocks.
Bedsole tried to chase after Brickey’s truck to get a license-plate number, but after having a beer and three Jim Beam and Cokes, he couldn’t run very far. He headed back to the bar for water.
A security guard for the strip mall where Sharky’s was located didn’t give up. Holguy Louissaint followed Brickey’s truck in his own pickup to a Mobil gas station. At some point during his pursuit, a man jumped in the bed of Louissaint’s truck and then jumped out.
Gunshots sounded. Brickey’s car flew through bushes, crossed the northbound and southbound lanes of Orange Blossom Trail and crashed into a ditch.
Louissaint said he the gas-station clerk, called 911, and left.
Apopka police arrived at the gas station about 1:27 a.m. to find Brickey dead in his car, with a bullet wound in the back of his head.
What happened after Brickey drove away from Sharky’s is still contested.
Louissaint, the security guard, was first arrested as a suspect. But he became the state’s star witness after picking Bedsole’s photo from a lineup of 40 — all of whom were Warlocks.
Bedsole, whose record shows one arrest for theft in 2004, a charge that was never prosecuted, has maintained his innocence from the beginning, Trocino said. He was too drunk to chase Brickey that night and returned to his Lake Mary home, Trocino said.
The prosecution, however, argued at the 2011 murder trial that Bedsole didn’t turn around when he ran after Brickey. Instead, he got into Louissaint’s truck.
“He was hoping to become a full-fledged Warlock and was on probation,” Hess said this week by phone, recalling the trial. “When Chad Brickey ran over the bike, he had motive to prove himself or redeem himself for allowing the bike to get run over.”
In his confession, Sarsfield, now 37, wrote that he used to buy drugs from Brickey. On the night of the shooting, Brickey hit him with a pool stick at another bar before heading to Sharky’s. When Sarsfield saw Brickey driving from Sharky’s, he said he jumped in the back of Louissaint’s truck.
“Brickey circled around the gas station, and when he seen me, he accelerated and tried to hit me,” Sarsfield wrote. “I moved out of the way, pulled my pistol out and fired a shot through Brickey’s back window.”
Sarsfield, who had been in and out of jail since that night, was sentenced in 2014 to two consecutive life terms on unrelated attempted murder and burglary charges.
After learning of Sarsfield’s confession from a reporter, Hess, the original prosecutor, remained skeptical.
“It’s not uncommon for a prisoner with nothing to lose — because he’s already serving life — to falsely take the blame in order to try help a person,” Hess said.