Iraq war veteran with PTSD pleads guilty to killing toddler

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. —

Channel 9 was the only news station in the courtroom Monday as 28-year-old JT Bradley admitted he killed an 11-month-old girl by slamming her head into the floor.

Bradley was watching Madison Stewart at their home on Hardin Strait Road in Chester County last September while her mother worked two jobs.

At first, he told sheriff's deputies that the toddler had been electrocuted while biting on a phone cord.  Later his story changed several times.  He eventually admitted throwing the child to the floor.

Bradley and Penny Stewart had known each other since school, but had reconnected when he return from the war.  He'd been seeing her for several months.

Bradley's lawyer said in court that in Afghanistan in 2005, Bradley was on patrol when he was ordered to shoot someone carrying a device that the soldiers thought was a bomb detonator.  After repeated warnings, the person did not drop the device and Bradley shot him.

It turned out to be an 8-year-old  boy holding a radio. 

"I don't know what that does to someone," said defense lawyer Mike Lifsey, "but I believe it damaged this man."

Lifsey said Bradley also struggled with drugs, and underwent drug treatment while serving in the army.

On Monday, he pleaded guilty to homicide by child abuse, at first saying he didn't blame post-traumatic stress disorder for the crime.

"I am accepting full responsibility for what I did, and I apologize," he said through tears.

But Bradley also told the court that he was never properly treated medically for PTSD, and that contributed to his actions.

"I’ve been on medication.  Anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anxiety.  I have not received any real treatment for PTSD, he said. 

A clinical psychologist testified that Bradley suffered depression, and also evidence of a concussion from a roadside IED blast.

However, the family of Madison Stewart said that's no excuse for what he did.  Sherry Burnette-Taylor is the child's grandmother.

"He took her child!  He took her trust!  He took the life she wanted with Madison," she said.

Penny Stewart told Channel 9 she wasn't aware of Bradley's trauma in combat, because he never told her anything about it.

"I didn't know any of that, but it still doesn't give him an excuse for what he did to my baby. None," she said.

"I didn't even want to listen to what he was saying.  I didn't want to hear it."

 Bradley said he was instantly attached to Madison when he met her when she was 5 months old. 

"I changed her diaper, I bathed her, I played with her.   I loved her so much," he said.

He could've received anywhere from 20 years to life in prison for the horrific crime.

 Stewart said his 32-year sentence wasn't enough.

"It's better than 20, but I was seriously wanting life.  But there's nothing Ican do about it" she said.

After hearing all the details, the judge said he was at a loss for words.  However, he looked at Bradley and told him Iraq and Afghanistan were not responsible for the death of Madison Stewart, he was.

Bradley will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence, which is roughly 27 years.