One of the eeriest events in recent local theater history occurred in 2010, when the Fountain Theatre’s beloved director-producer, Ben Bradley, was fatally stabbed in his Koreatown apartment on New Year’s Day. A company stage manager discovered the body after Bradley had failed to show for a rehearsal and wasn’t returning phone messages.
A few days later, Jose Fructuoso, a Mexican citizen who lived nearby, was arrested; he pleaded not guilty to the DA’s charge of first-degree murder. Fructuoso later confessed to an unpremeditated crime of passion, based on an intimate relationship with Bradley that had gone awry.
Last week, a jury convicted Fructuoso of second-degree murder, arousing some mixed feelings, as many observers were hoping for first-degree. After the verdict, some of the jury members waited in the halls and spoke with Bradley’s friends and family, hugging them and expressing regret that they were unable to get the first-degree charge to stick.
The theater’s producing director and dramaturg, Simon Levy, was present throughout the three-week trial, as was Bradley’s brother, Michael Hill; co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor was there for a few days.
Hill, a Washington, D.C., attorney, said he’s grateful for the verdict. Both charges result in a mandatory life sentence, the only difference being eligibility for parole — 15 years for second-degree murder versus 25 years for first-degree — and family and friends can challenge parole petitions, Hill says. His focus is on the possibility of court-ordered restitution during sentencing, which takes place Jan. 3. “I’m reflecting on whether I will speak [at sentencing] and, if so, what I will say — that’s what’s on my mind,” he says.
Levy and Lawlor describe sitting behind a screen onto which forensic evidence was projected. Lawlor says she was advised “not to be there during the gory pictures,” and Levy expressed relief at not having to look at the images directly. Still, he caught glimpses of the photos when they were set on the projector. “That was hard to take,” he says.
Both describe feeling rage during closing arguments, as the defense based part of its argument on character assassination of Bradley. As a stage director, Levy analyzed the physical movements leading up to the murder, as described by the defense. “As stage choreography,” he says, “it didn’t add up. This led me to conclude that their psychological arguments that the killer had a history of childhood abuse, causing him to strike out at Ben, could just as easily have been made up.” —Steven Leigh Morris