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John Bridges

Missoula resident John Bridges, in court Monday in Bismarck, N.D.

BISMARCK, N.D. – The driver of a van that crashed on Interstate 94 here Friday has been charged with the murder and kidnapping of a man found dead inside the van.

John Clark Bridges, 42, of Missoula, was the driver.

The body of Lee Edward Clay, 40, was found inside, and North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Kyle Kirchmeier said the injuries Clay had “didn’t match the crash severity.”

Bridges was charged Monday with Class AA felony murder and Class A felony kidnapping. South Central District Judge Sonna Anderson ordered Bridges held without bond on the request of Burleigh County Assistant State’s Attorney Lloyd Suhr.

Suhr said Bridges only has been in North Dakota since July 2, has “an extremely violent” criminal history out of Illinois, and prosecutors have “overwhelming evidence of premeditation” in Clay’s death.

Bridges was involved in a crash on Interstate 94 about three miles east of Bismarck on Friday afternoon. The vehicle had gone into the ditch when troopers found it shortly before 3 p.m.

Bridges was held as a person of interest in Clay’s death. He was treated for bruises after the crash, which was investigated by the Highway Patrol and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Investigators obtained search warrants for three cell phones, a pocket knife and a photo or video storage card.

After the Monday afternoon hearing, Suhr said an autopsy on Clay is scheduled for Tuesday morning. Investigators believe the murder weapons, a knife and a hatchet, were found in the van Bridges was driving.

When Anderson asked Bridges what he intended to do in regards to an attorney, Bridges responded, “I just want to plead guilty and get this over with.”

Anderson explained that the case would not be concluded on Monday and required him to fill out an application for a court-appointed attorney.

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In court, Suhr said Bridges has convictions out of Illinois for aggravated battery, along with a juvenile adjudication for homicide.

According to a 1989 appellate court ruling from Illinois, Bridges was convicted in 1986 as an adult of voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, unlawful use of weapons, and two counts of aggravated battery when he was a juvenile.

The court opinion in that case says Bridges got in an argument with several people, then returned with a gun. The other people ran when Bridges drew the gun, and he fired at them. The court vacated the aggravated battery convictions in that case, because they were based on the same course of action as the attempted murder charge.

A separate 1989 appellate court ruling from Illinois says Bridges was being held in the first matter in a juvenile facility in 1986. The opinion says Bridges punched a guard in the head, causing severe injuries. He was convicted of two counts of aggravated battery, but one count was vacated because both charges were based on the same incident.

That opinion said Bridges’ father once told police he was worried because “his son had no feeling and did not care about anyone.”

“During discussions with defendant on that date, defendant told the officers that he wanted to kill someone just to see how it felt,” the opinion said. It also said the only people Bridges had any feelings for were “his father, whom he loves, and his mother, whom he hates.”

Clay had a Bismarck address but had recently moved here from Forest Park, Ga.

Tom Lansdell, of Georgia, said Clay used to live and work with him at Lansdell’s pressure washing company. Lansdell, who is in Mandan visiting friends, did not know Clay had moved to Bismarck. Clay had called Lansdell’s son in recent weeks looking for someone to get him out of jail, Lansdell said.

Lansdell did not know what Clay was doing in the Bismarck area. He thought Clay still was living in Georgia. Court documents show Clay got a speeding ticket in Williams County in August 2011 and was charged in May with Class C felony possession of a controlled substance in Divide County.

Reach reporter Jenny Michael at 250-8225 or jenny.michael@bismarcktribune.com.

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