Two Milford cooks on their way home to their families after a long night at their respective restaurants clash on the Route 8/25 Connector - one ends up in the cemetery, the other on his way to prison Friday to begin serving a 7-year term.

“I didn’t want this to happen, I only wanted to go home,” Tony Espinal cried as he faced the stone-faced family of his victim, Bryant Kelly, filling a row in the back of the courtroom of the Fairfield County Courthouse. “I’m truly sorry this happened, I just wanted to go home.”

The 27-year-old Kelly had also just wanted to go home to his two young daughters, according to Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney C. Robert Satti Jr. But instead he was stabbed to death during a road rage incident by the 39-year-old Espinal.

“These were two hard-working men and now one is facing jail and the other is in the ground. They wouldn’t be where they are if he (Espinal) had stayed in his car and didn’t come out with a knife,” the prosecutor said.

In December, following two and a half days of deliberation, the jury of five women and seven men found Espinal, of Bridgeport, not guilty of murder but guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

“I don’t understand the judicial system,” Kelly’s mother, Keisha Kelly, told Superior Court Judge Robin Pavia during Friday’s sentencing hearing. “Death is not death, life is not life. This is going to be a slap on the wrist for the man who murdered my son.”

But Espinal’s lawyer, John R. Gulash, argued that the jury found that his client did not intend to kill Kelly.

“By their verdict the jury determined that a person with no criminal record recklessly engaged in conduct that resulted in the tragic death of another good person,” Gulash told the judge.

While Pavia said she sympathized with Kelly’s family, she continued, “Nothing I do will bring back the life of your child or make you whole. I do respect and must respect the findings of the jury.”

The judge then sentenced Espinal to 10 years, suspended after he serves seven years in prison and followed by five years’ probation.

Shortly before 11:30 on Dec. 18, 2014, state police said they got a 911 call from a man who was trying to report a car accident southbound at the Exit 5 off ramp. On the call the dispatcher could hear both the voices of Kelly and Espinal.

"You hit me," police said they heard Espinal exclaim, continuing "you (expletive) cut me off." They said Espinal is then heard saying, "Do something," several times. Police said Kelly is then heard responding either, "Put your hands on me," or "Put your hands up." This is followed by Espinal saying, "Do something," repeatedly and also, "Hit me, hit me."

Police said there was the sound of a scuffle on the phone, a few moments of silence and then Espinal states, "Sorry about that," to the dispatcher. Espinal then tells the dispatcher he drove away because he was being pushed and punched, at which point the dispatcher tells him to stop his car and wait for police.

State police were sent to the scene and discovered Kelly lying on the ground by his 2009 Nissan Altima at the off ramp unresponsive with multiple puncture wounds to his arm and chest, police said. He was taken to St. Vincent's Medical Center where he died about an hour later.

During the two-week trial Espinal testified that he got out of his car to take a photograph with his cell phone of Kelly’s license plate after Kelly’s car hit his car.

He claimed that Kelly then grabbed the front of his jacket and punched him in the face. Fearing for his life he claimed he pulled a folding knife from his pocket and stabbed at Kelly but he said he did not realize he had actually hit the victim.