Trial date scheduled for man charged with Vannewkirk murder

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James Opelton Bradley
James Opelton Bradley

A trial date has been set in the case of a Wilmington man charged with first-degree murder in connection with a woman who has been missing since April 2014 and is presumed dead by local authorities.

During a hearing in New Hanover County Superior Court on Tuesday, 52-year-old James Opelton Bradley was arraigned on a charge of first-degree murder and pleaded not guilty in the death of 53-year-old Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk. His trial date has been scheduled for March 21, 2016.

A New Hanover County grand jury returned a true bill of indictment against Bradley on the single charge of first-degree murder Sept. 2, 2014. Vannewkirk, who was reported missing April 7, 2014, was last seen at the Husk restaurant in downtown Wilmington on April 5.

Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous initially reported finding a body believed to be Vannewkirk in a shallow grave near Hoover Road in Hampstead in late-April 2014. But after receiving an autopsy report, the police department reported the body was 34-year-old Elisha Marie Tucker, another woman who was reported missing in October 2013.

Investigators have opened a second homicide investigation into Tucker’s death. Bradley has not been charged in Tucker’s death, but remains a person of interest, according to Evangelous.

District Judge Sandra Ray determined there was “more than enough probable cause” for the State to proceed with its case against Bradley during a hearing in May 2014, just after the body found in Pender County was determined to be Tucker.

No charges have been filed in connection with Tucker’s death, according to the district attorney’s office. The investigation is ongoing.

Attorney Richard G. Miller has been appointed through the N.C. Capital Public Defender’s Office to represent Bradley in the case. District Attorney Ben David and Assistant District Attorney Barrett Temple are prosecuting for the state.

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