A hearing is scheduled this week 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.
James Opelton Bradley, 53, of Wilmington, is scheduled to appear in New Hanover County Superior Court Monday morning for an evidence hearing, according to Samantha Dooies, assistant to District Attorney Ben David. Bradley faces a single charge of first-degree murder in the presumed death of 52-year-old Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk. He was scheduled for trial in March, but the case has been continued.
Vannewkirk, who was reported missing on April 7, 2014, was last seen at the Husk restaurant in downtown Wilmington on April 5. Wilmington detectives have not been able to locate Vannewkirk’s body, but authorities presume her dead.
A New Hanover County grand jury indicted Bradley Sept. 2, 2014 on the first-degree murder charge.
In April 2014, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous initially reported a body believed to be Vannewkirk was found in a shallow grave near Hoover Road in Hampstead. But following an autopsy report, the police department reported the body was that of 34-year-old Elisha Marie Tucker, who disappeared from the Wilmington area in October 2013.
Investigators have opened a second homicide investigation into Tucker’s death. Bradley has not been charged in Tucker’s death, but authorities say he remains a person of interest in the case.
Despite unknown whereabouts of the alleged victim Vannewkirk, District Judge Sandra Ray ruled in May 2014 the state had “more than enough probable cause” to proceed with its murder charge against Bradley, a paroled murderer.
Bradley was previously convicted of first-degree murder in Cumberland County on Jan. 22, 1990, for an offense that occurred on June 9, 1988. According to a June 1988 Fayetteville Observer article, Cumberland County sheriff’s deputies reported that 8-year-old Alisa Ivy Gibson was beaten and strangled before her body was left in a Dumpster and found days later in a landfill. Bradley, who was 25 at the time of Gibson’s death and the girl’s stepfather, was convicted of first-degree murder on Jan. 22, 1990. He was sentenced to life.
But Bradley was released from prison on Feb. 11, 2013 under the Fair Sentencing Law, which governed sentencing and parole in North Carolina from July 1, 1981, until Sept. 30, 1994, according to the N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission.
Bradley’s hearing is scheduled to begin late Monday morning and could last several days, Dooies said. District Attorney Ben David and Assistant District Attorney Barrett Temple are prosecuting for the state. Bradley is being represented by defense attorney Rick Miller, who was appointed to the case through the N.C. Capital Public Defender’s Office.
Bradley is being held at the New Hanover County Jail without bond.
Read previous coverage:
- No trial date set during court session of man charged with killing missing woman
- Wilmington man charged in missing woman’s murder scheduled for court
- Murder suspect moves for dismissal of case, removal of DA
- Man indicted in murder of missing Wilmington woman
- Man charged with murder of missing woman to appear in court next month
- New details emerge in death of missing Leland woman
- Judge: ‘More than enough probable cause’ in murder case of missing woman
- Wilmington man charged with Vannewkirk murder to appear in court today
- Police identify body found in Pender County as missing Leland woman
- Body found in Hampstead not Vannewkirk; police open second homicide investigation
- Man arrested in Vannewkirk murder convicted of murdering 8-year-old stepdaughter in 1988
- Body found believed to be that of missing woman; man charged with her death
- Foul play suspected in disappearance of 53-year-old woman
- Wilmington police search for missing woman last seen Saturday in downtown
- Police search for 34-year-old woman missing since August