NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A grand jury has indicted 54-year-old James Opelton Bradley on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Elisha Marie Tucker, a missing woman who was found dead in Pender County more than two years ago. This is the second murder charge Bradley faces in connection with the death of a missing woman.
Bradley, of Wilmington, made his first appearance on the murder indictment Monday afternoon in New Hanover County Superior Court. While in court, District Attorney Ben David announced the state intends to seek the death penalty in a hearing at the beginning of next year.
Tucker, 34, of Leland, went missing from the area in October 2013. Her body was found in a shallow grave on a rural plot of land in Pender County. She was buried and bound in fetal position with duct tape around her body, wrapped inside three black trash bags.
At the time detectives discovered her body, they were in search of — and believed they had found — the body of another missing Wilmington woman, 53-year-old Shannon Rippy Van Newkirk.
Van Newkirk’s body has never been found, but local authorities presume her to be dead. She went missing the day before her birthday in early April 2014.
Police arrested Bradley on April 29, 2014, and charged him with first-degree murder in connection with Van Newkirk’s death. A New Hanover County grand jury returned a true bill of indictment against Bradley on the single charge of first-degree murder on Sept. 2, 2014.
Bradley had not been charged with Tucker’s death, but remained a person of interest in the case, up until the grand jury’s indictment this Monday.
Now facing two first-degree murder charges, Bradley’s case has been scheduled for a so-called Rule 24 hearing, David said. That hearing, in which the state intends to seek the death penalty, will take place at 3 p.m., Jan. 9, 2017.
Bradley previously served 25 years in prison for the strangulation death of his 8-year-old stepdaughter Alisa Ivy Gibson in 1988. He was convicted of first-degree murder in Cumberland County on Jan. 22, 1990. The state paroled Bradley from prison on that murder charge in February 2013 under the Fair Sentencing Law, which governed sentencing and parole in North Carolina from July 1, 1981 to Sept. 30, 1994.
The judge said Bradley will be appointed a Public Capital Defender to represent in Tucker’s murder case. Bradley is scheduled for trial on the first-degree murder charge in Van Newkirk’s case on April 24, 2017.
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